I have viewed standard smut like this—a man with bicep tattoos angles a woman over a desk, muttering misogynistic commentary—hundreds of times before (hey, sometimes for work!). But there in the darkened theater, the porn seemed somehow more … pornographic. When you watch porn in the privacy of your own home, you’re doing it within the context of your big, complicated life—you’re viewing it in a home you share with your boyfriend, or at a computer your kids use for homework, or in a bed your best friend crashed in when she got too drunk to drive home. Human things happen there. What’s more, watching porn on the Internet invites a dialogue—you search for what you want, turn it on or off, rewind or fast forward. You might even turn your favorite parts into a GIF and share it with other fans, or send your friend a Gchat complaining about those bicep tats. Maybe you actually talk out loud to the screen, or just think about what’s unfolding and whether it turns you on or makes you feel bad or bores you. You participate. And then, especially if you’re female, you talk about it.
But at the Tiki, you leave your life behind, turn off your brain, and watch whatever the screen offers in the four-hour window your $13 buys you. These men weren’t there to engage with other members of the voyeur community, or to revel in the theater’s specialized environment. They were there to shut out the rest of the world. They don’t go because the theater’s context appeals to them—they go because it allows them to watch porn with even less human context.
Over the past decade, many hands have been wrung over how the ubiquity of Internet porn is working to degrade our relationship to sex. But there is an upshot to the accessibility of laptop pornography. While the Tiki’s patrons sit silently in a darkened theater, accepting whatever product the porn industry dishes out, the Internet at least opens the door to forming an open dialogue about this industry. And while the Tiki’s world is dominated by men—one of the men appeared extremely confused and aroused when he saw me take a seat—online, women are free to occupy these sexual spaces to talk about what porn is offering them, and what they really want. (Type “James Deen” into porn-friendly Tumblr, and you’ll find more women chatting about the porn star than you will evidence of his work.) The resulting dialogue can often be rich and contextualized and challenging and analytical and even fun. And we can keep hoping that maybe one day if we get loud enough, the porn will get better, too.
Really insightful reflection by Hess that I haven’t seen developed much elsewhere: as porn has moved from public to digital spaces, it has opened up viewers’ ability to participate with the material more broadly. It’s too simple to suggest that the Internet only increases the availability of porn, as if the viewer is simply a passive consumer. Internet porn (much like Internet anything) enables us to interact with the material in unprecedented ways, from searching and selecting what we want, but also as importantly, to sharing and commenting on what is currently out there.
Hello, entry point for change.