Being a pre-adolescent kid in the ’60s and early ’70s meant living for those occasions (not as rare as Xmas or birthdays but much rarer than cancelled school days or finding a Kennedy Half on the side walk) that I’d be visiting an Uncle and he’d be in the bathroom or tending to the bar-b-cue and I could rifle through his collection of Playboy magazines, which were stored in hundred-pound stacks in the closet or under his bed. The highlight of Playboy, for me, at c. 10 or 11, was the rich art of the Little Annie Fanny cartoons, with all those burnished nipples and high-contrast tan-lines. I never thought of it as Porn and didn’t yet know the term.
My next encounter with the form was in the ’80s, after college, in a house I rented with a bunch of friends, in the very early days of cable. In order to tantalize the viewers into subscribing to premium channels, they’d partially-unscramble a Porn Channel a few nights every week and the zig-zagging b&w blow-jobs with rolling vertical-hold issues were amazing; the layer of distortion amplified the illusion of a stolen glimpse of Sex… which was thrilling despite the actual orgies we were up to in that household. So far, so good: the proportion of Sex-as-Image to Sex-as-Real-Life was just right for the one to complement the other.
Thirty years down the road and Porno is hard to miss, free of charge (and you journalists complain about not getting paid any more for quality work!) and largely devoid of poetry, the innocent tingles of mild taboo or any illusion of romance. As sexist as Hef’s world-view clearly was, the overriding fantasy that Playboy exploited was that of the Worldly Fellow (or Superspy) wooing the Unattainable Goddess (or Mata Hari) with champagne, a log-burning fire and a Quadrophonic sound-system. Much, much better than late-model Porn’s Caligulan nightmare of thinly-veiled gladiatorial rape.
Worse: it seems to have overwhelmed Sex-as-Real-Life. Just as Television’s ubiquity (aka Happy Days or Room 222 or Family Ties or Baywatch) had begun, disastrously, to inform how people spoke, dressed, socialized and voted, Porn’s ubiquity distorts a lot more than national notions of beauty. Blow-jobs, for teens, in 2014, occupy the same weakly-forbidden zone as “Frenching” did in 1970. “Second base” (if teens were still using baseball metaphors) would be the blasé code for Anal. Who cares if today’s teens are blasé about blow-jobs and anal, I guess, but what’s left for them to get excited about? Fisting?
Most of it looks like torture: oral, vaginal or anal, the viagra-zombie-dicks are pounding away so hard you’d think they were trying to break rocks. The poor women are often in a choke-hold and wincing with more than one helping of cum in their eyes. I no longer sneak peeks at this stuff (though, in the late-’90s, I was like, “whoa!” at its more humane precursors); would a person with any capacity for empathy sneak peeks at water-boarding, for fun? Under such savage conditions, it’s impossible to not see financial desperation and/or mental illness driving the talent. And a grim future of colostomy bags, pain killers and lots of booze waiting for them quite a few years before “retirement”.
Fucking-A: maybe the Squares were right about some things (though wrong about such whoppers). Maybe some taboos are good for us.