NOTE: The following contains material of an adult matter and is intended for mature readers.
In this month's issue of "Arthur Magazine," comics writer Alan Moore has authored a 12,000 word essay on 25,000 years of pornography, profusely illustrated with appropriately bawdy imagery. Following the release of the controversial and wildly successful "Lost Girls" earlier this year, Moore is perfectly suited to talk on this subject.
Whether we speak personally or Palaeo-anthropologically, it's fair to say we humans start out fiddling with ourselves. Our improved scan technology reveals that most of us commence a life of self-pollution while in utero, while if we trace our culture back to the first artefacts that showed we had a culture, then we find ourselves confronted by a hubcap-headed humming-top of tits and ass carved lovingly from limestone, excavated from an Aurignacian settlement discovered in a North-East Austrian village known as Willendorf.
The mighty Robert Crumb, back in his awesomely prolific Weirdodays, depicted the creator of the first Venus of Willendorf as Caveman Bob, a neurasthenic outcast with a strong resemblance to Crumb himself, perpetually horny, crouching in his cave and whacking off over the big-butt fetish woman he'd just made: Homo erectus.
Crumb's point, in all probability, was that while she may well have functioned as a magic icon to induce fertility, and while to modern eyes she stands as an example of the prehistoric genesis of art, Willendorf Venus was an object of arousal in the eyes of her creator, was a piece of stone-age stroke material, primal pornography. He may also have been saying that if we trace culture to its very origins, we find its instigator to be an obsessive smut-hound and compulsive masturbator much like Crumb himself, or me, or you, or any of us if we are to be entirely candid.
Humans, whether individually while in the womb or as a species newly climbed down from the treetops that we'd shared with kissing-cousin Bonobos, discover early on that sexual self-stimulation is a source of great gratification, practically unique in our experience as mammals in that it is easily achievable and, unlike almost every other primitive activity, can be accomplished without risk of being maimed or eaten. Also, it can be acquired completely free of charge, which may well be a factor in society's subsequent attempts to regulate the sexual imagination, and which is a point to which we'll be returning later.
This is not to say, of course, that all society is a direct result of chronic Onanism, although I can see how one might come to that conclusion. Rather, it is to suggest that our impulse towards pornography has been with us since thumbs were first opposable, and that back at the outset of our bipedal experiment we saw it as a natural part of life, one of the nicer parts at that, and as a natural subject for our proto-artists.
Lest this be seen as a reinforcement of the view that porn is wholly a Neanderthal pursuit, we should perhaps consider ancient Greece and the erotic friezes that adorned its civic centres; the magnificently sculpted marble figure of the god Pan violating many of our current barnyard statutes and a really slutty nanny-goat in the bargain. Images like these were clearly seen as eminently suitable Grecian street-furniture, depictions of an aspect of mammalian existence that all mammals knew about already and were comfortable regarding, and which no one from the youngest child to the most pious priest needed protecting from. In bygone Greece we see a culture plainly unperturbed by its erotic inclinations, largely saturated by both sexual imagery and sexual narratives. We also see a culture where these attitudes would seem to have worked out quite well, both for the ancient Greeks and for humanity at large. They may well have been hollow-eyed and hairy-palmed erotomaniacs, but on the plus side they invented science, literature, philosophy and, well, civilization, as it turns out.
Sexual openness and cultural progress would seem pretty much to have walked hand in hand throughout the opening chapters of the human story in the West, and it wasn't until the advent of Christianity, or more specifically of the apostle Paul, that anybody realized we should all be thoroughly ashamed of both our bodies and those processes relating to them. Not until the Emperor Constantine had cut and pasted modern Christianity together from loose scraps of Mithraism and the solar cult of Sol Invictus, adopting the resultant theological collage as the religion of the Roman Empire, did we get to witness the effect of its ideas and doctrines when enacted on a whole society.
If we take a traditional (and predominantly Christian) view of the collapse of Rome, then conventional wisdom tells us that Rome was destroyed by decadence, sunken beneath the rising scum-line of its orgies, of its own sexual permissiveness. The merest skim through Gibbon, on the other hand, will demonstrate that Rome had been a heaving, decadent and orgiastic fleshpot more or less since its inception. It had fornicated its way quite successfully through several centuries without showing any serious signs of harm as a result. Once Constantine had introduced compulsory Christianity to the Empire, though, it barely lasted for another hundred years.
Largely, this was because Rome had relied on foreign troops, on cavalry from Egypt for example, to defend the Empire against the Teutonic hordes surrounding it. Foreign soldiers were originally happy to enlist, since Rome at that point took a pagan and syncretic standpoint that allowed recruits to worship their own gods while they were off in Northern Europe holding back the Huns. Once the Empire had been Christianised, however, that was not an option. Rome's new Christian leaders had decided it was their way or the stairway, and so consequently, off in distant lands, recruitment figures plummeted. The next thing anybody knew, there were barbarians everywhere: the Huns, the Franks, the Visigoths and worst of all the Goths with their white single contact lenses and Cradle of Filth collections. Rome, effectively, was over bar the shouting.
So, to recap on what we have learned so far: sexually open and progressive cultures such as ancient Greece have given the West almost all of its civilizing aspects, whereas sexually repressive cultures like late Rome have given us the Dark Ages.