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Sports and Pornography

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The industries surrounding sports and pornographic programming probably seem relatively dissimilar at first glance.  While both do admittedly involve some form of teamwork, the actual content of the media appear unrelated.   One industry employs wide shots of groups of athletes of the same gender engaged in competition quantified by scoreboards and narrated by experts, with audiences regularly experiencing the product in public settings and typically familiarizing themselves with historical trivia, such as the records of teams and players in various areas and situations.  The other makes frequent use of close, intimate camerawork, often with members of opposite sexes performing together, is typically consumed in private and discussed rarely (if at all), and has much less importance placed on the identities and histories of the actors. However, the two industries are, if not precisely linked, at least hitched to the same team in an economic sense; and, furthermore, the fact that this correspondence is present has its roots in a fundamental narrative similarity between the products being consumed and the gestaltthey invoke.

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Both industries, for instance, have benefitted immensely from the liberalization of television and video markets.  Admittedly, they have done so in different ways, with a large portion of revenue for the sports programming industry’s profits coming from commercial and ad revenue, versus the higher significance of the pay-per-view model for the porn industry (though these are by no means hard-and-fast rules).  Both industries have aspects of both public and private goods—in other words, there is a sense in which one customer’s consumption of the product does not appreciably impact the availability of the product for others, but at the same time the product has exclusive elements (related to the cost of distributing and transmitting the performance).  Furthermore, both have a relatively low cost with respect to distributingthe product once it has been produced, but a relatively high cost with respect to actually creating the product in the first place.  To put it simply, the cost of production does not increase significantly with the size of the audience to which it is distributed.

Furthermore, the demographics to which both programming genres appeal are surprisingly similar.  Depending on the dataset, both audiences are approximately 65% male.  Among males, over 70% of both audiences are between the ages of 18-44.  Two-thirds fall under the category of “middle-class,” with household incomes $35,000-$75,000 per year.  There are, of course, differences in business models—the world of professional sports relies on ticket sales and merchandising to much larger extent than the porn industry does, while the porn industry places a much stronger emphasis on internet-based products—but because of the high degree of demographic coherence in the audience, both industries are affected similarly by cycles of boom and bust, and especially by the recent recession.

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Given these similarities, then, it is not unreasonable to ask if the two industries do not appeal to similar sensibilities—whether or not they are making related value statements in ways that might not be immediately apparent.

In many respects, for instance, some form of domination is at the core of each interaction.  In porn, the actors involved are often explicit, derived from the plot or from cultural tropes or archetypes.  In sports, they are less so, but part of the fun is waiting to see who will be dominated by whom—i.e., who will win and who will lose.

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One much-criticized characteristic of a significant portion of mainstream pornographic films is the degree to which women are objectified and dominated by men.  Implicit in such domination is a conception of authority:  one actor must obey, and be used by the other.  It is in the identities of the actors that the similarity lies:  in sports authority is derived from physical superiority.  In mainstream pornography, a common theme is the physically powerful male dominating the vulnerable female, either implicitly or explicitly.

In conclusion, it is apparent that contrary to initial appearances, the industries responsible for producing sports and pornographic content share fundamental similarities.  Because these industries present related narratives with respect to conceptions of the power and authority of performers, they appeal to demographically similar audiences. Similarly, because of this high degree of correspondence between demographic makeup of their respective audiences—as well as taking into account the basic economic considerations regarding the production and distribution of their products—both are shaped by a similar set of economic forces. 

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