I hadn’t heard from my neo-conservative Holy Terror friend I call “The Missionary” since last November. Obviously, the Democratic party’s sweep to victory in the Congress and the White House had probably put a damper on his general enthusiasm for the political situation. Because of that, coupled with the announced retirement of his boss, James Dobson, from the Colorado-based Focus On The Family, I’d figured The Missionary figured it was time to burrow underground and hide out until 2012 at the soonest.
I was therefore surprised to get an email from my old friend last month, asking me to meet him in a bar midway between Denver and Colorado Springs, so we could catch up. Once we did so, it turns out the Missionary had become a victim of the current economic situation; in short, he’d been fired from his job. Sure, there’d been a severance package but it had disappeared alarmingly quickly and in the meantime, there were few job openings and even fewer interviews.
Fortunately, beer is relatively cheap and misery loves company, and I didn’t mind chatting with my buddy and engaging in some stimulating conversation.
When I told him I was still doing the “porn pundit” thing, the Missionary asked, “Why are you still doing that? What’s the appeal?”
“Besides the obvious,” I said. “All the naked people having sex.”
“Yeah,” he said. “What other reason could there be?”
“Often, I study porn for research purposes,” I said.
“Research purposes? What could you possibly need to research in porn?” I could tell the times had been tough on the Missionary. Before, I’d never seen him drink anything stronger than a Corona with lime. This evening, he was working on his third Sam Adams.
“You should read my column,” I said. “It lays it all out.”
“Come on, J.T. Be reasonable. I wouldn’t go to an erotica website. Not that I’d be interested in that stuff and anyway, my wife would kill me if she found out. Just give me the gist of it.”
I talked a little bit about how porn is a barometer of a society’s comfort level with sexuality and with freedom of expression, about how societies with liberal porn laws tend to have lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and sex crimes, and about how porn is a great forecaster of future technological and sociological trends.
“What the hell—heck, I mean, are you talking about,” asked The Missionary.
I said, “It is a well-known, but little-discussed truism that when it comes to techno-sociological advances in the mass media, pornography tends to be ahead of the developmental curve. In other words, if someone finds a new way to send a message, someone else will find a way to use that new way to send a message that includes pornography. Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera, right? Well, it wasn’t long after he did so that people started making pornographic movies. Edison himself did a couple.
“Then, videotape came along, which was cheaper and easier to use than film, and the porn industry was among the first to start using videotape. Then came VHS tapes and then DVDs and watching porn at home instead of in theaters, and then it was High Definition TV and pay-per-view and the internet and digital cameras and people could start filming their own stuff and putting it out there themselves. The day Apple introduced its iPhone, it took something like thirty minutes for someone to show how he could access porn on the damn thing.
“And it’s not just technology,” I said. “How long has reality TV been around?”
“About fifteen years or so,” said my friend. “It caught fire sometime in the early Nineteen-nineties. Why?”
“So these reality TV shows don’t have scripts, they just follow allegedly ‘real’ people in allegedly ‘real’ situations and catch them having ‘real’ dramas and crises and sometimes these people talk directly to the camera about what’s going on in their heads, right?”
“Yeah,” said The Missionary.
I said, “That’s what ‘gonzo’ porn has been doing since the mid-eighties. John Stagliano, Seymore Butts, those guys.”
“I never realized that,” said my friend. “I mean, not that I know who those men are. But I see your point. Okay, Mr. Nostradamus,” said The Missionary as he drained his glass and ordered another one from the bartender. “You’re such a porn pundit; if the porn industry is on the cutting edge of society’s trends, what’s in store for us for the future? What do you see in your crystal ball?”
I thought for a moment and sipped my beer. I said, “These days, the porn industry is in just as much turmoil as everything else. Especially thanks to the Internet. People don’t even have to buy their porn anymore. They can download it or just watch it on sites like YouPorn, RedTube or PornHub. They’re like YouTube. People can post their own stuff or clips from their favorite movies and everyone else can watch the clips for free.
“That easy access has devastated revenues for the high-end porn producers. Some of them still try to make real movies with at least a little bit of plot and character development and dialogue, but for the most part, why bother? It’s easier and quicker to just film some sex scenes, post them on one of the free sites, and then add a commercial to go to the production company’s website to see the whole thing. After giving them your credit card information, of course. But it’s all geared to an attention span of maybe three minutes, at most.”
“How does that forecast what’s going on in the mainstream,” asked The Missionary.
“Have you seen the movie trailers for ‘Transformers II’ or ‘G.I. Joe’ or ‘The Ugly Truth’ or any other mainstream movie? Spend two minutes watching a free commercial for any of those movies and you know everything you need to know about the movie. If you want to pay for a ticket to see the whole thing there’s nothing stopping you, but it’s not necessary to get the gist of it. I could describe what happens in any one of those movies just as well as someone who’d actually seen them.”
“Okay,” said the Missionary. “I see what you’re getting at.”
I continued. “Or watch any of the TV news shows. These days, they all run those ‘tickers’ that scroll news headlines at the bottom of the screen. There’s no context, no in-depth analysis, just the basic facts all summed up in as few words as possible.”
The Missionary said, “You can even see it going on with the news makers, can’t you? When I was working for Focus On The Family, we were always trying to get our points across by whittling things down to shorter and shorter messages.”
I said, “Sum up the Bush Administration’s take on the Iraq War.”
“‘Mission Accomplished,’ said The Missionary.
I said, “Describe the finely-nuanced position of the Obama Administration when it comes to health care reform.”
The Missionary said, “Public option.”
“And why do the Republicans oppose Obama’s reform plans?”
“Death panels,” said my friend.
“Okay, smart guy,” said the Missionary. “I’m sold. Pornography is a window into the future. So what’s going to happen in the long term? What do the current trends indicate?”
I said, “I don’t know, yet. I’ve been studying porn as much as possible, but it takes a lot of work.”
“A lot of study, I’m sure,” said the Missionary.
“A lot of study,” I agreed.
“You could use an extra pair of eyes, I’m sure,” said my friend.
“Couldn’t hurt,” I said.
The Missionary said, “So I could look at pornography for the sake of research, couldn’t I?”
“You could,” I said.
The Missionary said, “One could possibly even make the study of pornography one’s occupation.”
“One could,” I said.
“So one could theoretically deduct the costs of watching porn as a business expense.”
“One could,” I said.
“Of course,” said The Missionary, “it would all be for the purposes of anticipating sociological and technological trends.”
“Of course,” I said. “It would be for a good cause.”
“Interesting,” said my friend.
“Indeed,” said I.
“Indeed,” said The Missionary.
We finished our beers in silence, both lost in thought.
It’s worth a shot.
“All Worked Up” © 2009 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.