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April 20, 2009

More on Porn and Rock

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A while back I wondered whether porn might become the new rock and roll -- in other words, whether porn might not soon make the leap, as rock once did, from despised/beloved low-entertainment-thing to accepted/respected part of popular culture. Though most visitors scoffed, I continue to think that my hunch is a good one. The main reason for my stubbornness: the masses of evidence I see all around me.

  • The urban and arty kids in their 20s I sometimes hang out with have already accepted porn as a legit form of entertainment and self-expression. And when creative and trendsetting youth turns a corner, mainstream tastes and attitudes often follow.

  • Check out the blogroll on this hipster Brooklyn blog. (These days Brooklyn is more edgy than Manhattan is.) Along with gossip, comedy, tech, and music, there it is: a porn category, featuring five alt-porn sites.

  • When Burning Angel CEO and star Joanna Angel wants to celebrate the 7th anniversary of her alt-porn company, where does she throw the party? At the popular East Village rock venue Webster Hall.

  • The star of Steven Soderbergh's upcoming film "The Girlfriend Experience"? Alt-porn diva Sasha Grey. Here's an interview with Sasha, who tells Filmmaker magazine that she's in an art-film phase. Watch a trailer for the movie here. Here's an NSFW ad that Sasha did for American Apparel.

Where trends go, are you really going to argue with American Apparel?

(Just to be clear: I'm not celebrating this development, just taking note of culturelife as it streams by.)



posted by Michael at April 20, 2009


You're definitely on the money (shot? sorry, had to do it...) with this observation, Michael.

It's really not just the artsy or urban kids. For basically all teens and 20 somethings, it's just a normal part of the electronic/digital entertainment/cultural landscape.

Pornstars like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy are even mainstream figures, and they appear on the bad reality shows on cable pretty frequently.

Also, the recent "tea-bagging" running gag on MSNBC was basically a big inside joke between the anchors and young viewers. Porn and sex terms are just a part of young people's everyday language these days, and not something just relegated to the boys in the bar having a drink.

I remember when for young guys, while it was acknowledged that every guy somehow would get access to a dirty mag and masturbate or whatever, it wasn't like a completely open thing and there was some shame involved, even just among guys.

Nowadays, guys have no problem talking about the different porn sites they frequent and their masturbation habits. There really is no degree of shame whatsoever. I think young guys these days would be flabbergasted to hear that just a few decades ago the idea that masturbation could be sinful, or pathological, had actual currency in society.

And Sasha Grey's crossing over into a major motion picture isn't surprising at all. It probably would've happened earlier if Jenna Jameson had some talent and didn't give off such a pornstar vibe.

I suppose we're just witnessing a culture and civilization cannibalizing itself, something that's undoubtedly happened many times over in the past. And I'm sure long after we're gone, and it has completely exhausted itself, something will replace or rise out of it.

Posted by: Pauper on April 20, 2009 1:59 AM

I remain unconvinced Michael.

Hipsters only drive culture when there is a reason, i.e. competition for mates among those with too much money chasing too little women, or for women, too much money chasing too few female friends. That's the dynamic of hipsters driving culture. Excess money.

We seem to be in a phase of at least the 1970's, characterized by middle of the road dullness, in most every bit of culture, and perhaps the 1930's, of huge economic struggles to survive.

You'll probably see a more moralistic, traditional values type of culture, with those culture leaders being more upbeat, money-saving, "wholesome" folks like Bobby Flay or Alton Brown or folks of that nature.

This seems to me to be more like the echoes of the flapper girls desperately trying to be cool and hip amongst the backdrop of breadlines and crises.

I offer the "slap-chop" of Vince from Sham-Wow after his run in with a prostitute, and the crackdown on "sexting' among kids, and the general collapse of advertising and consumer spending.

Do you honestly think any media company in this environment (GE reports declines of 45% among Universal TV/Movie operations Year to Year) will risk a consumer backlash over pr0n?

If anything, we will see a more play-it-safe mentality, as people hunker down, don't make risky moves, and hipsters run across the one force mightier than they are: a sustained economic decline.

In times of rapid and sustained wage declines, such as the 1930's, cultural conservatism not narcissistic and exhibitionist displays rule. Think hemlines, and the movie industry in the 1920's vs. 1930's through 1940's. [There was a post-war mini blip collapse in the economy in 1947-8 as the nation transitioned to peacetime]

Out: daring hemlines and daring explorations of sex. In: modest dresses and wholesome, all American entertainment.

The long run of Post-War prosperity that ran mostly uninterrupted save for 1973-83, seems at an end.

Posted by: whiskey on April 20, 2009 2:31 AM

And when creative and trendsetting youth turns a corner, mainstream tastes and attitudes often follow.

And just as often, or more so, they run away -- "I don't want my friends to think I'm some hipster fag." Remember that Christian Evangelism hit a resurgence only once the '60s got going.

The exception is adopting a new technology -- if it's useful, no one cares whether it was first seized on by annoying indie rock geeks.

Posted by: agnostic on April 20, 2009 3:11 AM

Ugh! It's way too early in the morning to be looking at dirty pictures.

So, I admit I didn't look at any of the dirty pictures.

Didn't we go through the same thing back in the 60s, Michael? You know... We're not just going to make dirty pictures... We're going to make arty movies with a plot.

As I recall, that particularly "movement" lasted a few years and the porn biz went right back to producing "clips."

So, I suspect that those hip kids in their 20s are going through the same thing. And, I suspect that after a brief attempt to turn fuck films into art, they will give up and produce "clips."

Because, really, when it comes to porn, all anybody is really interested in is a short clip angled to their particular perversion. It only takes 3 to 5 minutes to masturbate.

Since when is Brooklyn "edgy?" Back in the day, Brooklyn was for losers who can't afford Manhattan. I suspect that hasn't changed either.

Anything new here? I vote no. Same delusion, different generation.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 20, 2009 6:42 AM

What's with the young and music? It seems to be the only thing that energizes them, that they're passionate about. I know, I know, there was Sinatra and the Beatles and Elvis. But they weren't the ONLY thing for preceding generations. I frequent a site, a very catholic site which will remain nameless, and the only thing that brings out the young bloggers is a thread about music. They are experts when it comes to the littlest picayunest detail about this or that utterly inane (to me) rock group. I'm going on this way because the Brooklyn site you link to is all about and only about music groups. Okay, rant over. Maybe someone can explain it or take a stab at it: this religion of rock that has the young in thrall.

Posted by: ricpic on April 20, 2009 7:17 AM

Pauper -- Yeah, you've put it much better than I have, tks. The matter-of-fact acceptance of porn as nothing more than one facet of the entertainment-tech-digital landscape (and one there's no reason to be ashamed of) has ALREADY taken place among loads of young people. (One constant here: Everything in the digital culture world is there either to please you or not. It either contributes to self-pleasure or it doesn't -- so in many ways, masturbation is the fundamental experience nearly everything else is compared to.) To my mind, that makes it pretty much a foregone conclusion that someone at some point is going to stand up and say, "Hey, we love porn as much as we love pop magazines and pop music, and we think it's a perfectly valid entertainment form." To the immense shock of older and squarer folks, who'll continue arguing over it as though their ideas and feelings and misgivings count. But maybe that won't happen. Maybe the big dramatic moment I'm expecting will never come along. Maybe the older folks will just fade away. But the attitude (in a culture of "self-pleasure is everything," porn becomes a fundamental value, as well as a metaphor for everything else) will persist. I think you've also done a great job of explaining how uninhibited many young people are, as well as how totally they lack shame about stuff like masturbation. I'm a Boomer who lived thru the hippies and punks and had a good number of romances and adventures before settling down, and even I gasp a bit at how completely unembarrassed today's kids are. They're a sweet bunch, though. They giggle among themselves about it, and they don't (unlike the Boomers) seem to feel a need to push their lack of inhibitions in their parents' faces. Which of course means that their parents can go on imagining that their kids aren't doing what they're doing and living as they're living ...

Whiskey -- I agree with much that you say but still think my prediction's likely to play out, for the reasons that Pauper gives. Kids are growing up with porn -- and Abercrombie and Fitch and American Apparel ads -- as part of their "normal" landscape. The big change in attitudes has already happened. The only thing needed to complete my prediction is for someone to stand up and make an explicit point of it. (Which may or may not happen.) Note that I'm not saying that the young hipsters I know are driving culture, just that their tastes and assumptions often prove to be indicative of where the larger culture is going. But maybe they won't be in this case ...

Agnostic -- The wars over "is rock and roll art?" didn't stop completely when some people started asserting that hey, maybe rock could be art. Loads of people dug in their heels against the idea. There are probably still some around. And as the decades passed most people generally got used to the idea. Same thing happened with jazz, blues, movies, TV. Seems to me that the big diff these days compared to those days is that today's mainstream is a different beast than it once was, and that niche audiences have so much more room to exist than they once did. I don't know what kind of impact this might have on general attitudes, though. Any hunches? One diff may also be the drama level. As I point out above, the Boomers felt a need to make their arguments explicit; they were confrontational. It may be that today's kids are less show-offy, and see no need to provoke fights with their parents. They may be content to let the oldsters continue to delude themselves until they fall off the edge of the table. So the big, dramatic "Hey, porn really IS a legit part of pop entertainment" moment may never come, it may just gradually pervade the culture.

ST -- I think you're trying to torture new phenomena into old categories. For example: what if porn clips don't represent Failure. What if, in a culture-creation/culture-experience sense, they're considered OK? What if your collection of porn clips (and downloads and such) is considered on an equal level with what's on your bookshelf or CD shelf -- or rather, your iTunes library? It's all a bunch of culture-stuff that you might or might not dig. If it works for you, hit the re-play button. If not, drag it to the trash can. Today the culture experience for kids is often about short blasts that they mix and match to suit themselves. (Example: many kids skip reading books -- blech to plowing linearly through all those words -- and surf the web instead. It's a "reading" experience, but it's very different than the traditional one.) Porn suits that model to a T. It even starts to seem -- excuse the word -- paradigmatic. And yeah, Brooklyn's where it's at if you're into catching up with the hipper NYC element. In some ways it's like what the Village was like back in the '40s and '50s. Meanwhile the Village (and SoHo and Tribeca) are seeming downright retro and stuffy.

Ricpic -- Kids and music, it's a great question. Pop music and youth really do seem to go hand in hand. Why? Does pop music represent (and also stir up) the pulse of being young, that inner energetic/hormonal hammering that's so exciting yet also so crazy-making relentless? I think that's what it was for me. I'm still a music listener, but as my oomph levels have subsided my tastes have become much broader, and I long ago gave up needing to want music to accompany my every waking moment. Just don't have that craving any longer. Same with you? Different?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 20, 2009 8:16 AM

The sexual revolution became mainstream in the 70s, precisely when the economy was not doing well. I see no reason to think that bad economic times will have much effect on loose sexual mores.

As for porn proper, porn itself had its Golden Age (heh) in the late seventies, and really made more proportional headway into becoming a mainstream phenomenon then than it is doing now (with an even bigger push in the VCR era, the now twenty-five years gone early eighties).

I just don't see any obvious connection between bad economic times and tightening sexual mores. But of course, I tend to the skeptic/heretic side that says not a whole lot has really changed in the last few decades in any case. People were doing it a lot more than they admitted in the bad old days of repression, and they're doing less of it than they claim now in the days of Pornified America.

I don't buy the claims that there have been really substantial changes in the man/woman thing. Lotsa froth, lotsa hype, lotsa Manhattan people agonizing over their radically new (not!) boho lifestyle choices (said agonizing itself being a decades-old thing), without a whole lot changing in how the rest of America lives its sexual and other lives.

Plus ca change, as they say in Esperanto, or maybe it's some other language.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 20, 2009 8:49 AM

I dunno. Porn is only interesting for about 3 minutes.

I've long thought there was a huge business opportunity piping one-hand material into China. There's going to be like 100 million surplus dudes there. That would suck.

Posted by: Bhh on April 20, 2009 9:46 AM

It's difficult to reconcile the alleged "mainstreaming" of p#rn with the fact that television remains subject to rigid censorship. You can watch television for hours and hours without encountering even the slightest hint of nudity.

Posted by: Peter on April 20, 2009 9:50 AM

Brooklyn is kewl for the young white set that is thrilled! thrilled! to get up close and personal and be mugged by the disadvantaged yute.

Posted by: ricpic on April 20, 2009 10:15 AM

Lots of denial and "been there, done that" from the older folks here. Sounds to me like old fogeyism. The stuff with porn is happening now, regardless of whether you think it is or not, or whether you believe it's nothing new. I don't think it's as big a deal as Michael seems to, in that, as Pauper says, the digital kids pretty much accept it as just another entertainment outlet, no better or worse than any other. Something that hasn't been mentioned is that a lot of guys watch porn with their girlfriends to get things going. I'm sure someone will say something like, "Well, if you need porn to have sex, there's something wrong with you," but that exactly points out what you're missing. They don't NEED it, per se, it's just another tool in their arsenal, so to speak, akin to putting on some mood music. People under 30 (and some over 30) do not feel as if they are stooping to some lower level by incorporating porn in their lives. That's just a fact.

Posted by: JV on April 20, 2009 11:12 AM

I must be an old fogey, because I find the term "hipster" irritating, and all this talk about P being normal, commonplace, and mainstream makes me want to disconnect my house from the internet before my son gets old enough to use the computer by himself.

Posted by: JP on April 20, 2009 11:40 AM

Here's an NSFW ad that Sasha did for American Apparel.

Ahhh ... I now have tremendous respect for Sasha and American Apparel.

Posted by: Peter on April 20, 2009 11:45 AM

However or whatever: here's a prediction - a lot of young people are going to regret legacy photos and movies of themselves holding their butt cheeks apart with a finger up themselves.

But, then again perhaps in the future students, employers, and grandchildren will love to review the FUN of their teachers, employees, and grandparents.

Indeed, develop a new respect . . .

Posted by: Larry on April 20, 2009 12:03 PM

Michael is probably right, and that's a shame. Porn was much more fun when it was underground. Transgression is like a retrorocket for sex, but I wonder if it's even possible anymore.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on April 20, 2009 1:24 PM

The fact that they do not FEEL they are stooping to a lower level by incorporating porn into their lives doesn't mean that they are not stooping to a lower level. They are. Unless they are soulless to begin with. Which I'm sure some are.

Posted by: ricpic on April 20, 2009 1:52 PM

Hmm. I hate everything to do with porn, but I do think a real revolution is happening, contra PatrickH and ST. On the other hand, I sort of agree that it isn't as new as some people think. The real revolution in sexual mores in the 20th century began, slowly, with the invention and spread of the automobile, because suddenly young people had a warm, private place to court that wasn't their parents' parlour. It - the revolution - continued with the havoc wreaked by two devastating wars. Why not have sex if all the young men were going to be dead soon? wondered many young women of the Teens and the Forties. And then when society at last began to calm down a little in the Fifties, along came birth control pills, more effective and less messy than any previous contraception.

What's been happening with porn since the 1970s has been the fruit of this long slow breakdown in sexual morality. But it differs from that breakdown in that rather than bringing young people together, it is pushing them apart. I don't doubt that many people use porn in the context of "relationships" but even there it seems likely to make fantasy take the place of reality (not merely to enhance it) in ways that seem unhealthy to me.

I know my opinion counts for exactly nothing, but the fact that the people living through it don't perceive a trend as dangerous or oppressive doesn't mean they're necessarily right. An analogy: many women in Islamic countries assume the hijab/burka etc. voluntarily but that doesn't mean that the drive towards veiling in these nations is not oppressive.

I suppose I should add that I have no objection to the kind of porn that involves only the depiction of naked male or female bodies. I'm too artsy to find such depictions distasteful, although I know that the purpose of a Playboy centrefold and an internet clip of well, whatever, is ultimately the same. But it's a long way from that centrefold towards the filming of real sexual acts - especially one's own - and putting the results out on the internet.

Trends can reverse themselves, you know. As a recent article I read somewhere said, smoking was once taken for granted in every social venue, too, and was ubiquitous for many decades.

Posted by: aliasclio on April 20, 2009 3:02 PM

Not having cool artsy 20 something friends like MB, I can't say how porn affects this generation. I'd think there'd eventually be a boredom/maturation effect so that new porn would be stylized to suit the tastes of the new crop of the recently sexually active without the interest in porn expanding much beyond this purpose. .

Surely all this overexposure to porn will eventually lessen it's effect. Some waning in interest will be generational with kids choosing to distinguish themselves by taking on fads and attitudes diametrically opposed to those prevailing just a few years previously. I know my peers and I showed contempt for just about every feature of adolescent culture from the 70s. And getting older in general should reduce the communal interest in porn which will leave intact the same group of hornly men who have always kept the adult bookstores in business while everyone else moves on to bungee jumping or fire walking.

Posted by: lynx on April 20, 2009 3:39 PM

I think JV has it exactly right. The porn thing isn't a big deal to the under-30 set. It's never more than a click away, after all. They take porn's presence completely for granted, as they expect smartphones and downloading to be part of their day to day landscape. That new landscape looks exotic -- and worrying, and debatable -- to the rest of us, but it's just normal life to them.

Hey, a funny blog for those willing to giggle at the Brooklyn-hipster thing:


The blog's title is vulgar, so be prepared for that.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 20, 2009 3:41 PM

There's a lumping together of porn being made of oneself and others in action and just plain old style porn. The first is clearly part of the broader phenomenon of self-revelation that's at the root of reality shows, blogs (yes you Michael!), facebook, etc. People only feel real when they're on camera. That is a generational phenomenon for sure, though there are of course lots of old fogies eager to get on TV or the web and acquire their 15 minutes of reality. (It's odd, isn't it, that being photographed was thought by some to "steal your soul", while nowadays it's what gives you a soul).

So, reality. Self-revelation. Sexual self-revelation as a subset of that. Then there's porn, produced as a sexual aid (especially for masturbation), and sold via whatever medium best facilitates sales--films giving way to VCRs giving way to the web.

These are two very different phenomena, with different motivations, different audiences, and no doubt different significance. But the porn that's sold for jerkoff material is just a continuation of the genius of modern capitalism, which finds a way to feed people's appetites, and all for a quick buck. This is just plain nothing new, ubiquity schoombiquity.

The other thing: nudie pics sent to friends over the cell, all of it, that whole thing...that's newer, and that's much more interesting than the ubiquity of masturbation material. That's changing our sense of what privacy, identity and connection even mean any more. Good or bad, that's the big development.

P.S. People under 30 (and some over 30) do not feel as if they are stooping to some lower level by incorporating porn in their lives. That's just a fact. Neither were the people who decided the VCR format wars by buying video porn for their homes. And that's a fact too. There is nothing new about this attitude. The porn industry was multi-billion dollar biz in the eighties, bigger than mainstream Hollywood. and that's another fact.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 20, 2009 4:04 PM

Patrick, interesting comment about how we view photography.

About homemade vs. pro pron, I don't think there's as much a difference as you do. Further, the ubiquity of pron, coupled with consumer accessible means of production, is what drives the homemade stuff. Porn is no longer a stigma, so why not star in your own? Also, the amateur stuff is extremely popular, especially online. On the rare occasion I view any, it's what I prefer. So really, the homemade stuff is made for consumption, not just for personal thrills.

You're right about it being a huge business in the 80s, but it was still basically underground. The numbers haven't changed but the cultural acceptance has.

FWIW, I'm really wary of this development, especially as my oldest son hits his mid-teens.

Posted by: JV on April 20, 2009 4:32 PM

Porn will no more become a part of popular culture than, say, the Insane Clown Posse.

Regardless of how popular it becomes, or how many people will be familiar with what is happening, Bukkake will never become mainstream. Because, if it does, the society that mainstreamed will suddenly implode.

Posted by: Usually Lurking on April 20, 2009 4:48 PM

"The other thing: nudie pics sent to friends over the cell, all of it, that whole thing...that's newer, and that's much more interesting than the ubiquity of masturbation material. That's changing our sense of what privacy, identity and connection even mean any more. Good or bad, that's the big development." PH

I think this is the new string bikini in some cases. Many hot young girls are also vain and like to reveal their bodies to as many people as possible. I presume to revel further in their power over all mankind. It's also reminiscent of streaking and skinny dipping the difference being the images are stored permanently on hard drives now.

Not much new here. Kids are as impulsive as ever. But, take heart parents. Format changes have made everything stored on floppy discs inaccessible while the slower changing CD media is steadily morphing into multiple formats. I think eventually backward compatibility will disappear as will many of those images on cellphones. Unfortunately, these girls may have to keep a low profile until they're in their 40s or 50s. ; )

Posted by: lynx on April 20, 2009 6:11 PM

On the other hand, I sort of agree that it isn't as new as some people think.

It's even stronger than that -- people are far *less* perverted than they used to be. Clio the history buff probably has more detailed examples she can cite, but just a casual look says so.

First, Europeans and their off-shoots today are mostly the descendants of the merchant classes -- those stodgy, gratification-delaying prudes. Interest rates are incredibly low now, compared to any point in history, because people are much more forward-looking and conscientious. So, lenders aren't so worried about people paying back their loans. It's no longer, "Let's drink, fuck, and kill -- after all, life is cheap."

A simple way is to look at the extreme cases. Perversion isn't black-or-white; people are spread out along a continuum. Just as we can see if we've gotten taller as a whole by looking at the heights of "the tallest people" at various times, we can see whether we've become more or less perverted by looking at how perverted the most extreme cases have been at various times.

As recently as the eve of the Industrial Revolution, we had Casanova, the Marquis de Sade, and the many anonymous well-to-do men symbolized in Hogarth's A Rake's Progress. Nobody these days comes close to that -- Hugh Hefner is a Puritanical pussy compared to one of them *during a slump*.

And that's leaving aside anything before that...

Let's assume porn does become mainstream -- a thought experiment, since it is still something most people don't talk about in real life with people they're close to, aside from hipsters trying to sound hip and ironic about it.

Will this be better or worse than when prostitutes legally walked the streets of most cities, well into the 20th C? Urban teenage boys of those days couldn't have wandered very far without bumping into prostitutes and being solicited. And urban teenage girls would have seen them and thought, "that's what we're expected to compete with?"

Let's keep the big picture in mind.

Posted by: agnostic on April 20, 2009 8:06 PM

The ubiquity of porn always makes me chuckle at complaints that we live in a feminized society. Your analogy of porn and rock music is interesting though it's hard for me to imagine unattractive people having sex in front of Simon Cowell while he criticizes their bodies and tells them they should never have sex again. So even if porn is wall paper, and I agree with you that it is, I don't think that ordinary people will ever become as involved in porn as they are in popular music. Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland is in a celtic rock band, but I don't think you'll ever see anyone with a porn past in politics.

I once heard an interview with John Waters where he claimed that we'll soon see non-simulated sex in mainstream movies. It seems reasonable to me though that will surely drive more people away from Hollywood fare and create a big market for alternative films like "Napoleon Dynamite" that have little or no sex.

Posted by: hello on April 20, 2009 8:09 PM

"...but I don't think you'll ever see anyone with a porn past in politics."

It's already happened in Italy. Can we be far behind? I'll bet it will happen sooner than later, starting with local politics, of course.

Posted by: JV on April 20, 2009 10:20 PM

As recently as the eve of the Industrial Revolution, we had Casanova, the Marquis de Sade, and the many anonymous well-to-do men symbolized in Hogarth's A Rake's Progress.

And we have John Bonham and Nikki "I was innocent until I stuck a guitar neck up some chick's ass" Sixx. Seriously, you should read The Dirt.

This is just a half-baked bastardization of Gregory Clark, combined with you "everything is getting better" bugabear. That said is really difficult to compare lustfullness over time, considering the vastly different material circumstances and incentives for expressing that lust. For what it's worth, there doesn't seem to be much difference in sexual themes in literature over time, with the exception of the relative prudery of Regency and Victorian novels.

The ubiquity of porn always makes me chuckle at complaints that we live in a feminized society.

Porn is what is keeping the beta male masses pacified under our feminist overlords. Sure, you may have to constantly listen to some feminist harrangue about male oppression etc. etc. etc., but then you get to go home and watch some girl get slapped around and penetrated six ways from Sunday.

Posted by: Thursday on April 20, 2009 10:56 PM

"Everything is getting better" is true, at least in the contexts where I say it is -- read more history, especially from people who count things.

Compared to the mid-18th C, you don't have to step over as many prostitutes and blind beggars when you go out into the city -- true or false?

And Nikki Sixx doesn't have jack on de Sade or Casanova. Since when did he seduce an entire family, including the underage daughters, resident nuns, etc.? Did he keep women prisoner and sexually torture them? Rockstars may be promiscuous and vulgar, but they're vanilla sissies compared to the perverts of yore.

Posted by: agnostic on April 20, 2009 11:38 PM


I don't think it's as big a deal as Michael seems to, in that, as Pauper says, the digital kids pretty much accept it as just another entertainment outlet, no better or worse than any other

The fact that it's no big deal, is a big deal.

Everyone knows that the entertainment media is both a product of culture and something which alters culture itself. As I mentioned in previous blogposts the Brazillian was an exceptional phenomena till it was promoted by the media, then it became relatively mainstream. With regard to anal sex and oral sex they were not that common a practice till they were mainstreamed by porn. Oh yeah, there is a long history of the arty types engaging in this sort of thing, but the average Joe was fairly vanilla in his tastes until recently.

The matter-of-fact acceptance of porn as nothing more than one facet of the entertainment-tech-digital landscape

No I think it's perceived social expectation. Religion is so uncool. Probably the worst slur one can get from the cool crowd is "Virgin". No one wants to be labeled a religious nut or Fundy. So youth engage in behaviour to show how "cool" they are. The fact that that the behaviour is in itself immensely pleasurable, fuels it. Michael, how many of those girls on Guess Her Muff are probably aware that their picture is on that site? How many are probably happy about it? When I look at that site all I see are boasting boyfriends, misogynistic ex's and bitter divorcees posting pictures of their former partner to push whatever objective they want. Porn is not being taken up for itself but for other reasons. Many of the Lets Fuck and Show It to the World crowd are doing it to make some sort of statement. Pathetic. Normal people want sex to be private. There is quite a literay tradition of ex porn stars regretting their actions in the past. (Frequently in their memoirs they'll write on how they put on the "hey I'm having fun face" during the act while feeling quite miserable inside). The matter of fact acceptance is probably more as a result of social conformity than genuine acceptance of the stuff.

Posted by: slumlord on April 21, 2009 12:02 AM

Since when did he seduce an entire family, including the underage daughters, resident nuns, etc.? Did he keep women prisoner and sexually torture them?

There are contemporary examples of all sorts of this stuff. A British aristocrat known for his seductions admitted sleeping with a mother and her two daughters. Kidnapping women for sex slaves hasn't gone away either. There was a well known case in Connecticut and another recent case in Austria involving a guy impregnating his daughter. Kidnapping girls into prostitution is still a problem even in places like the U.S. and Canada. Other fairly recent nasty shit includes movie producer Don Simpson beating the shit out of an 18 year old prostitute for kicks and then buying her off. Rick James was convicted of kidnapping someone for a sex slave. We could go on forever trading anecdotes, but the point is you have no real cause to say people are less pervy now than then.

"Everything is getting better" is true, at least in the contexts where I say it is -- read more history, especially from people who count things.

You don't even mention the more efficient law enforcement of today and modern welfare programs etc. that, whatever their ill side effects, generally have the effect of keeping a lot of the poor off the streets. Take note that London didn't even have a police force in the 18th Century, until one was founded by novelist/magistrate Henry Fielding. Trying to pin these kinds of changes on genetics when there were massive changes in social institutions etc. is grossly irresponsible.

This isn't to say that things were _better_ in the past, but you haven't even come close to establishing even a prima facie case for your notions that people were somehow worse genetically. Not to say it isn't true, or worth looking at, just that you have no case.

Posted by: Thursday on April 21, 2009 1:05 AM

Porn is essentially utilitarian in its function and the intent of those who manufacture it. Its purpose is to elicit arousal and make masturbation more pleasant. Any artistic qualities, if they are even apparent, are incidental.

Nobody watches or looks at porn when they're not in an erotic mood. If porn had substantial artistic qualities, they would.

Conversely, I don't look at visual art for its erotic potential, even something like a Matisse odalisque, and I don't have to be sexually tense to want to look at art, I can be in about any state of mind and enjoy it.

The mere fact that porn is ubiquitous or is considered hip by some doesn't mean it's an art form worthy of serious consideration.

The analogy of porn to rock music is a fail. Rock is a musical idiom, and music is a form of artistic expression. I've never once been moved to want to masturbate by listening to any rock music or any other music.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on April 21, 2009 2:49 AM


Sometimes I wonder what it is that bothers me about these porn posts. I really don't care what people do sexually.

I am, however, struck by the fact that you have absolutely no interest in the primary purpose of sexuality, which is reproduction. Well, you often express your belief that the birth of children is an ecological disaster. I mean, you have zero, if not negative, interest in children

Your world seems to be completely bereft of children.

You don't consider this a bit... odd? Every other creature on this earth seeks to reproduce itself.

Why have you decided that children are of no use, no interest, and potentially disastrous?

Steve Sailer has written at some length about this decision of the most capable, intelligent members of our culture: refusing to have children. I do not understand this business. I cannot understand why your attitudes do not provoke you to despair. When I read your attitudes toward children, I am provoked to despair.

What in the world led you to this absolute disinterest, if not actual hatred, of children? What do you have to do in this life that is more important than having children?

Porn is more important than children? That's the message I'm getting from you.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 21, 2009 7:35 AM

Or, to put it another way:

Don't you think that there's something askew in a society that emphasizes every aspect of sexuality except reproduction?

Isn't this just as unhealthy (and somewhat crazy) as emphasizing reproduction to the exclusion of sexual pleasure?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 21, 2009 7:50 AM

Peter L.W. -- People don't go to action movies who aren't in the mood for excitement. They don't eat a steak if they aren't in the mood for meat. They don't go to Lincoln Center if they aren't in the mood for a "culture" experience.

Wanting a culture/media/whatever artifact that'll suit and/or enhance your mood seems ... I dunno, sensible, likely, unremarkable, and commonplace. So what's different about wanting a culture experience that'll enhance and/or suit a nice erotic buzz?

More generally, I think that part of what's happening these days where culture goes is that a certain kind of familiar expectation is being upended. It used to be that we reached out towards the arts, and that we assumed that this was normal and good. These days, it's more about using the arts to suit ourselves. Don't listen to what you should listen to: instead, why not create a playlist that suits you? The person and his/her preferences and whims become central.

I'm not saying this is good or bad, just that it seems to be happening. And, if we are entering a universe that's far more "suit yourself" than the old media one was, maybe that helps explain why porn is becoming more accepted: It's primary among the arts-that-get-used.

Incidentally, I'm a little puzzled by people who consider porn and erotica to be nothing but masturbation aids. No one else enjoys leafing thru erotic/sexy images and stories 1) out of curiosity, 2) just for the pleasant dreamy high of it?

ST -- I'm all for connecting the arts to the basic urges, and I certainly think that if/when we don't the arts tend to become irrelevant. But this is a cultureblog, not a reproductionblog.

Culture after all isn't about bare survival; it's largely a matter of taking basic needs and urges and whipping up artifacts that have beyond-functional aspects to them.

Hunger and nutrition, for instance: We could probably survive on dogfood and mulch. But we'd have no "cuisine." Hearing and sound: we could just listen to nature and grunt, but we'd have no music. Gossip and storytelling: fine by themselves, and crucial to survival, but we seem to be driven to elaborate on them and somehow wind up with this literature thing as well.

It's sometimes kind of a mystery why we go to all the trouble of whipping up and maintaining "culture," but there it is.

Re these postings:

1) Fun and easy to do -- I like to observe what's happening in culture generally, and the styles in sex and mating thing is always interesting.

2) The "sexiness" part of culture seems to me 'way underplayed in America. As you know, many people go into the arts because it at least seems like a sexier life than square life is. And much of the reason many people pay attention to the arts is that it has a sexy aura. Why not be frank about this?

3) We whip up "cuisine" based on hunger and appetite, we've created the craft of "suspense" based on our love of tension and excitement, etc. Why do so many people find it bizarre that one might whip up art-culture stuff based on sexual urges?

The need to fill our entrails with organic matter isn't exactly a dignified one, yet we discuss "cuisine" without embarassment. Cultureforms based on the sexual urge ... Well, despite all the lewdness that's on public display these days, many Americans still seem to find cultivating and enjoying an art of erotica to be a bizarre and even upsetting idea. For the life of me I can't figure out why.

As for your questions about children ... Aren't you mashing together two separate issues? Namely: "the species must reproduce" (a general thing) and "whassup with you about this, MB?" (A specific case.)

This may be unfair of me but I think I've noticed that Catholics are prone to this -- thinking that the general rules that hold for mankind must also apply to each and every individual. I'm sympathetic to some things about Catholicism (mainly: there's a spiritual context for everything, and let's remind ourselves of this occasionally). But this particular one-size-fits-all, my-way-or-the-highway thing I can't buy at all. There may not be an infinite number of different strokes for different folks, but there are certainly a decent number of options available.

As for myself -- eh, never liked kids, never found them interesting, probably would have been a selfish and lousy parent. Given that human numbers these days are pretty impressive whether or not I specifically contribute -- the earth's population is headed to 9.5 billion no matter what you or I do -- I don't stress about it too much. The species seems secure for a few more generations.

Hey, fun fact for the day: through most of history, something like 80% of women and around 40% of men reproduced. In other words, "normal" isn't "everyone reproduces and those who don't are weird," "normal" is actually "most people reproduce but a really significant number don't." Despite this, we've made it to well over 6 billion. Seems to work, so it's OK by me.

I could rap a bit about the role of "excess" in all this -- culture seems to have to do with excess, and humans seem to generate a lot of excess even biologically, and is that so, and if so why? -- but I think I became tiresome many paragraphs ago ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 21, 2009 11:16 AM

Agnostic, I applaud your recent work to add some historical depth to your understanding of evolutionary psychology and its impact on society. I think you should know, though, that Clark has not really received much applause from historians, even those who are not inclined to reject his hypothesis out of hand for its political incorrectness. I'm attaching a lengthy exerpt from a review of it by Philip Jenkins in First Things, from October 2007. I can't say whether I'd agree with Jenkins about Clark, as I haven't yet managed to get a copy of Clark's book, but he does make me suspicious of Clark's reliability:

By the late-eighteenth century, the English population was primed, socially and genetically, to become the workers and consumers who could sustain the great leap forward, what Clark calls the “Great Divergence,” of the event that we know loosely as the Industrial ­Revolution. The genetic priming was critical in ensuring that the great change occurred first in England—and then in neighboring regions of Europe—rather than in Asian or African societies that might have seemed comparably promising some centuries previously.

So what is wrong with this picture? The possibility of genetic change in fairly recent times cannot be rejected out of hand, although it should not be invoked without a full consideration of alternatives. For that matter, Clark is primarily an economic ­historian of the industrial era and knows next to ­nothing about who elites were in earlier times, still less what the elite cultural patterns were in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. He does not know what made for wealth in that Olde England, a society primarily built upon hereditary landed wealth rather than the work of craftsmen and merchants. The urban ­professionals whose wills and families he analyzes ­represented only a tiny fraction of the social elite. And although those medieval middling classes could and did rise, usually through law or commerce, only a small part of the elite owed its fortune to “patience, hard work, ingenuity, innovativeness, education.” And once the mercantile families had ascended to high status, their children typically adopted the leisured ethos of their landed neighbors, otium cum dignitate, rejecting the vulgar ways of their fathers. One token of their new status was that the nouveaux riches sent their children to educational institutions where they would learn ­little of direct practical value or economic consequence. That’s a dreadful way to begin an economic breakthrough.

Clark’s views might make some sense if the traditional elites were like modern Western middle classes, but they emphatically were not, and no serious historian has ever claimed they were. Yet Clark repeatedly makes statements that assume the identity of elite with bourgeois, as when he links English success to “the embedding of bourgeois values into the culture and perhaps the genetics.” And if the real upper class, the progenitors of those superabundant children, was not bourgeois but landed, surely his argument falls at the starting gate.

At every point, the mores and culture of those authentic traditional elites contradict Clark’s picture. Anyone who looks at those landed upper classes as they actually operated in 1150, or even 1450, would see not diligent proto-consumers but a society with mores not unlike those of a Los Angeles street gang. What Tom Paine famously called the roving Norman banditti had a well-developed belief in instant gratification, in sinking wealth into ostentatious display, and in defending personal honor through immediate and extreme acts of violence. The English aristocracy had not advanced too far beyond the credo of its recent Viking ancestors, and they earned their wealth the old-­fashioned way: by stealing it. If the values of the medieval upper classes (rather than just their genes) had spread through the English population, then its members by 1800 would have been too busy beheading each other to start building power looms or forming shopping cooperatives.

Posted by: aliasclio on April 21, 2009 11:23 AM

This is a fascinating discussion. A few observations.
What modern sexuality has done is driven a wedge between sex and relationship, including reproduction. It goes partly to the decline of traditional institutions, like marriage, to provide a basis for self-identity. The culture wars were incorrectly perceived by institutional traditionalists. They tried to protect a system of values that had been institutionalized, but had ceased to be relevant except as some defining(constrainint?) social/political/moral boundary. What they didn't understand, and I believe equates to the failure of the Republican Party, conservatism and even Rush Limbaugh to provide a sufficient counter, was not so much a rejection of traditionalism, but a transcending of the traditional forms that have existed for hundreds of years. Traditional values can still be found,even in young people. I find a huge emphasis on relationships. What sex is has become is just another activity that people do in relationship. Sex has been disconnected from love, and attached to self-expression and recreation.

Also, for young people, they will always seek to understand themselves in the context of the world they live in through testing and exploration. They want to learn who they are by experimenting, not from their parents. That was true forty years ago, and true today. My three children all express this in ways that are specific to their personality. The challenge for society is how to embrace the failed experiments of young people so that they grow through them and find wisdom as they understand the meaning of the social context of their lives.
For this reason, I find that the mainstreaming of porn ultimately will diminish its appeal, and contrarily, will require more exotic forms of it to be developed in order for it to remain an alternative to traditional values. In other words, sex needs a narrative context that transcends the function of it.

Posted by: Ed on April 21, 2009 1:05 PM

Wow, Sasha Grey is going to STAR, be the female lead all about her, in a Steven Soderberg film??!!

That's BIG. That will be the first real major cross over from porn to mainstream movies ever. Well I guess it depends a lot on how the movie does, but even if it doesn't do too well, Soderberg is an A list director -- though he also does lots of indie stuff in between his money makers. This is I guess one of those, but still it's big. It's also popular subject matter.

Yeah there have been a number of bit parts for porn stars, usually as strippers.

And there's been Tracy Lords, but she only got into mainstream parts after recasting herself as an under aged porn victim turned aware feminist who thoroughly and "angrily" renounced porn. (To get into porn which she aggressively wanted to do, she faked a drivers license, consistently lied, and looked 18 when she was late 16 and 17.) She also only had secondary mainstream parts at best in B movies or lower.

Sasha Grey, who yeah I do know about, is the opposite. She thoroughly celebrates porn (and I'm about certain will not turn against it in general), which she started looking at early and entered in a very self aware way a month or two after turning 18 -- she'd been waiting to be able to. She's done a ton in a no holds bared way, but is still very young, 20 or barely 21 I think. She's also intelligent, into French new wave and other cinema, and from her first glimmers of porn stardom (and she's big there) worked hard to parley that into entre to the arty world, with considerable and growing success. Her mindset is definitely somewhat intellectual art girl who loves sex and exhibitionism.

She's done some music videos, and indie film shorts, with low budget indie films on her schedule (one in Canada). I haven't followed her lately -- this is the first I'd heard of her Soderberg role. She seems to be able to act and maybe very well from the indie shorts I've seen -- though I've never seen a tough test of that.

Yeah I've seen some clips of her porn, but mostly I'm interested in her as a porn personality, i.e. what makes her tick, trying to figure out what her live together relationship is like (think about the minuses as well as the pluses from her ten years older bf's point of view), and so on, from some interviews, her My Space pages, and so on. Also I thought right away that she had a good shot at wider fame outside the porn world, and that it would be interesting to see if and how she made it.

BTW I'm quite sure that her decision to stay with her smallish (B's I think) natural breasts is because of how she's marketing her wider art film and so on ambitions.

In one interview she portrayed herself as getting only a normal sort of sexual start (at 16) but then meeting a bf and then another who accelerated her hunger and learning greatly, to the point where though she didn't say so exactly she decided she wanted to go slut. (I think she said something like she decided she wanted to explore her sexuality much more, and push her limits.) She then decided, that if she was going to go that way she might as well not only get paid for it with highly sexually adept men, but also take a shot at getting fame from it. (It sounded like she’s had around five partners and maybe less before entering porn.) She won a bunch of porn awards after her first year (including AVN best new porn starlet I think) and has been working on wider world fame from there. She may be even more ambitious than Jenna Jameson, though she cares more about arty fame than money I think.

Interesting girl. A bit pretentious, yes, but interesting. (I have a feeling she'll temper that or anyway the appearance of that fairly soon.)

Posted by: dougjnn on April 28, 2009 8:03 PM

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