Pornography - The Secret History of Civilisation  

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Pornography - The Secret History of Civilisation (1999) is a documentary film produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and directed by Chris Rodley and Dev Varma, first aired on Channel 4.

Product Description

Ten years in the making, PORNOGRAPHY: THE SECRET HISTORY OF CIVILISATION is a six-part series, which tells for the first time on British television the history of pornography. This landmark series charts the changes in sexual imagery prompted by the advent of new technologies over thousands of years: from ancient times to print, photography, film, video and the Internet. With unprecedented access to the modern porn industry, interviews with pornography experts and historians and an unparalleled collection of archival material, it is also the story of how these technological mediums influenced the development of pornography, who used it, how it was distributed and how it was censored.

But the real story of pornography is also a secret history of civilization. Pornography puts aside the usual moral arguments that have clouded the issue for decades and takes an objective historical perspective. Pornography, far from being some smutty sideshow on the margins of society, has in fact played a vital and central role in civilization and our cultural evolution.

Each program focuses on a different technology and how that new technology revolutionized pornography and made it available to new groups of people, however hard the authorities tried to control it.



Opens with the science of archaeology. Sexual imagery has been at the heart of culture all over the world, from the Cerne Abbas giant to the painted walls of Pompeii.


"Even after creating a secret museum, there was the problem of how to record its contents. In an age of obsessive classification, how would these objects be listed? With difficulty, as it turned out, and authors of guidebooks and catalogues were impaled on the horns of yet another dilemma: should they serve good taste or truth? On the whole, it was truth that lost out. Phalluses were either lopped off completely, covered with fig leaves or tapered into improbable cones. Clouding over the especially rude bits turned out to be a particularly useful way of saving the blushes of illustrator and reader alike. One catalogue resorted to the use of untranslated Latin and Greek to allow the author to assure all concerned that proper care had been taken to keep unsuitable material out of the wrong hands: 'We have taken all the prudential measures applicable to such a collection of engravings and text. We have endeavoured to make its reading inaccessible, so to speak, to poorly educated persons, as well as those whose sex and age forbid any exception to the laws of decency and modesty.’"

THE SACRED AND PROFANE (see sacred and profane)

It shows how printing was seen as something that turned hitherto acceptable sexual explicit expression into something far more dangerous. It shows the carvings of Bourges Cathedral to the obscene pamphlets of the French Revolution. Indeed pornography was instrumental in fermenting the French Revolution, with shockingly explicit sexual satire directed at the monarchy. Photography was the greatest leap forward ever in the history of pornography. In the nineteenth century, to ask where pornographic photographs were sold is like asking where you can buy drugs today.


It examines the appeal of photographs, their development and their consumers, as well as the evolution of the porn magazine. This film also covers the birth of the mail order porn dealer; heralding arguments which have parallels today with debates on internet pornography.


It covers the rise of the porn film industry. But porn on film, and the porn cinema was an interstitial time. At the end of the 70s the new vehicle for porn was video.


It shows how the advent of video ended pornography's crossover dreams (see softcore). Video re-made pornography in its own image, replacing the glamour and fantasy of the movies with a real documentary style. The most significant contribution of video was that it turned consumers into producers; the audience picked up cameras and started recording their sex lives on videotape!


It looks at the new era of digital manipulation and asks how digital technology has affected the pornography that we produce, and the way we consume it. We talk to people who say that the Internet has dealt the biggest blow yet to the establishment. Pornography in physical forms - books, magazines, and videos - could always be seized and destroyed, but on the Net, pornography has shed its physical form and gone digital, see internet pornography.

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