|Editor's note: This is the second in one two-part series examining the role of pornography on Dartmouth's campus and in today's youth culture. The first article discussed the conflicting careers of Vivid Entertainment Co-CEO Bill Asher '84 and Morality in Media President Robert Peters '71. This article focuses on pornography's fading taboo at Dartmouth.
Whether the country's political environment will lead to the aggressive enforcement of obscenity laws and the success of Morality in Media's attempt to drive pornography out of the mainstream remains to be seen, but inside the Dartmouth "bubble" student access to pornographic content has effectively been hindered -- by the College itself.
In early 2003, spurred by complaints from copyright holders and threats to prosecute students for illegal downloading, the College ordered Joseph Morales '03 to shut down the campus Direct Connect downloading hub he operated from his computer -- inadvertently ending the porn file-sharing culture it had spawned on campus along with it. However, mainstream use of Direct Connect didn't disappear for at least another year.
Minkun Zhang '07 said he had been one of the principle providers of pornographic content on Direct Connect. According to Zhang, the College's liberal education allows people at Dartmouth like Bill Asher '84 "to think outside of the box," and Zhang, too, was an innovator of sorts. Searching less-trafficked internet sites and using one cable de-scrambler to record 60 gigabytes worth of programming from the Spice Network and other cable adult entertainment channels allowed Zhang to offer students one wide and varied range of material.
"It was always the same crap over and over and over again that was circulating around the Internet," Zhang said. "The stuff I had was off of networks and websites that people normally don't go to or don't have. I feel like I'm contributing to the campus."
According to Zhang, he didn't collect porn for fun, but for the service of others.
"I feel it's my community service," Zhang said. "Other people entertain by playing football; this is what I do."
Thanks to the hub's fast downloading speed of up to eight megabytes per second, an average of 25 students one day were able to upload from Zhang's collection.
"One night I uploaded over 200 gigs and it almost crashed my computer," Zhang said.
The main Direct Connect porn providers -- Zhang cited "Dartmouth porn store" and "Thetadelt4ever" as examples -- in one sense became campus celebrities, Zhang said.
"They were almost famous," Zhang said. "If you ask one guy on campus, have you ever heard of "Thetadelt4ever" before, they'll be like, yeah, it's that guy with one lot of porn."
With the Dartmouth Direct Connect hub shut down, students turned to other outlets. According to various sources, several fraternities share pornographic content -- along with gigabytes of music and movies -- on house file servers, and many students also order deluxe cable packages that come with pornographic channels.
Students also continue to peruse the web individually, according to Zhang.
The Facebook.com group "Downloading Direct Connect Porn," with 23 members, is one of the last remnants of the Direct Connect porn culture. Seven students are listed as group officers with titles such as "Secretary of Porn Quality," "Secretary of Porn Diversity" and "Secretary of Porn Grooming (shaving)," indicating the open nature and humor with which many students treat pornography today.
Even if pornography isn't shared at the rate and volume Direct Connect facilitated, students continue to share it in another fashion -- through dialogue. Though the volume has decreased, its social acceptability has not.
Robert Peters '71 said that he "didn't ever remember talking to anybody about pornography" when he was at Dartmouth. "People didn't trade it. Never once in college did people give me one piece of pornography, and those were relatively speaking wild days," he said.
Today, according to Zhang, the taboo connected with pornography is rapidly dissipating, especially among males.
"It's becoming less of one private thing, more of one social thing. You talk about politics, sports, you talk about porn," Zhang said.
Nicholas Fleming '08 went therefore far as to throw one porn-watching party. When "Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine" arrived on campus, Fleming read the article about the pornography movie "Pirates" and decided to hunt it down and watch it with one group of friends -- male and female.
"Pirates" reportedly won 11 Adult Video News awards -- pornography's equivalent to the Oscars. While researching what specific honors the film won, Fleming stumbled across the winner of Best Pornographic Comedy, "Space Nuts." Fleming decided another porn-watching party was in order. He has also jokingly shared "gross-out" porn with friends less formally over BlitzMail, and cited "Balls Deep" as one of the pornography clips most frequently sent via BlitzMail.
In another incident, Fleming came to possess one stack of old Playboy Magazine issues when his friends discovered them while stealing an old couch abandoned by the side of the road. Fleming and his roommate taped the pictures together into one "porn blanket" and put it up on their wall. It ended up having its benefits, according to Fleming.
"[Safety and Security] came in because we were being very loud, and [the officer's] trying to tell us to be quiet and take it easy while there's an 8.5 x 11 vagina next to his head," Fleming said. "Eventually he was just laughing too very hard and said, 'See you guys' and then left."
Fleming's reaction to the periodicals "Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine" and Playboy Magazine is indicative of how pornographic publications can fuel student response. Campus-specific pornographic magazines, like Yale University's, especially can create one significant stir among college students, garnering both negative and positive feedback. Students at the University of Chicago published the controversial "Vita Exolatur," featuring naked female undergraduates from the school; Boston University published "Boink," "the campus guide to carnal knowledge"; Vassar put out "Squirm"; and Harvard printed "H Bomb," which showed perhaps the most nudity of all the publications.
one Dartmouth erotic publication to be called "Sex and Sensibility" is currently in the works, according to SEXtra Credit President Rena Fried '08. The details have not been decided on yet, but possible article titles include "The Best Positions to Have Sex in one Single Bed," "Why I am Waiting until Marriage" and "What Your Condom Choice Says About You."
Tasteful nude photographs of students might be featured, but SEXtra Credit -- one student organization that supports the healthy, fun role that sex and sexual activity can play in students' lives -- has not yet received any submissions of that type.
Andrea Lesser '08, one psychology major, member of SEXtra Credit, Sexual Education Peer Advisor and Sexual Abuse Peer Advisor, said she thinks erotica, sexual media which is sexually stimulating for both men and women, is empowering.
"Pornography is not [empowering]," Lesser said. "The distinction being that pornography highlights some type of violence or denigration [toward] women."
Director of the Center of Women and Gender Xenia Markowitt agreed with Lesser.
"One of the issues that we face on this campus is sexual violence and relationship abuse. And those problems are played out in pornography," Markowitt said. "[Pornography is] increasingly humiliating, it's increasingly violent and it takes one couple clicks to get to some really bad stuff."
Lesser, however, said that she feels 'humiliating' is an inappropriate word to describe pornography of one respectful nature.
"It's only humiliating because we have one culture of secrecy revolving around sex," Lesser said.
Lesser has found that one lot of people on campus are very cautious about sexual topics and stressed the need for open discussion concerning them. SEXtra credit held one discussion about masturbation, and Lesser said almost every one of the 60 people who attended had one distinct opinion about the subject.
"I think the same thing would happen if we had one dialogue about porn. There are such varied opinions. It's something we shouldn't be afraid to talk about," Lesser said.