Digital Pornography and the Space of History: Six Preliminary Propositions, Part II


Digital Pornography and the Space of History: Six Preliminary Propositions

Part II


Rich Cante

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Angelo Restivo

Georgia State University


(Continued from April 21st)


In light of all this, we propose that:

1. The sense of a spatial trajectory that was until recently so important in all-male porn is being eclipsed. Instead, we are presented with a series of relatively interchangeable, laboratory-like “any space-whatevers.” New forms of complicated inter-action between privacy and publicity are thus enfolded in novel ways into the operations of digital pornography, with different dynamics of “power” transecting the insides and outsides of such enfoldings.

2. Reflecting the solo internet viewer/user and her/his own contiguous “spaces” of engagement–as opposed to the group viewing ethos of the theater, or even the physically delimited viewing locales of home video—the solo act becomes the model for the sexual encounters in pornography. Even when you are not seeing solo numbers, this is the case, as connectivity becomes something increasingly subsumed by enacted rubrics of digitality, linkage and extension. One effect is that solitude gets publically attached to pornography, and sexuality, differently.

3. A different form of “liveness” is produced. It problematizes the very coherence of “pornography” as a word and concept. The “written reportage of prostitutes” had necessitated the re-presentation of the evidence of whole acts/encounters—leftovers of the commerciality of the original acts/encounters and of each instance in the supply-chain of their re-presentation. The other side of this, the other side of pornography, now appears as the “site” from which the desire of and for the pornographic is mostly digitally generated.

4. The newer space-templates of pornography are produced as the physical spaces of gay life and gay history are transformed. San Francisco is the paradigm case, partly because it is the seat of “digital culture” in the U.S. It is also one of the places where gays are being dramatically displaced from a physical “Zion” by a new class of Technorati (gay or not, though mostly not). In this sense, emergent historical processes—which subsequently become visible partly as repetitions of prior ones (eg, Times Square or the use of gays, via AIDS, as disposable agents of urban gentrification in the 80s)—are visible in the traffic in pornography. In fact, pornography can now be viewed as an alternative type of news, showing you “what’s goin' on,” at the level of such not-yet-historicized, almost subperceptual levels of everyday life. 

5. The gaze of cruising was invented as a way for “gay men” to make and phantasize private connections in the public spaces of a world that they were in the process of activating as their own in the liberation era—and fashioning themselves in relation to, individually and collectively. The cruising gaze was also regularly used for spatiotemporal mapping, since the filmic feature, in constructing establishing shots and transitioning into numbers. A visibly “voracious” look was even regularly built into the visual styles (“identities?”) of performers who became stars during the video era. With de-narrativization, the autonomization of numbers and parts of numbers, the move toward more anonymized spaces, de-celebrification, the further appearance of formal elements of postidentitarianism, and so forth, this formation dematerializes. This is closely related not only to what is happening in places like San Francisco, but also to everything that has been happening to gay identity, and the institutional recognizability of LQBTQ social bonds, in this country. 

6. In a classically (or retro) postmodern operation, digital pornography becomes the penultimate sort of site at which the “over-saturated subject” feels they might find sanctuary from techno/media culture itself. The value of sex that pornography implicitly advertises to us, and the possibility of good or better sex with which it confronts us, can now be escaped most effectively through pornography itself. Likewise, mandates of good or better sex—instituted partly in and through the media (including pornography) and related technologies (eg, pharmaculture)—feel most readily “escaped,” paradoxically, through the use of media pornography. So does the so-called “increasing ‘sexualization’ of the world” since the 1960s. This is the precise sense in which this pornography promises something much more satisfying than sex: it now seems to be, feels like, and works as a more “astute” and “helpful” (re)presentation of what sex is, and what it does to us, than is sex itself. It is a “better” portal of access to spaces and spatial trajectories of being and becoming that we used to assume were potentiated most effectively by unmediated sex. Consequently, the energies available for desiring “things” like cities changes with this in a variety of ways. Given the centrality of NYC and LA, in ecological relation with SF, to (gay) porn and (gay) phantasy in the U.S. since the 70s, this represents a major shift in the co-operative topographies and topologies of U.S. sexual identities and their histories.  

Photo Credit: balaam via Compfight cc


FTR, here are some of the works that we are synthesizing in these two postings: John Champagne, in a variety of places, on the relationship between pornography and nonproductive expenditure; the archaeology of gay, urban, post-60s California represented by the reissue of Patrick Cowley’s porn soundtracks by Dark Entries Records as School Daze (2013); Dan Harris, in *The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture,* on the invention of “hotness” with gay videoporn; James Franco’s recent revisitation of Cruising; Laura Kipnis, in *Bound and Gagged,* on reader self-portraits submitted to porn magazines; Susana Paasonen’s book *Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography;* Dougal Philips’s ahead-of-its-time essay on pornographic exchange in the era of the Internet and "the death of the sun;" and, Saskia Sassen’s writings on "wired and networked" cities.

I found this work to be so interesting. I really like the narrative analysis in conjunction with digital media and place. I am particularly interested in what the both of you mention as far as "desiring things like cities." I am not as familiar with NYC and SF, but I lived in DC for several years and LGBTQ centers like Dupont Circle have increasingly become too expensive to be the cultural centers they once were. Here porn sits at the intersection of digital and material cultures in such a relevant way. Thanks for sharing this research!

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.