Anyone around in Toronto in March? If so, I’m lucky enough to contribute to the MsUnderstanding Media: The Extensions of Woman talk series at University of Toronto’s McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology on Monday the 19th. And what’s more, it’s a double feature with the fabulous Wendy Chun discussing sexuality, gendered online shaming and much more, under the title, “Shame, shame, shame (refresh)”. The series sets out to “foreground how a feminist focus on ‘the extensions of woman’ renews McLuhan’s concern with the politics of pace, pattern and scale in our everyday technological objects”. Faithful to the theme, my contribution explores dick pics as extensions of man, building on the #NSFW book project I’m currently finishing together with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light for MIT Press.
Category Archives: internet research
2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the viral shock porn video, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, and the journal Porn Studies is dedicating a forum to exploring the phenomenon. The forum is forthcoming later in the year but here’s my introductory essay contextualising the video within the affective online attention economy. And here as free e-print too.
Time to celebrate the most disgusting video online
There is little doubt as to the tenth anniversary of Pornhub (est. 2007) to be the most widely remembered of the online porn birthday celebrations due this year. The site has, since its humble beginnings as an amateur porn site emulating the platform principle of YouTube (est. 2005), grown symbolic of the era of video aggregator sites, the fall of pay porn and the ever-increasing, unprecedented centralisation of porn distribution: the company MindGeek (previously Manwin) owns not only Pornhub but also other key tube sites with the exception of for XVideos (est. 2007) and xHamster (est. 2007).
Ten years ago, it was nevertheless not Pornhub but the viral shock porn video, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, that more visibly captured the attention of myriad groups of internet users, and continued to do so for some time to come. While the video’s tenth anniversary is unlikely to be a celebrated affair, it is one that these following three forum pieces focus on. In addition to this introductory text contextualising the video within the attention economy of social media, Steve Jones explores the its capacities as shock porn while Daniel Cardoso looks into young Portuguese people’s experiences of the clip. But why would this particular one-minute video, by now markedly stale in its novelty appeal, be relevant in terms of online pornography, social media or the field of porn studies? This is what I set out to outline.
The classics of viral shock porn
For the record: 2 Girls 1 Cup is a trailer for a Brazilian scat fetish porn film titled Hungry Bitches, produced by MFX Media, that features two female performers, Karla and Latifa, a cup, and one compact minute of coprophilic play (see Declercq 2017). The narrative is as follows: the two women kiss and fondle each other; one of them defecates in a cup; the other eats the faeces and then vomits in the first woman’s mouth. Lacking dialogue, the video is accompanied by the unabashedly romantic ‘Lover’s Theme’ by Hervé Roy, also known as composer of Emmanuelle’s theme song in 1974. Shared through links to the now defunct domain, 2girls1cup.com, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ was connected with so-called proto-trolling practices (Phillips 2015, 19) where users were led to open a link of shock porn when suspecting to encounter content of the humorous and titillating sort.
The overall aim was to drive users to diverse states of surprise, disgust, amusement, and embarrassment and, in some instances, the recipients were asked to document their reaction on camera for future sharing. The reputation of ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ was largely built on YouTube reaction videos showing the clip’s content making people grimace, gag, whimper, hold their noses, cover their eyes and turn away from the screen. Accumulating over the years, these affectively animated reaction videos fed interest toward the original clip while remaining a source of entertainment in themselves and their pronounced, and often markedly exaggerated performances disgust. Fascination, let alone arousal displayed vis-à-vis scat porn – independent if the substance was scat, or chocolate fudge as some have claimed – would have no room in such publicly shared displays of affect.
Although only a decade old, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ represents a stage now already past in the development of online attention economy and meme culture based on pranks. Around the new millennium, links to a website ending in ‘nimp.org’ were circulated through email. The link opened up a blinking image alternating between a rainbow flag and gay pornography on the user’s desktop, accompanied by a three-second clip of a male voice amped up high in volume, shouting, ‘Hey everybody I’m looking at gay porno!’ The nimp would routinely freeze and crash the user’s computer by opening up new pop-up windows with the same content much faster than these could be closed, and the sound card could keep on playing the file if no windows were no longer open. The prank’s effect relied firmly on the social embarrassment caused by loudly calling attention to the (accidental) consumption pornography – and not just any pornography, but that of the male homosexual kind during a time when online access took place via desktop computers, rather than with the current range of smart personal devices, often in spaces of work involving their own realms and forms of sociability.
The 2005 ‘Meatspin’, a short loop set to the 1985 Dead or Alive song, ‘You Spin Me Around’, involved a clip from the transgender porn film, TSBitches featuring anal penetration while the partner on top spins their penis round and round in circles in a perpetual, endless loop. As ‘Meatspin’ plays, a counter marks the spins made and, after 45 of them, a text appears stating, ‘YOU ARE OFFICIALLY GAY : – )’. As was the case with ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ website, links to nimp.org and meatspin.com were circulated for the effect of shock, amusement and social embarrassment. The framing of gayness in these two instances came rife with homophobic overtones meshed with the overall frame of grossness that helped to cut off the content from sexual titillation while also demarcating the boundaries of bodies, desires and sexual acts deemed desirable. At the same time when grossness allows for a safe barrier of distance and humour, it in no way automatically forecloses or excludes a broader range of titillations, homosexual ones included (see Ward 2015).
So-called shock porn used in proto-trolling drew its appeal from bodies, acts and desires deviating from the white straight norm in terms of their age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or race. In addition to nimping and videos, trolling made us of still images, as with ‘Goatse’ (1999), ‘Tubgirl’ (2001) and ‘Lemon Party’ (2002) – all examples of viral pornography predating social media shared similarly to domain names specifically dedicated to the images in question. ‘Lemon Party’ featured three senior men engaging in oral sex while Goatse showed a man stretching his anus and revealing a broad expanse of his rectum. The sole character of ‘Tubgirl’ was a young Japanese woman squirting an orange enema onto her face in a bathtub. (See Paasonen 2011, 222–223.) As was the case with ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, the two latter images involved the blurring of the boundaries between the insides and outsides of bodies, while ‘Lemon Party’ displayed elderly gay men’s sexual practices for the purposes of humour and shock, ‘rendering the (homo)sexualized, elderly, or overweight body in terms of disgust and amusement’ (Jones 2010, 128).
The aim of circulating the images and videos in question revolved around the affective registers of amusement and disgust. As that which sticks to things seen as morally objectionable, disgust is linked to both figurative and material filth, such as bodily emissions (Cohen 2005, viii, xi). Viral porn content videos brought these forms of disgust together by depicting acts deemed as somehow shocking in their kinkiness, and hence figuratively filthy, as well as by revelling in things deemed materially filthy, such as faeces and rectums. If ‘2 Girls I Cup’ was crowned as the most disgusting of these all, this was due to its display of excrement turned into nourishment – or even into a delicacy of sorts. Writing on disgust, the historian William Ian Miller (1997, 118) identifies eating faeces as an act so vile that it is hardly imaginable: ‘People do not eat feces as a joke, even as a sick joke; what they do is talk about eating it or ridicule people who do eat it’. Jack Sargeant (2006) points out that sexual coprophilia is practiced in secrecy due to its perceived extremity: ‘Even the few that confess enjoying “brown showers” do not admit to eating raw shit, either their own or that of somebody else. The practice is considered to be too dangerous, too unhealthy, and too disgusting. Even amongst the radical sexual communities many find that it stinks of excess, as if desires and fantasies had limits.’ ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ then clearly owed its appeal – and its degrees of continuous infamy – to the hyperbolic transgression of such limits, as its performers do not merely eat shit, but enjoy it when vomited.
Porn and the attention economy of social media
Contextualising the video, its production history and fame, journalist Marie Declercq (2017) dismisses the theory of the shit being fudge and argues that ‘The horror of watching actual human feces being consumed by actual humans forever changed the internet, and gave us the classic reaction video genre.’ The websites dedicated to ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’, ‘Meatspin’, ‘Lemon Party’ or ‘Goatse’ may have grown defunct, or given way to other domain names, and links to them have long ceased their intense circulation. It is further noteworthy that, with the exception of shock porn connected to trolling, pornographic online imagery has, despite its broad volume and perennial popularity, fairly seldom grown viral as such. The appeal of porn among users of all kinds is obvious, yet its public visibility has – independent of recurrent claims over its saturated presence across the media and contemporary culture more generally – been curbed to specific platforms dedicated for the purpose.
This curbing, or fencing off, of porn has grown ever more pronounced during the past decade marked by the rise of social media, initially discussed as Web 2.0. The community standard of some social media services, such as Twitter and Tumblr, allow sexually explicit or NSFW (‘Not Safe for Work’) content whereas many others, from the current market leader Facebook to YouTube, Instagram or Pinterest, do not, and actively try to weed porn and other revealing bodily displays out from the data streams that users generate. (Paasonen et al. forthcoming.)
The content likely to attract extensive attention on contemporary social media platforms revolves in the registers of humour that can intermesh with cuteness, be offbeat, vitriolic, heavy with sexist and racist overtones, nostalgic or absurd (Phillips 2015, 96–97; Highfield 2016, 17–18). Independent of its particular edge or resonance, humour plays a key role in how online content catches attention, spreads and prospers. Pornography fits uncomfortably together with laughter, as it is not routine to laugh at that which turns us on. At the same time, the sexual bents of others may be a source of great amusement, especially when they clearly differ from the normative palate of straight vanilla – as in the viral porn examples discussed above.
Writing on affect and social media, Jodi Dean (2010) argues that a search for intensities drives the movements of users across platforms. From the perspective of the platforms in question, content that grabs attention through the intensities that it affords is valuable in its stickiness that makes users pay attention and engage. The visual economy of social media is elaborate, finely tuned, operates at expansive scales and speeds and revolves around the imperative of capturing and optimising user attention. As the mantra, ‘if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead’ (Jenkins et al. 2013, 1) has come to orient the operating logics of online advertising and social media services, content deemed obscene or offensive has taken backseat from cat videos, Doge memes and reaction GIFs. Much of the meme production that has characterized platforms such as 4chan – the home of not only Anonymous but also Pedobear and myriad other strands of controversial humour – fit ill in the social media landscape as advertisers, as the key source of revenue, are likely to veer away from such content.
The anniversary of ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ then reminds us of that links to content published in order to bemuse and shock have been shared via email and discussion forums throughout the history of the Web, also in ways unlikely to occur today. Memes, in general, live off their participatory possibilities of sharing, remix and modification and their appeal is centrally dependent on their ability to amuse (Shifman 2013). If the content in question cannot be shared without automated filtering or peer flagging intervening in the process, the viral circuits will obviously be severed, to the degree that they can even come about. In addition to giving rise to the now ubiquitous format of a reaction video, as Declercq suggest, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ helps in mapping out the recent Web history in terms of its shift to social media platforms and their strategies of content management, as well as the move of online access from desktop computers to personal devices allowing for the consumption of all kinds of content without the risk of social exposure. Shock content continues to live on in decapitation videos, shots of animal torture and forms of porn considered extreme even as growing armies of commercial content moderators are deployed to identify and remove it (see Roberts 2016). Like all viral content losing the stickiness that keeps it in circulation, ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ has moved to regions of online ephemera as oddities that linger on in both data archives and the embodied memories of users: as such, it is unlikely to completely rest in peace.
Cohen, William A. 2005. ‘Introduction: Locating Filth.’ In Filth: Dirt, Disgust, and Modern Life, edited by William A. Cohen and Ryan Johnson, vii–xxxviii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Dean, Jodi. 2010. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Declercq, Marie. 2017. ‘Ten Years of “2 Girls 1 Cup,” the Most Memorable Brazilian Shit on the Internet’. Vice, June 9, 2017.
Highfield, Tim. 2016. Social Media and Everyday Politics. Cambridge: Polity.
Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. 2013. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press.
Jones, Steven. 2010. ‘Horrorporn/Pornhorror: The Problematic Communities and Contexts of Online Shock Imagery’. In Porn.com: Making Sense of Online Pornography, edited by Feona Attwood, 123–137. New York: Peter Lang.
Miller, William Ian. 1997. The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Paasonen, Susanna. 2011. Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Paasonen, Susanna, Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light. Forthcoming. Not Safe for Work: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Phillips, Whitney. 2015. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Roberts, Sarah T. 2016. ‘Commercial Content Moderation: Digital Laborers’ Dirty Work’. In The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online, edited by Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes, 147–160. New York: Peter Lang.
Sargeant, Jack. 2006. ‘Filth and Sexual Excess: Some Brief Reflections on Popular Scatology’. M/C Journal 9 (5): http://www.journal.media-culture.org.au/0610/03-sargeant.php.
Shifman, Limor. 2013. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Ward, Jane. 2015. Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men. New York: New York University Press.
The Autumn book season is on – and behold, even 2018 titles are already out! These include The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality, edited by Clarissa Smith, Feona Attwood and Brian McNair, as well as Sex in the Digital Age, edited by Paul Dixon and Isabel Düsterhoft (also for Routledge). Much interesting scholarship just there! By means of self-promotion: the former has a text of mine on user-generated pornography and the elusive notion of authenticity, the latter a chapter on the affective and affectless bodies of monster toon porn.
CFP is now out for the Affective Politics of Social Media Symposium held at University of Turku, Finland, October 12-13 2017. Welcome, you all!
Confirmed keynote speakers: Crystal Abidin (Jönköping University / Curtin University), Kath Albury (Swinburne University of Technology), Nancy Baym (Microsoft Research New England), Ken Hillis (UNC Chapel Hill), Ben Light (University of Salford) and Jenny Sundén (Södertörn University).
From clickbaits to fake news, heated Facebook exchanges, viral Twitter messages and Tinder swipes, the landscape of social media is rife with affective intensities of varying speeds and lengths. Affect, as the capacity to relate, impress and be impressed, creates dynamic connections between human and nonhuman bodies. Zooming in on these connections, their intensities, rhythms, and trajectories in the context of networked communications, Affective Politics of Social Media asks how affect circulates, generates value, fuels political action, feeds conflict and reconfigures the categories of gender, sexuality and race through and across social media platforms.
Multiple analytical avenues have already been laid out for doing this, from Jodi Dean’s examination of affect and drive to Tarleton Gillespie’s analysis of the politics of platforms, Adi Kuntsman’s examination of “webs of hate” and Zizi Papacharissi’s discussion of affective publics as contagious articulations of feeling that bring forth more or less temporary sense of community and connection. Building on a growing body of work on “networked affect”, this two-day symposium features keynotes exploring the affective labour of social media influencers, the automation and quantification of the intimate, the netiquette of hook-up apps and the dynamics of music stardom and fandom, and invites contributions connected to affect and social media in relation to
• collective action and political activism
• sexual cultures and practices
• harassment, hate and resistance
• affective rhythms, intensities and investments
• popular culture and everyday life
In order to facilitate participation, the symposium has no registration fee but pre-registrations are required. To propose a paper, please send a 300-word abstract and short bio (max. 100 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 9, 2017. Registrations will be made available in August 2017.
Organized by Department of Media Studies, IIPC, the International Institute for Popular Culture & DIGIN, Research Network on Digital Interaction at University of Turku and the Department of Gender Studies at Åbo Akademi University
Conference website: https://affectivesome.wordpress.com/
Organizing group: Susanna Paasonen, Kaisu Hynnä, Katariina Kyrölä, Mari Lehto, Mari Pajala & Valo Vähäpassi
Late spring turns out to be full of interesting conferences, from The Public Spheres of Resonance: Constellations of Affect and Language in Berlin, April 27-29 to The Digital Everyday: Exploration or Alienation? in London, May 6 and Sexualities and Digital Culture in Europe in Athens, May 26-27. See you there, there and there, perhaps, plus at the Click Festival in Elsinore, May 20.
This spring, I’m mainly working on the #NSFW book with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light, which is due out in 2018. Both exploring the uses of the tag and considering the intersections of sexuality, social media, labour, risk and safety from multiple perspectives, the book also focuses on the role and position of porn in social media. Below is a brief excerpt addressing Pornhub’s publicity campaigns, with less of the scholarly debates and some of the links included.
Branding porn SFW
In February 2015, Pornhub announced that they were developing a wearable device titled Wankband that lets users charge their smart devices with the kinetic energy generated through the up and down motions of male masturbation:
“Every day, millions of hours of adult content are consumed online, wasting energy in the process and hurting the environment. At Pornhub we decided to do something about it. Introducing the Wankband: The First wearable tech that allows you to love the planet by loving yourself.”
Producing of 100% renewable “guilt-free electricity,” Wankband is part of a longer chain of publicity campaigns through which Pornhub has been profiling its brand and services as fun, user-friendly, socially responsible, and risk-free. The general mode of these PR campaigns might, in British English, be defined as “cheeky,” namely witty bordering on the rude and the irreverent. These campaigns can be divided roughly into three categories: publicity stunts, social and environmental causes contributed to under the rubric “Pornhub Cares,” and “Pornhub Insights” which, similarly to “Google Trends,” consist of statistics and infographics detailing site traffic and user trends.
Pornhub’s publicity stunts have included the 2013 SFW television advert featuring a senior couple sitting on a park bench accompanied by an R&B tune. According to the company, it was intended for Super Bowl but got rejected by CBS, yet this seems highly doubtable on the basis of the advert’s low production values alone. In 2014, Pornhub announced an open SFW advertising contest encapsulating its brand. The crowdsourcing call attracted some 3,000 submissions and the winning entry, along with the shortlisted proposals, were widely covered in online news forums and clickbaits well beyond platforms considered pornographic. The winning ad poster, designed by the Turkish copywriter, Nuri Gulver, and titled “All You Need is Hand,” was briefly erected on the iconic location of Times Square to the backing vocals of Gotham Rock Choir’s rendition of the Beatles classic, All You Need is Love. The same year also involved a contest for Pornhub theme song and the offer of free premium memberships on Valentine’s Day.
In 2015, the company announced its plans for shooting the first pornographic film in space, provided it would be able to collect the necessary $3.4 million budget through crowdfunding: these plans were report in The Huffington Post, The Express, Times of India, The Mirror, and on CBNC, among other mainstream news outlets. News of these stunts, some of which are more fake than others, travel quickly in social media by virtue of their easy combination of humor, pornography, and user engagement. The stunts invite users as participants not only in porn consumption and masturbation but equally in Pornhub brand building and the funding of its productions.
Pornhub’s social causes and charitable campaigns have ranged from the “Save the Boobs” campaigns collecting money for breast cancer research on the basis of the videos viewed in its “big tit” and “small tit” categories to the 2014 campaign, “Pornhub Gives America Wood,” which involved planting trees for every 100 videos watched in its “Big Dick” category, and the 2015 “Save the Balls” testicular cancer awareness campaign. In 2015, the company gave out its first $25,000 scholarship for academic studies on the basis of the candidates’ videos detailing how they strive to make others happy. The following year, the scholarship was given for women studying science, technology, engineering, or math, with the aim of advancing women’s careers in the tech industry. In addition, Pornhub has joined in a campaign for saving sperm whales and, together with porn star and intimate partner violence victim Christy Mack, has set out to fight domestic violence.
Information on these campaigns, with their more or less tangential connections with pornography, travels through news hubs, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. The stunts also circulate in these forms but fundamentally revolve around the relation between Pornhub and its users and serves in the construction, management, and maintenance of a brand community. The social causes, on the other hand, are additionally focused on constructing Pornhub as a socially responsible—and in this sense, respectable—corporate brand that contributes to making the world a better place, even if the sums involved in its charitable campaigns are on the modest side.
In Feburary 2017, Pornhub launched their “Sexual Wellness Center,” a sex education site with information on reproductive health, STDs, and relationships. The role of pornography as a form of sex education has long been a topic of debate among educators, journalists, academics, and concerned adults: in most instances, porn is firmly seen as bad in its pedagogical output and the false, exaggerated, and generic sexual scenarios that it reiterates. By inserting the professional angle of sex education into their palette of free service, Pornhub aims to further bolster its image of public responsibility. At the same time, news of the sex education site’s launch gained the company ample free—and largely positive—publicity across the platforms of social media.
Probably the most successful form of the company’s PR campaigns nevertheless involves “Pornhub Insights,” its widely circulated and diverse user statistics and infographics, most notably those published in its annual “Year in Review.” From these data, news media pick up on the sheer volume of traffic on just this site: in 2016, there were a reported 23 billion visits resulting in 4,6 billion hours spent watching 92 billion videos. The annual reviews summarize web site traffic, search behaviors and trends, use patterns, devices used, and breaks down this data according to search terms and lengths of visits in different countries. In its stickiness, such data is understandably attractive to international online news sites and blogs wishing to catch the fleeting attention of users and its already digested, easily understandable forms further fuel its spreadability. Given the general, and notorious, shortage of any reliable data on the patterns of online porn consumption, Pornhub statistics are, despite their specificities, shared and referenced broadly as evidence of porn trends on a global scale.
The width and depth of the user data analyzed and visualized in the Pornhub’s annual review and their multiple monthly thematic reports makes evident—and in fact notably graphic—the flows of user data that are automatically generated and stored when accessing video aggregator sites or virtually any other website. Sites collect data on the devices and operating systems used, clicks, searches, comments, and connections made, archive, mine, and analyze this data for the purposes of targeted advertising. Pornhub’s manner of re-circulating and feeding back this data to consumers may be exceptional in its degree of detail, yet, there is nothing exceptional in their access to, or uses of the data as such.
Cutting through Pornhub’s PR efforts is the aim of overcoming the boundary between things deemed suitable for mainstream social media platforms, and those not. The campaigns afford Pornhub broad, positive international publicity in news sites and social media platforms for virtually no expense. Facebook, for example, allows sharing of news items on Pornhub but no links to the site itself. It would be highly unlikely for most news sites covering their PR stunts to accept the company’s advertisements should these ever be proposed but they cover the company’s stunts and projects with glee in search for clicks, reactions, and shares that function as indicators of attention. Pornhub’s PR stunts are, in sum, perfectly attuned to the click economy of social media: they feed clickbaits that again feed (and feed on) Facebook traffic in particular. This translates as added value to all parties involved.
By publishing the volume and trends of porn use on the site, Pornhub also makes claim for these practices being ubiquitous enough to form a quintessential part of the mundane rhythms and flows of media use across national boundaries during both working hours and leisure. This is a firm gesture of mainstreaming, of moving porn consumption from the so-called “dark” or marginal side of Internet use towards its central traffic and reframing it as a fun, recreational activity. Pornography has been part and parcel of the mainstream Web since its very early days, considering its perennial popularity among users and its centrality in terms of online economies, but has nevertheless retained a conceptual status as a marginal and somehow illegitimate of the medium. In this sense, Pornhub’s campaigns can be seen as contributing to a reframing of porn use by rendering explicit its mainstream and thus socially safe status. In a 2014 Adweek interview, Pornhub Vice President, Corey Price, explained that
“We want to push the conversation into the general public as something that’s acceptable to talk about, while letting people know that watching porn shouldn’t be an underground activity that’s to be seen as shameful. Everyone does it, why not just bring that out in the open? The reason it causes a stir is due to an already accepted set of social norms.”
The overall aim of the PR campaigns is to build up Pornhub as an entertainment brand among others. This again implies a process of domestication whereby media contents deemed unsavory, inappropriate, and off the mainstream are rendered familiar, acceptable, routine, and ordinary. Such processes have during the past decade or so, been diagnosed through concepts such as the sexualization and pornification of culture with the aim of accounting for how pornography has grown mundane in its accessibility, how people of different ages and genders are routinely consuming it, and the role that the flirtation with both the sexually suggestive and the sexually explicit plays media culture. Such diagnoses describe the mainstreaming of pornography in terms of its sheer popularity (bearing in mind the annual volume of Pornhub traffic alone), as well as the general visibility of pornographic codes, aesthetics, and themes across different fields of culture. As a long-standing media cultural trend, flirtation with pornography is telling of the perpetual—albeit also regularly uncomfortable—public presence of materials deemed obscene, the simultaneous fascination and aversion that they entail, as well as the constant labor involved in maintaining some kind of a boundary between pornography and the mainstream, the NSFW and SFW.
The mainstreaming and domestication of Pornhub through its SFW public relations campaigns interferes with the scent of forbidden fruit on which the cultural status, and central attraction, of pornography has been dependent throughout its history and which has rendered it the content that necessitates specific policing, censorship, and acts of regulation. Their PR campaigns increase the brand’s visibility in a range of SFW within the online attention economy of clicks, links, and shares, but similar cross-platform circulation cannot apply to the NSFW videos that the site hosts.
The Gender and Communication and Digital Culture Sections of ECREA are jointly organising a symposium in Athens, May 26-27, on Sexualities and digital culture in Europe. With a focus on sexual experiences, practices and digital culture; intimate/sexual citizenship and the digital and online sexual content and representations, the event sets out to explore the “sexual politics, challenges, opportunities and continuities surrounding the digital, with a specific focus on European contexts:”
“We particularly welcome contributions on topical matters in European societies and politics, among which: the regulation of online pornographic content in discussions on sexuality, children and the internet, LGBTQ challenges and opportunities related to the digital, the rise of conservative grass-roots movements in Europe that protest against what is called ‘gender ideology’ (such movements question and protest pro-gender equality legislations, abortion laws, same-sex marriage laws and transgender laws, while advocating for traditional family values and ‘restoring’ the naturalness of male and female bodies).”
Proposal deadline is February 2. As keynote, I’m honoured, flattered and frankly anxious to be speaking to the range of issues raised.