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Who we are?

2007-09-25 13:30:57.606443+00 by Dan Lyke 13 comments

It is sometimes hard to be a full-on First Amendment "I believe in pornography" person. In fact, I just pulled the "I [heart] Pornography" bumper sticker from my car, partially as a sop to the fact that Charlene occasionally borrows my car and people at schools object to things like that, but also because... well... I don't really [heart] pornography. I think it's something important in our society, and that its expression is necessary for freedom and gender equality and all of that nice stuff, but most porn leaves me frankly flaccid.

Elf Sternberg may have put his finger on it, today he asks "The more widespread porn becomes, the coarser it gets?" Maybe the real fear is that pornography shows who we are, and just as we who seek the fringes have seen all of our enclaves overrun and brought down to the level of the masses, the current rash of downright degrading "gonzo" porn is just a reflection of the mainstream.

[ related topics: Sexual Culture Political Correctness Sociology Civil Liberties ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 13:53:41.949492+00 by: petronius

Didn't Daniel Moynihan say something about "defining down deviance"? I think he meant that where previously some man raving about flying saucers screaming down the avenue would be just locked up in the hospital, we now consider him a mildly eccentric part of the streetscape, like hot dog vendors and newsstands, and put up with it. Even Suzie Bright has complained that finding some transgressive boundery against which to react becomes more and more difficult in an age without commonly recognized bounderies. Blaming the mainstream for giving up its bounderies seems disengenuous at best.

Maybe we should just admit that the problem isn't, "the more widestream porn becomes, the coarser it gets." It might be better states as, "the more widestream porn becomes, the coarser WE get." Our tastes haven't come down to the level of the masses; that's just snobbery. We've dragged the masses down to our level.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 14:28:45.335926+00 by: Dan Lyke

No, actually, I don't think it's a matter of the mainstream becoming coarser, I think it's a matter of the coarseness of the mainstream being exposed. I think that the misogyny, for instance, has always been there, it's just that its overt expression has been suppressed, so it's been expressed in all sorts of insidious less obvious ways.

Now we're just seeing the ugly without the veneer of "manners" on top of it.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 15:02:26.519125+00 by: JT

If people didn't buy it, there would be no production of it. It's a simple law of supply and demand, even in the case of internet porn.

In my day, there were stars like Seka, Hyapatia Lee, or even early Christy Canyon. They were beautiful women who had sex with men in darkened rooms where you could see some things, but missed others. They were attractive and classy. The "snuff" and degrading porn wasn't in public view, but it was sold in little back rooms of the porn shops because most people didn't want to see that.

The last time I looked at porn, I saw some man slapping a woman over and over while she was giving him oral sex. I looked at another site and saw a young guy holding a young girl by the throat while having sex with her. The next seemed to be more focused on choking a woman with your penis than actually getting a blowjob. After a handful of other sites that seemed more focused on degradation than pleasure, I decided I was getting too old for porn.

I think that my tastes haven't changed, but it seems a lot of people's have. After all, if the morals and folkways of porn viewers haven't changed, then maybe I've become a prude or either edited my memories to remember what I wanted to, either way... someone's buying the new stuff that's out there in order for the market to meet that need, but that someone isn't me.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 16:20:58.724633+00 by: petronius

Markets evolve, as do people's tastes. But there is also the factor of what we might call the "emboldened consumer". Rough porn is now far easier to get a hold of without having to slip into the backroom at Wierd Harold's House o'Porn. Maybe we are just seeing a niche become more open. Or a group who's tastes have gotten more extreme as more material became available. You seem to be saying that porn has no power to modify the consumer's expectations to see more extreme presentations.

Let me use an analogy. When I was a kid unwed mothers were disgraced and hidden. Nowadays, there is still a huge amount of hassle for an unwed mother, but the disgrace is largely gone. And damned if we don't have many more unwed mothers. Maybe the social stigma, fairly or unfairly, had some influence on people's behavior. I don't think there was some natural, pre-existing reservoir of unwed pregnancy waiting to express itself. But once one behavior became less problematic, trying something else became much easier.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 16:51:55.709924+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

I dunno. I could make an argument that going from a percent or two in the early part of the last century to a third at the early part of this one, even as contraceptives have become widespread, indicates that a large portion of marriages back in the early to middle of the 20th century existed purely for economic reasons. That, in fact, there was a pre-existing reservoir of unwed pregnancy waiting to express itself.

(I love conversations like these, because they make me go track down various numbers and trends and give me a chance to explore some of my own prejudices and expectations)

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 16:56:20.89904+00 by: Dan Lyke

Okay, I'm looking through http://www.iwf.org/pdf/American%20%20Promise.pdf and here's something I find fascinating: Unwed mothers have declined since 1995. Unwed fathers are still rising from the early '80s.

I think there may be some innate reservoirs here.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 16:57:01.150896+00 by: JT

petronius, I'm not saying that the market doesn't guide the consumer. It's a basic fundamental of marketing. If it was the case that consumers didn't follow the market, there would be no new products. I'm just saying that personally, I don't follow the current trends in pornography. I really don't think it's an expanded niche though, that most people were looking for this type of material before it became available. I think that as the market gets inundated with a new and different product, people become desensitized to the misogyny or were seeking it initially, which causes the market to broaden.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 17:13:02.670773+00 by: petronius

Hmmm...unwed mother's are dropping, whilst unwed fathers are rising. Last I heard, it takes two to tango, or did I miss that issue of Science News?

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 17:20:18.209779+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Let's rephrase that: unwed parents with custody of their children. Or, as quite a few people will happily point out (my partner distinctly among them), biology alone doesn't make a parent.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-26 00:02:42.590967+00 by: polly

just maybe the porn has become "boring"? i find as i add another year to my age that the kinky freaky stuff has taken a backseat to my interests in general. plus, i just don't have the time to read anything "fun" anymore....hmmm, that sucks :<

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-26 00:22:46.810216+00 by: Dan Lyke

Polly, I don't know, but I think that it goes beyond me finding the erotic boring. Sure, my notion of erotic has evolved, at some point you've been to one orgy you've been to 'em all... okay, maybe I overstate the case a little bit, but, yes, the erotic has become more focused and more defined to me.

Still, if I go and look at porn from other eras I don't see as much downright mean stuff as I see floating around right now. The current trend of what the Brits seem to call "laddism" seems degrading in ways that I just can't wrap my head around, and those that tie this to both the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the public acceptance of that, are gaining more ground in my regards.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-30 19:10:31.592981+00 by: baylink

> Even Suzie Bright has complained that finding some transgressive boundery against which to react becomes more and more difficult in an age without commonly recognized bounderies. Blaming the mainstream for giving up its bounderies seems disengenuous at best.

This is akin to the observation I make about Allen Sherman's classic Playboy Press work "The Rape of the A*P*E*", which you should all go read if you haven't:

The sexual revolution is over. We lost.

Kids have to try so hard to rebel these days; I think it's a bad thing. Nothing wrong with being a little puritanical as a parent, if you can do it without getting caught in your hypocrisy... :-)

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-30 19:11:20.447553+00 by: baylink

Elf's blog appears to be broken, and incidentally, there's a minor furor about his page at Wikipedia: they don't think he's encyclopedic.