Millennials are the first generation in American history to grow up COMPLETELY enmeshed in the World Wide Web. As "digital natives"—the vogue terminology that publications such as Wired and The Atlantic are all hip to—today’s college freshmen have never known of a world sans the Internet.
This means that today’s college newcomers are also the first generation in US history to grow up completely enmeshed in Internet pornography. Whereas "dirty" pictures and movies were often scarce—if not impossible to obtain—for youths born before AOL, the generation born AFTER the rise of Netscape have lived their entire lives amid easy access to pantheons of scintillating, stimulating, and often shocking sexual visuals. This stimulus overload has had a palpable effect on the Gen Y psyche.
In hip Internet lingo, there’s a concept known as “Rule 34." Basically, it postulates that no matter how bizarre, absurdly specific, or utterly nonsexual something may be, on the Web you can almost assuredly find some sort of fetish pornography revolving around it. Proving the Iron Law of Scarcity horrifically correct, the entire pornography industry has been irreversibly mutated by the cornucopia of smut known as the Internet.
With limitless access to sexually stimulating content, mere nudity and traditional human sex no longer cut the mustard; instead, Gen Y found itself bathing in furry porn, fan-made hentai, and sexual fetishes so abstract—there’s an entire subculture of individuals out there who get their kicks filming and circulating videos of themselves pumping air into their sphincters with bicycle pumps—that the collective idea of "sexuality" lost the interpersonal human component.
With the constant bombardment of pornography (in particular, the really out-there fetish stuff), the idea of "sexual fantasy" has taken on a completely different meaning that it did only 20 years ago. Circa 1994, the average young male horndog fantasy was a fleeting tryst with Pamela Anderson; thanks to the Internet’s expansion, however, contemporary male fantasies often revolve around boinking huge-eyed Japanese cartoon characters or being digested by an 80-foot-tall giantess who or may or may not be half-bunny. Or robot. Or robot bunny.
Perhaps this inundation of weirdo porn has something to do with the rising number of young Americans who identify as "asexual"—that is, individuals who claim to feel no longings of sexual desire toward ANY kind of human being. The entire nature of Internet pornography seems to have led to this amalgamation of flesh and technology, with the Web itself serving as the genuine lover of many a housebound or dorm-bound youngster. The popularity of JOI videos—in which a digitized human onscreen encourages the viewer to engage in self-pleasure—is the kind of strangely dispassionate and oddly impersonal voyeurism that seems to serve as today’s pornographic zeitgeist. This being the era of user-generated content, amateur websites such as RedTube and YouPorn are home to countless videos of "regular" people engaging in various forms of sexual activity. Among the most popular are "tribute" videos—homemade clips of individuals masturbating while watching pornographic content themselves. It could be the most meta thing in the history of anything being meta.
One can only watch so many videos of manga characters engaging in pseudo-incestuous activity or people lovingly embracing plastic dolls before the tedium kicks in. Growing up around so much sexualized content that’s devoid of actual human sexuality, where do today’s youth turn to for their perverse jollies?
They turn to Reddit and the much more stimulating pornography of humanity’s pathetic side—"Scorn Porn," or let’s call it "Scornography."
Way back in the VCR era, Christian Shapiro penned an essay titled “Satori & Pornography: Canonization Through Degradation.” Referring to contemporary XXX movies, he argued that pornography had about as much to do with sexual appeal as an annual report from PricewaterhouseCoopers:
It’s no longer about eroticism, it’s about humiliation. Unable to find sufficiently degraded specimens in the demimonde of smut, the sick thrill seeker moves on to harder stuff: daytime TV…we have reached a better future through sound bites of transcendent humiliation.
Everything Shapiro said about Sally Jesse Raphael and Geraldo holds true for today’s generation, who have found even greater outlets for mortification via the Web. In our pursuit of human degradation, we now have an endless amount of material to whet our sadistic appetites, ranging from YouTube videos of autistic young men freaking out over Happy Meal toys to domestic-violence footage uploaded to WorldStarHipHop. Our pornographic thrills don’t come in the form of titillating erotic visuals, but instead from sheer visual shock. The new pornography, like some sort of David Cronenberg nightmare, is a mixture of equal parts gross-out imagery and unwavering contempt for our fellow man.
Thousands of Redditors have commented on such delightful posts as the one involving a young woman who apparently fried a piece of her cervix like bacon and this rib-tickler about a young man with a fondness for attempting to impregnate a burnt shoe box. Failing that, you can always wallow in delightful YouTube favorites such as the channel of a military vet with obvious mental-health issues eating inanimate objects such as toilet paper, or watch the staggering number of uploads of people popping their own cysts. The most popular one has amassed nearly 32 million views.
I guess there’s something about the deindividuating effects of the Web itself that allows users—especially Gen Y kids—to feel unfettered and less than culpable in their pursuit and celebration of human misery and grossness. “Fans” of an autistic Internet celebrity named Christian Chandler have gone as far as to create an entire Wiki cataloging virtually every moment of “Chris-Chan’s” life in a form of new-wave, high-tech bullying that portends a Cowardly New World for online harassment. Similarly, the proliferation of subreddits dedicated to “cringe” serve as humiliation-porn penny arcades. The depths of depravity here are leagues deeper than even the trashiest and most exploitative episodes of The Jerry Springer Show.
Is enjoying videos of people eating handfuls of mayonnaise and filming low-budget, NC-17-level Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shorts really a form of sleaze on par with, say, crushing videos or the general oeuvre of Linda Lovelace?
Perhaps the Millennial-preferred material isn’t quite as sexually explicit as the kind of smut that routinely results in obscenity charges, but if you pay close attention to the prongs of the Miller Test—the foremost US court case in determining what is and what isn’t “obscene material”—the same components that make extreme porn constitutionally illegal are basically the same ones that make up social-media-borne “humiliation porn.”
Does “cringe” media appeal to prurient interests in a manner that most folks—using contemporary community standards—would find patently offensive? Does it have any sort of serious scientific, literary, artistic, or political merit?
Stuff such as this fails the Miller Test, and hard. While the material may lack an obvious sexual component, the video’s perversenature appears to be its sole intent. Much like genuine porn, it exists onlyfor the viewer to get his or her rocks off; only instead of sexual stimulation and release, the viewer seeks the visual degradation of another person as a means of channeling, and then basking in, contempt.
The old porn was about subsuming oneself into his or her innermost urges, with print and celluloid materials serving as vicarious arousal aides. Gen Y porn, however, is about subsuming oneself into others’ suffering via digital arousal aides, to wallow around in the wretchedness of other people like piglets gleefully rolling around in excrement.
The new porn doesn’t view the body as a temple or a vehicle for worldly pleasures. Instead, these newfangled “scornos” posit the human body as something pitiable and disgusting, nothing more than a meaty husk wrapped around worthless thoughts. Gen Y isn’t in the business of vicarious sexual pleasure; instead, they are obsessed with direct social pain.
This stuff may not fit the traditional definition of what porn is, but to parrot the famous observations of Associate Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.”