Studying Ethics and Researching Porn

By Mona Malacane

How do the media shape, influence, and affect our social and cultural values? How do the media reshape our social standards? How do we create meaning from media messages? These sound like research questions but they are actually the topics of a year-long seminar hosted by The Poynter Center that Yanyan Zhou is enrolled in.

poynter

The Poynter Center is an interdisciplinary research center that supports both theoretical and empirical studies, seminars, symposia, and a publication series related to the broader study of ethics. On July 1st, 2014, TPC became part of the Media School and in the spirit of the merger created the seminar “Meaning and Media” to foster multidisciplinary informed discussions related to media, ethics, and culture. This seminar is just one of the many diverse offerings from TPC for the 2014-2015 academic year, which also include an Ethics Bowl  and a monthly roundtable presentation for IUB faculty engaged in ethics-related research.

Some of the topics discussed last semester included healthcare reform and how it has affected young adults; the Pulitzer-nominated story of the difficult choices one family had to make for their micro-premature infant; and a presentation from Telecom’s own Nicole Martins on how popular television shows portray teen pregnancy.

Yanyan’s interests, however, are on the more explicit side … It doesn’t take an advanced degree to know that discussions of pornography effects are often controversial, which is a large part of why Yanyan is so invested in the seminar. In fact, in Yanyan’s view, it is because pornography is often viewed as ethically debatable that porn and its effects must be studied, especially in China where pornography is illegal. She plans to conduct several studies, both in China and America, investigating effects of pornography for her dissertation and expects that many Chinese participants will feel uneasy about the topic. She said sarcastically, “My long term career goal is to ‘corrupt’ Chinese people.”

Yanyan

Research doesn’t have feelings, just results.

But sarcasm aside, Yanyan points to Alfred Kinsey as an analog for her research goals. “I’m really doing something that is on the borderline and I really wish to actually cross the border and make people feel uncomfortable and get myself into trouble … Even Kinsey got himself into trouble. ”

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