Joyce Carol Oates on Boxing & Pornography (1987)

“The spectacle of human beings fighting each other for whatever reason, including, at certain well-publicized times, staggering sums of money, is enormously disturbing because it violates a taboo of our civilization. Many men and women, however they steel themselves, cannot watch a boxing match because they cannot allow themselves to see what it is they are seeing. One thinks helplessly, This can’t be happening, even as, and usually quite routinely, it is happening. In this way boxing as a public spectacle is akin to pornography: in each case the spectator is made a voyeur, distanced, yet presumably intimately involved, in an event that is not supposed to be happening as it is happening. The pornographic ‘drama,’ though as fraudulent as professional wrestling, makes a claim for being about something absolutely serious, if not humanly profound: it is not so much about itself as about the violation of a taboo. That the taboo is spiritual rather than physical, or sexual – that our most valuable human experience, love, is being is being desecrated, parodied, mocked – is surely at the core of our culture’s fascination with pornography. In another culture, undefined by spiritual-emotional values, pornography could not exist, for who would pay to see it?”

(Excerpted from On Boxing)

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