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March 23, 2017

SEX ON THURSDAY | A Eulogy for Print Pornography

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Yesterday my friend bought a dirty magazine from a gas station in Cortland. Smut, as my grandparents would have called it. Later, while poring over it in a semicircle of four or five rapt gentlemen, I caught a wave of nostalgia for the bygone days of print pornography. The magazine itself was printed on paper, of all things. There were no play or pause buttons or volume sliders, either. Rather, the assorted stories, breasts, thighs, etc. were emblazoned on glossy pages with perforated edges so you could tear them out and tuck them away for later use.

Like it or not, certain well-established nudie mags occupy their own dimly-lit corner in American culture. Martin Luther King, Jr. once did a 1965 interview with Playboy. Shel Silverstein, the children’s poet known for The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends, contributed regular cartoons for several years. But last year the venerable bunny decided to stop printing nudity — presumably because they couldn’t compete with the immediacy of online adult content.

Now, I’m not complaining about Internet porn per se. It’s got its upsides. But it’s certainly worth taking inventory of what it is that American culture has lost. For one thing, the taboo. It used to be that pornographers had to fight in the Supreme Court about whether “indecent” speech was protected by the First Amendment. Imagine the thrill and excitement, then, of driving into the seedy part of town to seek cheap thrills. Contrast that with the following: Recently, a well-known adult site printed its logo on snow plows and went around Boston in broad daylight plowing the streets. With all the sex positivity these days, it’s like I’m supposed to be watching hardcore porn and having one-night stands with near-strangers. Surely it would be more fun if it was at least frowned upon.

Here’s what I hope is an interesting observation: Sex — as a concept — is funny because it involves humans giving in to our primal urges. And consumerism is funny as a concept because it involves humans transcending primal urges. So it would be natural to expect that the consumerization of sex would be a hoot. It can be amusing in some contexts. For example, take the following lines from Slaughterhouse-Five:

He had a dirty picture of a woman attempting sexual intercourse with a Shetland pony…In 1841, only two years later, an assistant to Daguerre, Andre Le Fevre, was arrested in the Tuileries Gardens for attempting to sell a gentleman a picture of the woman and the pony.
I think the scarcity and the taboo are what make that vignette funny. (Also, the choice of the word attempting.) But when you reflect on the status of porn today, it’s just a fact of life. Porn has gone mainstream, you might say—easy to get in large quantities without the thrill of social transgression. Gone are the days when boys would steal their fathers’ magazines and hide them in shoeboxes. And gone are the days when they would fight over them in groups of four or five, pretending it wasn’t at least a little gay to look at pictures of tits together.

 

Dwight D. Eisenplower is a student at Cornell University. Bi Monthly appears every other week this semester. Comments may be sent to associate-editor@cornellsun.com

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