Sex, Media, Reception: New Approaches

Sex, Media, Reception: New Approaches

Call for Proposals

University of Michigan

Screen Arts & Cultures Department

Ann Arbor, MI

February 14-15, 2014

Keynote speakers: Linda Williams, Elena Gorfinkel

Sexual content has never, perhaps, been more prevalent in mediated culture. From depictions of sexuality on HBO and other cable networks to the various kinds of pornography, both “professional” and “amateur,” that proliferate at low or no cost online, consumers have greater access to (and choice of) sexualized media than ever before. This proliferation, concomitant with the development of digital and online technologies, poses new questions to scholars interested in reception contexts.

This symposium brings together leading and emerging scholars on sexuality and media in order to ask: how has the distribution and exhibition of sexual content changed over time? What different scenes of encounter have shaped viewers’ experiences of this content? What historical contexts can be examined to better understand these changes? How has sexuality been differently mediated in genres that have received little scholarly attention, such as sexploitation in the US and Pink Film in Japan? What modes of reception have informed the ways such genres were and are experienced by audiences?

Other questions, too, remain significant for scholars: how do issues of race, gender, and class intersect with technology? How has the move toward “feminist pornography” altered questions of reception? How have regulatory strategies (from both political and cultural perspectives) changed, and how have viewers interacted with those strategies? What is the future of academic study in terms of sexually-related content, and how will the changes in reception technologies alter such work? What unique, topic-specific challenges face scholars and historians interested in mediated sexualities—and what can we learn from one another?

This symposium invites scholars to take up these (and related) questions through the (broadly conceived) lens of reception studies. The term “reception” need not be understood as enforcing a narrow empiricism or any particular methodology; there are many ways of asking how spectators (or, increasingly, interactive users) access, experience, and navigate mediated sexualities, and how these scenes of reception have shifted since the 1960s. The event will feature a pre-conference address by Linda Williams (UC-Berkeley), a keynote address by Elena Gorfinkel (UW Milwaukee), and will conclude with a screening curated by University of Michigan librarian Philip Hallman. The aim is to encourage cross-institutional debate and intellectual exchange, within a complex and ever-shifting field.

Papers are welcome on the following topics, or in related areas:

Stag films/peep shows/arcades

Adult film theaters

Adult drive-in theaters

Home video

Sexploitation film

Softcore films

Cable television

Erotica and mainstream “adult” films

Tube sites, torrents, and filesharing

User-generated content

Cam sites

Interactive technologies

Queer pornographies

Social media and performer/audience interaction

Celebrity sex tapes

Post-porn/feminist pornography

Regulatory concerns such as obscenity law, mandatory condom usage, and zoning

Non-US adult film

Theories of spectatorship pertaining to sex and media

To apply to participate, please submit a 250-word abstract and a short bio by November 15, 2013 to Damon Young and Peter Alilunas:

Further details about the conference will be available soon on the Screen Arts & Cultures website:

Prostitution and Pornography, Redux

I return repeatedly on this blog to the same topics, not because I’m mired in them as an adult industry historian, but because they grow like mushrooms, unable to leave the cultural landscape. Like the way in which pornography’s opponents desperately try to permanently elide the differences between obscenity and pornography in order to make them the same thing (and thus make pornography illegal), the tactic of affixing prostitution to pornography also seems a permanent fixture.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein

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It’s not Pornography, it’s Shunga

They were a major cultural phenomenon lasting many years. Thousands of copies were made. They were enjoyed privately, but recognized and known widely. They were part of a thriving industry. They provide insight into the cultural attitudes toward sexuality and pleasure. And they were sexually explicit. And now they’re the basis of a significant exhibit at one of world’s great museums.

Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), detail taken from Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), c. 1785.

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The Long History of Porn Parodies

Earlier this summer, Buzzfeed ran an article on how the porn parodies made by Axel Braun might better be considered fan fiction. That’s a fascinating idea, and the article itself details a subject that receives a lot of attention without, typically, any actual substance. Let’s dig into some of the history of one of the adult industry’s most prodigious and important genres — and one that has almost completely taken over the industry. Yet it goes back to the very beginning of pornography itself.

Photo by Emily Berl for Buzzfeed

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Pink Visual, Google Glass, and the Ownership of Technology

Anyone who reads this site or knows my work knows how firm a believer I am in Slade’s Law, created by scholar Joseph Slade: Anytime one person invents a new technology, someone else will find a sexual use for it. I’ve been tracking the MiKandi story here: MiKandi created a porn-related app for Google Glass, which was promptly shut down by Google, only to be reconfigured by MiKandi. That story is ongoing, but as I wrote in my original post: “MiKandi has already won this battle, even if they had to adjust the app to keep it on the market. Google Glass will be used for pornography, as will the next technology.”

Now, though, there’s news that Pink Visual, one of the visionary companies in the adult industry, is about to step in and offer hardware of their own to compete with Glass. For historians, this is a recognizable step in the development of any technology, as well as a subchapter of Slade’s Law.

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“Not in our town”: Porn and Zoning Laws – 3RD UPDATE

See updates at bottom.

There’s a cycle in adult industry history that continually repeats itself: community members worried about the loss of “decency” in their town target their frustration on the local sex-related business by complaining to a sympathetic town authority, who promptly closes down the sex-related businesses by claiming it violates a local ordinance.

Trish Post

That’s precisely what happened recently to Trish Post, owner of Shhh … Intimacy on a New Level (yes, that’s the name), who has found herself the latest victim of a long-standing American tradition: the moral complaint.

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The New Fourth Estate: Social Networkia’s March toward Censorship

I recently coined the phrase “Social Networkia” to describe what I wanted to call the “eighth continent,” that space in which massive social networks are beginning to act more like independent countries than private corporations. This means that they have incredibly wide reach in terms of the populations they serve (for example, Tumblr claims 119 million blogs, Facebook claims more than a billion users per month, and there are more than 550 million Twitter users) but are subject only to the same legal oversight as other corporate bodies. I’ve written before: “On this continent, the only legal oversight is what will ensure investors don’t get nervous, and the bottom line rules. When users start to revolt too much, [Terms of Service] agreements are reevaluated — but not changed — and then arbitrary, subjective policies are put in place that will determine what the difference between ‘artistic’ and ‘pornographic’ is, even though that very fight has long been debated in the Supreme Court in an effort to remove that part of the debate.”

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Google and the Futility of “Banning” Porn – UPDATED


MiKandi, an app developer founded in Seattle in 2009, has an interesting history. They created the first mobile adult app store for handheld devices — creatively getting around the restrictions by Apple and Google for iPhone and Android by using Android’s open source operating system. The software has been downloaded onto more than 3.8 million Android devices and now offers more than 7,000 adult applications.

Confused? Think of it like this: the MiKandi app store… errr… “app market” (Apple sued MiKandi in 2011 for using the term “app store,” so they changed the name) offers an alternative to the official Apple and Android stores where you buy apps for your handheld devices. Essentially, what they’ve done is an end run around the corporate policies by Google and Apple that prohibit “sexual content” in their stores.

In late May, MiKandi announced they were working on the first app for Google Glass, the wearable computer that puts a display in a pair of glasses.

Google Glass

It didn’t take long — on June 3, MiKandi released “Tits & Glass,” the first app designed for use with Google Glass. From the press release: “The application comes preloaded with premium adult photos, with MiKandi promising to release more Glass-shot POV adult content through the app soon. The preloaded photos compliment full-length videos available in MiKandi Theater, the company’s mobile streaming video service.”

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New Media Studios: Regulating “Prostitution” in Adult Film

On June 20th, Phoenix police and federal authorities, following a six-month investigation, raided a nondescript business by the airport and arrested ten people on prostitution-related charges, including owner William James Hartwell. The case represents an ideal moment in which to examine not only the ongoing tension between the adult industry and law enforcement, but deeper questions about the legality of monetized sexual activity that appears “obvious” on first glance.

William James Hartwell

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Joe Francis, Celebrity Sex Tapes, and Privacy

Joe Francis does not occupy a unique position in the history of the adult entertainment industry. The creator of the Girls Gone Wild series has mostly capitalized on the very simplistic idea of filming women without their clothes and selling that footage through dubious (and sometimes fraudulent) means through hucksterish tactics. I usually try to maintain a somewhat distanced, neutral tone when I’m writing about adult film history (which, like any industry, has its share of unpleasant people and moments), but I don’t find much about Francis to be very redeeming. Descriptions of his behavior over the years, particularly this infamous 2006 LA Times piece, don’t help. Frankly, the history of his gross behavior is too long to recount here, but it’s worth noting that he’s going to be sentenced on July 9 related to assaulting a woman he met at a nightclub, just the latest in a long string of legal problems for Francis. This recent interview illustrates how little he’s changed over the years. In VH1′s grand tradition of rewarding and celebrating bad behavior to make a buck, the channel is including Francis and his girlfriend on their show Couples’ Therapy this season, which started on June 12.

Following the initial astounding success of the GGW franchise (remember, in 2002, when MGM was going to make it into a film?), and after a long and disturbing series of legal battles, bankruptcies, and other assorted embarrassments, Francis recently found himself in a unusual position: having to defend his right to the privacy of his own sexuality.

Joe Francis

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