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There is nothing so obscure that it might not be the subject for serious academic exploration. This is a manifestation of the complexity of our world and the way humans deal with it; no matter how deep you go, there are still questions and mysteries. Some subjects are easier to study than others, but the academic who studies pornography is up against some particular problems. Lisa Z. Sigel should know. She is a professor of history who has previously written _Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England 1815 - 1914_. In the introduction to the current book for which she is editor, _International Exposure: Perspectives on Modern European Pornography 1800 -2000_ (Rutgers University Press), she notes particular problems in the study of the subject. It is often hard to find complete collections from which to draw primary material; research on cinematic pornography might simply be illegal in some places; it is hard to get grants to do such studies; and "few other historical sources can so quickly get scholars arrested at customs." There are, however, intrepid academics who are slogging through for us, and _International Exposure_ brings together ten of them with diverse subject matter. Sigel justifies the endeavor: pornography is a vigorous commercial activity, it provides information about types of sexual behavior by time and place, and it indicates cultural attitudes toward sexuality. Nonetheless, most of the chapters here indicate the need for further resources and study about how pornography is produced and used. If you find detailed and academic examinations of aspects of the subject interesting, you will find much here to enjoy. The themes are a grab bag, as befits an edited volume. Initial chapters have to do with Germany, England, and France in the nineteenth century; there are chapters on early twentieth century England and France as well as contemporary Britain; three on post-communist Russia, Ukraine, and Hungary; and finally a chapter on the borderless cyber-world.
In an examination of obscenity laws in the German states in the first half of the nineteenth century, it is disconcerting to find few German works on the wrong side of the law that we would consider anything close to pornographic now. Books that had sexual themes even without descriptions of physical intimacy were considered obscene if they depicted an unstable social world or women who were seductresses unworthy of a man's trust. One chapter traces how the image of the flogged slave was used by abolitionists, and since the image was sadder (or more arousing), the slave was generally a female. This sort of BDSM play is very common; that it might be directly related to the slave trade is something I doubt many participants acknowledge. Sigel's own chapter is on pornography that depicted incest in Edwardian England, and gives a brief history of incest laws and the philosophy behind them. Novels on the theme proved to be a charade about the family, with mothers restricting sexuality, daughters as both eager tempters and victims, and fathers as otherwise fully respectable gentlemen. The paternal perpetrator in the charade was freed from responsibility and any taint of violence. In the chapter on the Hungarian pornographic film industry, we learn that stag films were first turned out as early as 1899; pornography has so often spurred communication technology that elsewhere Sigel says that "it has become a clichéd claim that pornography spearheaded the growth of Internet technologies." Hungary was exporting stag films by 1910, but was displaced as a center for production by other countries. Budapest has recently risen as "the center of the porno world," with filmmakers from around Europe coming to Hungary to make "Budaporn." One observer wrote, "Pornography is an industry for Hungary, not a tragedy."
The tone of each chapter is serious, with plenty of references and footnotes, but given the subject matter, there is wit on display; in discussing "shemale" porn, for instance, there is reported a climactic surprise unveiling "as the beautiful `girl' with feminine curves and soft skin is dramatically revealed to be genitally and often priapically male." I have only mentioned here the chapters I found most interesting, but each of the ten throws its light on aspects of a large subject that no one can doubt stirs a deep human interest. There is little titillation here, much intellectualizing, and lots to think about.