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The Market for Penetration

June 4th, 2007 · 8 Comments

Jesse Walker and Laure both flag a New York Times story reporting (apropos of last week’s post) on how amateur porn is doing to the porn industry what folks have long predicted (whether inaccurately or prematurely remains to be seen) blogs would do to punditry: Displacing the professional product with vast amounts of amateur substitutes that make up for the (ever diminishing) difference in quality with quantity and variety.

There’s a familiar body of theory that holds porn is valued and consumed precisely because of its unreality—hence, absurdly proportioned women engaging in frenzied, decontextualized copulation with strangers, in scenarios that run the gamut from merely demeaning and objectifying to full-blown grand guignol. And doubtless plenty of people find that congenial. But if, as the article suggests, it’s specifically amateur and homemade video that’s making a dent, that would appear to indicate an affirmative preference by at least some consumers for such material, as there’s also already vast quantities of professionally-produced stuff available gratis to anyone who can manage to install a peer-to-peer client with their free hand.

Assuming this is so, it would seem to count in favor of the suggestion in the previous post that there are plenty of people who consume porn as a second-best substitute for the sex they’re not having, which means they want something that approximates at closely as possible an erotic experience they could imagine themselves having. In other words: Couples (or whatever) who are slightly-more-attractive versions of recognizably ordinary sorts of people, having sex because they actually want to, genuinely enjoying it, and displaying the kind of affection it would be difficult to convincingly feign for someone you’d just met even if you had trained with Lee Strasberg for a decade.

Porn, then, would be especially vulnerable to this sort of competition because this constitutes an important distinction from other kinds of movies. What we normally want from film is something that emotionally resonates with our own experiences, but is in content alien and fantastic in some respects, even if the film is “realistic.” While I don’t think my life is especially boring, I doubt I’d want to watch even a well-edited movie about someone very much like me hanging around D.C. with a lot of other wonks and writers. An effective film pulls you into its new, fascinating world—it gives you something different from, more exciting or dramatic or humorous than your ordinary experience. But for the kind of consumer I’m talking about, slick pro porn is a pointlessly artificial simulacrum of an event that’s actually incredibly commonplace—like replacing all your windows with flatscreens showing elaborate CGI recreations of local weather conditions. The relative success of homebrewed porn, then, might be seen as a rough test of these competing classes of theories about porn.

One prediction, then—and anyone in the San Fernando Valley who makes money off this is welcome to send me a cut: The successful pro-pornographers in the future will not be those who try to squeeze market share out of ever-diminishing advantages in things like lighting, camera quality, or editing, but those who cede to the amateurs their comparative advantage in producing “realistic” porn. There’s no point in creating expensive simulations when the genuine article is freely available. Instead, the pro sector will probably begin specializing in more “fantastic” sorts of encounters unlikely to be taking place in the homes of ordinary folks with digital cameras. Costume dramas, exotic locales, physical prodigies and oddities, obscure fetishes—use your imagination. Or don’t: That’s what the Internet is for, after all.

Tags: Sexual Politics



8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 razib // Jun 4, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    this is just recapitulating the transition from the dominance of porn-film to porn-video in the 1980s. the rise of pro-am precedes the internet, the internet just amplified the effect. the internet has also pushed print & video porn to be far more raunchy very quickly. e.g., in the early 2000s there was a niche “ass-to-mouth” line of videos, but that was discontinued with the practice spread to porn in general.

  • 2 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Jun 4, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    razib appears to actually know something about the subject. Amateur is just one niche of many, many. What the Internet has really done, by lowering the barriers to entry, is to make it even easier to meet the market demand for the multitude of kinks out there.

  • 3 ineffable179 // Jun 6, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    I think there is a serious flaw lurking in this argument. Where is all this free amateur porn that is supposedly crippling the professional porn studios? The one website that is actually mentioned in the NYT article is a pay-per-minute site that has tons of professionally produced content. The difference is in the method of distribution, not the content.

    The popularity of Burning Angel and Suicide Girls (mentioned in your post from last week) doesn’t seem to me to suggest a preference for more realistic porn. Many people find the girls on those sits to be genuinely more attractive than the plastic blonds offered by “mainstream” porn. Even of the actresses in mainstream porn, only a very small number live up to the Barbie image. Suicide girls may look different, but I don’t think they are in any way objectively more average or plain-looking, on the whole.

    Furthermore, if you’ve ever seen any of the videos produced by Burning Angel, you know that they incorporate every cliche and convention of current mainstream porn, only they do it with girls that have tattoos and a punk rock soundtrack.

  • 4 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Jun 6, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    ineffable179, again, is someone who appears to actually know something about pornography.

  • 5 Nick // Jun 7, 2007 at 9:18 am

    There’s probably a lot of money to be made in a sort of YouTube for porn, where amateurs can upload their videos and view others’. I’m not touching that legal nightmare with a ten foot pole, but I’d lay money that such a site will show up–if it hasn’t already.

  • 6 anonymous // Jun 7, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Posted by: Nick at June 7, 2007 9:18 AM

    Not that ten seconds on google would have failed to tell you all about pornotube.com…

  • 7 Nick // Jun 8, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Just looked at that site. Pornotube mimics Youtube in style, as a manner of advertising. It is most definitely not a portal for amateurs to share videos with one another.

  • 8 Julian Elson // Jun 9, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    What about xtube?

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