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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Column: Porn 101

In my anthropology class, I sit directly behind someone who, instead of taking notes on the dental structure of primates, watches porn. As the amount of students sitting behind him grows, so does my curiosity about porn. Does it hold any serious value?

Pornography has always carried the social stigma of “appealing to baser needs.” The Kama Sutra was banned in the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century. Erotic literature is important as it increases both sexual knowledge and confidence. Although the Kama Sutra is the favorite of many bibliophiles and sexual beings today, it is still considered to be a slightly taboo text in contemporary America — quite impressive for an almost two-thousand year old book.

Today’s erotic images are similar to those uncovered in the ruins of well-preserved Pompeii. The first century city was similar to our modern day Vegas, except what happened in Pompeii truly stayed in Pompeii. The images painted on bathhouse walls of nude people engaged in sexual acts were designed not only to excite but to incite. These images most likely served as advertisements for the services that the legal prostitutes and courtesans offered.

Ancient Grecian and Roman religious imagery depicted gods and demigods engaged in sex acts that are currently illegal in the United States. Half-goat Pan had sex with both humans and animals, while Zeus seemed to impregnate everyone. In myth, Zeus’ lovers often assumed the form of constellations, and his offspring — like Helen of Troy — changed human history. Eroticism provided people with an explanation for natural phenomena and historical events.

During the French Revolution, political pornographic imagery played a large role in the decimation of the monarchy. Radical political cartoonists drew images of Marie Antoinette engaged in sex acts with members of her own family and even animals, illustrating the corruption of the monarchical system. When Marie was executed in 1793, she was accused of incest along with other crimes against France.

In 1873, United States Federal Comstock laws prevented anyone from owning, circulating or printing anything of an “offensive nature.” This included photographs or paintings of naked bodies, erotic literature and almost anything coming from France. The postal service had no problem seizing and going through mail, and the titillating 1748 novel Fanny Hill was the number-one seized piece of literature.

After the invention of the camera, porn quickly adapted. Short silent films, such as the 1915 film A Free Ride, were illegally circulated. Yet, porn stayed fairly under budgeted until the pornographic golden age — the swinging 70s. Chest-hair, moustache-hair and hair-down-there films like Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas became the first big-budgeted, large-audience porns.

The United States “obscenity laws” haven’t changed a great deal since Fanny Hill was seized; they just aren’t always enforceable. In 1963, during Hugh Hefner’s self-described “quest for a new morality,” Hugh was arrested for violating obscenity laws. Today Playboy may seem vanilla, but in the 1960s Hugh was pressing society’s buttons — and not in a “good naughty” way.

Modern porn has evolved to accommodate new technologies and in the 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California, obscenity was given a new definition. A work can now only be labeled obscene if it fits three categories: it is of an arousing nature, depicts sexual conduct and is utterly without serious value. But we must have something left on television, so few things are actually banned.

Erotic media isn’t anything new and our current generation isn’t the most depraved — we just have the internet. Porn isn’t valueless; it bolstered a revolution, held religious meaning, served as advertisements and taught people how to pleasure themselves as well as each other. These are not small achievements; as art, porn deserves respect.

Banning a work may have worked in the past, but in its anonymous enormity the Internet has essentially abolished “obscenity laws.” We have access to everything, and as such must learn to dictate our own morality.

Porn viewership increase has been linked to major election wins, so get prepared for a lot of bandwidth activity in early November. Rather than visiting a cave wall or illegal movie theater for porn, stay on campus and remember that legal porn websites are not censored at UC Davis. Don’t violate copyright laws and you will have nothing to fear campus dwellers — your professors shouldn’t care what you’re watching, as long as you aren’t doing it during their Anthropology 3 lectures.

KATELYN RINGROSE would love to know if you too have seen this elusive anthropology voyeur. Email her at knringrose@ucdavis.edu

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