|Vintage Pulp||Apr 30 2013|
Today on Britain’s respected Guardian webpage, writer Mariella Frostrup muses about the prevalence of pornography in modern society and asks whether it’s harmful. At Pulp Intl., with few exceptions, our nude images are merely quaint, which raises the questions of whether they were ever considered harmful, and if so, why and when they came to be seen as artful. We are well aware that the airbrushing away of womens’ genitalia—something that was general practice at the time these images appeared—was seen by many rights advocates as a type of violence against women. After all, what was so dirty about female genitalia? Didn’t their erasure peel back the mask from a male-dominated society’s desperate efforts to control female sexuality?
Then along came Playboy, which challenged archaic laws designed to prevent mass production and mass mailing of pornography. Compared to what you see here today, Playboy represented a quantum leap. Its women looked less like Renaissance paintings and more like real human beings. By increments it beat back legal challenges, and eventually Penthouse, Playboy, and other newsstand magazines began to show pubichair, and then actual sex organs. Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner was hailed as a First Amendment hero as well as a defender of womens' right to control their own sexuality. But pretty soon it was clear that women had won only the right to sell their sexuality—the control remained exclusively male.
Mariella Frostrup’s Guardian piece is like others written before. It suggests, like all those articles from earlier decades, that there’s a bright white line in erotica that has been crossed and that society is suffering for it. We can’t comment on the harm aspect, but we do see a line. Basically, old porn, because of its paper format, depended upon the labor of dozens of outside people—printers, film developers, pre-press personnel, postal workers, newsstand owners—and required such an investment of capital that 95% of its producers served the middle ground of taste and depicted acts that, with perhaps the added twist of one or two extra participants, were taking place in private anyway.
The internet changed all that. So if there’s a bright line, it lies where the internet atomized porn and turned much of it into a performance art, a sideshow that somehow has taken over center stage with acts that are most certainly not already occurring in private. Call us crazy, but even though these images were produced before we were born weprefer them to the new stuff. They don’t depict merely bodies or an act, but an entire lifestyle of beaches and gardens and all the warm thoughts and simple desires such places entail. This issue of Folies de Paris et de Hollywood appeared today in 1966. If it was ever offensive or harmful it isn’t anymore, so enjoy it as an artifact of an earlier age—not a better one by any means, but certainly a more artful one.