Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization


“In a lifetime you come across few television series as striking as Pornography: the Secret History of Civilisation…” The Financial Times

Ten years in the making, PORNOGRAPHY: THE SECRET HISTORY OF CIVILISATION is a six-part series, which tells for the first time on British television the history of pornography. This landmark series charts the changes in sexual imagery prompted by the advent of new technologies over thousands of years: from ancient times to print, photography, film, video and the Internet. With unprecedented access to the modern porn industry, interviews with pornography experts and historians and an unparalleled collection of archival material, it is also the story of how these technological mediums influenced the development of pornography, who used it, how it was distributed and how it was censored.

But the real story of pornography is also a secret history of civilisation. Pornography puts aside the usual moral arguments that have clouded the issue for decades and takes an objective historical perspective. Pornography, far from being some smutty sideshow on the margins of society, has in fact played a vital and central role in civilisation and our cultural evolution.

Each programme focuses on a different technology and how that new technology revolutionised pornography and made it available to new groups of people, however hard the authorities tried to control it.

THE ROAD TO RUIN opens with the science of archaeology. Sexual imagery has been at the heart of culture all over the world, from the Cerne Abbas man to the painted walls of Pompeii, from the carvings of Bourges Cathedral to the obscene pamphlets of the French Revolution.

THE SACRED AND PROFANE shows how printing was seen as something that turned hitherto acceptable sexual explicit expression into something far more dangerous. Indeed pornography was instrumental in fermenting the French Revolution, with shockingly explicit sexual satire directed at the monarchy. Photography was the greatest leap forward ever in the history of pornography. In the nineteenth century, to ask where pornographic photographs were sold is like asking where you can buy drugs today.

THE MECHANICAL EYE examines the appeal of photographs, their development and their consumers, as well as the evolution of the porn magazine. This film also covers the birth of the mail order porn dealer; heralding arguments which have parallels today with debates on internet pornography.

TWENTIETH CENTURY FOXY covers the rise of the porn film industry. But porn on film, and the porn cinema was an interstitial time. At the end of the 70s the new vehicle for porn was video.

SEX LIVES ON VIDEOTAPE shows how the advent of video ended pornography’s crossover dreams. Video re-made pornography in its own image, replacing the glamour and fantasy of the movies with a real documentary style. The most significant contribution of video was that it turned consumers into producers; the audience picked up cameras and started recording their sex lives on videotape!

FUTURE SCHLOCK looks at the new era of digital manipulation and ask how digital technology has affected the pornography that we produce, and the way we consume it. We talk to people who say that the Internet has dealt the biggest blow yet to the establishment. Pornography in physical forms – books, magazines, and videos – could always be seized and destroyed, but on the Net, pornography has shed its physical form and gone digital.

Credits

Series Producers: Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato
Directors: Fenton Bailey, Chris Rodley, Kate Williams, & Dev Varma
Running Time: 60 minutes
Duration: 6 episodes