Zachary Hoskins

Zach Hoskins

Vanity 6 Presentation Panel Presenter

Nasty Girls

Vanity 6 and the 1980s "Porn Wars"

The rise of home video pornography in the late 1970s and early 1980s created a new boom in accessibility for sexually explicit media, with a concomitant influx of porn-inspired aesthetics in mainstream media. Arguably the most enthusiastic adopter of this new aesthetic in the music world was Prince, whose famous 1979 vow to “portray pure sex” was directly inspired by the visual and thematic language of softcore–and, occasionally, hardcore–porn.

If Prince, as writer Touré has argued, was the “King of Porn Chic,” then the self-titled album he wrote and produced for Vanity 6 in 1982 was his Deep Throat (Gerald Damiano, 1972): a heterosexual male creator’s attempt to grapple with the “problem” of female sexual pleasure, with all the ideological tensions such an arrangement implies. That makes Vanity herself, by extension, Prince’s Linda Lovelace: the ambiguous sex symbol upon whom he projected his fantasies, who by the end of the decade would bitterly reject the fetishized image created for her.

This presentation will examine Vanity 6 through both the aesthetic lens of pornography and the historical context of the “porn wars” that raged among feminist scholars and in American political discourse more broadly in the 1980s–ultimately enveloping Prince, whose 1985 branding as an exemplar of “Porn Rock” by the Parents Music Resource Center would alter the trajectory of his lyrical content for the latter half of the decade. A work of aural softcore as audacious as anything in Prince’s solo catalogue, Vanity 6 embodied the complexities of power and pleasure inherent in women’s subjective relationship with porn, while pointing the way toward the “sex-positive” movement that continues to shape contemporary discourses of sexuality in media.

Zachary Hoskins is the author of Dance / Music / Sex / Romance, a song-by-song blog examining the music of Prince in chronological order. His essay, “Rude Boy: Prince as Black New Waver,” was published in a special issue of Spectrum, A Journal on Black Men (2020), and his presentation from the Prince #1plus1plus1is3 virtual symposium (2021), “I Wish We All Were Nude: Controversy ‘Shower Poster’ as Aesthetic Linchpin and Artifact,” was published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. He has also presented and appeared on roundtables at other @polishedsolid symposia, #SexyMF30 (2022) and #DM40GB30 (2020), as well as the University of Minnesota’s Prince from Minneapolis symposium (2018). He holds an M.A. in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and B.A.’s in Film & Video Studies and Creative Writing & Literature from the University of Michigan.

dance / music / sex / romance