The Pornification of Conservative Inc.

Way back in the olden thymes, access to pornography was limited. When I was a kid, there were magazines sold from behind the counter, books sold from the backs of those magazines and smoker films that came from sleazy vendors in big cities. Women had bodice rippers, the soft porn of romantic novels, which were sold openly in grocery stores. Otherwise, it was your imagination when it came to titillation.

The result of this was a tiny porn industry. Magazines like Playboy were “big time” in that they had a large subscriber base and were able to work from swank offices, but they were still relatively small. They maybe used three or four girls in each issue and some women would appear repeatedly so the pool of women, who made money in men’s magazines, was tiny. The same was true of smoker films and the money they made was tiny as well.

Public morals played a role, but it was mostly technology that kept the porn business small. They were barred from the mass media of the day, television, and public morals meant porn had to be sold discreetly. I recall a store in our town mistakenly putting skin mags in the regular magazine shelf. My mother and some other women went to the owner and probably threatened to nut him. The mags went back behind the counter.

The big change for porn was the VHS tape. This was the first way to distribute video that anyone could play at home. All of a sudden, the porn maker could reach a much larger audience. When video stores popped up, they inevitably had a back room for adult films. With a bigger audience, the industry blossomed. Suddenly there was big money in porn so the San Fernando Valley became the Hollywood of porn, making films on a scale never imagined.

Those of you on-line in the dial-up days know where I’m headed next. Porn was the first to truly exploit the internet. They pioneered the use of images on-line and then the use of video. The technology for putting video clips on-line was an obvious boon to the industry. The same is true of credit card processing. The porn guys were the first to adopt this technology. The first commercially successful websites were for porn. The joke back in the day was that a lot of code was written one-handed because it seemed like the porn sites were driving innovation.

The point of this walk down memory lane is that technology changed the porn industry. Demand was always there, but rarely met. The people on the supply side exerted enormous power because the cost of creating and distributing the material was high. Technology suddenly dropped those costs, thus allowing a wave of new suppliers into the business. It also wiped out the old suppliers like the old smoker films and skin magazines. It was a classic case of creative destruction.

That’s not the end of the story. The internet lowered the barrier to entry so much that anyone can be in the business now. Amateurs make films and post them on-line for peanuts. Low-cost operators in Eastern Europe can sell porn to Western consumers for pennies. Porn is now free and ubiquitous. As a result, the porn industry has collapsed. There’s simply no money to be made making sex films or selling pics of naked people. It’s a classic case of the tragedy of the commons.

Something similar has happened to the pundit-ocracy, and specifically the Conservative Industrial Complex. In the 70’s, you had  a few “conservatives” like Bill Buckley and Bill Safire showing up on TV and writing for major newspapers. Otherwise, the supply of conservative opinion was tightly controlled by technology and the liberal morality police. As a kid, my local library had one copy of National Review and unlimited copies of the liberal rags.

Then talk radio burst the damn, in the same way the VHS opened the porn industry. All of a sudden local radio was allowing right-wingers to talk about forbidden topics. Cable TV started to open up more channels to non-liberal opinion and the Conservative Industrial Complex began to flourish. Instead of booming in a valley north of Hollywood, it boomed in the Acela corridor, running between Washington and New York City. I guess you could argue that Rush Limbaugh was the Seymore Butts of right-wing punditry.

Like the porn industry, the conservative opinion rackets are now under assault by the internet. Specifically talented amateurs who know how to cheaply reach a broad audience on-line and, most important, say things the professionals are afraid to say. Playboy did not just collapse for business reasons. It’s content was overtaken by a wave of providers willing to do anything. National Review is being swamped by a wave of talented bloggers, twitterers and commenters willing to say what NR is afraid to say.

One difference is that being an insider has value. The price for access has always been the keeping of confidences. The big shot reporter who had a lot of friends in government could lever that into high paying TV gigs. He just had to be trustworthy with the secrets shared with him. Bob Woodward got rich and famous leveraging his confidences. That’s not something that is easily replaced with technology. But, it does limit the insiders and connected because there are things they can’t say that the bloggers and twitter guys can say.

The other obvious difference is the government was never shoveling billions into the porn industry via tax schemes and subsidies. Plutocrats were never bankrolling porn shops like we see with the pundit rackets. There’s a great disconnect between compensation and audience share in the chattering classes. S.E Cupp has a six figure salary despite the fact you can count one hand the number of people who pay any attention to her. That’s because billions flow into the TV chat shows via government regulation.

Even so, the Trump phenomenon is a good example of how technology is collapsing the political industry in the same way it collapsed the porn business. It’s simply not that hard to be a chattering skull on TV or a political writer on-line. There are millions of people out there good at selling candidates and positions. Trump’s volunteer meme army is crushing the pros in both parties because it’s just not that hard to be clever with this stuff. When lots of people can do something and the barriers to entry fall, the market collapses.

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James LePore
Guest

Yes, getting the truth, and fearless opinion pieces, for free on line is a lot better than paying for lies and bought opinions on TV. If there’s going to be a revolution it will come when big government tries to control online content.

Gerard Van der Leun
Member

Pretty good insight into the collapse of the pornocracy. As an editor and publisher for Penthouse and someone who ran Penthouse.com for a year or two that’s generally right on the money. Add in the bullgoose lunacy of Hefner (speed) and Guccione (diet coke) and you’ve got it. Back in 1993 I wrote in the first issue of Wired: “The point here is that all media, when they are either new enough or become relatively affordable, are used by outlaws to broadcast unpopular images or ideas. When a medium is created, the first order of business seems to be the… Read more »

Member

I don’t get SE Cupp. Yeah, she does the “sexy librarian” bit and she spells her name to evoke “c-cup,” but she appears to be talentless. Way back when Glenn Reynolds was flogging her, I read a couple of her opeds and they were devoid of anything resembling insightful thought. Every time her name pops up, I’m amazed she’s still around.

Doug
Guest
Doug

What passes for political “conservatives” in the press today is like pornography, it isn’t real.

Richard
Guest
Richard

Look at Kathleen Parker, who regularly represents the “conservative” side on TV and op-ed pages even though she’s endorsed the Democratic candidate for president in two out of the last three elections, counting this one. MSM content schedulers love pulling that bait & switch, where the veneer of opposing perspectives is presented even though the substance is a wall of beltway establishment conformity.

Doug
Guest
Doug

You know what Richard, what is wrong with this picture, these mandarin’s who think they are special?
I’ll tell you what it is. They don’y know what a shovel and an axe and a rifle is, they are people who have forgotten how to use a shovel and an axe and a rifle.
Their useless.

Member
Member

The demand/desire for sensible, trustworthy opinion and analysis is great. Always will be. Z-man describes the collapse of the existing rotten system, but modestly fails to note that he himself, like Whittle, Fernandez, Steyn, and others, appear to be among the brilliant phoenixes rising from the ashes. More power to you Z-man! May your readership grow exponentially in the coming months and years.

james wilson
Guest
james wilson

Red pill, however minute, is the only political movement that is alive with curiosity. If the internet is a room, the last time this many inquisitive skeptics met was in Philadelphia, with a special blessing to the anti-federalists. There was a fire, and it was of their own making. They put it out. These are not, as is often said, interesting times, but if they are coming they are red pill.

Member

Good analysis, but you don’t quite cover why, for example, Talk radio is still a huge profit center and why new conservative online aggregators / sites are growing. If your hypothesis was strictly accurate, then Rush’s audience would be dwindling, local talk radio would be gone, other national talkers (Hannity, Ingram) would be marginalized, and online content like The Imaginative Conservative and Taki’s Mag would disappear in favor of straight blogs. But I do think you are on a fertile trail. I think you have to add in a growing conservative base that are more educated, well read, and still… Read more »

james wilson
Guest
james wilson

Bo’s own audience lapped him ten or fifteen years ago. His numbers didn’t drop because he engendered a tremendous loyalty. I tend to think his presence has crowded out new talent. Hannity is a drone. There is an audience for drones, but it is not growing. Levin is interesting, but he thinks we are going to talk our way out of this. There is no red pill on the airwaves. Commercial and government interest would not, and have not, permitted it. People in the main have literally never heard it, and are shocked if they do. It’s like porn in… Read more »

Doug
Guest
Doug

Just what are these clown “conserving” but their rice bowls? Think any of them give a shit about any of us? Ever see any of them write about something like what this really pissed of lady has to say on FaceBook? And good on her! “Not sure if facebook will delete me after posting this or not…but, so be it. The following is a message I received this morning as a forward in my email……It will be interesting to hear YOUR thoughts as well! One Pissed off woman I don’t think ‘pissed’ really covers it!!!! Alan Simpson, the former Senator… Read more »

Jeffrey S.
Guest

“S.E Cupp has a six figure salary despite the fact you can count one hand the number of people who pay any attention to her. That’s because billions flow into the TV chat shows via government regulation.” Huh? What does this mean — “billions flow into the TV chat shows via government regulation?” That sounds insightful but seems to mean nonsense (what regulation are you referring to, what evidence do you have to back that fanciful claim up, etc.) If no one watched S.E. Cupp (and by the way, anyone who supports so-called “gay marriage” is about as ‘conservative’ as… Read more »

UKer
Guest
UKer

Everyone probably has their pron tales, possibly even admit it, but mine is my first dabble into video pron was buying a VHS tape thinking — as I was living alone — it might be fun. In fact it turned out not to be. It was a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of some German ‘action’ filmed from the screen of another TV set and thus was so grainy and gloomy it was impossible to tell what was going on and as my German is limited most of the dialogue, when required by the actors,… Read more »

Member
DEEBEE
Guest
DEEBEE

Seems like your only goal was to get the word porn and conservative in the same title. The analysis loony. Reminds me of the time, while arguing with a a pro ERA lady (alifetme ago) who in the heat of the moment equated stay at home moms to prostitutes since both put out to get taken care of. Yeah at some level of intellectual abstraction, maybe so. But highly inappropriate. People might look like ants when looking down from the Empire State Building, that does not mean they are.

Steve
Guest
Steve

You would be a lot more credible if you knew the difference between “discrete” and “discreet”.