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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pornography, spectatorship, and sex education in the VCR era Olson, Ingrid Rachel


Contemporary pornography studies focus largely on issues pertaining to the accessible, ubiquitous reality of portable, digital, Internet technology. What is lacking in examinations of the relationship between pornography and the industry’s uptake of media technologies is the significance of the technological advance of the videocassette recorder / player (VCR). In this dissertation I claim that video technology, particularly its ability to control the viewing of moving-image pornography, and the opportunity for private viewing, fundamentally changed the spectator’s engagement with pornography. Furthermore, the spectator’s engagement with and consideration of pornography via video technology can be understood as a kind of adult sex education. The movement of pornography spectatorship from the public adult theatre (Delany, 1999) to private home entertainment was revolutionary. Video technology provided the pornography viewer with the first opportunity to pause, watch in slow-motion, rewind, and re-watch, numerous times, sexual scenes of particular interest (Melendez, 2004). This level of control over spectatorship exceeds live theatre, cinema, or television. Moreover, the spectator’s control permits a personalized study of explicit sexual practices. As foundational pornography theorist Linda Williams (2014) observes, there is little research on pornography’s viewers. The epicentre of this dissertation is a reading of the cumulative fan mail archive of legendary pornography star Nina Hartley. Hartley’s first video was released in 1984, concurrent with the rapid expansion of video pornography production and distribution (Greenberg, 2008; O’Toole, 1998; Williams, 1989). The Hartley fan archive contains over 15 years of fan mail, artwork, and ephemera. Hartley established the Nina Hartley Fan Club in 1985 and, despite advances in digital technologies, she received postal mail into the 21st-century. Personal letters can provide a window to the author’s curiosities, desires, fantasies, knowledge, practices, and questions regarding sexuality (Almond and Baggott, 2006; Garlinger, 2005). Selections from Hartley’s fan archive articulate what adult sex education the viewer garnered from pornography regarding explicit representations of sexual practices, gender, and bodies. Pornography can be interpreted as the speaking of sex. This dissertation suggests that, while pornography can be understood as making sex speak, the letters of the Hartley archive represent the speaking of sex.

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