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Participatory Porno: The Technologization of Sexuality. Paul Booth. College of Communication. DePaul University. Louis, MO, and I would like to thank the numerous people who offered questions and advice during the panel: Of particular note, thanks to Brendan Riley, Joshua Comer, and Michael Lachney for their helpful suggestions. Despite its prevalence on the web, Internet pornography is a remarkably understudied area of web research.
I argue that the Web Sex Chat WSC , a participatory, masturbatory experience, technologizes sexuality, insofar as user participation in online sexuality becomes a tool for producerly control over those users. Namely, by subverting the active participation of consumers through technology advancement, WSCs force a particular usage of the sexual text and technology.
Web Sex Chats are videos of models situated next to text-based chats similar to an IRC or BBS chat room on which users instruct these models in sexual roles, positions, costumes or acts. The WSC, in effect, constructs a community around the digitized sexuality of the model and the participations of members of this community.
In a recent Critical Studies in Media Communication issue, Charles Soukup effectively demonstrated the ways in which contemporary Hollywood cinema—particularly recent blockbuster films—fetishize technology see, in particular, his examples of Terminator 3 and Tomb Raider.
Although up-to-the-minute statistics are difficult to come by, there is no doubt that online pornography is an immense industry. WSCs are like cybersex in that the sexual activity is usually masturbatory in nature, but unique in that video allows access to visual stimulation from professional performers as well. In many respects, this form of sex chat is similar to the type of Bulletin Board System BBS chat analyzed by Wysocki , but with the addition of visual elements. These visuals, as I will show, however, may augment the experience  but at the expense of the interactive participation of the user of the pornography.
But more so than merely receiving the visual stimulation of nude bodies, viewers of WSCs can see and understand the instructions and musings of other people watching the same WSC from around the globe. This form of interactive communication helps to illustrate what Henry Jenkins a and Jenkins, et al. I integrate these lines of thought to demonstrate how Web Sex Chats mechanize and technologize sexuality; which ultimately forces a reconceptualization of the economics of participation in Web 2. Indeed, with new technological developments happening in the development of the web, it becomes crucial to understand contemporary issues in this most popular of media.
For example, during the writing of this article, ChatRoulette , an online service which pairs strangers via their web cam and computers, has emerged as one of the most popular new sites for people to visit online. By logging on, one is virtually connected to another person who is logged on at the same time. I will return to ChatRoulette at the end of the article, because although ChatRoulette may not be strictly a pornographic site—yet—the mechanics of using it herald a change in the way interactive texts are conceived and perceived online: a change made visceral through Web Sex Chats in general.
Figure 1. He described this user-generated pornography as a cornerstone of new, interactive technology:. All of this points to some of the claims which people have made about web 2. Once again, using porn as a base line, we can see how shifts in media impact the culture that surrounds us. Ultimately, for Jenkins, what is unique about this new form of pornographic content on the Internet is that more people, from a variety of backgrounds, social situations, and with different physical characteristics, will be able to create and post their own pornography online.
Scant attention has been paid to the converse of the interactive dynamic of online texts: the consumers of pornography. In fact, this inattention is an issue with media studies in general. As pointed out by Merrin , contemporary media studies has not caught up with contemporary media practices:. Pornography is no exception. With the exceptions of Attwood , who examined consumer-to-consumer textual interaction, and Lindgren , who examined the interaction of fans of pornography, studies of porn have largely focused on a top-down approach; even while speaking towards the positive ramifications of the equality offered by the web see, Attwood, ; Mowlabocus, ; Slayden, Convergence, as we can see, is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-drive process.
Corporate convergence coexists with grassroots convergence … The promises of this new media environment raise expectations of a freer flow of ideas and content. Indeed, if we examine this quotation in reference to online pornography, much can be revealed. For example, Jenkins described the ways in which two contrasting views of media ownership are intersecting or converging in the contemporary media environment. On the one hand, media corporations are getting larger and larger, as a few companies are buying most media outlets and technologies.
As the top-downs get more powerful, claimed Jenkins, they are matched by an equally powerful groundswell of bottom-up media. What is true for the larger media industry is true for the pornography industry as well.
These amateur porn artists and performers can now contribute on scores of websites that allow individuals to post videos of their own sexual exploits for thousands—if not millions—of viewers to experience. It is no exaggeration to say that the production and distribution of online amateur pornography has revolutionized the porn industries across the board.
Indeed, just as the production of pornography has opened up to millions of people, so too has the consumption of online pornography. Current trends in investigating online pornography make this point abundantly clear: software that attempts to block the consumption of pornography—almost always from underage viewers—is big business. To investigate the users of pornography, one is met most often with discussions of appropriateness, age limits, and censorship—all external factors on those that consume.
In other words, popular images of online porn consumption depict either dangerous sexual predators, lone masturbators, or merely the lonely. One aspect of online porn consumption that has not been investigated as heavily is the interactive potential and actualization between viewers of pornography and creators of pornography online. Namely, through what mechanisms does online interaction occurs on and about pornography? What are the cultural and ideological ramifications of that interaction? And how do chatting and pornography meld into one type of interactive, participatory performance?
By looking at Web Sex Chats, we can have a unique insight into the mechanized way sexuality functions in online pornography, and the way that performance and participation are inextricably linked. For, while there is a clear-cut delineation between the performer and the audience, the interactive nature of the chat belies a more complicated relationship between the two.
Ultimately, what WSCs show is not that online pornography allows users to find others online with whom to share masturbatory experiences, but rather that there is a change in the very nature of participation online. Participation, at least in the realm of the Web Sex Chat, is merely a means to an end. A Web Sex Chat is a highly socialized, yet highly technologized, aspect of online pornography. Further, the technology of the interaction itself becomes a means of economic control over the users. Although WSCs give the appearance of one-to-one interlocution, given the nature of the mediation and the acts that this mediation suggests, the actual chat mirrors the basic functioning of a computer.
In other words, Web Sex Chats turn human sexuality into an algorithmic and pre-scribed technologized function, not just because of the mediation, but also because of the inherent mechanization of the sexual process itself. There are hundreds of WSCs on the Internet, many of which are linked to free or pay subscription-based databases of pornographic content. In this paper I will be concentrating on just one: Spankwire. Spankwire is an online portal to a variety of pornographic texts: professionally-produced videos, amateur work, sex chats, and pay-to-view content. The windowed performer also has a computer with access to the chat, and can talk back directly to the audience.
Figure 2. This form of immediate computer-mediated but human-to-human interaction forms the basis for the structure of the chat. At the same time, performers have certain skills and performances that they claim to prefer, and the choice of generic expectations is immense. Web Sex Chat performers come in an almost endless array of shapes, sizes, kinks, fetishes, attributes and attitudes. Figure 3. The interaction between the performer and the viewer on Web Sex Chats becomes a form of participatory culture, of the type Jenkins, et al. As we have seen, a participatory culture is one where there are.
Web Sex Chats represent participatory culture writ large: not only are the consumers of this online pornography able to effectively watch the type of performance they want to watch, but they are apparently and literally able to scribe that performance into being. To be a consumer of a Web Sex Chat is to seemingly participate in the sexualization process: one does not just watch someone dance a la dance hall peep shows , but rather tells the performer what to do, how to sashay, what to wear, and what acts to perform.
This structured interaction is not new: far from it; for the most basic functionality of the web since its inception has been based in the participatory logic of web chatting. As Gauntlett described, chat is not only one of the most basic forms of internet communication, but has also become integrated into most other forms of websites p.
Further, online web chat has often been situated as an aspect of web sexuality as well. Thus, chatting online is a non-threatening form of communication, as users are often anonymous and, especially in text-based chat, identifiably only by their pre-scribed textual characteristics see Donath, , pp. Indeed, what characterizes web chatting more than any other feature is the way in which it is entirely voluntary: participants on both sides of the chat have full facility to leave or enter the dialogue at their own impetus. The social relationships formed during any type of web chat lie at the heart of forming online communities.
By online community, I refer to a group of people that share certain characteristics, affinities, interests, or traits and that meet to chat or dialogue on the internet. As Wellman and Gulia have shown, online communities are much debated in scholarship of Internet space: and in the decade since they wrote their influential article, the debate continues to rage.
What has changed in the intervening ten years is the rise and eventual dominance of social network sites like Facebook or MySpace. Facebook, in particular, is as of Nov , one of the most populated social networks online, with over million subscribers ed up. By effacing the anonymity that came with original web chats, social network sites have grown through personalization.Sex chat line Thornham
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