The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

The Internet Killed the Video Star

It’s quite possible that this will be the last Porn Tuesday post. Ever. Or for a while. Or until something happens. Or at least the last by me. Because we’re very happy to host guest posts on the topic. But this is the last of the myths I want to deal with.

In the course of my life-time, one invention has done more than any other to increase the availability of pornography. It brought visual porn into the home in a way it never had been before. With it came moral panics, what’s been called the Golden Age of Censorship, and a real fear about what the effect of this permeation of sexually-explicit material into our society might be.

That invention was, of course, the video recorder.

Before that, if you wanted to see an X-rated movie, you had to go to the kind of theatre that showed them. Difficult for most men, socially impossible for women. (That is, unless you were one of the few people with grubby Super 8 in the basement.) Now you could discreetly rent a couple of movies, take them home and watch them in private.

Quite simply, every technology has been used for pornography pretty much right off the bat. There’s nothing special about the internet. The ballooning in the availability of porn isn’t a decade old, it’s a generation. It’s thirty years. That’s plenty of time for social catastrophe to rock along if it was going to.

What the internet has done for porn is what it’s done for music, really: it’s taken power away from the studios, made producing and distributing your own material cheaper and easier, and so broadened the selection of what’s available. Yes, it’s also increased availability and made it harder to police, age-wise, who’s watching what, but (IMO) not as profoundly as the VCR.

So, what’s been the effect? It’s really hard to tell with studies of individuals, because Causation. Basically, if someone is a sexist arsehole and watches a lot of porn, you can’t tell if A causes B, B causes A, or if the two things are completely unrelated.

There are population studies*, though, and what they show is something that shouldn’t be too surprising if you ponder these two questions in isolation.

Since, say, the 50s, has violence against women become more or less socially acceptable?

Since, say, the 50s, has pornography become more or less freely available?

Given the really obvious answers to those questions, can we really suggest that pornography causes (or even “fuels”) violence against women?

Please note I don’t wish to imply that pornography decreases violence against women. Some people do argue that, I’m not convinced. I think we’re in a “pirates and global warming” situation. What I am saying is that it’s… interesting to suggest a correlation between two lines trending in opposite directions.

This here is where the conclusions would go, if that was what this was about. I think it’s pretty clear where I’m coming from. You want to take away my porn, I do think you should have to be able to prove that it’s doing some concrete damage somewhere, and someHOW. Also, I think we’ve got ourselves in a real mess with censorship (illustrated most clearly by a case in the States where a teenage girl was charged, as an adult, with child pornography offensese, for taking a photograph OF HERSELF), while managing to convince ourselves that we live in a time of unprecidented sexual licence.

But feel free to disagree. This has all been about getting people thinking and talking.

*Somewhere, in the piles of links in my porn-columns folder, I have links to two individual studies and one meta-study, all of which concur. I just can’t fucking FIND them right now.

3 responses to “The Internet Killed the Video Star

  1. Moz July 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    please don’t stop – I think porn tuesdays are one of the highlights. Even if you make us hapless readers come up with the topics… I’m sure there’s something interesting in the news every week that’s porn-related.

    I mean, does the internet make it easier for women to conceal their interest in porn, and easier to develop one in the first place? So much simpler to just have a private stash of files on your hard disk than a box of video tapes or magazines. But then, so much less easy to find than the (cough) “romance” section in your public library.

    Has the kink scene fragmented now that the two people in New Zealand who are interested in pink panther furridom can find each other online?

    Who does “women-oriented” porn oppress?

    • Emma July 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks, Moz. And yeah, I’m not going to stop-stop, but just as a regular feature. Basically, because I’ve covered all the stuff that had been sitting in the back of my head since I started writing for PA.

      And yeah, Annie Sprinkle started in the video age, but by and large porn for and by women belongs to the internet age. I dunno if we can do much more than theorise about the why.

  2. Moz July 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Oh and “you want to take away my porn…”

    Yes, it must be inspected, and if it passes I will return it to you 🙂

    The whole “show damage” argument is a challenging one, since so many people are so committed to the idea that the mere existance of porn is evidence of harm. As NZBus has shown, the standard for harm is also interesting to define to avoid gaming the system (I’m sure somewhere in the US had a case like this, need to do some research). But from those NZBus driver’s PoV the presence of a veiled woman did harm them and their actions in self-defense got them into trouble. It’s not whether the claims of phobia are really true, it’s whether claims like that could be used to ban pornography (“pictures of boobs scare me, honest”).

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