Dolce vita swells the student body

April 18, 1997

Rome. It was probably the first time in history that lectures at Rome's La Sapienza University have been described in lurid prose day after day in most of Italy's newspapers.

The two-day seminar on the aesthetics of hard-core pornography was organised by sociologist Alberto Abruzzese, who brought together porn stars, film critics, porn-film directors and sociologists, illustrating the theme with projections and printed matter.

In his introductory lecture, Professor Abruzzese said: "The world of pornography has enormous significance. Today, with home videos, computers and the Internet, pornography has a mass sociological importance.

"Even in the past, think of De Sade, of Bataille; pornography was used to make statements on society, on aesthetic forms, on the dynamics of power and the relationship with the body. What we must ask ourselves is if, and to what extent, the pornographic experience has a connection with the anthropological mutations of our era."

Professor Abruzzese challenged the usual distinction between the erotic and the pornographic. "Eroticism is considered aesthetically valid, while pornography ignores aesthetics in that sense. In fact, I feel that the aesthetics are what is really obscene."

Under Italian law university lectures are public events open to anyone who cares to come along. And they certainly did. At a rough estimate, out of the 500-600 people present at each of the ten lectures, about one-third were bona fide students.

The rest were other academics trying to look interested but aloof, groups of irreverent young men wearing baseball caps backwards, and a number of men in various stages of middle age in crumpled overcoats clutching equally crumpled newspapers. Very few women students were present.

In addition there were scores of reporters and photographers and a dozen television crews who shouldered everyone out of the way to get close-ups of the porn stars.

While the sociological and anthropological implications of the evolution of pornography through home video were being discussed inside, one porn star, Eva Hengher, improvised a striptease in the outer lobby.

For the benefit of photographers, she exhibited a transparent Wonderbra and its contents. But beyond these moments the seminar was surprisingly serious.

Roberta Tatafiore, one of Italy's pioneer feminist figures, pointed out that pornography is by men and for men, since it boils down to penises and vaginas in endless repetition. She said that for women a more romantic imagery is infinitely more sexually exciting.

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