257 – The H-Word

Look, when I asked for head I meant . . . never mind. I'll just take these home with me.

Okay guys and gals, this is going to be another sexually-charged post so if you’re of a delicate nature look away now, lest your eyes be speared as cocktail onions resting on the edge of life’s martini.

Have all the prudes gone? Good, because today we’re going to talk about perversion.

The Internet is for porn. I know it. You know it. The creators of Avenue Q know it. Even back in those oft-referenced far-off times when the Internet was a seething Usenet battleground between those who liked Kirk and those who preferred Picard there was still a slice of the Internet devoted to pornography. The alt.binary groups were full of indecent images that downloaded so slowly they looked like shifting mosaics for five minutes, before they finally focused into view. In the masturbatory arena five minutes is often three minutes too many; to get any visual thrill from Internet porn you had to squint at the half-finished image and hope you were wanking over a girl’s nipple rather than–as it often transpired–a penile helmet.

Even then, Usenet was filled with discussions of so-called ‘alternative erotic lifestyles’. There were BDSM groups, zoophile groups, incest groups and groups for sexual preferences so uncommon, we still don’t have words to convey their horror. For the most part group members might have expressed their fantasies for these bizarre sexual practises but–thankfully–they rarely acted them out.

Darker corners of the Internet played home to even darker minds. We’ve all heard about paedophile rings operating on the Internet just out of reach of the common browser. I’d like to believe these Internet users are few and far between: that they’re a nightmare conjured up to scare the rest of us straight and help pass tighter laws concerning Internet regulation. I don’t believe the Internet’s a bad place any more than I believe a piece of paper can be evil, but people can, have, and will use both to express wicked, amoral ideas.

In 2002 Armin Meiwes was arrested for the murder of Bernd Jurgen Brandes, whom he met through an online classified advert looking for ‘a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed’. Unlike many other Internet criminals Meiwes became notorious overnight. Nick-named the German Cannibal by the press he’s since acted as the poster child for Internet perversion. Both Meiwes and Brandes were willing participants in the murder: Meiwes has described how he cut off and tried to feed Brandes his own penis, how he complained it was ‘chewy’ and had Meiwes fry it up in an attempt to soften it for his consumption.

As chilling as the crime’s details are, perhaps the most haunting aspect is that Meiwes’s other advertisements asking for someone to join him in his fantasies persist in Google’s Usenet archive to this very day. Like visiting a murder scene or treading through a graveyard, reading them is an unsettling experience: they’re both pre-cognitive echoes of horrors still to come, and a reminder that even when it comes to the worst humanity has to offer, the Internet never forgets.

While many of our perversions require willing–or unwilling–partners to be fulfilled, Internet entrepreneurs have capitalised on our baser instincts with sex toys which would have been unfeasible in a prior age. While the Rampant Rabbit vibrator was running wild in mainstream sexuality–thanks largely to its appearance on HBO’s Sex and the City–Abyss Creations sold RealDoll sex dolls over the Internet. Previous generations of sex dolls were crude, having more in common with poolside inflatables than anything else; RealDolls were manufactured to look and feel as realistic as a sex doll could, and accordingly came with a hefty multi-thousand dollar price tag. As expensive as they are, Abyss are approaching 5,000 dolls sold showing there are an awful lot of perverts out there who are rich and looking for love.

Elsewhere, other Internet perverts have shied away from sex dolls that look like real women in favour of partners who’re, shall we say, furrier.

‘Furries’ are a by-word for Internet kink. Like many other fetishists and perverts looking for sexual partner, furries use the Internet to find like minded people, with whom they can discuss their predilections and act out their fantasies. Unlike their peers they’re interested in, well, fur–and not stoles or fur coats worn by otherwise naked young men and women but rather the animals who wear the fur in the first place.

But they’re not zoophiles–or at least, they aren’t in the strictest sense of the word.

For some furries being a furry doesn’t have anything to do with sex at all; they associate stuffed animals and suit-wearing greeters at theme parks with fond, warm memories; they gather to dress in furry costumes–professionally bought or homemade–and mingle at conventions with like-minded individuals.

For others, it’s very much a sexual kink–one they indulge by having sex while in costume, or with custom-made furry sex dolls. As with any other pervasion some write erotic fiction, creating entire worlds populated by anthropomorphic animals on heat.

It’s weird. It’s gross. It’s . . . understandable?

Wait, what?

This is something I find very interesting–and no, I am resolutely not a furry. But consider this:

Every day since early youth we’ve been bombarded with the most unlikely sexual imagery. Unless you’re one of those poor unfortunates whose wires are well and truly crossed, there’s nothing sexy about a rabbit, or a fox, or some giant blue alien with squiggly tentacles coming out of its head. There shouldn’t be anything sexy about cartoons, which are animated ink and acetate–if you met a cartoon character in real life you’d scream out your larynx.

Yet over the years–since earliest human history, in fact–artists and designers have imbued animals and items with human sexuality. Often this boils down to giving the object in question definably human characteristics, as with Maid Marion from Disney’s Robin Hood or the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny, turning them into anthropomorphic manifestations of human actions and feelings–including desire. The Caramel bunny is identifiably a rabbit, yet she sits upright, speaks in a dulcet human voice, has various human mannerisms that under other circumstances might be considered flirty. The Cadbury’s Caramel adverts aren’t trying to get you to fuck a rabbit, but in order to believe she’s seducing woodland creatures with soft, creamy caramel, you need buy that she’s a sexy rabbit. Which–especially to a kid who hasn’t yet got a handle on his or her sexuality–can be awfully confusing.

One of my earliest sexual memories is of watching Ulysses 31 and feeling rather uncomfortable during scenes concerning the Sirens: mermaid-like figures that try to beguile Ulysses to his death with their seductive song. As in the original Greek myth Ulysses had been bound to his ship’s mast and was driven half crazy in his attempt to break free and join the Sirens beneath the waves. For the story to have any impact at all the viewer had to believe these alien creatures–that had been painted and animated at that–were alluring enough to send a man to his death–something my younger self evidently bought into.

I’m not going to go into the kinks that might or might not have awakened in me while watching the cartoon, but it had enough of an impact upon me to remember it to this day.

Sex appeal can be a tricky thing to nail down–but it’s not as if we haven’t had plenty of practise trying to nail it. Early fertility idols boiled sexuality down to super-wide hips, voluminous breasts and little else. Much later, Betty Boop defined 1930s sexuality in spite of being a cartoon character who would, if human, have had the proportions of a circus freak. She inhabited an uneasy Lolita-esque land between wide-eyed youth and innocence, and mature sexuality, wearing skimpy dresses, frequently finding herself the object of lust for the other characters in her cartoons, yet having a childishly high voice and the facial proportions of a baby.

More recently James Cameron’s Avatar depicted an emotional and sexual relationship between a human being and a female alien: a blue-skinned Na’vi standing some ten feet tall, with many physical characteristics more associated with animals than with Earth women. Despite the character approaching photorealism and being played (through facial and motion capture) by actor Zoe Saldana, the Na’vi romantic interest Neytiri could never be confused with a human being, yet in order for the story to work she had to be sexually appealing to the audience. Rumour has it, Cameron dragged many of the crew aside to look at sketches and test footage of Neytiri, asking them “Would you fuck her?” If the crew member said they wouldn’t, Cameron further refined the design until crew member in question changed his mind.

These freakish sex symbols are abundant in children’s cartoons, where anthropomorphic characters are common and subtlety is rarely a concern. Female cartoon characters–which are thin on the ground as it is–often have pronounced feminine characteristics such as thickly lashed doe-eyes or lucious lips, to set them apart from male characters. A generation has grown up with the likes of Juliet from Dogtanian and Gizmo from Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers carving perverted niches into their hearts.

Adult television might be less likely to show a cartoon character’s fuzzy cleavage but it doesn’t shy away from kink–which is surprising given how stringent US TV laws are concerning nudity and sexuality. A sex scene might consist of some passionate kissing and an L-shaped duvet (you know, the kind that bares a man’s chest while concealing his partner’s breasts) but family sitcoms like Scrubs and Friends are full of innuendo–Scrubs in particular is so filled with perversion–whether it’s Elliot in a fetishistic bubblegum nurse fantasy or Heather Locklear spanking herself–it’s a wonder it ever appeared on mainstream television.

All the while perversion is still considered taboo. Here in the UK it’s illegal to watch ‘extreme pornography’, a poorly defined term that includes certain acts of BDSM as practised between consenting adults. I don’t think anyone reading would want to see footage from Bernd Jurgen Brandes last minutes on Earth, but does that mean pretend portrayals of extreme sexual acts–lesbian vampires dribbling fake blood over each other, for example–should be banned outright? Considering how often politicians’ kinks seems to be outed by the tabloid press, doesn’t it seem odd they should be dictating which of our fetishes we’re allowed to indulge in?

There’s a Japanese word, hentai, that, though often used in the West to describe sexually explicit Japanese cartoons or artwork, is short for hentai seiyoku, meaning ‘sexual perversion’. When used in the Western sense, the word is further shortened to ecchi, or simply the letter ‘H’.

H, for pervert. That’s makes about as much sense as anything else in this fucked-up sexual world.

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2 Responses to 257 – The H-Word

  1. Lee Bradley says:

    “In the masturbatory arena five minutes is often three minutes too many” is just about the best sentence ever. Enjoyed this. Nice one.

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