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Carnegie Mellon's New Class Challenges Students to Invent New Porn Genres

I failed to find an exception to Rule 34.

Ben Richmond

Ben Richmond

​Image: ​Guifoxtel/Flickr

Not to be outdone by in-state rival University of Pennsylvania's course on "Wasting Time on the Internet," Carnegie Mellon's School of Art is now offering a class on "Internet Resistance," wherein grades depend on the students creating a popular meme, making money online in a novel way, and, of course, creating a new fetish or genre of porn.

According to its ​online syllabus, "Internet Resistance is both a schizo-seminar about critical issues in cyberculture and a trans-media studio course to develop terrible ideas for the networked society."

My personal belief is that the world has no shortage of "terrible ideas for a networked society," even if they are presented with the pretense of bringing about utopia or my own protection, so I emailed the professor who will be teaching Internet Resistance, Paolo Pedercini. In addition to IR, Pedercini teaches experimental game design and media production courses at CMU's art school.

It's worth wondering if Rule 34 is breaking down the normativity of mainstream porn

When I asked if this webpage was all serious, he told me, "Yes, pretty much." 

"We are at a point right now where the critique of techno-utopianism/Silicon Valley ideology is not just the prerogative of a few paranoid hackers and internet critical theorists. This is good, but at the same time our reliance on black boxes, opaque interfaces, and corporate controlled data is higher than ever," he said. 

"Artists may not be always capable of implementing actual alternatives but they can explore glitches, failures and breakdowns," he added. "They can work with the absurd, over-identify with the adversary, warn about troubling future trends. In a world of problem-solvers, artists have to play the role of problem-makers."

And not just the role of problem-makers—the class asks them to play the role of (at least conceptual) pornographers, or some such variation. It was a challenge to defeat Rule 34: the idea that if anything exists, it exists in porn form on the internet. I was told that "romantic fan fiction,  ​ASMR, and Safe For Work types of fetish" were also acceptable.

"Online pornography has been a strong driver for the diffusion of the internet and, at the same time, a primary source of moral panic when it comes to censorship and network policing. But more importantly, the internet enabled a previously unseen diversification of genres and attitudes toward the representation of sex," Pedercini explained.

The grading goes like this: A if you can demonstrate it aroused some people, C if already exists

"I think it's worth wondering if this diversification is breaking down the normativity of mainstream porn, if it's affecting the production of desire, and enabling new forms of sexuality," he continued. "The Rule 34 is relevant because it mirrors other internet-driven trends like the extreme fragmentation of fandoms and indie music, and evokes a crucial question for a creative producer: How can I come up with something new when everything has been done?"

That's a really interesting question—do our desires drive our options, or do all of the options shape our desire? Music is a really interesting, and much less loaded arena to consider the question, but then music is social in a way that pornography isn't or at least wasn't, until recently. Are we witnessing the fruits of what open collaboration can bring?

In preparation for our chat, I tried to come up with a new fetish by combining sex with the latest annoying thing to take over my whole Facebook feed:  crocheted pants porn. My pitch was basically: "Good looking people in porous knitwear? Unraveling (for?) each other?"

"It's pretty good idea," Pedercini told me. "Actually,  an artist called Erik Ravelo already envisioned it in sculpture form, and in collaboration with Benetton."

According to the syllabus, grading for the Rule 34 assignment goes "A if you can demonstrate it aroused some people, C if already exists."

So thanks to Erik Ravelo, I'm already at a C. It's not much consolation knowing I'd probably really kick ass at the "waste time online" class at Penn.