The Pornographic Paratexts of Pornhub

The Pornographic Paratexts of Pornhub

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6002-1.ch012
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“The Pornographic Paratexts of Pornhub” analyses the evolving paratextual elements of the popular porn site Pornhub and considers how its evolving virtual frames interact with the visual texts it displays—online porn films. Engaging with Gérard Genette's Paratexts, some fundamental aspects of this late-twentieth-century paratextual theory are reconceptualised in this contemporary, sexually explicit digital environment. Pornhub is considered in relation to its maturing paratextual elements. Despite the virtual amorphousness and (para)textual porousness of the digital environment—the relevant relationships between text, epitext, peritext and intertext, though clearly delineated with regard to the printed book, become more blurred in a virtual space of infinite, hyperlinked pages—Pornhub has developed numerous tangible frames and stable paratextual features since its emergence in 2007. Given the rigid political, judicial and media conception of what online porn films constitute, it is important to consider the possibility that monolithically negative definitions of filmic pornography may derive not from the hardcore content itself, but from the way in which the films are framed online. How, then, do the paratexts of Pornhub interact with and affect users' reading of the films displayed? In this chapter, individual films from the site are descriptively analysed in relation both to how these visual pornographic texts are influenced by their paratext and how paratextual theory is complicated and renewed through this application.
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There are few cultural products more aggressively defined by their surrounding discourse than pornography. Early legislation against sexually explicit material in the mid-nineteenth century established a rigid cultural understanding of pornographic fiction and images as obscene, a vague foundational definition that continues to be judicially enshrined.1 The anti-pornography feminist movement of the 1980s developed alongside the emergence of feature length porn films, the first and most infamous being Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat in 1972. In their attempt to outlaw porn films and photographs on the grounds that they violated women’s human rights, leading radical feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon declared that pornography “mean[s] [emphasis added] the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women” (Dworkin & MacKinnon, 1992). Thus, pornographic material, and in particular porn films, became embedded with another, equally definitive meaning: misogyny. However, concomitant liberationist defences posited porn watching as an emancipating experience that allowed viewers to reject rigid, socioreligious notions of acceptable sex (Assiter & Carol, 1993; Vance, 1984). It was out of this violent fracturing of second-wave feminism known as the “Porn Wars” that the academic discipline of Porn Studies evolved. It is a discipline which is still attempting to wrest itself from the unhelpful binaries of its inception. Recent cultural analyses of the porn industry in Pornification (Nikunen, Paasonen, & Saarenmaa, 2007), The Industrial Vagina (Jeffreys, 2009), Pornland (Dines, 2010) and Big Porn Inc (Reist & Bray, 2012) present commercial porn production as entirely negative. In The Industrial Vagina, for example, Jeffreys describes the pornography industry as “the launching pad of the contemporary normalisation of the sex industry in the west” (2009, p. 62) considering filmic porn production as intimately related to the expansion of international trafficking and prostitution. All of these studies consider the migration of sexually explicit material online alarming. Since the sharing of slow-loading raunchy photographs on Bulletin Board Systems in the early 1990s, online pornography has expanded exponentially. Ranging from premium pay sites offering downloadable films to adult chat and dating forums, immense photo galleries and live web cam sites, there are now purported to be around four million porn sites (Dines, 2010, p. 47). In The Erotic Engine, Patchen Barss (2011) writes of the notorious difficulty of unearthing definitive figures regarding the shadowy world of online porn consumption. He draws some conclusions based partly on data from the porn industry trade journal Adult Video News and the National Research Council in Washington, D.C., to value the online adult industry in 2002 at $1 billion (Barss, 2011, p. 7). Gail Dines provides some more contemporary, though broader figures, valuing the global porn industry at $96 billion in 2006 and finding that 12% of websites contain some kind of pornographic material (Dines, 2010, p. 47). The greater anonymity online porn consumption allows, together with faster and easier access, is considered in all of these cultural studies as the definitive beginning in a teleological chain that ends with sexualised children, increased sexual violence towards women, culturally vitiating obscenity and the commodification of the female body.

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