The pornography fixation returns! Roy Rosenzweig’s discussion of “the promiscuity and … persistence of digital materials” (737) in “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era” got the wheels turning in the old noggin. Then again, suggestive language tends to do that. It’s interesting to note that pornographic websites get more visitors than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, even though the majority of Americans believe pornography to be immoral – what a terribly sinful people we all are! But I’m both sincere and not alone in the observation that between “sexual liberation” and the rise of the Digital (Information) Age, pornography has proliferated – in production and public dialogue. In turn, archives and academia alike are being forced to (re)consider the value of incorporating taboo and controversial subjects and objects into their scopes and spaces – all this in tandem with what Rosenzweig is addressing: (1) the tenuousness of born-digital materials/data, our digital cultural heritage, and (2) the potential for a major historiographic paradigm shift given the abundance, or even “completion,” of our historical record(s).
"Pompeii Love Scene." Wikimedia Commons. Accessed November 18, 2016. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pompeii_-_Casa_del_Centenario_-_Cubiculum_-_Love_scene_from_north_wall.jpg.
[Though I thoroughly enjoy and largely agree with Rosenzweig’s piece, I do have to take issue with his optimistic and fallacious vision of a “complete historical record,” because it is the very nature of history and historiography to never have the “full story.” Records themselves are limited – they are representations (not manifestations) of events and experiences. However, this issue may just be semantical on my part.]
So having established that accessibility and dissemination have all played a role in “de-invisiblizing” and promoting critical engagement with pornography, should we not also consider why the visibility of porn (or any other taboo, “subcultural” materials/institutions) is the determining factor for its study? In other words, pornographic materials, throughout time and place, have served to illustrate both the public and private, the celebrated and persecuted, desires and drives of people. Porn is one of the most valuable (and undervalued) primary source “genres” for the study of sexuality. To that end, when Rosenzweig questions whether we should be trying to save everything and how we find/define our materials, implicit in his musings are how we go about prioritizing one document or byte over another and, thus, prioritizing one historical narrative over another. When does weeding become censorship? Just as the Victorians secreted away the erotica of Pompeii, we must now avoid destroying the “seedy,” sexually explicit “underbelly” of our modern society.