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Christy ReportReview - Christy Report
Exploring the Outer Edges of the Sexual Experience
by Kim Christy
TASCHEN America, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jul 2nd 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 27)

In the first few pages of this heavy and lavishly illustrated 600+  page book, there is paragraph about the principal creator of  The Christy Report, Kim Christy.  This person (no gender is mentioned) is an "icon in the pornographic industry" and is "primarily interested in gender freedom and personal sexual expression."  The text also reports that "Kim went on to produce and direct ground-breaking feature films, among them Sulka's Wedding, Squalor Motel, Corrupt Desires and countless video series."  The self-promotion and lack of criticality in these descriptions are hall-marks of The Christy Report.  The book is divided into six main sections, the first one covering the first half of the century and the next five covering each of the subsequent decades.  The text by John Quinn discusses some of the cultural changes that were relevant to attitudes pornography in the different eras, along with some of the important legal decisions that led to different levels of censorship.  The pictures show examples of the pornography, erotica and pin-ups of the time, with some explanatory text accompanying a few of them.  Some of the most interesting pictures are the contact sheets from photo shoots, with check marks on the images that were thought worth using -- these give some indication of how the pornographers themselves conceived of their product.  One rather annoying feature of the production is the addition of cartoon-like words such as "push," "pull," and "ass" or shapes such as hearts or starts on top of the images -- obviously done with computer technology.  It's as if the creators of the book are so pleased with the pictures they have included that they need to add some markers to show their enthusiasm. 

As a collection of images from twentieth century pornography, The Christy Report is probably unrivalled for its completeness and diversity.   The text is pretty well-written and is quite thorough, although since this is a huge topic, it is inevitably incomplete.  There is often not much match between the text and the images -- for example, Quinn emphasizes the importance of Deep Throat, but there are no images from the film.  Indeed, there are many pages full of pictures with no explanatory text at all, and so the reader is left guessing where they come from, whether they were commercially successful, and where people might have been able to buy them.  Especially problematic is the complete lack of representation of the point of view of the men and women who posed for these pictures and worked in the porn industry.  There's also very little thought given to what pornography means to its consumers, how people like to view it and use it, and whether they find it fulfilling.  The introduction emphasizes the ideals of sexual self-expression, and the book as a whole pays almost no attention whatsoever to concerns about exploitation, the connection between pornography and prostitution, the working conditions of sex workers, or the objectification of the human body.  Of course, the book is written from the point of view of porn enthusiasts, but given that it attempts to provide some history of pornography, these omissions are major flaws. 

Oddly enough, the most interesting part of the book is the Postscript on the future of pornography, by Dian Hanson, editor of Leg Show magazine.  She chronicles the recent move by mainstream pornographic magazines such as Penthouse and Hustler to include hardcore images such as intercourse and urination.  She says that the only softcore newsstand sex magazines left in the US are Playboy and those produced by her own company.  Even with such changes, the sales of sex magazines has declined massively due to the availability of pornography on the Internet.  The California sex video industry continues to be highly profitable, with over ten thousand videos produced each year, and had $10 billion sales in 2000.  Hanson says that videos are becoming increasingly misogynist, featuring the degradation of women by large numbers of men.  She  predicts that the future of the pornography industry is dim since the Internet will make it increasingly difficult to make a profit, and people will mainly view amateur-made images.  She suggests that while conservative politicians may want to place greater restrictions of pornography, the Internet makes it very difficult to do so, and they are unwilling to risk losing such a battle. 

So The Christy Report is an odd mixture of nostalgia, enthusiasm, and more sophisticated cultural discussion of the pornography industry.  Those who dislike sexually explicit images should certainly avoid it.  But given the obvious importance of pornography in western culture, it is good that there's at least some discussion of its meaning and role in our society. 

 

© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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