I’ve been thinking a bit about pornography lately. Okay, that’s not quite right. I think about pornography a LOT. Probably more than Larry Flynt, Bob Guccione, or Ron Jeremy. Of course, to those guys porn is a job. Pornography is business. And brother, business is a-boomin’! What I mean is, I’ve been thinking about it as a subject rather than as I usually do which is probably best described as a precursor to recreational activity.
It is often best in these situations to define one’s terms. After all, what I think of as “porn,” you may think of as “art” and vice-versa. Wikipedia, that vast depository of internet knowledge and questionable facts, defines pornography thusly: Pornography or porn is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter. Pornography may use a variety of media, including books, magazines, postcards, photos, sculpture, drawing, painting, animation, sound recording, film, video, and video games. The term applies to the depiction of the act rather than the act itself, and so does not include live exhibitions like sex shows and striptease. A pornographic model poses for still photographs. A pornographic actor or porn star performs in pornographic films. If dramatic skills are not involved, a performer in porn films may be also be called a model. Wait… what? “If dramatic skills are not involved…?” When are dramatic skills ever involved?
Okay, that is not entirely fair. Pornography in the movies (“porno flicks,” if you will) used to be quite different than they are now. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, porn films were just that: films. The actors and actresses (however loosely we may be using those terms) who starred in them actually did do some… um… acting in addition to their main means of, erm, performing. This so-called “golden age” of porn gave the world some real personalities as opposed to just a bunch of guys with big cocks and women with big tits. Names like Jerry Butler, Ron Jeremy, Vanessa Del Rio, Marilyn Chambers (my god she was hot back in the day), Kay Parker, and Linda Lovelace sprung from those days and are still recognized today. Val Kilmer even portrayed John Holmes in a mainstream film a few years back. The porn stars of yesterday were actual stars (again, we use the term loosely) in much the same way that people like Carey Grant, Robert Redford, Audrey Hepburn, and so on were stars. The movies were more like actual films, with plotlines and dialogue and (in some cases) production values. In fact I would dare to suggest that there are a few (a scant few, I will admit) that could pass for actual movies if some of the more explicit scenes were edited away. Don’t believe me? Watch the Jerry Butler vehicle Raw Talent sometime and see if you don’t get drawn in to the story, rather than skipping ahead to the “good” parts. In the mid and late eighties a few cable networks did exactly what I suggest here and edited down films like Up and Coming, a film that starred Marilyn Chambers (and has an incredibly painful looking scene in which she takes all of the legendary John Holmes right up the pooper) to air them late at night. Did you ever wonder how Cinemax became known as “Skinemax?” They were doing the same thing that the Playboy Channel had started a few years before and they were getting away with it.
Anyway, sometime after 1984 or so things began to change in the porn industry. The advent of home video brought about this change and while it did wonders for the industry in terms of dollars earned, many felt that the industry suffered for it. Production values declined significantly and companies started churning out porn videos at a ridiculous pace. It was so much cheaper to shoot on video tape rather than on film that the producers kept finding new ways to cut corners and increase the bottom line (no pun intended). This is hammered home excellently in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 film Boogie Nights by the character Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds). “Wait a minute,”Horner says when his money man is extolling the virtues of video tape at a party, “You come into my house, my party… to tell me about the future? That the future is tape… video tape… and not film? It’s amateurs and not professionals? I’m a filmmaker. That’s why I will never make a movie on video tape.”
Unlike Jack Horner, the rest of the porn industry embraced the quick turnaround time and lower costs that videotape had to offer. Gradually, as more and more production companies started getting into porn, the actual stories of the porn films of the 70s and early 80s went by the wayside as well and porn videos in their modern incarnation were born. These are generally just collections of scenes thrown together and are usually connected by a porn or fetish genre. Today you don’t look for a title like Deep Throat or Talk Dirty to Me or Debbie Does Dallas… these days its all about the genre. You like fat girls? (I do! I do!), then you look for BBW or “fatty” (such a derogatory term) porn. You like a little bondage? BDSM is your thing. You want enlarged versions of specific body parts? There are plenty of Big Boobs, Big Butts and Huge Cocks out there just waiting for you.
Porn has changed a lot in the past thirty years or so and the availability of video tape is only a part of the cause. The other game changer in the porn world? You’re looking at it now: the internet.
Think about it. Back when my generation were kids we had no internet and no VCRs (until I was in my later teens, anyway… they were available as early as the late 1970s, but my family certainly couldn’t afford one. In fact I think I was over twenty by the time anyone in my family had one). The only way we got our hands on pornographic material was if we managed to sneak a copy of Playboy or Penthouse out of dad’s nightstand drawer or if we were lucky enough to find one discarded by the side of the road or in a dumpster. The kid who made that find was always treated like a hero by the other neighborhood boys, of course, and gifting the rest of the kids with any one of the skin magazines commonly available usually meant at least a month of picking first at Kickball or deciding whether we watch Happy Days or Mork & Mindy each week. This is just an example, of course, those two shows were both on the same network and separated by at least half an hour, but you get what I mean.
It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have the internet when I was a kid. I seriously think that if I had the kind of access to porn at thirteen that I do now (or, GASP, that MY kids did… let’s not talk about that), I never would have gotten anything done.
Sadly, pornography often winds up being responsible for many young people’s sex education. It certainly was a big part of mine. My stepfather was an asshole who likely had no idea what a clitoris was, let alone what to do with one should he accidentally find it, and Mom… well, Mom didn’t really like to talk about things like that. Of course, given that what appears in the pages of Playboy and Penthouse and even much “dirtier” magazines like Hustler or Screw is absolutely tame by today’s porn standards, the sex education that my generation pales in comparison to what today’s teens are getting from sites like YouPorn. Oral sex?I had no idea it existed until I was at least sixteen or older. In fact the first time I actually had sex (at age seventeen… call me a late bloomer, I guess) I made a half-hearted attempt at cunnilingus (I’d read about that act in various popular novels of the day – I had never seen it performed in photos or on film at that time) that was all but laughable. I clearly had no idea what I was doing down there. Hell, I was probably at least that old before I even figured out a good way to masturbate. Did you know there was more than one way (for a man) to do that? I didn’t until recently when my girlfriend joked about having taken a poll about that very topic. apparently some guys stroke the entire shaft, some just rub the head, and some…
Wait. I’ve derailed. This post is supposed to be about pornography, it isn’t supposed to be pornography.
There is one other way that the porn industry has changed due to the internet, and this one baffles me a little bit. Porn has become free, in a sense. With sites like YouPorn offering all the free porn anyone could possibly want, it baffles me that anyone would pay for porn at all anymore. why drive down to the local adult shop and buy a DVD when you can have instant access to all the filth you want right on your computer at any given moment? YouPorn even lets users download their videos to watch later or at their leisure and those with DVD or BluRay burners (read: pretty much everybody) can put those files on disc themselves to watch on their big screen TVs. It amazes me that porn keeps getting made at all. Someone must still be buying it. I just can’t figure out why.
Anyway, it occurs to me that I just wrote over 1600 words all about smut. I’ve got to go now. I’ll be in the bathroom. Do us both a favor and knock before you open the door, okay?