From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "One person's erotica is another person's pornography."
- "I know it when I see it" --Potter Stewart, 1964
It is similar to, but arguably distinct from erotica, which is the use of sexually arousing imagery used for artistic purposes only. The fact that the terms pornographer, and pornography and weren't attested in the English language (though it had been used by Restif de la Bretonne in his 1769 Le Pornographe) from the 1850s onwards, makes this era a fault line in the history of pornography. Another defining moment was the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii and the subsequent hiding of the erotic art of the Antiquity in the 1740s. Over the past few decades, an immense industry for the production and consumption of pornography has grown, due to emergence of VHS, DVD and the Internet.
Of the nature of pornography, three things can be said in general. First, with regards to authorial intention it is generally agreed upon that pornography is made for the purpose of financial gain only. Secondly, with regards to the effect it has on its audience, it is made for bodily arousal only and thirdly it can be said that pornography lives in the public sphere, where it is the object of censorship. Thus, a fourth thing can be said that the term 'pornography' is reserved for the mass reproducible arts
As opposed to erotica
In general, "erotica" refers to portrayals of sexually arousing material that hold or aspire to artistic or historical merit, whereas "pornography" often connotes the prurient depiction of sexual acts, with little or no artistic value. The line between "erotica" and the term "pornography" (which is frequently considered a pejorative term) is often highly subjective. In practice, pornography can be defined merely as erotica that certain people perceive as "obscene." The definition of what one considers obscene can differ between persons, cultures and eras. This leaves legal actions by those who oppose pornography open to wide interpretation. It also provides lucrative employment for armies of lawyers, on several "sides."
New media adoption
Cultural historians have suggested that every art medium and publishing medium first was used for pornography: handwriting, painting, sculpture, the printing press, printed sheet music, motion pictures, videotapes, DVDs and the Internet.
This is especially evident in recent history. The videotape and DVD media might have flourished without porn, but they have certainly flourished very well with it: the porn industry produces more titles per year than Hollywood; it even compares to Bollywood.
Curiously, porn plays in few theaters, and in many countries it is difficult to rent porn videos, because movie rental stores such as Blockbuster and other large video-rental firms avoid porn; most distribution is by sale.
Pornography as subversive social commentary
During the Enlightenment, many of the French free-thinkers began to exploit pornography as a medium of social criticism and satire. Libertine pornography was a subversive social commentary and often targeted the Catholic Church and general attitudes of sexual repression. The market for the mass-produced, inexpensive pamphlets soon became the bourgeoisie, making the upper class worry, as in England, that the morals of the lower class and weak-minded would be corrupted since women, slaves and the uneducated were seen as especially vulnerable during that time. The stories and illustrations (sold in the galleries of the Palais Royal, along with services of prostitutes) were often anti-clerical and full of misbehaving priests, monks and nuns, a tradition that in French pornography continued into the 20th century. In the period leading up to the French Revolution, pornography was also used as political commentary; Marie Antoinette was often targeted with fantasies involving orgies, lesbian activities and the paternity of her children, and rumors circulated about the supposed sexual inadequacies of Louis XVI. During and after the Revolution, the famous works of the Marquis de Sade were printed. They were often accompanied by illustrations and served as political commentary for their author.
The word pornograhy derives from the Greek pornographia, which derives from the Greek words porne ("prostitute"), grapho ("to write or record"), and the suffix ia (meaning "state of", "property of", or "place of"), thus meaning "a place to record prostitutes". See also: whore dialogues
The terms pornographer, pornography and porn were not attested before the 1850s in the English language, though it had been used by Restif de la Bretonne in his 1769 Le Pornographe. We will therefore distinguish between avant la lettre and apres la lettre pornography.
Depictions of a sexual nature are older than civilization as depictions such as the venus figurines and rock art have existed since prehistoric times. However the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. For example the French Impressionism painting by Édouard Manet titled Olympia was a nude picture of a French courtesan, literally a "prostitute picture". It was controversial at the time.
Nineteenth-century legislation eventually outlawed the publication, retail, and trafficking of certain writings and images regarded as pornographic and would order the destruction of shop and warehouse stock meant for sale; however, the private possession of and viewing of (some forms of) pornography was not made an offence until recent times.
When large-scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality and endeavored to hide them away from everyone but upper-class scholars. The moveable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples and what could not be removed was covered and cordoned off as to not corrupt the sensibilities of women, children, and the working classes.
Fanny Hill (1748) is considered "the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel." (Foxon, D. F. Libertine Literature in England, 1660–1745, 1965, p. 45.) It is an erotic novel by John Cleland first published in England as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. It is one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history. The authors were charged with "corrupting the King's subjects."
The world's first law criminalizing pornography was the British Obscene Publications Act 1857 enacted at the urging of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. The Act, which applied to the United Kingdom and Ireland, made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence, giving the courts power to seize and destroy offending material. The Act did not apply to Scotland, where the common law continued to apply; however, the Act did not define "obscene", leaving this for the courts to determine. Prior to this Act, the publication of obscene material was treated as a common law misdemeanour and effectively prosecuting authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography.
The Victorian attitude that pornography was for a select few can be seen in the wording of the Hicklin test stemming from a court case in 1868 where it asks, "whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences." Despite the fact of their suppression, depictions of erotic imagery were common throughout history.
Pornographic film production commenced almost immediately after the invention of the motion picture in 1895. Two of the earliest pioneers were Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner. Kirchner directed the earliest surviving pornographic film for Pirou under the trade name "Léar". The 1896 film, Le Coucher de la Mariée showed Louise Willy performing a striptease. Pirou's film inspired a genre of risqué French films showing women disrobing and other filmmakers realised profits could be made from such films.
Sexually explicit films were soon characterised as obscene and rendered illegal. Those that were made were produced underground by amateurs starting in the 1920s, primarily in France and the United States. Processing the film by commercial means was risky as was their distribution. Distribution was strictly private. Denmark was the first country to legalize pornography in 1969, which led to an explosion of commercially produced pornography. It continued to be banned in other countries, and had to be smuggled in, where it was sold "under the counter" or (sometimes) shown in "members only" cinema clubs.
Academic study of pornography
- History of erotic depictions
- Human sexuality
- Sexual fantasy
- Pornography and the law (1959) by Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen
- "Pornography and Obscenity" (1929), an essay by D. H. Lawrence
- The Other Victorians: a Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (1964) by Steven Marcus
- "Attorney General's Commission on Pornography" (1986), US investigative commission
- The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (1987) by Walter Kendrick
- Pornography - The Secret History of Civilisation (2000) Channel 4 documentary
- Romanticism, Materialism, and the Origins of Modern Pornography (2001), an essay by Bradford Keyes Mudge
- Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500–1800 (1993) by Lynn Hunt