Long-time readers of this blog will be aware than I’m fascinated by the semiotics of pornography. Not by pornography itself; as I wrote in Why does porn got to hurt so bad? I find most pornography ugly and unappealing. No; I’m interested in the meaning of pornography, the code it’s written in and what it says about its producers and consumers.
Since I wrote my original meditation on this topic, an interesting shift in the received meaning of the word “porn” has been visible. Consider Domai. This is a site which traffics in pictures of naked women. Yet the front page claims “No porn on this site”.
Consider also GoodShit, which also traffics in pictures of naked women (and, it must be said, lots of quirky and interesting links). Occasionally it carries a link that says “Today’s porn”. Unlike the pictures of naked women, which are inline on the blog page itself, you have to click this link. If you do, you’ll generally find an image of intercourse or fellatio.
Both these sites are asserting, by implication, that there is a class of pictures of naked women that is not porn. And mind you, we’re not talking coy lingerie photos or pinup art here, but full-frontal nudity. Not artsy-fartsy nudity with solarization or chiaroscuro, either, but pictures of desirable young women displaying their desirability.
This does not appear to be an isolated phenomenon. Googling for babes “no porn” will turn up other sites like BadGirls Blog that advertise “No porn” but show lots of skin in presentations clearly intended to be masturbation material.
These assertions of “No porn” aren’t attached to explanations or manifestos. The site maintainers appear to simply take it for granted that their readers have a category “porn” that is more specific and narrower than “pictures to whack off by”, which was certainly what the term meant until recently. I find this interesting.
Comparing the “porn” with “non-porn” pictures accessible from these sites, the pattern of differences is clear. The “non-porn” pictures are typically just women, displaying themselves but not engaged in sex acts. The “porn” pictures depict fetish gear, intercourse, fellatio, and masturbation.
The evidence tells us that, at least on the Web, the meaning of “porn” may be narrowing, shifting towards what is otherwise called “hardcore”.
This, I think, is a good sign. It suggests that a substantial fraction of consumers of porn-in-the-broader-sense are fed up with the oceans of sleazy hardcore out here, and that website operators at places like Domai are catering to this by putting some semantic distance between the sleaze and the non-sleaze.
What we don’t yet see is a consensus label for the new style of non-porn porn. Some of these sites use the label “babe pictures”, but the market doesn’t seem to have sorted out whether that category includes full nudity or not (many “babe pictures” sites don’t). Domai and some other sites use the phrases “simple nudes” or “natural nudes”; the latter also has the more specific connotation of full nudity in outdoor settings.
At their best, “simple nudes” and “natural nudes” have a quality of sweetness and innocence, like old-fashioned pinup art but with full nudity and a totally unashamed erotic charge. In fact, I think emotional tone is the actual ground of the new meaning of “porn”. Porn is not innocent; it always has its own deliberate transgressiveness as part of its subject, and it won’t let you forget that.
I guess one of the people the non-porn porn is aimed at is me. I like my women 3D rather than 2D and seldom have much use for porn, but when I do I prefer the “natural nudes” style to anything else. Part of this is that when I look at pictures of women I want to see the woman, not a lot of extraneous clutter and decoration. But more than that, this style seems fundamentally respectful of both the individual models and of women in general in a way conventional porn is not. That’s an improvement. Finally, all considerations of morality or political correctness aside, I think it’s just plain more fun to look at pictures of women who have not been objectified (or lacquered, tweezed, enhanced, and airbrushed into looking like plastic doll-bots).
I’d like to think this shift in the definition of porn means that an increasing number of porn consumers share these values. But whether thay do or not, I think any reason for leaving behind the heavy makeup and the boas and the spike heels and the colossal fake boobs of doom would be a good enough one. There is quite enough ugliness in the world without making naturally sexy women into ugly travesties.