What we may think of today as "flipping off" is of very old
origin, about 2,500 years old in fact. Known to the Romans as the digitus
infamis ("notorious finger"), its meaning hasn't changed
at all in the intervening years. Aristophanes uses it in The Clouds
(423 BC) as a literary device. In the following excerpt, Strepsiades,
while talking to Socrates, deliberately confuses the obscene daktylos
(Greek for "finger") with the poetic dactyl:
Polite society will accept you if you can discriminate,
say, between the anapest and common dactylic—sometimes vulgarly called
Finger rhythm. I know that.
Define it then.
[Extending his middle finger in an obscene gesture]: Why,
it's tapping time with this finger. Of course, when I was a
boy [holding up his penis], I used to make rhythm with this
Strep, what a character. Biblical scholars point to Isaiah 58:9-10,
which seems to indicate that the gesture was known to the ancient Israelites:
"If you remove the yoke from your midst, the point of the finger,
and speaking wickedness….then your light will rise in darkness, and
your gloom will become like midday." Either way, it's a rich testament
to the adage that actions speak louder than words.
for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (a fully accredited graduate
school, let me assure you) holds the largest pornography collection
ever. The institute is packed, floor to ceiling, with sundry erogenous
wares: erotic posters, dirty playing cards, 75,000 books, 150,000 magazines
and pamphlets, 50,000 videotapes, 200,000 films, and more than 900,000
photographs and slides—enough to fill eight warehouses throughout San
Francisco. The collection is divided among 15 specialty libraries and
is currently being cataloged with their new computer system. Ted McIlvenna,
founder and president of the institute, has been trying to unload the
collection on some archive for years, and has since been turned down
by the Library of Congress.
ups: the Kinsey Institute possesses the second largest library of
erotica in the world, comprised of 12,000 books, 50,000 photographs,
25,000 pieces of flat art, 3,700 films and 1,300 art objects. The British
Museum in London once held 20,000 volumes in its famous "Private
Case" collection, but theft, vandalism, and other causes have reduced
it to somewhere between 1,800 and 5,000 volumes.
It may come as no surprise that pornography is Big Business in America,
though you may be amazed at the scope of the industry. Some amazing
factoids on the world's leading producer of smut, from Adult Video
News, a trade publication:
- In 2002, Americans
spent an estimated 10 billion dollars on hard-core videos, computer
porn, sex magazines, live sex acts, and adult cable programming,
an amount much larger than all of Hollywood's domestic box-office
survey of 5,000 video stores showed a total of 801 million rentals
of adult tapes in 2002, up from 75 million in 1985. That represents
an average growth of about 19% a year.
American released a record 11,303 adult videos in 2002, three quarters
of which are produced in California.
enormity of all of these films has had a measurable impact on other
industries. Mail order and related shipping in California generates
so much revenue that following the UPS strike, the U.S. Postal Service
assigned a special sales staff to encourage the adult industry to keep
using the USPS system.
In the late 1880s, when Thomas Edison was struggling to perfect
a method to record and project action, he bought a series of 90 sequential-action
photographic plates from rogue photographer Eadweard Muybridge. A scruffy,
otherwise affable man with an apparent weakness for polysyllabic names,
Muybridge was instrumental in his early pioneering work with sequential
photographs. Starting in 1883 he began a study of animal locomotion
as part of scientific research conducted under the auspices of the University
of Pennsylvania. Amid Disneyesque scenes of trotting deer and flying
eagles were images of completely nude men and women in a variety
of activities. As Robert Conot in his Edison bio, Streak of Luck,
very much aware that there are a great deal more marketable when spice,
Muybridge concentrated on animals that were human, and as naked as
their counterparts in nature. Of the 733 plates he offered, 219 were
of animals and birds; 211 of men, of whom 205 were mostly or entirely
unclothed; and 303 of women, of whom 243 were totally or transparently
nude. They included a naked baseball player and a naked cricketeer
taking batting practice; naked boxers and jujitsu combatants; naked
fencers; a naked tumbler; a diaphanous-gowned fan dancer; innumerable
bare, buxom women performing a variety of tasks; two nudes frolicking
in their Saturday night bath; and a mostly unclad mother receiving
a bouquet of flowers from her naked daughter.
the plates were used in conjunction with Muybridge's "zoopraxiscope"
(I warned you about those names), the motion was quite remarkable; in
fact, when the first "motion picture" systems arrived in 1896
most felt they were of inferior quality, being monochrome and jerky.
Amazingly, the plates are still around, preserved at London's South
may object: That's a freaking filmstrip! I want a MOVIE. Fine, split
hairs. The oldest surviving film explicitly showing sex is the Argentina’s
classic El Sartorio (1907). The plot, if you could call it that,
goes like this: Three women frolic in a river and start fondling one
another. A man dressed as a devil with a tail, horns and false whiskers
(if this sounds corny, that’s because it is), emerges out of the foliage
and captures one woman. Oral sex ensues, followed by a 69, and then
penetration. Every few seconds the action is intermingled with close-up
shots of his penis pushing inside her. As the woman dismounts from the
"devil," sperm falls out of her vagina. The end. Notice the
verite auteurship, the subtly vexing juxtaposition between innocence
and debauchery, the refreshingly arbitrary use of Dadaistic principles
to convey an underlying revisionist conceit. Today, it's just porn.
Back then, it was ART.
According to the June 15, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone, John C.
Holmes (a.k.a. Johnny Wadd) had a total career output of 2,274 films,
including such cinema classics as Let Me Count the Lays (1980)
and Whore of the Worlds (1985). John, alas, is unable to relish
the laudation conferred by this prestigious award: he died from complications
of AIDS in March 1988.
Adult Film Database credits
Tom Byron with a total of 2,061 films as of 2002, the highest number
for any living actor.
Sharon Kane has starred in 859 pornographic movies as of the end
of 2002, the highest amount for any living actress.
Most adult films today are strictly low-budget affairs, do to the saturation
of the market by pornmongers hawking similar products, and, besides,
its not like digitally enhanced breasts or high-fidelity orgasmic shrieks
are going to draw in larger crowds. But it wasn't always so. Caligula
(1980), an X-rated Roman epic about Emperor Caligula's debauchery, cost
a reported $17 million to create. Directed by Tinto Brass and produced
by Bob Guccione (publisher of Penthouse magazine), the film was
critically reviled at the time—Rex Reed's acerbic comparison of it to
"rotten swill" was typical—but the buying public has since
enshrined Caligula as one of the best-selling adult titles of all time.
you want to include NC-17 mainstream movies too, then Showgirls
(1995), with a total expenditure of $84 million to produce, promote
and distribute, would be the most expensive. Mark my words, in this
new era of sky-high budgets and cautionary restraint thrown to the wind,
its only a manner of time before some entrepreneurial producer comes
out with Tit-tanic.*
kind reader recently sent me this missive: "Well, I work for Erotic
Discount Centre. It's a chain of 48 sex shops in Europe, mostly located
in the Netherlands and Belgium. About a year ago we did in fact receive
a movie, called Tittanic. It's not a big-budget movie, but I just wanted
to let you know, it exists." See? Even my jokes contain
profound insight. Clearly I have a bright future in investment
Deep Throat, the bawdy 1972 flick credited with launching the
modern porn industry, raked in at least $100 million following its release.
With a total production cost of only $22,000 the film is believed to
have the highest budget to box office ratio for an X-rated film in the
After an admittedly cursory search through several adult film archives,
the longest I've found so far would be Buttman's double adventure:
Buttman goes Hawaiian & Rio orgies (1993), directed by John
Stagliano and distributed by Evil Angel.
I guess would be F (1980) featuring actress Seka in her usual
routine. I'm sure we can all guess what the "F" stands for,