15 Apr 2002 12:58

Who consumes what?

"Multi-media revolution". Many sources (e.g. Stewart Brand, The Media Lab) claim porn was instrumental in the commercial success of VCRs, but I can't find primary sources for this claim. Is there any reason pornographers would have preferred VHS to Beta, and so given it a market advantage? — The story seems to be repeating itself with CD-ROM. [That was writen in the mid-1990s! Obviously, things have changed a bit by 2008...]

Does it influence people's thinking, and if so, how and whose? Does it influence people's practices?

Physiology — written smut especially. How is it possible that looking at squiggles on paper can do that to primates?

Content. Presumably, most pornography is not the work of highly original minds. (Very little of anything is the work of highly original minds, but perhaps this is more true of smut than, say, chamber music.) Also presumably, its content varies from time to time and place to place. Has anyone tried probing the (as it were) soft dark underbelly of culture through comparing smut? — Karel Capek attempted something like this in his essay "Eros vulgaris" (collected in In Praise of Newspapers), but the result is disappointing, perhaps because he didn't employ proper scientific methods. The English, he says, like to read about punishment, the Germans about discipline (not at all the same) and the French about being clever; so far as I can recall, he was patriotically silent about the Czechs. It's not clear how much time his samples spanned, or indeed how large and diverse they were in the first place. Cf., with the above stereotypes, Fanny Hill and The Story of O — but perhaps any work with any trace of literary merit should be excluded from the sample.

One obvious approach would be look at the Usenet groups, e.g., but the problem is that we don't know how many people read (never mind enjoy) each article, and one suspects writers with odd tastes are unusually prolific (the lunatic de Sade being the supreme example). Statistics on downloads from, say, ASSTR would evade that problem, but still raise problems of sampling bias (and privacy). — Incidentally, the evolution of the on-line porn writing community would probably make for a fascinating study in literary sociology.