Porn by Any Other Name

Posted: July 22, 2011 in Blogosphere, Culture, Nomenclature, Tacky

The Watergate break-in may have inadvertently opened the floodgates. Every subsequent scandal got the suffix -gate to designate something tawdry, illegal, and controversial. It’s an example of the endless flexibility of English usage and the American fascination with clever coin, goofy respelling, and double entendres. The newest phenomenon of this sort is to call something “[blank] porn” to denote something explicit and base, or appealing to prurient interests. There were scandals before Watergate, and there were shameful, voyeuristic desires and morbid curiosities before porn. But now we have handy suffixes to collect them all within categories.

Torture porn has entered the lexicon not just in reference to Abu Ghraib atrocities but in its more popular use in connection with splatter films and gorno (gore + porno) such as the Final Destination, Scream, and Saw franchises, which specialize in depictions of victims dispatched in some particularly gruesome or grisly manner. I may have seen the term first used in reference to The Passion of the Christ, which is only one installment of Mel Gibson’s fetish for torture porn (which includes Braveheart and Apocalypto among other lesser examples). Graphic novels (and their movie counterparts) such as Sin City and The 300 probably fall within the category as well.

Drone porn (or more generally, war porn) isn’t a ritualized, stylized, fictional version of the snuff film like torture porn. It’s the real deal: video shot from predator drones and other war machines showing people being blown to bits. The loss of detail (blood, guts, body parts) is made up for by knowledge that it’s for real, even if all one can see in the aftermath of a big explosion is a cloud of dust, sand, and/or smoke. Which is more deplorable, the appetite for viewing such things or the leaking of such video (by the Dept. of Defense?), is open to debate. Winning that argument is silly, in fact, as both supply and demand are pretty awful.

Food porn is glamor photography applied to foods, typically accomplished with saturated colors, lighting effects, application of shellacs, and use of hidden forms to hold shapes. This style of photography is found in advertisements, recipe books, and on menu boards but rarely corresponds to the look of food as it is actually prepared and/or served. In some instances, food porn is overtly suggestive of female anatomy or recommends food as a superior substitute for actual sex.

Antique porn is actual pornography and erotica, though vintage in origin. Considering how readily available porn with high production value is over the Internet, I have to wonder why some crave the vintage stuff. No doubt someone has also used the term in connection with antiquing.

Skill porn is a less typical use of the porn suffix referring to one fictional character after another so impossibly good at what they do that it just numbs you. Think of it as superhero creep, where skill levels (fighting, sharpshooting, strategizing, dodging hails of bullets) are so absurdly high they don’t matter anymore. That’s the problem with omnipotence and omniscience in narrative. They don’t really sustain interest because their possessors are granted unrealistic and meaningless power and license. There’s no real conflict.

Other uses are too many to name or remember, but as they proliferate, they share one principal characteristic: they embody the race to the bottom. Although race to the bottom is an economics term, its applicability to culture is obvious and thus well within the province of this blog. As access to instances of [blank] porn become ever more available through the Internet and the democratization of production (e.g., everybody making and distributing their own porn videos, such as bride porn, now almost a rite of passage for new brides), it becomes increasingly difficult not to wallow in low standards on display everywhere.

Update: I knew I was forgetting an important one. So let me add to the list doomer porn. This is an appropriate addition because this blog is at times what many would regard a doomer blog. Not always, mind you, as I can’t bear to look at that unavoidable future all the time, but often enough. Doomer porn is for those who revel in dancing on the not-yet-dead ruins of industrial civilization, chomping at the bit to enter the next phase, which is prophesied to entail a die-off of perhaps 80–90% of the human population (animal and plant populations have already suffered horribly), a war of all against all for the remaining scraps, and a good chance at preemptive nuclear Armageddon before either of the other predictions comes to pass.

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Comments
  1. Jennie says:

    The whole “xxxx” porn idea just kinda repulses me. I mean really, who cares about individual porn genres? Seems a little ridiculous and redundant.

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