[iDC] netporn midlife crisis?

kjacobs kjacobs at cityu.edu.hk
Thu Nov 8 06:11:30 UTC 2007

Hello list, 

I was invited by Trebor to share some views about the role of netporn in our lives and work. I hope that other people will respond to the lust question or perhaps bring in related issues. 

In my three years of working with Matteo Pasquinelli and the Institute of Network Cultures, I have met many like-minded porn intellects. I think that it is fair to say that a decade of work in the red light district of art and academia (and mailing lists) have resulted in some kind of overhaul. We have seen the emergence of more fulfilling and female-friendly, alt, queer, atomized, amorphous, fluid, artsy and cheesy porn cultures. The goals of this happier porn generation are unclear but debatable, and I personally like the small areas of progress--there are a wide range of post-moralistic and imaginative critical thinkers involved, and there is a tendency towards “hands-on” production in various layers of academua. We are now indeed able to use the digital technologies to produce and subvert porn as actual image sequences, to publicly screen recorded fragments of sexual longings, life-styles, documentaries about sexual politics, experiments with found footage, and to redefine the boundaries of pornography at conference and exhibitions.   

Of course many people and academics are against this kind of activism and the arousal factor, and overall believe that a tolerance towards porn productivity may cause nothing but hassle and legal problems. It is a premise that is simply out of control. For instance, in the Summer 2007  issue of ‘Cinema Journal’ several leading media and film scholars argue for the inclusion of sexually explicit illustrations in publications about porn, but the journal itself could not convince the printer to reproduce the actual images to go with their texts. Oftentimes the fate of the “explicit” porn generation is indeed still decided by paranoia and fear, kindled by globalized Christianity activism and new types of anti-porn legislation. One side-effect of the growing fights between lust and paranoid legislation in mainstream social networking (like myspace and flickr), is that sex affairs and seductions are more and more delegated to very horny ghettos, where the up/downloading of sexually explicit is actually allowed. 

After moving to Hong Kong in 2005, I  started to look at the sex and swingers’ site Adultfriendfinder.com. A friend of mine had alerted me to some intriguing activity and sex blogs written by Hong Kong women (in English). I became member of the site as “Lizzy Kinsey” and stayed there for about two years to observe and interact with people, and to try to interview them for a documentary about online sex lives in Hong Kong. I was specifically interested in observing the interactions between chinese and caucasian people as I experience Hong Kong to be a tense interracial environment. I was also inspired by Lisa Nakamura’s work on people’s impersonation of blunt stereotypes to sell themselves in sexual pursuits. I invited the adult friend finders to send me stories about their sex encounters in Hong Kong, and received tons of mails. Even though I told people that I was a researcher and artist, they primarily wanted to have sex and would only reveal things as such. I became very interested in their very blunt seductions (endless cock images). I also tried to meet with some of them on awkward lunch dates where they shared experiences and still doubted my intellectual premises. And some documentation of my AFF interactions in images and a fictionalized account is now available in the “Lizzy Kinsey Report” (see below). 

And that brings me back to the issue of trying to study how the porn web has affected our work and our lust our arousal. Matteo Pasquinelli has responded to the Lizzy Kinsey report at the Berlin Film festival and outlined his dystopian views on porn agency as apocalyptic bodies and libidinal parasites. As he argues: “ The Lizzy Kinsey Report is about the effect of over-exposure, about the contradictory role of porn culture and our sexual digital devices. The conclusion of the Lizzy Kinsey Report is dystopian: internet fantasies, netporn consumption and online dating do not support progressive behaviours. Enabling fantasies only on a digital level keeps the public libido controlled and may reinforce conservative and conventional habits. Lizzy Kinsey discovers an alienation specific to the digital: internet as a libidinal parasite, siphoning our energy in change of few spectral images. At the end we have maggots in front of their laptops. How many are they?”  

We had read the reactionary accounts of behavorial scientists who believe that one can cure sexual deviancy by using specific porn arousal technologies (like penile plethysmography or vaginal photoplethysmography) and extreme methods of porn exposure. Sylvere Lotringer wrote an extensive critique of these empirical methods in Overexposed: Perverting Perversions  (1988) in which he details his visits to an American sex laboratory where patients (mostly male sex offenders) are tested for sexual arousal and exposed to excessive pornographic images and stories of their specific deviancies. Of course the values and objectives underlying these experiments are mostly conservative and pragmatic, as it is the fastest and cheapest way to see documents changes in arousal patterns. The question is how can we reclaim online porn exposure as a soft and sensual devices?  

In short, approaching the third phase of porn scholarship (first phase=critiques of porn as owned by solidified industries, second=atomization of porn as alt/indie/queer/art), I will end with a lust question for the list. Where do we find lust as lively porn-aided dating networks or sensual porn-sharing? How can we participate in sex and swingers sites without killing our own sex drives? Is this just my own problem?  How can we use porn to get aroused in sexual encounters (widely defined) and relationships? 

Hope to hear from you soon!



The Lizzy Kinsey Report (a heavy file)

Matteo Pasquinelli Comments
‘Maggots and Parasites: Bites of a Modest Dystopian Pornography’

C’Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader (available as free pdf)

Katrien Jacobs ‘Netporn: DIY Web Culture and Sexual Politics” (with a full chapter on Hong Kong and more academic version of the Lizzy Kinsey Report)

Sylvere Lotringer, Overexposed: Perverting Perversions (Semiotexte, 2007). Originally published in 1998.

More information about the iDC mailing list