The Porn Machine

Freud’s favorite sexologist, Havelock Ellis, unleashed the dignified term “autoeroticism” on the world in 1899. The date was fitting, for the century that followed was nothing other than the triumphal march of masturbation—from Freud’s Dora to Joyce’s letters to Nora (“Are you too, then, like me, one moment high as the stars, the next lower than the lowest wretches?”) and Leopold Bloom on the beach (“And then Mr. Bloom adjusted with a careful hand his wet shirt”), to Kinsey and Masters and Johnson and back to Molly Bloom, yes yes yes, and Anaïs Nin of course and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick claiming that the sisters in Sense and Sensibility were masturbating fiends (poor Jane Austen—you understate a few things and this is what they do), and then Ginsberg masturbating while his mother died, and Portnoy, and Woody Allen (“Now you’re knocking my hobbies!”), and that movie where Cameron Diaz had semen in her hair the whole time. Most touching in this procession is the extent to which male and female masturbation went hand in hand, so to speak, into the bright masturbatory future. Even radical feminists, who stressed the female right to self-pleasure in the face of male sexual incompetence, graciously extended the olive branch on this one point. For wasn’t the masturbating youth just as defenseless in our culture as the objectified, sexualized female? At one point the feminist writer Lonnie Barbach even suggested that men’s propensity to ejaculate before their female partners had achieved orgasm was the result not of selfishness but of an oppressive anti-masturbatory regime that taught boys to come as quickly as possible so as to avoid detection by their parents and schoolmasters. Now this—this was solidarity. Masturbation had achieved the height of its moral prestige.

Then the internet happened. It freed workers from office buildings by connecting them to a worldwide network for the instantaneous transmission of large image and streaming files. You see the problem. Office workers, no longer chained to their desks, become chained, as never before, to their computers. And now, when their personal emails are read and their work emails read and written and cc’ed, and finally they can get up and go for a walk, pornography lures them back. To the painful postindustrial syndromes of carpal tunnel, repetitive stress injury, and chronic eyestrain is added Masturbator’s Thumb.

This is confusing. The work machine is also a porn machine; the porn machine is also a work machine. Work enters everything. And therefore porn becomes, in its way, a revenge. In the midst of a productivity boost of the sort that comes along once in a century, workers are indulging, in record numbers, in the least productive human activity of all. What does the working masturbator really imagine, in his heart of hearts, as he watches, in super slow-motion, the “cum shot” onto the face of his favorite porn star? Does he, too, imagine coming onto someone’s face? Or doesn’t he rather dream of coming onto his computer screen, and freeing himself, once and for all, of both labor and porn? But this would be hard to explain to his bosses. He’ll do what he can. Masturbation, then, is the workers’ sabotage!

Or it would be, if they did it at work. Instead you get the bind of the modern freelance masturbator, the liberated individual who tries to “work from home.” Some years ago it was worried that with the advent of virtual ofices and virtual relationships, everyone would simply sit in their apartments, in their pajamas, blogging. Instead the public squares, the coffeehouses, the tea lounges, are teeming and brimming over, they are overfiowing with the freelancers, with their laptops, their cofiees, their BlueZone headsets. Are they there to talk and argue, to bask in the company of others? They are not. They update their MySpace profiles, they IM their high school friends. But they are not looking at porn; for the mere price of a coffee, they are basking in their fellow cafégoers’ supervisory gaze. “In Military Schools the walls themselves breathe their surveillance of homosexuality and masturbation,” wrote Foucault, disapprovingly. In cafés, too, the other patrons breathe this surveillance—for which, says the masturbator, thank god. Or, rather, thank you. The masturbator drops a dollar in the tip jar.

We have freed masturbation from the stigma of the centuries. But who will free us from masturbation? Even the figures often cited for male masturbation, once so liberating to the guilt-ridden teen, begin to feel oppressive. Kinsey has 92 percent of men masturbating. Koestler, in his Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge, has 85, 90, 93, and 95 percent! But what if you don’t want to? The genitalia, Freud once wrote while discussing early sexual development, are “destined for great things in the future.” This is not what he had in mind. So hold on, you brave hearts. You 10 percent, 8 percent, you 5 percent—hang in there you stalwarts, you rebels, you diamonds. Just wait a minute, you weirdos. We’re coming.

Luddite Song

[traditional]

Chaunt no more your old rhymes ’bout bold Robin Hood
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the Achievements of good old Ned Ludd
The Hero of Nottinghamshire.

He broke the new Looms; it was only a start,
He’ll catch your cell phones in a dragnet,
Melt down all your SIM cards like the Calf of Gold
And erase your hard drives with his Magnet.

The wireless waves breaking like surf round your heads
He’ll snare in his chapeau tricorner.
The Boss may forbid him to shoot the router dead,
In that case the Boss is a goner.

Yes, Ned Ludd arises to heed a demand
He would free you from slavery for leisure
There’s only one thing he cannot understand—
Those chains you retain for your pleasure.

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