One of the things we sometimes talk about in my theory courses is the idea of the fetish. We compare Freud’s description of the origin of the fetish with that of Durkheim and of Marx–different fetishes, similar mechanisms. But the approach to fetishes for the Cyberporn class will need to be somewhat different. The focus instead will be on the interaction of the fetish with the media environment.
Does lack of censorship inhibit or encourage the growth of fetishes? Are those with fetishes encouraged by community? In some of my classes we talk about plushies. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know how long there have been plushy fetishists, though I suspect the general fur fetish is an old one — far older than Freud. But part of what makes plushy-fetishism possible is a community of plushies. I suspect that New York or San Francisco could support such communities in the past, but what of the poor child born in Oklahoma (no, I’m not picking on Oklahoma — OK, maybe I am) who has this strange attraction to stuffed animals, but feels he or she is utterly alone in the world.
Well, it used to be that it was extremely unlikely that this person would every locate a community of interest that could support and foster his love of the fur. The internet changed that: providing an outlet for what was a very niche fetish. And largely because of the internet and media attention, that fetish has grown rapidly in popularity.
It also has gotten fairly mainstream coverage, in a late-night program on HBO, and more recently on prime-time network TV (CSI). I have no way of knowing this for certain, but I suspect that the temporal chain here is significant: HBO writers got it from the net, and CSI writers got it either through the net or through HBO. This hunch is at least partially confirmed by the producers of a documentary on plushies and furries for MTV:
When we first heard the pitch we didn’t believe it was real. We thought they were making up this crazy story until we started surfing the net, and then we realized its potential interest for our viewers.
Indeed, when I use this example in classes, most of those among the undergraduates who will admit to knowing what it is discovered it through this MTV program.
This makes me wonder what this means for fetishes at large. While Japan had, until very recently, fairly tight controls on particular visual depictions (no public hair), it also has a long history of explicit media, and sexualized media in the mainstream. Some have suggested that this is in contrast to a fairly repressed sexual reality — an analogue to the aparent discrepency between extreme violence in the media and a seeming lack of violence in society. My very limited exposure to Japanese society leads me to have doubts about the lack of sex and violence in everyday Japanese culture, but that aside, we can see that there is a fairly unbroken chain of mass produced erotica for most of the last century. Japan is also known for the diversity of their fetishes. The question becomes: is this diversity the cause or result of the diversity of erotica (i.e., open communication about fetishes) that occurs. As always, I suspect it is both a cause and effect.
Does this mean that as the number of content producers on the web grows, the number of fetishes will move from the margins? Does it mean that we will run out of fetishes, or like the flow of innovations to the city from the hinterlands will fetishes be brought forward and then die out? Will we have branded fetishes, with designers targeting the Next New Thing: or will they stick with paedophilia and rubber?
My guess is that this accelleration of fetish novelty is already happening. Why else would you find elaborately produced erotica that includes half-naked home repairs(R), Amish Bondage(X), or women’s cars stuck in the mud(PG)? Maybe these are just tongue-in-cheek in the vein of the secret life of socks, food porn, geo erotica, furniture porn, or dozens of others. Maybe I need to do some reading on this.