The preponderance of “porn”

Today, I was just chilling on the internet and a friend pointed out that a trending subreddit was “things cut in half porn” (r/ThingsCutInHalfPorn). My mind instantly went to an old (2003) manga by Shintaro Kago: “The Desperate Sadness of a Cross-Section.” Yes, if you decide to look it up, you should know that Kago Shintaro is well known for his guro manga (guro = ero-guro = erotic grotesque, but guro also has a connotation of gore now in Western consumption of manga and anime and games) and it’s very absurdist and kinda freaky and okay so this one in particular involves a woman who is cut in half by some freak accident (space lasers?) and so no one loves her and she has to love herself. Yes, it’s porny.

Anyway. So this popped into my mind and I tried to find an appropriate image to reference and I thought about linking it to the aforementioned subreddit, only to find that they have an “NSFW posts are not allowed” rule. Which is kind of silly, if you think about it, because the subreddit title includes the word “porn.” It’s also part of a series of subreddits known as the “SFW Porn Network,” which presumably includes various high quality pictures of things that are safe for work. Because the internet is for porn, but apparently porn means “things that are nice to look at.”

But when did this happen? As is customary for English majors, even ex-English majors who are now in vaguely not-humanities fields (I’ll give you the humanities when you pry it from my cold dead hands), all roads lead to the OED. The OED has two definitions each for “porn” and “pornography,” and it is “porn” that I am interested in after all.

2. fig. As the second element in compounds: denoting written or visual material that emphasizes the sensuous or sensational aspects of a non-sexual subject, appealing to its audience in a manner likened to the titillating effect of pornography.

“porn, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 13 May 2014.

So. This usage dates back to 1973, apparently, when someone decided to use the phrasing “horror-porn” in the Journal of Popular Culture. “Pornography” itself only dates back to the early 19th century, and has, since the mid-20th, been used to indicate stimulating non-erotic material, though with a lower frequency than “porn.”

In my mind, I associate the full word “pornography” with a clinical or dismissive attitude, whereas “porn” connotes at least some sort of enthusiasm for the subject. I remember sharing the phrase “sky porn” with a friend like some sort of delicate chocolate; we still sometimes send each other pretty pictures of the sky. Still, something about that usage is vaguely titillating. As if we knew that the word was tainted by association, uncomfortably sensual.

I think I can’t be offended by the use of “porn” to describe things that are a treat to the senses. Even if it strikes me as funny when this usage explicitly excludes things that are often considered quintessentially pornographic.

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