sex sells--but at what cost?
Richtel’s article on high definition (HD) sex movies is relevant to global media on a few interrelated fronts. First, the move to produce porn in HD represents a constant drive towards bigger, better, faster, and snazzier technology. This drive is pushed by both consumers and by corporate wallets. Secondly, the decision by Sony to refuse to produce HD porn represents a desperate clinging to some sense of “morality” within an anarchic system of global media today. Sony is not going to stop the production of porn, or even limit the ability of porn to be distributed in HD. But the fact that they are refusing a clearly lucrative opportunity represents a last ditch effort to sanitize production—at least on one superficial, publicly visible level. The assertion that “pornography helps technologies spread” is clearly relevant to global media. Sex sells, as we know, therefore it comes as no surprise that new ways to enjoy pornography have pushed markets for new technology. Members of the porn industry insist that Sony is making a huge mistake by refusing their business, supposedly because consumers are bound to buy HD porn above any other HD production. Finally, and most importantly, the discussion of the porn industry sheds light on the ways in which American popular culture is exported. It is arguably the lowest example of America’s cultural imperialism—the fact that American made porn (often featuring foreign women) can be found in markets across the world, is a testament to the globalized nature of media today.
The social and cultural implications are complex, many of which are alluded to in Richtel’s article. One social implication of porn’s shift to HD, as it doesn’t take a mastermind to realize, is the impact on girls and women who are urged to emanate sexuality as it is depicted through pornography—by women who have not only been nipped, tucked, and digitally edited, but who also have “lifestyle” coaches, who remind them to eliminate carbs and chain themselves to the treadmill. As Richter reports, producers of HD porn allege that this new technology allows a more intimate, “real” view of actors. As director Robbie D explains, “It puts you in the room.” Attempts to mimic these fabricated women may be harder than ever, given the increased demand for cosmetic surgery by actresses in the industry as result of the sharper picture. If you want to be sexy, you have to look like Jesse Jane, who has had breast surgery twice, or Savanna Samson, who has the luxury of having her pimples craftily avoided by film-makers while the rest of us are left searching for the perfect product to amend our imperfections. The idea that HD is going to make pornography more “real” is ludicrous.
The effects of these meticulously staged depictions of what is sexy or beautiful has both domestic and international reach. A recent article in the New York Times described the influence of Hollywood and American pop-culture, particularly the stick-then models and actresses of the red carpet, on the conception of beauty in Brazil (Rohter, Larry “In the land of bold beauty, a trusted mirror cracks,” NYT, Jan. 14th, 2007). While Brazilian women were traditionally prized for full-figured hips and butts, models are increasingly shaving off inches, and worse yet, the past year saw the first steep rise in eating disorder related deaths. American pop culture has been exported to every corner of the globe, and unfortunately it is not home-made or grassroots productions like those typically found on YouTube. These images have been carefully crafted by people working strictly within American society’s mainstream constructions of sexuality and gender—because, after all, that is what sells. When HD porn sports a tag line that assures realistic sex, it is only offering sharper images of more fictionalized women. America’s perception of beauty, as it becomes ever more distorted, will continue to take casualties from Hollywood to Rio. A similar phenomenon may be seen in the export of American consumerism, a mainstay of our sociocultural landscape. You can get a McDonalds meal super-sized in Bangkok, Quito, Geneva, or anywhere else you care to indulge yourself. Pornography is just one example.
I am a Senior concentrating in Development Studies. I am interested in the way American media depicts other cultures, specifically regarding US foreign policy. I am interested in global media as it affects the heartstrings of America, how the media affects the public’s perception of international affairs, particularly international conflict and international health. I am interested in how different types of leverage can be used through the media to affect change—for example, how YouTube might affect domestic politics, how the celebrity one.org movement featuring George Clooney and Angelina Jolie might affect poverty reduction and HIV/AIDS in the developing world, how Bollywood stars could be mobilized in the fight against HIV/AIDS in India, how the media’s representation of conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Darfur has direct implications for the course of events in these war-torn societies. I am interested in how media can be used to change an abstract and distant international problem into something personalized for the viewer, and through that spur action (for example, the recent photo exhibit at List on the genocide in Darfur that forced the audience to move beyond rhetoric and politics to a gruesomely realistic portrayal of the situation). I am interested in how organizations working for social change can best harness the power of media. Besides being a student of development studies and international relations, I have worked abroad extensively, and I am a writer and a teacher—all of these experiences I think will deepen both what I could bring to the table, and what I hope to do with what I will learn from the course.