Artists and raconteurs have long realized that certain extrinsic patterns enhance a story, giving one more turn of the screw to the tale of horror or one or more wave of delight to the joke. Among these patterns are socially or psychologically or theologically forbidden ideas. Thus, a joke seems funnier if it in includes an ethnic reference or imitation—a pattern of commentary that is socially unacceptable in an “enlightened” age. A liberal may prove his liberalism by his willingness to tell ethnic jokes, using his own ethnic group or another for the butt of the laughter, and ending with the protest that “some of my best friends are …” Probably older than the ethnic joke—certainly as old as recorded tales told by man—is the dirty joke. The story here is enhanced by the addition of a sexual element that would not ordinarily enter into polite conversation. The combination of surprise and embarrassment and delight in the forbidden erupts in a richer laugh than the usual clean story provokes. Obviously the pleasure people take in discussing human sexuality has kept books on best-seller lists that would far sooner have fallen into disrepute if judged by literary standards of style, plot construction, or credibility.

Pure pornography (which is catalogued at our local book store by the form of the perversion explored rather than by author or title) is a different consideration. Some talented authors make use of pornography for aesthetic purposes. Portnoy’s Complaint, for example, is a witty, intellectually exciting attack on Freudian analysis and Jewish mothers as well as a thoroughly dirty book. Another Country is a remarkable study of the black man’s paranoia, his aspirations, and his tragedies as well as a thoroughly dirty book. ...

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