All New Media Is Porn. | Bruce Turkel

All new media is porn. Whether it’s because of our endless fascination with sex or the media creators’ desire to monetize their inventions, each time there’s a new way to reach people, one of the first uses is distributing the pornography of the day.
Venus-FinalWay back in prehistory, cave paintings often depicted sex scenes. Sure, the history books we studied in high school showed stick figures of men chasing mastodons and bison with sharpened sticks, but that doesn’t mean that’s all that was all cave dwellers painted on their walls. In fact, one of the earliest known pieces of art – the Venus of Willendorf – is an early artist’s depiction of a fertile woman, swollen and ripe in her fecundity.

Tens of thousands of years later, muralists in ancient Rome festooned their villas with nearly always risqué images of orgies and sex acts. And Rome’s preeminent art form – sculpture – furnished the entire conquered world (and today’s art museums) with worshipfully carved nude human forms. The artists and calligraphers of ancient China also spent a significant amount of their output producing sexualized images, as did the painters of feudal Japan.

From the Renaissance onward throughout Europe, the great masters loved the naked form. And while the Roman Catholic Church did its best to discourage or downright prohibit prurient images, no study of classic art or observant walk through any great museum would be complete without extensive exposure to naked bodies.

Shortly after the first shots of the Civil War were fired in the United States, a new method of depiction and distribution of images was born – photography. And it wasn’t long before images of naked or scantily clad women were sold, collected, and passed around, albeit surreptitiously. Of course, many of those images look quaint by today’s standards but considering the mores of the time they were quite outrageous.

Photographic depiction of sexual topics increased significantly with the advent of modern printing technology. From the more mainstream magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse, to the less accepted publications sold in the back of newsstands and windowless stores with the letters “ADULT” stenciled on the side, pornography truly verified Marshall McLuhan’s words – “the medium is the message” – but in the case of sexualized images the message also created the medium.

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It was the same when pictures were no longer static. With the invention of moving picture technology, a new world opened up to pornographers. And with each new development — talkies, color, eight millimeter, super eight — the distribution and popularity increased, climaxing with the VHS and then DVD recordings that made it ever easier for consumers to watch pornography in the privacy of their own homes.

Of course, it’s the Internet that has really brought pornography to the masses. Today, it is estimated that 30% of World Wide Web usage is dedicated to the distribution of pornography. Forbes magazine reports that in 2010, 42,337 of the one million most trafficked websites were sex-related (4%) and that 13% of all searches were for sex-related content, with 2.5% of all searches going to one site alone! What’s more, Nielsen Online says that one-quarter of all employees surf pornography while they’re at work.

Regardless of which numbers are correct, it should be pretty clear that online pornography is not a billion-dollar business because a hardcore group of 100 enthusiasts are spending ten million dollars apiece. Like every other new media throughout history, the distribution of sexually explicit material is used by new media developers to build their businesses. According to Wikipedia, pornography is regarded by some as one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the World Wide Web, like the camcorder, VCR, and cable television before it.

In case it wasn’t obvious before, sex does indeed sell.

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