Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Campus Exposure

A friend sent me this article and it registered that we are a million years away from this sort of openness about ourselves, our body and how we live our lives sexually.

Some excerpts from the article:

In an era when the educated elite seems wholly comfortable with overt sexual imagery (Nerve.com depicts highbrow group gropes; Fleshbot.com and others archly parse the nether parts of Paris and Britney), maybe it’s not so strange that students are confronting their own sex lives so graphically and publicly. But there’s more to the phenomenon. Considering that a smorgasbord of Internet porn is but a mouse click away for most college students, there’s something valiant, even quaint, about the attempt to organize and consider sex in a printed magazine. It’s as if, though curious to explore the possibly frightening boundlessness of adult eroticism, they also wish to keep it at arm’s length, contained within the safety of the campus. The students involved display a host of contradictory qualities: cheekiness and earnestness, progressive politics and retro sensibilities, salacity and sensitivity. They aren’t so much answering the question of what is and what isn’t porn — or what those categories might even mean today — as artfully, disarmingly and sometimes deliberately skirting it.

Despite the sex magazines’ brash names and general air of exuberance, a scrim of protectiveness, even primness hangs over many of them — a vestige, perhaps, of a not-so-distant past when topics like date rape, sexual harassment and AIDS were dominating the national discourse. Seminars addressing these issues are still a part of most freshman orientations, though mention of the infamous Antioch sex code of the early 1990s — which postulated that students should secure their partner’s verbal consent, button by button, before each stage of lovemaking — tends to evoke blank stares and giggles from the undergraduates of 2007. Still, though personal online pages on Web sites like MySpace or home videos on YouTube often reveal as much as students do in these magazines, Squirm’s release form specifies that the magazine is intended solely for on-campus distribution and that students retain the copyright to their contributions. “We try to limit unwanted exposure as much as we can,” wrote its current editor, Sarah Fraser, in an e-mail message. “It’s one thing to know you’re posing nude or writing erotica for an insulated campus, and understandably quite another to know it’s being disseminated widely.” After a brief initial flurry of publicity, Kimi Traube, one of Outlet’s founders, began declining interviews from noncampus press. “We’re flattered by all the attention but have decided it’s best for the magazine to focus our energies on the Columbia community,” she said, also via e-mail. The current editor of H Bomb, Ming Vandenberg, is especially concerned about the security of the magazine’s content on the Web. “I am trying to design a foolproof plan to prevent any negative externalities,” she said, adding with a note of horror, “There could be a photo of a clothed Harvard student that someone goes into, chops the head off and puts it on an unclothed body.”

These publications vary in tone and content, but while all strive to be provocative after a fashion, they generally eschew the term “pornographic,” hurling it as an insult with the good-natured mutual contempt of varsity football teams. “Outlet ... is not intended to be porn,” sniffs a December letter from Traube to readers, saucily addressed “Dear Hotbottoms.” “They do a very good job of that over at Harvard.” On their Web site, Harvard staff members retort: “If you aren’t mature enough to tell the difference between playful nudity and pornography you probably shouldn’t be reading H Bomb.”

The exception is Boink, which Oleyourryk calls “user-friendly porn”: an unblushing assortment of bared private parts, lewd prose and graphic caricatures. With its panoply of contributors — about 50 percent of whom are enrolled at B.U., most of the rest at other colleges — Boink is the most independent and commercially ambitious of the pack, and at first glance the least interested in critical thought. It retails for $7.95 at Newbury Comics and other stores in the Boston area, has a print run of 10,000 and, atypically for a college publication, pays its contributors. Boink has also sponsored a number of parties, some shut down by the police for under-age drinking.

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