I’ve been reviewing the tapes of the last two weeks’ performance by Brett Kavanaugh and the members of Congress who maneuvered him to the Supreme Court bench. I wasn’t sure of the word, last week, to describe it, but I think I’ve found it: pornographic.
Film scholar Linda Williams argues that hardcore pornography allows viewers to witness the “involuntary confession” of other people’s bodies: everything, even their insides, is visible, and, in passion (or pain), they lose control over them. Pornography that promises real sex allows us to see another person out of control of their own bodies–bodies revealing some kind of truth that they would not reveal if another circumstances. These include secret desires (attractions to bodies that are socially looked-down upon, to be hurt, to hurt, to be humiliated, to humiliate). Pornography shows us how we would all act if we had no restrictions on us, if our bodies were simply able to do what they want. (It’s not true. We would not all act this way, and pornographic actors are actors, and their job is to create this story for viewers,)
I see in the Kavanaugh hearing pornography: a man out of control of his body, all reaction to a woman. Kavanaugh couldn’t help but yell and cry any more than a man in a pornographic film can, by the end, help but ejaculate. She made him act this way–but, really, he did it for you, the viewer: to feel the anger you would feel if your right to abuse women was threatened and, more importantly to feel his pleasure in degrading others.
I don’t think the issue is that Republicans “don’t care” about the accusations against Kavanaugh. I think that, for many of them, such accusations bolstered Kavanaugh in their imaginations. Sexual assault is a rite of passage for men, as one law professor argued in response to Kavanaugh’s hearing; it is not something we should expect him to apologize for but is something we should celebrate. Even worse, some of them were titillated by it: Kavanaugh did what they would like to do to Christine Blasey Ford and to every woman who challenges them.
Above, Brett Kavanaugh’s O face is an A face–anger that he invites you to join in.
Many women I know described the Kavanaugh debacle as a kind of sexual assault: you are screaming, but no one with power listens. You describe what happened, but others tell you it isn’t possible. Brett Kavanaugh will not take no for an answer, and he is helped along by a crowd of other men who also will not take no for an answer.
Though I am generally cautious about using sexual violence metaphors to describe things that aren’t sexual violence, I think the comparison here is useful–so useful that I think we should think about it from the perpetrator’s perspective, too: just as some men participate in a gang rape by standing by and watching, so, too, last week, did a lot of men stand by and enjoy watching Brett Kavanaugh “involuntarily confess” his deepest lusts: for power achieved by degrading women.
This is typical Brett Kavanaugh. Please remember that during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Kavanaugh, part of the special counsel charged with the investigation, was uniquely, disgustingly explicit in his pursuit for details about the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship. “If Monica Lewinsky says you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she by lying?,” he proposed asking Clinton. He didn’t want to know this because it mattered to the investigation; he wanted to use sex to humiliate.
In a move that should shame them but probably just makes many Republicans giddy with what they and their (I mean this literally) pornography-promoting president can get away with, in 2016, the GOP added an anti-porn plank to its platform:
Pornography, with its harmful effects… has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.
True, true, true–more true than they meant.