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<nettime> Notes on Netporn
Mark Dery on Mon, 10 Oct 2005 12:39:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Notes on Netporn

>From http://www.markdery.com/archives/news/index.html#000048#more

Sex Organs Sprout Everywhere

You should have been there.

Billed by its organizers, Geert Lovink and the Amsterdam-based Institute of
Network Cultures in collaboration with Katrien Jacobs and Matteo Pasquinelli, as
"the first major international conference on netporn criticism," the Art and
Politics of Netporn (September 30-October 1, Amsterdam) made happy bedfellows of
Tod Browning and Kraft-Ebbing, Larry Flynt and Foucault.

The always thought-provoking Mikita Brottman talked about Christian fundamentalist
conjurations of the Net as a Devil's Triangle waiting to suck unsuspecting kids
into the murky depths of porn addiction or, worse yet, the slimy embrace of
pedophiles. The film critic David Sterritt talked about the visual grammar of porn
films. Ayah Bdeir, a research assistant in MIT's computing culture group, talked
about spam, porn and otherwise, as a core sample of the mass unconscious97a
culture's free-associated thoughts about what it wants most. Matteo Pasquinelli
talked about warporn, and the almost unbearably hilarious Sergio Messina, a
hip-hop musician, journalist, and Outsider theorist from Italy, riffed on what he
calls "realcore," the up-close-and-in-your-face images swingers post of themselves
in Yahoo groups. And Rogerio Lira talked about his experiments in "social nudity"
on Flickr, and how the posting of naked self-portraits there97his way of chipping
away at normative notions of the body beautiful97ran afoul of Flickr's
prudishness. And the irrepressible, unapologetically demented Adam Zaretsky
presented "Why I Want to Fuck E.O. Wilson," a performance-cum-lecture that
reimagined various paraphilic practices from a sociobiological perspective (with
tongue very much in cheek) as evolutionary necessities for the species.

I opened the conference with a keynote lecture titled (with apologies to
Burroughs) "'Sex Organs Sprout Everywhere': The Sublime and the Grotesque in Web
Porn." Among other things, I talked about the kulturkampf between the neo-puritan
right, whose abstinence-based curriculum threatens to do for sex ed in America's
public schools what creationism has done for scientific literacy among the
million. Noting what I call the "Newtonian physics of contemporary society," in
which every repressive action from the dominant culture is countervailed by an
equally emphatic (if not always equally effective) reaction from transgressive
subcultures, I argued that despite the right's unflagging efforts to turn back the
clock to the days when people put pantalets on piano legs, we're living in the
Golden Age of the Golden Shower, a heyday of unabashed depravity (at least, in
terms of online scopophilia and virtual sex) that makes De Sade's 120 Days of
Sodom look like VeggieTales. The Divine Marquis never imagined aquaphiliacs, a
catchall category that includes guys whose hearts leap up when they behold babes
in bathing caps, fanciers of underwater catfights, connoisseurs of submarine
blowjobs, breath-holding fetishists, fans of simulated drowning, and, weirdest of
all, people who get off on swimming and showering fully clothed, like Rein, the
guy in Amsterdam who likes to take a dip now and then, in "business suits, dress
shirts, and suit jackets97especially the one with two vents," he informs, on his

    Nor did De Sade even dream of amputee worship, armpit fetishism, clown porn,
or sneeze freaks, who rejoice at the thought of a nice, juicy honk, with plenty of
spritz. Lactating transsexuals? Been there.  Scrotal inflation? Done that. Wet
dreams of Japanese schoolgirls in traction? Check. Breast-expansion fantasies of
mammaries that balloon up to Goodyear blimp proportions, suffocating their smiling
owners, or slither and puddle like some B-movie Blob, or clone themselves? Check.

    Things are getting weird out there, so much so that imaginary obsessions such
as exophilia, the "abnormal attraction [to] beings from worlds beyond earth" that
is the subject of the underground novel Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish, are starting
to sound downright plausible.  Can we be far from the future foretold by J.G.
Ballard, where car-crash enthusiasts get off on vehicular manslaughter and fans of
Space Age snuff thrill to footage of astronauts being roasted alive during
re-entry? In the introduction to his 1974 novel Crash, Ballard wondered if the
android numbness induced by media bombardment97the "demise of feeling"97would open
the door to "all our most real and tender pleasures97in the excitements of pain
and mutilation; in sex as the perfect arena...for...our...perversions; in our
moral freedom to pursue our own psychopathology as a game."

    Of course, the loosening of a society's moral corset can ensure that
practitioners of loves that dare not speak their names breathe a little
easier97remember, it was only in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association
deleted homosexuality from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders97but it can also open the door to real-world Videodromes, where one
man's psychopathic games are another man's theater of pain.

    As this is written, for example, the Web is abuzz with stories about U.S.
soldiers taking trophy snapshots and making homemade music videos, set to kickass
rock, of themselves booting a wounded prisoner in the face or puppeteering the arm
of a corpse to make it wave or mugging for the camera around the charred corpse of
what a caption gloatingly calls a "cooked Iraqi." Thomas Doherty, a film-studies
professor quoted in an L.A. Times story about the scandal, gave one homemade video
the Roger Ebert thumbs-up for its "contrapuntal editing97the beat of the tune and
the flash of the images," judging it "a very slick piece of work." He quipped,
"The MTV generation goes to war. They should enter it at Sundance." A star is
born: the David Fincher of atrocity porn.

    Images like the nauseating close-up of the dead Iraqi who refused to stop at a
U.S. checkpoint, a mess of bloody pulp where his head used to be, are porn, albeit
porn of the most atavistic sort. They're porn because the young, male viewers who
look at them do so with a voyeuristic, high-fiving glee familiar to anyone who has
ever watched hardcore videos with a drunken gang of guys at a bachelor party. (The
L.A. Times story describes the fiancee of one soldier walking into a room where
her hubby-to-be "was showing [his war] videos to friends, who were 'whooping and
hollering.'") They're porn because the carrion-feeders who might otherwise be
peddling hardcore are now hawking video gore to the chickenhawks back home.
They're porn because they poke a stiff little finger into the killer-ape part of
our brains, right where the desire to fuck gets confused with the urge to fuck
shit up.  Exhibit A: ThatsFuckedUp.com, a site that offers one-stop shopping for
war-core and amateur porn, sometimes in a single, sick-making image. One photo
shows a prone woman, presumably an Iraqi, whose leg is a bloody stump, blown off
by a land mine. Under the hem of her skirt, we can see her vagina. "Nice
puss---bad foot," reads the wisecracking caption.  Pardon my Wilhelm Reich, but
could our queasy tendency to express our bloodlust in the metaphoric language of
porn be (at least partly) the pathological cost of our repressed sexuality?

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