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Essay: Katrien Jacobs – The effects of youth on pornography

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Uploading and distributing DIY sex videos in China is a risky business with serious legal consequences but, nevertheless, people are regularly going about it. For example, the Chinese Internet is experiencing  a new kind of DIY sex video shot by young adults in everyday locations such as classrooms, bath houses, computer labs and city parks.

While much of my meanderings through Chinese pop and porn culture usually originate from conversations with friends and colleagues, occasionally I receive a message from an anonymous party whose motivations are unknown. I once received a zip file attachment with DIY photos of a young couple “caught in the act”, photos snapped outside the window of a university dormitory. To receive such a gift, from an unknown and untested source,it made me a bit paranoid, but I also realized that I had to take it at face value, as it was saying” We do have sex in China. Please include us in your collection”.

These videos have been archived and labeled as Doors or Gates (门 men … after the USA Watergate scandal) and carry the name of the exact location where the scene was shot—e.g. East Building Kappa Female  (東樓女), Metro Gate(地鐵門); Shanghai Wash Gate(上海洗手門), or Hunan Elevator Gate (湖南電梯門). The popularity of these DIY videos is explained by an interviewee: “These videos are now a novelty and are slightly in competition with the Japanese pornography. Of course it is important to make our own videos even if they look  quite bad. Since everything is officially banned, then these videos fill the gap”.
   These online collections create the impression that people are making DIY porn all over China, in all these widely dispersed “gates”, bathrooms and alleyways. In some cases, it looks as if people were voyeuristically caught in the act, as if their carnal desires were captured by a security camera or a government spy and/or uploaded by a peeping tom. In other cases, the camera is so close to the scene of action that the couple must be aware of its presence and insistent gaze, but they decide to ignore it in pursuit of their own sexual bliss.

The video “East Building Kappa Female” follows a group of school boys undressing a girl in a classroom. While the video at first portrays a scene of callous bullying, the boys then start caressing and kissing the girl at great length. She gets aroused and is then seen laughing and frolicking with her partners. One of the boys further manipulates the scenario by using his hand-held camera to tease  the Kappa female into responding to its very presence. The young woman is in fact very good at imitating a Japanese porn star who whimpers in pain and joy while being bullied into sexual action.

These DIY productions are circulated despite government warnings, but it is clear that the trend is a sensitive  and potentially explosive topic when I attempt to solicit reactions from various interviewees. Still, some people agree that DIY pornography can potentially act as a powerful and important incentive for social change. Yang, an interviewee, explains it this way: “We have a common saying that if virtue rises one foot, vice will rise ten. The government will always have its policies against sex but we always know how to find it”.

Yang is deeply attached to his manner and pursuits of “Jumping the Great Fire Wall” (翻牆) and searching for sexually explicit materials on illegal peer-to-peer downloading sites such as Emule and Bittorrent. Rather than hoping that the central government will legalize and organize his online pleasures through a regulated e-commerce, he is devoted to the supplies he receives from these shadowy, black market industries. He states that he even gains an educational benefit from these movies, as he learns, for instance, how to properly kiss and caress women. Most studies on youth and pornography have a sex-negative bias and do not understand that young people now have the power to change pornography itself—to make it more classy, more humorous, more female-friendly,more diversified.  These DIY archives are important as they contribute to a “will to knowledge”-not only a way of knowing something about sex techniques, but also a way of belonging to and embodying the Internet age.

Katrien Jacobs is a scholar and media artist. She investigates the role of digital networks in people’s experiences with the body, art, and sexuality. Her latest book “People’s Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet investigates mainland China’s immersion in new trends in sexual entertainment and DIY media.

This essay was appeared earlier in People’s Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet, published by Intellect Books in 2012.