Do you like pornography? The story I heard was that pornography was the glue that held the internet together, that so much internet traffic was created from marketing and consuming pornography that it substantially enabled the infrastructure facilitating other types of traffic. That observation may be a little out of date, now that every housewife has their own AdSense campaign, 90% of email consists of junk mail, and the web is full of marketers wanting to tell one another how much money they make from blogging, Facebook accounts and mobile marketing.

However pornography is hard to get away from. I wrote here recently about worship in ancient societies of the Great Mother goddess, whose rites included those involving some forms of sexual intercourse. Surviving images of the goddess are rather battered, so I went looking for a modern substitute that would convey the impact the ancient images once had. I was given only two choices when I looked for a photograph of a naked girl. So-called ‘glamour’ shots, coyly shown and partly clothed images, or explicit shots of girls performing wonders of flexibility while looking rather stolid about it.

I don’t actually object to pornography, in the sense that if there is a market for it, and provided nobody gets hurt in its production, I wouldn’t like to see it banned. Banning anything in my view is a lot worse than pornography because it takes away people’s self responsibility.

But pornography on the web at least is quite divorced from sex. I didn’t think it was. Once upon a time, when it was mild mannered men purchasing brown paper covered books featuring Fanny’s violation or Dulcie’s depravity, or coy photos of ladies revealing their buttocks, there was still something about sex to it. But now that written pornography has been subsumed under the heading feminist romance, pornography is almost all visual in nature, and like a lot of visual material (Hollywood films for example) is totally lacking in imagination. It has ceased to be about sex, and become a form of gymnastics.

Sex is an emotion, and a powerful one. It incorporates elements of fantasy, wish fulfillment and illusion. It’s a quick and easy way of not being alone. And the physical sensation of orgasm leaves us totally unprotected and quite vulnerable. That’s why we say it’s a form of intimacy. Even more than all this, it’s a basic instinct. We are born with the need to have sex, probably purely a programming for reproduction of the species, though the same instinct drives same sex lovers as well. Trying to control or sublimate the sex drive leads to all kinds of troubles. Mind you, exercising the sex drive does that too, as we come upon inflated ideas of our own self importance and fear of inadequacy.
None of this can be depicted in pornography. No performer in a pornographic film would dream of showing passion, and the orgasms are all faked, sometimes to a ludicrous extent. It’s not that easy to do: try it some time (on the bus to work for instance: should get you a seat). Performers foster the belief that some of them, at least, are exhibitionists, nymphomaniacs, that a man with a movie camera is just the thing they need to reach orgasm while standing on their hands in a multi partnered situation. But I don’t believe it. Performers in this industry are business people, delivering a product. They’re not actors. Marilyn Chambers once said in an interview it was impossible to act while having sex. The attempts to do so are pitiable. Sad, because the myth is that performers join this industry after failing in the acting one. (Ninety percent of would be actors don’t make it, and ninety percent of those who do only get bit parts, but thousands of good looking girls try, and the pornographers are there to help if the studio can’t. The myth continues: first a nude scene, then a little sex, then extreme sex, and if you’re lucky you get to be a porn queen).

As someone once said, it’s not about lust, but about greed.

It’s become necessary now to grade pornography, because so much of it is bad, in the sense of incompetently made. It’s so easy to do. All you need is a $100 home cam-recorder, an empty room, a man and a woman able to give you half an hour of their time, and away you go. A dozen clips a day, 60 a week, 250 a month, and none of them worth watching. You don’t even need to know how to use the camera (though it helps if you keep your thumb off the lens). A lot of things get jettisoned in fact: camera angles, scene transitions, lighting, makeup. Look around and you’ll see about 500 film clips a day uploaded of this primitive material. One can only ask why.

I have a theory about the American pornographer. Scratch one, and I think you’ll find an American puritan. Either that, or the material is produced by the churches to stop people watching. Who would want to watch incompetently made, out of focus, badly lit, hard to see, single angle, repetitious, boring acts of monotonous sexual intercourse between rather unattractive performers, with unconvincing groaning and panting on the soundtrack. The aliens from Centaurus 93, should they be observing us, must be rather puzzled, scratching their domes with their feelers and wondering about mating customs on earth from what they see at human pornography sites.

Almost as absurd as someone like me trying to find traces of sacred sex in today’s streamlined and neon lit world of dollar driven internet traffic.

On the other hand, it’s a business, so, even separated from sex, does the market justify the pornography industry? For the performers it’s a question of money. Anything between $100 to $2,000 for a 10 minute scene (depending on how mind-boggling and acrobatic it is), as long as you’re in good shape and health, and well known for delivering the goods. It’s not an industry to grow old in, so I suppose the idea is to get as much work as you can. For the producers it must be much more complicated. No-one pretends to be a film director now the 70s are over, but there are all kinds, big companies with professional production standards, el cheapos, amateurs, and people fantasizing about being porn stars while performing in front of their webcams to what they imagine is a world wide audience.

Now, there’s an audience (and a market) for sex, just as there is for love. There obviously is, or introduction services, matchmaking clubs, brothels and prostitutes wouldn’t exist. Can we say the same for pornography? Or is there just a product, and the technology for its production, looking for a market?

There’s a certain amount of wishful thinking in internet marketing claims. Perhaps if you keep on saying how much money you make through a Facebook account you really will make money through a Facebook account. Or Google AdSense or whatever. The same for SEO advisers and software. Underlying it all is the expectation you only have to get a high page ranking in a search engine result to sell your product, as though the market was totally undiscriminating and would buy whatever they saw first. Maybe we are as gullible about technology as all that. Perhaps we really do think if we own a mobile phone and make lots of calls we’re somehow closer to others (even if we have nothing really to say to them).

Pornographers are as confused as the rest of us, it seems. Unlikely anyone would pay to watch others have sex on the internet when down at the local bar, for the price of buying a second beer to get up your courage, you could chat up the girl sitting by herself who’s probably feeling lonely and a bit adventurous: you could end up with sex for two, twice as good. But pornography is not about sex, as I said, but about gymnastics. And you’re not asked to buy pornography on the web. It’s free. OK, some ‘free’ is not free, but a lot is. What on earth does this mean? Is a pornographer a business man who invests in equipment, pays performers, opens a website, then gives away their product for free? A philanthropist? The product is the least interesting component in the physical act of sex, often incompetently made. It’s still not making sense. The audience? The curious, the incredulous? My generation found it hard to swallow that Linda Lovelace could do deep throat but we’ve all become more sophisticated now. I can only see two possible markets. Thirteen year old boys taking a break from eight hours of chopping alien invaders with laser swords; and adventurous couples spicing up their sex lives. We know now that girls enjoy quite a lot of types of pornography. Still seems a lot of product for a small market. If the pornographers are getting desperate, perhaps Google are really taking over the internet. And Google, I suspect, are quite puritan. They want us to buy and sell, not watch porn.

There used to be a joke about the guy who only bought Playboy magazine to read the articles. I feel just like that guy, claiming to be cruising pornography websites doing research on ancient religious sexual rites. Sure! It is a fact though that the internet is a great source of information, and invaluable for doing research. You just have to be aware of the large component of material on it which is biased, oddball, ignorant or superficial. Learning to browse with discrimination is something I’m learning more about every day.

©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


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