Let’s Stop Underestimating The Value Of Porn

CAFÉ FLESH
Cafe Flesh, currently out of print

Yesterday, the press was having a jolly good chuckle at the story of the Indiana man who is suing his parents after they destroyed his porn collection. The unnamed 40-year-old was appalled after his mother and father dumped some twelve boxes of magazines and videos, which were being stored with them after the man had divorced. What japes, the press seem to think – a man so pathetic that not only did he own so much porn, but is actually willing to sue his parents over the los (the police were unwilling to press charges). The titles of the magazines or films included, we were told, Frisky Business and Big Bad Grannys. Hilarious, eh? Well, hold those guffaws for a moment.

Let’s first of all deal with the facts of the story. This man’s parents apparently felt it was just fine to open up and examine the boxes he was temporarily storing with them (not as some slacker, but after a difficult emotional time in his life when he was left homeless). How would you feel if that happened to you? And then they made a moralising choice to destroy his possessions, without warning or even telling him (he only found out what had happened when he retrieved his stuff and noticed the boxes were missing) because they disapproved  of it, and then had the further audacity to tell him that:

“Believe it or not, one reason for why I destroyed your porn was for your own mental and emotional health. I would have done the same if I had found a kilo of crack cocaine. Someday, I hope you will understand… I did you a big favour by getting rid of all this stuff.”

I doubt the father is a mental health professional, but in a world where myths of porn addiction and damage caused by adult material abound without any actual evidence to back them up, this is what we must expect, I assume. Anyway, the man is suing for $87,000 – triple damages based on his estimate of a $29000 value for the destroyed works. I hope he wins.

I do wonder if the press would have been as sniggering if the parents had destroyed, say, a valuable record or book collection? Or works or art? or sports memorabilia? I doubt it. But porn is not only seen as artistically worthless, but culturally and, more significantly, financially too. Yet the history of human desire and sexual expression is explored in erotica, and because there has historically been little motivation in preserving it and plenty of religious and political desires to destroy it, it is an easily lost history. The man stated that many of the films he owned are now out of print, and a numbing truth is that huge swathes of adult material that are not even that old are now almost or entirely lost – producers that operated during the boom days of the 1990s and then folded in the face of free online porn have probably not preserved their archives. Master copies will be lost. Artwork destroyed. Works forgotten. Huge quantities of international erotica in print and on film or tape are effectively lost and will never be seen again.

latex-shock-michael-ninn
Michael Ninn’s Latex and Shock. Both currently out of print

Important works from major directors are unavailable, with no sign of them ever being likely to receive the sort of restoration and special edition treatment given to other sorts of cult movies – or even issued again in any form. In Britain, the labels that might be up for doing so won’t because the BBFC will confine these films to the sex shop ghetto of R18 certification. In America, labels like Vinegar Syndrome are doing sterling work with 1970s films, but they are merely scratching the surface – and they too are not, it seems, interested in later works. So it is down to collectors and enthusiasts to hold on to as much of this material as they can, and it’s unsupported, unheralded work.

But the collector market for increasingly hard to find titles means that the financial cost of the work also increases. You don’t believe this stuff has value? Look at the prices of vintage men’s magazines. The very nature of porn (hard and soft) has meant that it is less likely to be kept, preserved and archived – people would often use it for sexual gratification and then shamefacedly get rid of it. Or they might dump it (by choice or demand) when entering new relationships, or once they have kids. Sexual entertainment has been treated as transient and worthless for so long that only a small percentage of the material produced has ever survived. We need to hold onto the material that we still have, especially as the industry is pushed out of the physical realm. And so every book, every magazine, every movie on whatever format, every sexy novelty item… they are all increasingly valuable, if not financially then culturally. The wanton destruction of such material is nothing to chuckle at and everything to weep about.

DAVID FLINT

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