America's War On Sex

Marty Klein

Part 9

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* Italian and English emerged as popular, national languages due to the publication of bawdy stories-Boccaccio's Decameron Decameron (approx. 1351) and Chaucer's (approx. 1351) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Canterbury Tales (approx. 1387). Pa.s.sed from hand to hand and read to a largely illiterate population, they made people want to learn how to read-the languages that had until then been local vernaculars. (approx. 1387). Pa.s.sed from hand to hand and read to a largely illiterate population, they made people want to learn how to read-the languages that had until then been local vernaculars.

* When the printing press appeared in 1452, it was used mostly to print the Bible and scholarly works. But Arentino's Postures Postures and Rabelais' and Rabelais'

Gargantua and Pantagruel-filled with engravings of s.e.xual positions, stories of exposed genitalia, and the most coa.r.s.e scatology-were enormous and immediate hits, showing the press could make money.

Although both were banned, Rabelais boasted that "more copies of [Gargantua] have been sold by the printers in two months than there will be of the Bible in nine years." This would apply to every new medium ever after: s.e.x sells.4 * When stil photography was invented, it was a complicated, staid affair requiring tremendous discipline from its subjects. But during the Civil War, soldiers demanded their sweethearts mail them erotic photos-a practice so common that by 1865 Congress outlawed it. The new medium of photography, however, had become an accepted part of life.5 * VCRs were terribly expensive when first invented. The first videos produced, in 1977, were straightforward p.o.r.nography; the first non-p.o.r.n videos followed a year later. People really desired the expen-104 7/24/06 10:57:26 AM.

Battleground: The Internet 105 The Internet 105 sive new technology, not to replace taking the family to the neighborhood cinema, but for the chance to watch p.o.r.n in private. Sony bet wrong-predicting videotape would be used mostly to record TV shows, it created one-hour Betamax tapes. When the market for videotape proved not to be time-shifting but prerecorded films-p.o.r.n films-the less-sophisticated but longer VHS format quickly won out and became the industry standard. With p.o.r.n films available for home viewing, demand for the machines exploded, the price plummeted, and today 91 percent of American homes have at least one VCR.6 Whether a technological innovation involves transportation, communication, or new materials, the pattern looks like this: * In the early stages of acceptance, a few people predict there will be s.e.xual "abuses" (i.e., uses) of the new technology, which will lead to awful consequences (e.g., cars were predicted to give lovers mobility and privacy, leading to debauchery and white slavery).

* Indeed, people do do use the new technology for s.e.xual purposes, which can involve entertainment, expression, health, pleasure, and convenience (electricity was quickly used to light downtown cabarets, where people could meet or court unsupervised for the first time; ma.s.s printing was quickly used for salacious books and pamphlets). use the new technology for s.e.xual purposes, which can involve entertainment, expression, health, pleasure, and convenience (electricity was quickly used to light downtown cabarets, where people could meet or court unsupervised for the first time; ma.s.s printing was quickly used for salacious books and pamphlets).

* The s.e.xual uses lead to the development of practical applications of the technology, enabling more widespread adoption of it (once perfected, systems to pay for Internet p.o.r.n were adapted to make Internet shopping possible).

* When the technology is adapted for widespread nons.e.xual uses acknowledged as valuable, certain groups or individuals attempt to limit or eliminate the s.e.xual uses (including "900" phone lines, the French minitel, and paperback books).7 It doesn't matter which people, which technology, or the format of the s.e.xuality involved, the pattern is almost always the same. People upset about s.e.xual adaptations of technology may blame it on the lasciviousness of a particular group (atheists, immigrants, h.o.m.os.e.xuals, liberals, perverts); or on the modernity or soullessness of a particular innovation (crocodile dung, the printing press, latex rubber); or on the temptations of a particular s.e.xuality (kiddie p.o.r.n, swinging, sodomy). All are missing the point: humans are hungry for s.e.xual imagery. They fantasize about s.e.xual opportunity. And they'll do so any way they can.

Just as humans yearn for an easier, richer, safer world regarding economics, food, childrearing, and health, they have the same yearnings regarding s.e.xuality.

105 106.

As people adopt technologies for enhancing nutrition, improving their health, and keeping warm and dry, so too they adopt them for making s.e.x safer, easier, more exciting, more varied, less expensive, and more self-expressive. The Internet is only the latest chapter in this timeless story. And while most humans want privacy around their s.e.xual expression, these same humans have been dying to know what their neighbors do s.e.xual y since privacy became the norm.

People will always always respond this way to technology. You and I will live to see dire predictions, efforts at control, and moral hysteria about other technologies that haven't been invented yet. Because those yet-to-be-invented technologies will be adapted for s.e.xual purposes. Count on it. respond this way to technology. You and I will live to see dire predictions, efforts at control, and moral hysteria about other technologies that haven't been invented yet. Because those yet-to-be-invented technologies will be adapted for s.e.xual purposes. Count on it.

HOW IT WORKED WITH THE INTERNET.

* The Internet, originally developed by the Department of Defense and later by the National Science Foundation, was limited to a smal number of specialists-until it was used for s.e.x.

* Once uses for s.e.x were practical, money poured into the Internet.

This propelled entrepreneurs to make the Internet less expensive and easier to access.

* This acquainted more people with the Internet, which spurred demand for access to it.

* When enough laypeople heard about the Internet, some started talking about the "bad" uses of it. They began to describe it with a fear-based vocabulary adapted from other antis.e.x campaigns: inappropriate content, dangerous for children, online predators, exploitation of women, and so forth.

* These people demanded that the government do something to limit Americans' access to the Internet, and the Internet's access to Americans.

* To justify this, they developed a full-blown moral panic. They made it clear that the Internet posed a clear and present danger so intense that it justified compromising certain basic rights.

Why is this history important? Because we should look beyond the specifics of the attacks on the Internet. We should see today's battle over the Internet as one of a long series of such battles.

In this chapter we'll examine recent history and you can watch the War on s.e.x in action.

WHAT'S SPECIAL ABOUT THE INTERNET?

In its purest form, the communications technology known as the Internet has five key features: 106 Battleground: The Internet 107 The Internet 107 * Anyone can add anything they want to the material available to everyone.

* Anyone can access anything that's available.

* Anyone can communicate privately with anyone else partic.i.p.ating in the network.

* Both producers and consumers can partic.i.p.ate anonymously.

* The network is infinitely expandable.

As one federal court put it, the Internet is a "vast democratic forum, open to any member of the public to speak on subjects as diverse as human thought."8 The combination of these features gives the Internet extraordinary potential. In less than two decades, three developments fulfilled this potential: * An enormous volume of human culture is currently stored on this network: an estimated 11.5 billion pages in 2005.9 * This material can be searched very effectively, according to practical y any criteria; the most popular search systems are intuitively usable by almost anyone.

* An enormous number of individuals currently partic.i.p.ate in this worldwide network, with 167,000,000 in the United States alone.

The features described above make the Internet a revolutionary tool for human communication that is actual y changing the way people think and interrelate- subject to this caveat: subject to this caveat: The criteria for what these 167 mil ion Americans choose to write onto it, to read on it, to search for in it, and with whom to communicate are, The criteria for what these 167 mil ion Americans choose to write onto it, to read on it, to search for in it, and with whom to communicate are, in the Internet in the Internet' s purest form, s purest form, not regulated by government, a corporation, or other authority. not regulated by government, a corporation, or other authority.

And that's how it was until the mid-90s. But as with al technologies, when use of the Internet expanded beyond the initial technology-oriented, younger group of early adapters, the demand for legislation to control it grew. And that has triggered a fierce, take-no-prisoners battle in the War on s.e.x.

From the individual users' point of view, the Internet is a special world. To a degree unknown in the non-virtual ("real") world, the virtual world: * empowers users-including minors-without punishment for feeling ent.i.tled; * presents unlimited, typically anonymous opportunities for s.e.xual talk, research, imagination, and fantasy; * is an amoral universe, without the restrictions of an external moral code; * tolerates an unlimited range of beliefs, desires, and imagination.

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For those who wish to control others' s.e.xuality, thinking, or family structure, the Internet is a nightmare come true.

Not coincidentally, the Internet-in its purest form-also represents the fulfillment of America's loftiest ideals: * Democracy: equal rights for all partic.i.p.ants * Meritocracy: no one cares about your "actual" skin color or "true"

physical beauty * Liberal rights: people can do what they want if they're not hurting others * Pluralism: the recognition that different people want different things, and the a.s.sumption that all will tolerate all These are two different ways of describing the same phenomenon. Many people hate or fear the Internet precisely because its fulfills these lofty American ideals.

HISTORY OF THE INTERNET.

The Internet started out as part of a multination physics research project, CERN. Computers had been around since the end of World War II. By the 1950s, deep in the Cold War, the U.S. government wondered how to keep its chain of command intact in the event of a nuclear war. The desired solution was to have a decentralized system that didn't physically exist anywhere. That system became the Internet. It won't, of course, survive a nuclear war, but today's typical Internet user rarely thinks about its military uses.

At first, partic.i.p.ating in the Internet required technical skill and equipment that few people had or could acquire. The early partic.i.p.ants were an esoteric group, members of a mostly invisible society that developed its own language, etiquette, and priorities.

During the 1980s, a long series of technical achievements was making the Internet more practical for more people. Things we take for granted today had to be, and were, invented: HTML, URLs. The World Wide Web project was announced in 1991. Three years later, Netscape released the first Netscape browser.

And the thing that drove the whole development was . . . s.e.x. p.o.r.nography to look at. To read. To buy. Chat rooms in which to discuss s.e.x or have "virtual"

s.e.xual experiences. Fetish sites which proved you weren't the only one who enjoyed your unusual fantasy. E-mail with which people could flirt, discuss s.e.x, and m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.e together. People took pictures of themselves nude or having s.e.x and posted them for others to enjoy. It was commonplace to note, for example, that online p.o.r.nography is the first consistently successful e-commerce product.

With the Internet becoming more easily usable, people started going to it for a wide range of nons.e.xual activities: shopping (made possible because of p.o.r.n-108 7/24/06 10:57:29 AM.

Battleground: The Internet 109 The Internet 109 for-pay systems), research (via high-resolution, compressed images needed for p.o.r.n), education (via CD-ROMs, developed to deliver p.o.r.n), and e-mail, with the extraordinary opportunity to communicate with others around the world (a network financed by people using it for s.e.xual purposes).

And so the whole country started finding out about this cool way to interact with others. And some people started freaking out about this s.e.xual way to interact with others.

Which brings us to the predictable thing that happened next: people brought the War on s.e.x to the Internet. The frontline moved online.

THE MORAL PANIC OVER THE INTERNET.

It wasn't long before the public was being told there was "too much" s.e.x on the Internet, and that it posed a danger to many people, particularly children.

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There was already a powerful civic-political alliance battling against s.e.xual rights relating to videotape, TV, radio, telephone s.e.x, library books, and adult entertainment. Thus, there was an infrastructure of fear/danger already in place to explain that: 1. s.e.xual material on the Internet is dangerous.

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