Should We Thank Pornographers?

Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Related Post Roulette

53 Responses

  1. tom van dyke says:

    The Black Market [or a somewhat brown paper-wrapped market, in this case] is always the first to exploit a void.

    The funny thing is that the internet has destroyed the porn industry.

    Just as the rightosphere has destroyed the mainstream media business, or at least halved it. But that’s another discussion. But related.

    Anybody wanna buy Newsweek? One dollar American, cash money.Report

    • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

      “The funny thing is that the internet has destroyed the porn industry.”

      Huh? Say more?

      I can’t google any freaking thing without being directed, eventually, to some porn site. If I ever order anything on line I’ve learned to do it with a separate email address as its only a matter of time before my info gets sold and then I’m getting the happy news that hot asian sluts want to meet me!

      I don’t want to suggest that the porn industry is overtaking the soft drink industry or anything, but certainly it is thriving as least as much if not more than 30, 50 or 100 years ago?

      How has the internet destroyed it?Report

      • North in reply to RTod says:

        Destroyed? I don’t know about destroyed… but there are significant threats I’ve heard of. The internet is reaching a level of connectivity that makes it extremely easy to share information both in terms of bandwidth and technical knowledge. This harms the porn industry (and really all forms of entertainment industries) in two major ways. First it makes the copying and dissemination of copies (theft) very easy and fast. Secondly it makes it very easy for people to give the stuff away for free or very cheaply.
        So rather than ten big porn companies you have ten million teeny tiny porn companies that themselves are getting squeezed by the attractive young man/woman who simply decides to put video’s/pictures/fiction of that nature up purely for the fun of it.Report

        • RTod in reply to North says:

          Again, it may just be semantics, but – and totally confess I know little about the porn industry – I have a hard time believing that more $s were spent on porn in the pre-internet era than today. That it’s not lucrative (or as lucrative as you might think) may be so…

          And technology and access may be changing the industry, but that doesn’t mean less money – it just means a different distribution of the money. For years I’ve heard that the internet has destroyed the music industry, but that’s hogwash – it’s just taken away a huge chunk of the pie from the big name recording studios.Report

          • North in reply to RTod says:

            Oh well yes, there’s certainly a question about definitions. If by porn industry one means anyone who purveys and deals in pornographic material ever then the internet has been a renaissance to the porn industry.
            If by porn industry you mean large centralized “big players” companies in the porn industry then the internet has had the same effect on the porn industry as staking a man over top of a fire ant nest would have.Report

  2. It would take me the better part of a year to fully explain how completely wrong this is.Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    It’s been common knowledge for at least ten years, among people who work in high-tech, that internet advances have been largely porn-driven. What’s new is that now even economists have figured that out.Report

    • Aaron in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Until music downloads surpassed porn a few years ago, the latter was in no small part responsible for popular demand for better bandwidth and larger hard drives (no pun intended).

      Pretty much every Internet marketing technique you detestprobably also originated with pornographers, along with any number of “black hat” site promotion techniques. It took an act of Congress to ‘clean up’

    • Bucky in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I worked for an internet company in the late 90s and the majority of the techies that we hired came out of the porn industry. They were the ones with the experience at building commercial web sites.

      The funny thing to me was that the people doing a lot of the back-end work in porn were not at all the type of people you might expect.Report

  4. Rufus F. says:

    If anyone should be thanked for developing e-commerce, it’s the shut-ins. They led the way in the rejection of going to physical locations to buy things/interact with other human beings. If pornography led the way there, it was only because there was already a bigger stigma attached to visiting pornographic theatres. Also, I’d sort of imagine that the people who were trying to make a business out of pornography were different people from those who were trying to put it on the Intneret, because it seems to have hurt the actual industry. Interestingly enough, the Internet seems to have put Women Against Pornography out of business as well.Report

    • Bucky in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Actually, the porn industry has done very well via the internet. What is hurting them lately are two things: (1) the social sex networking sites that allow for amateur porn that is mostly free, and (2) the ability to illegally share professional porn at no cost (torrent, file share, etc.).

      But I have faith in the porn industry’s ability to emerge in a new form to meet the pornographic needs of puritanical America. And make billions of dollars while doing it. In every sense of the words.

      I can’t imagine that people’s fascination with watching their overweight neighbors masturbate with plush toys on internet cam video will last very long.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Bucky says:

        Admittedly, I know more about the fishing industry than the pornographic industry. I was really just extrapolating from the fact that so many other media industries have been hurt by the internet, and from the fact that Playboy is apparently sinking like a stone. But, again, I don’t really know porn well enough to know if Playboy isn’t just an inferior product that never had much competition before now.Report

        • Bucky in reply to Rufus F. says:

          I suspect that the slow death of Playboy has more to do with the death of traditional media in the internet age. Also, as society’s sexual mores have relaxed, the sexual titillation factor of a tame brand like Playboy has lost most of its appeal.

          For many years Playboy’s selling point was “OMG, boobs and bush.”

          And then it became more about celebrity boobs and (shaved) bush.

          And now that today’s celebrity whores are giving it away for free to the papparzzi, there doesn’t seem to be a place for the mild pin-up porn of Playboy anymore.Report

      • Brett in reply to Bucky says:

        But I have faith in the porn industry’s ability to emerge in a new form to meet the pornographic needs of puritanical America. And make billions of dollars while doing it. In every sense of the words.

        It’s not like the demand is going to disappear anytime soon, either, so I agree.Report

  5. Jon Rowe says:

    “Interestingly enough, the Internet seems to have put Women Against Pornography out of business as well.”

    How so?

    “Also, I’d sort of imagine that the people who were trying to make a business out of pornography were different people from those who were trying to put it on the Intneret, because it seems to have hurt the actual industry.”

    Perhaps our expert Tony can chime in, but it seems to me that originally the Internet was a big source of revenue for the porn industry, and to an extent still is. The open-source, free streaming and download Tube and Torrent sites were unintended consequences. But there are a lot of folks out there who still do subscribe to the pay sites.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Jon Rowe says:

      Well, I just remember when I was younger that WAP would picket outside of these porn theatres and they were actually fairly successful for two reasons. The first was that people who wanted to see porn still had to go to those theatres to do so and it was already sort of an embarassing thing for many of them to do, without people screaming at them for it. Even when video arrived, you still had to go to the video stores and maybe face those picketing crowds, and their tactics were pretty much the same as abortion protesters. In much the same way, if you were a bystander on the sidewalk, you could also be assaulted by these people screaming and holding up very graphic pictures.

      The second reason was that a lot of people really had not seen pornography at that time, because there was still a stigma attached and you had to go to these places to do so. I remember being invited to a ‘teach-in’ by a group of feminists against porn and their Catholic allies (I was invited as the social libertarian opposition), and it was just understood by all of them that pornographic films nearly always feature women being tortured, raped, and murdered. Now, you look at late 70s porn and much of it seems tame. But you could make that argument then and be fairly sure that many people you were talking to hadn’t seen enough pornography to know that it really wasn’t all movies of women being murdered.

      But, of course, I think the net changed all of that because, with the Internet, a lot more people have given in to their curiosity and checked out enough pornography to know that most of it is more boring than anything else, and so I suspect it’s harder to convince them that it’s quasi-snuff films. So, I’d imagine that Women Against Pornography have a much harder time making their case now. At the least, WAP doesn’t have anywhere to picket.Report

  6. Bucky says:

    Interesting thoughts on Women Against Pornography, Rufus. I have to admit that I haven’t given WAP much thought in years. As a gay man, they are mostly completely uninterested in the porn that caters to my demographic. As I recall, there was a brief effort many years ago to include gay porn in their anti-porn crusade, but it really undercut their message that all porn was violence against women when “no women were involved in the making of this pornographic adult film.”

    The group really should be called Women Against Women in Pornography. It has always been an odd coalition of fundamentalists and feminists who were against the perceived exploitation of women that sex entailed. The fundies just hated sex of any sort and the feminists hated sex between men and women.

    I would throw in the old adage that politics makes strange bedfellows but that seems somehow inappropriate in a discussion about porn.

    WAP was very active for a number of years and garnered a lot of press coverage, but I don’t hear much from them these days. Perhaps I am just not paying attention. But as you point out, as porn has become so much more diffuse it is harder to have a focused protest.

    Cultural trends have also helped to dampen the support of WAP. Porn went mainstream. The biggest consumers of porn are people in fundamentalist red conservative states. And as you rightly pointed out, as more and more people were able to experience porn, the overblown rhetoric of groups like WAP became obvious lies.

    Also, as porn went mainstream, it lost the negative stigma attached to it. You’d be hard pressed to watch more than just a couple of hours of network sitcom drivel without a few humorous references to pornography. People just aren’t afraid of porn they way they once were.

    Finally, I think that the rise of amateur porn has really hurt the “all porn is violence against women” message of WAP. If women are willing participants and are actually putting their own homemade porn out on the internet for anyone to see, it is hard to keep arguing that porn is the abuse of women by men.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Bucky says:

      “It has always been an odd coalition of fundamentalists and feminists who were against the perceived exploitation of women that sex entailed. The fundies just hated sex of any sort and the feminists hated sex between men and women.”

      And I guess that does sort of explain what happened to the feminist side of it because I remember back in about 1990 or so reading a number of articles about “pro-sex feminists” and it really was supposed to be a big revelation that people like Susie Bright were coming out as being both feminist and so supportive of sex and pornography. But I’d say that viewpoint seems to be very mainstream in feminism now, and conversely, I don’t know that the viewpoint that feminists like Andrea Dworkin held has anything like the sway it used to. It certainly doesn’t seem to.

      As for the fundamentalists, for the sake of accuracy, we should say that they tend to be opposed to sex outside of marriage and some of them are opposed to non-reproductive sex within marriage. There are fairly orthodox Jews who actually disapprove of married couples not having as many children as they’re physically capable of (which means having a lot of sex actually), but I think the mainstream fundamentalist opinion is that sex outside of marriage is what’s wrong, and that a lot of porn either promotes sex outside of marraige in its message or by offering a sexual outlet outside of marrital sex- there I think they’re pretty averse to the idea that many couples use porn within their marriage bed. I don’t really agree with that, but I’d be surprised if many of them were opposed to all sex.Report

      • Bucky in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I didn’t say that fundie women were opposed to all sex. They aren’t. They are taught to believe that sex is only acceptable within the bonds of marriage.

        What I said was that fundie women HATED sex. Which I think is mostly true. While they are taught that sex is only to be allowed in the marriage bed, they are also taught that sex is dirty and nasty and vile and a chore to be endured. It is the Pentecostal equivalent of “close your eyes and think of England.” A duty that must be performed because a woman’s main purpose is procreation.

        Instead of seeing sex as something pleasurable and joyful, they see it as something shameful and dirty. Even when it is with their husband. And if you have met many of the fundie men out there, you would have to agree with the women. Sex with those guys would be shameful and dirty and anything but pleasurable.

        That is why I say that they hate sex, even when they approve of it within marriage.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Bucky says:

          Ah, okay. I’ve never had sex with a fundamentalist or even known one well enough to hear about their sex life, so this might well be true and I’d have no idea. I guess there must be a difference between the fundies and the mainstream evangelicals though, because what I was thinking about were the little Christian bookstores I’ve seen at the mall that have books about how to have great sex in your Christian marriage. But it’s also probably the case that the fundamentalists would hate a lot of things in those bookstores anyway.Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

            Are you kidding? The fundies consult Song of Solomon for sex techniques! This stereotyping is really unbelievable.Report

            • Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke says:

              I guess you’re responding to Bucky because I’ve said two or three times now that I have no idea what the sex lives of fundamentalists are like.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Yes, Rufus. sorry for the confusion.

                I’m no fundie, and there are some extremely wack ones out there, but I believe it’s a fundamental American right to believe stupid shit.

                And in the case of sex here, Mr. Bucky’s trashing is unsupportable. It describes more a medieval mentality, which BTW, is not even shared by say, Aquinas. [d. 1274]

                In fact, even the Puritans weren’t so puritan. One guy got excommunicated for not doing his wife for two years.

                You could look it up.Report

              • Thanks for the link. A good reminder that as ordinary an experience as sex is in the lives of adults, it’s anything but mundane.Report

              • Bucky in reply to tom van dyke says:


                You say that you are “no fundie” but you tell us that you know fundies consult Song of Solomon for sex advice. And then you point to Saint Thomas Aquinas for a fundamentalist view of sexuality. For the record, St. Aquinas was a Catholic, not a Protestant fundamentalist. And as a Catholic, the fundies view him as part of an idol worshiping anti-Christian sect that is little better than satan himself. So you won’t find fundamentalists looking to Aquinas as some sex advice oracle.

                I was raised a Pentecostal fundamentalist in a Pentecostal family in a Pentecostal community. Almost every member of my very large family still lives in the faith.

                Every Pentecostal woman must keep herself covered. Not quite as much as an Islamic burqa, but close. Skirt (no pants) to the ankle. Long sleeve shirts buttoned at the wrist and neck. No make-up and no cutting of hair.

                When I was growing up way back when, women were considered wanton harlots if they even showed a little ankle. They always wore thick stockings, even at the height of the hot Texas summer heat. I have noticed that these days a few Pentecostal women are daring to flash a little ankle skin as they shop at Walmart. Sluts!

                Pentecostal boys are taught that masturbation is a sin and is evil. The first step on the road to hell. Men were expected to keep themselves pure and virginal until marriage. Women, however were REQUIRED to be virgins when they married. And complete subservience to their husband is required as well. Women submit to their husbands and husbands submit to God.

                It goes without saying that contraception is not allowed. Although many Pentecostal women secretly use birth control because they tire of being treated as little better than a brood mare.

                This is not a sex positive culture. This is not a culture that raises women to think of sex as anything other than a burden. You say that I am describing a “more a medieval mentality.”

                No fucking DUH, Tom. Fundamentalists aren’t a group that embraces modern sexual mores. Regarding women they have far more in common with Islamic fundamentalists than they do with modern American society.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to Bucky says:

                Yes, Bucky, I know Aquinas was Catholic; more precisely, pre-Reformation. there were no protestants in the 12oos.

                Yes, I am no fundie.

                As for your ruminations [or fulminations] on what may or may not be the normative view of sexuality among fundamentalists, even if true, I still maintain it’s a fundamental American right to believe stupid shit.

                You are entitled to your opinion, but your value judgments are no more valid than theirs.Report

              • Bucky in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Mr. Tom, I am more than aware that there were no Protestants in the 1200s. Which is why I was surprised that you tried to bring Aquinas into a discussion of the views of modern day fundamentalist women’s sexualitly.

                A red herring of the first order.

                Shame on you for that.

                Also, I never said or implied that it wasn’t a “fundamental American right to believe stupid shit.” Actually I believe it is a fundamental human right to believe stupid shit. And most people do.

                But believing in stupid shit doesn’t give one the right to actually DO stupid shit to other people. At least it didn’t in this country until recently. We once had a thing called the Bill of Rights that actually meant something. Sadly no longer.

                You were the one who said: “And in the case of sex here, Mr. Bucky’s trashing is unsupportable. It describes more a medieval mentality, which BTW, is not even shared by say, Aquinas. [d. 1274]”

                I was just supporting my comment that fundamentalist women generally disapprove of sex.

                And yes, there are exceptions to the rule. As there always are. But in regards to the discussion of Women Against Pornography, the fundamentalist women involved in that coalition were the rule, not the exception.

                You haven’t given anything to support the opposite viewpoint, however, except an appeal to Aquinas and a religious sect from 300 years ago. If you think that today’s fundie women are chaste in public but wanton in the marriage bed, then I am happy to listen to your argument. So far, I haven’t heard one.

                You asserted that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

                I’ll just point out that, as you admit yourself, when it comes to fundamentalist views on sexuality, you are sadly unaware.Report

      • Matty in reply to Rufus F. says:

        There are fairly orthodox Jews who actually disapprove of married couples not having as many children as they’re physically capable of (which means having a lot of sex actually)

        I can’t find a reference now but I seem to recall a few years ago hearing a Rabbi being interviewed on the radio and he claimed that there was actually a commandment that men must satisfy their wives sexually and that not doing so was grounds for a religious divorce.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to Matty says:

          Mr. Bucky, mebbe fundies enjoy sex more than normal people like you and I. I’m open to the possibility anyway. As for the rest, their views on public modesty give us no window into their private ecstasies.

          The Song of Solomon is hot.Report

          • Bucky in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Mr. Tom, you seem to enjoy making broad assumptions. If you think that The Song of Solomon is what “normal” people think is “hot” pornography then you and I are nothing at all alike. I would be about as far away from your “normal” as one could get.

            Please don’t, in future, lump the two of us together in matters regarding sex.

            And yes, I do think that IN GENERAL, the projection of one’s public modesty can provide a window in to private sexual habits. There was a woman that came into the emergency room where I work a few weeks ago. She had the words “FUCK BITCH” tattooed in large letters across her breasts. And she was proud to show it off with a low slung tube top. She was in the ER because her 8 year old daughter was sick.

            Do I think that her public modesty (or total lack thereof) provides me a window into her private sexual behavior? FUCK YEAH, I do.

            As an aside, notice that I didn’t echo your words, “private ecstasies.” From all the TMI conversations I have with my female friends, straight men aren’t giving the ladies that much ecstasy. Ya’ll need to step up your game.

            Anyway, your entire argument in defense of your statement that I don’t know what I am talking about on this subject seems to be: “no one can really know what goes on behind bedroom doors.” That is where you are wrong, Mr. Tom, because far too many of us are in the next room, unable not to hear everything going on through the paper thing walls. Some of us actually do know what goes on behind bedroom doors. And it often isn’t pretty.

            So, I appreciate that you want to defend your initial comments. But all you seem to have is “I don’t know anything so you can’t either.”

            Sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it. Get back to me when you have something more substantive.Report

  7. Thanks Jon. Can I just ask you to correct the spelling of my last name in the main piece?

    I too would be interested to hear from the resident expert how wrong this is. Enlighten me/us.Report

    • Jon Rowe in reply to Steve Horwitz says:

      Done. It’s like when folks call me “John.”Report

    • ppnl in reply to Steve Horwitz says:

      I think he was commenting on the idea that the internet has destroyed the pornography industry. There may be fewer people getting filthy rich selling porn but there may be vastly more people making a decent living. So to speak.

      This is exactly what you expect in an industry where the barrier to entry has become so ridiculously low. Low barrier to entry. Man this subject is a mine field of double entendre.Report

      • Tony Comstock in reply to ppnl says:

        Right. Just like there are “vastly more people making a decent living” as journalist.

        No wonder people have such low opinions of economist.Report

        • ppnl in reply to Tony Comstock says:

          So how much does it pay? Anyway the problem with the low barrier to entry is that there is no lower bounds on the pay to the point that much of it becomes free. A decent living may just be pocket change for all I know.

          Which is part of what happened in journalism. This very site is part of the destruction of big journalism. I hardly ever watch the news anymore because I can find far more intelligent reporting and commentary with immediate feedback from people who aren’t trying to sell me body and soul to the highest bidder.

          Come on guy tell us what you think. It isn’t clear what point you are trying to make.Report

          • RTod in reply to ppnl says:

            “This very site is part of the destruction of big journalism.”

            I hear this all the time, but it seems so obviously false. When I was in college in the early 80s journalism as an industry lacked any of the titanic sway it has today. Sure, there was 60 minutes, but it was on once a week and lacked the star-power, influence and (more importantly) revenues of MSNBC, let alone FOX. And yes, ntwork news has lost ground – but its lost ground to a variety of 24 hour news networks – all of which have a bank of stars that cross-market over a variety of medium.

            Big journalism seems to be in fact bigger, stronger and richer than at any point I can remember. It is small journalism – local reporters doing long work n hard to get stories – that seems to me to be dying. And that seems worse.Report

          • Tony Comstock in reply to ppnl says:

            A link-laden clip I made earlier is being held pending moderator approval; presumably to ensure that I am not a (porn?) spammer.Report

  8. “Perhaps our expert Tony can chime in.

    My experience is people regret making this invitation. Try these for starters:

    The Porn Monster

    Harvard’s Benjamin Edelman latest to be suckered by AVN’s $12B/year Figure

    A Different Aspect of the Internet-and-Freedom Story, James Fallows blog at The Atlantic

    After you’ve read the above, ask yourself this question: If pornography is so amazingly lucrative, why does ever major internet content provider — Apple, eBay, Netflix, Amazon — have “no pornography” in their TOS? (And since I’m here at Guild Hall in East Hampton, ask yourself why you never see any of the famous names from porn listed on the donors plaques at your favorite university, hospital, or performing arts center.)Report

    • RTod in reply to Tony Comstock says:

      My first response is that Apple, eBay, Amazon, etc. disallow porn because the public relations cost of not doing so would cost them more money.

      But still, there’s a big difference between saying the internet hasn’t made porn industry owners and employees as much money as one might have thought, and saying that the internet has destroyed the porn industry.

      Until I see some date, I can’t believe that porn as a whole industry – which seems to be pretty internet driven – doesn’t make substantially more money today than it did in 1980, 1950 or 1930.Report

  9. I should also mention that I cut a paragraph from that piece that argued that one of the few pieces of sci-fi in the last couple of decades that actually got the idea that most changes are “at the margin” was the little gem of a movie “Demolition Man.” Any movie in which commercial jingles become a hot cultural meme as a radio station playlist and where Taco Bell is the only restaurant left (not to mention the whole fascism-with-a-smiley-face social order) is thinking outside the usual futurist box.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Steve Horwitz says:

      Filmed sci-fi, that is. Those sorts of ideas have been part of written SF at least since the heyday of H.L. Gold’s Galaxy magazine in the 1950s. (And there is a reason Sandra Bullock’s character is named Lenina Huxley.)Report

  10. BSK says:

    I for one thank pornographers each and every day…Report