By Benjamin Wachs
Pornography is getting more democratic, Texas A&M professor Jonathan Coopersmith told a San Francisco audience earlier this month at the Arse Technica, a conference on tech and porn. Technology has made it so cheap to produce porn -– even with good production values -– that in the 21st century anybody can make money off of sex.
But for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. So when we caught up with Coopersmith in his Texas office, the historian of technology (he’s currently working on a book on the history of the fax machine, which I’m somehow managing not to write about) admitted that the opposite is probably true, too:
Democracy is getting more pornographic.
“Boxers or briefs, Mr. President?” Week-long press coverage of Hillary’s décolletage? The Starr Report? Bob Dole doing commercials for Viagra? Larry Craig tapping his foot in the bathroom stall? Mark Foley sending nasty IMs to congressional pages?
These aren’t scandals: they’re a predictable pattern. Democracy has changed.
“Nobody is cramming pornography down the Web sites of unsuspecting people, but if you look at current cultural views of sex, of sexuality and pornography, they’re greatly changed as opposed to a generation ago,” Coopersmith said.
There’s always been sex in Washington, but politicians always try to present themselves as a tableaux of who-we-are: If we’re religious, they’re religious. If we like ice cream, they like ice cream. So, as more and more of us have been making and consuming amateur porn, politicians have turned into amateur porn stars. It's democracy at work. It’s not just politics, either: The same technology making porn so ubiquitous is an open platform penetrating every aspect of our lives.
Coopersmith says it’s all the result of technology and human nature combining to eliminate the two traditional barriers to pornography’s mainstream acceptance: shame and ignorance: “The search engine, in particular, made it possible for people to find anything they want, and to connect with other people who want it.”
Business is getting porny as sex shows up on corporate agendas.
“Sex is a market opportunity,” Coopersmith said. “For the first time you have a lot of ‘mainstream’ ideas where sex is a specific part of the business plan.”
It was inevitable, once enough regular people started making money off sex, that MBAs would want a piece of the action. Don’t they always? Mainstream media companies now produce pornography on the side; hotels make a fortune showing fleshy movies to lonely guests; mainstream publishing companies are increasingly brazen about creating erotic imprints; fitness clubs offer “strippercize” and “pole dancing” classes to middle-aged housewives in Akron. Reality TV is just a giant excuse to watch hot girls make out -– Tila Tequila has her own show, for Christ's sake. And, hey, what the hell is Match.com all about?
While we’re on the subject, academia is getting pornicated too. One hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud caused a major scandal simply by suggesting that people think about sex (okay, and want to marry their mothers). Forty years ago, professors were denied tenure because they thought sex was a legitimate area of research. Today, strippers are publishing their Ph.D. theses about the sociological implications of getting stared at. (Link to Amazon review of 'Stripper Shoes'.)
That may be legitimate scholarship, but … it’s also pornography. As porn has gotten cheaper and easier to make, it’s gotten easier and cheaper to study it -– and publish it under an academic imprint, too. Forty years ago you’d need a major research grant to set up a sex lab. Today you just need a broom closet, a Web cam, and a Dell.
As a result there are academic journals devoted to sex, like the Journal of Sex Research, to whom I submit research papers filled with heavy breathing every couple of weeks. And others that are just soooo stuck up.
There are, in short, plenty of academics to pick up the slack while Coopersmith is writing about the history of fax machines. Every schoolchild had a crush on a teacher, but only now a teacher can get tenure by writing about it.
The only thing left for America is to change its national anthem to the “Star-Tasseled Banner” and give it a bow-chika-wow-wow soundtrack.
Sure, that seems like a good idea on paper, but it turns out shame and ignorance were the only things separating us from the collected works of Paris Hilton. Who knew?
Now that the democratization of porn has pornified democracy, there may not be a stopping point: Coopersmith says he doesn’t know if there’s an end in sight. “That’s probably going to be the realm of the folks writing science fiction, and if you read some of the science fiction there’s a lot of possibilities,” he says.
Next week: "Transgenic humanimal" porn.
(That was uncalled for.)