“As soon as you deal with [sex] explicitly, you have to choose between the language of the nursery, the gutter and the anatomy class” – C.S. Lewis
“You don’t know shit from good chocolate, babies.” – Joe Dick
As mentioned previously, I had been working on a post tentatively entitled “Does the Googlebot have Asperger’s Syndrome?” but I realize now that the analogy is too generous. People with Asperger’s see and understand the world differently from “normal” people, but I’ve never read anything about Asperger’s that suggests that Aspies are especially lazy or malfeasant.
The way that Google’s SafeSearch filter handles returns for [penis] vs. the way it handles them for [clitoris] isn’t a product of seeing things differently. It’s just plain lazy. Somewhere inside of Google, an engineer was tasked with filtering “adult” sites from returning under “strict filtering” searches. Somehow he (I’m going to have to assume this engineer is a man,) when confronted with the vagaries English language, was able to write an algorithm that allowed 30 million “safe” returns for [penis]. But when faced with the same problem for [clitoris] he found it easier to simply put clitoris on a list of banned words.
That’s not Aspie-ish, that’s just lazy and sexiest.
[Erotic] was too much trouble for him, so it got banned too. [Nude] and [naked] were too much trouble, so they were out. His algorithm couldn’t tell the difference between a nursery rhyme rooster and a raging hard-on, so [cock] got banned. Is this webpage talking about kitty-cats or cunts? His algorithm couldn’t tell, so [pussy] went on to the list, along with [bastard] and [anus]. For some reason his algorithm could find 4.7 million “safe” returns for [glans] and 2.5 million “safe” returns for [testicle], but not a single “safe” return for [fellatio] or [cunnilingus], so they went on the list as well.
That’s not the product of a odd blind spot to social interaction, that’s just lazy and ass-covering; not to mention laughable coming from a company that touts its “advance proprietary technology.” (I’ll leave it to someone else to decide whether or not it’s [evil].)
A couple of days ago Seth Finklestein wrote a post linking to my “Taking the Real Sex out of [Real Sex] Searches” post. This morning Seth’s post is page two on the “do not filter my results’ search for [real sex], while my original post is somewhere around page 50. If I write about sex, the algorithm says it’s irrelevant, but if Seth writes about me writing about sex, it’s relevant. The algorithm isn’t just “advanced proprietary technology”, it’s post-modern too!
People ask, “Why are films that have explicit sex so badly made? Why is the lighting bad? Why are stories inane? Why the focus on misogynistic circus-sex, rendered in the most ham-fisted way? Why aren’t there films that treat audiences better? Why aren’t there films that treat sex better? Why does everything have to be so crude, tasteless, and poorly made?”
The answer is that these films are made in a ghetto, a ghetto walled in by the legal, business, and social constraints that are put on films, and on the people who make them. Anyone who makes films or video that deal with sexuality in an explicit way must do so mindful of with these constraints. Our own films are no different.
Our efforts have been finely calibrated against these constraints, and I’d like to think that we’ve had some success. Our films have played in venues not generally receptive to films that celebrate erotic pleasure. But more importantly, these films have touched people’s hearts, opened people’s eyes, and even changed people’s minds about what is possible in the collision of sex and the moving image.
But even as our films have received recognition from an ever more diverse range of sources – film festivals, universities, newspapers and magazines – revenues from our website have steadily fallen. What once was the mainstay of our operation is now a secondary revenue stream. Our diminished visibility on Google across a wide range of search strings has cut our traffic substantially, with a corresponding decrease in sales on our website.
Before this week I had seen this as a quirk, a fluke in Google’s algorithm, and as something that there might be some hope of addressing. I took Google at its word, that honesty would, in the end, win out. I saw it as a temporary set back, and thought that if I kept making my films as best I could, and writing about them honestly, that they would we would find our rightful place in the Googleverse. That maybe getting ranked at page 50 — back behind the spammers, and the archane agency documents, and the pedophilic trolling, back behind the posts linking to our posts — that maybe that was all just an accident.
The discoveries of the last week — the banned words like [clitoris] and [nude], the autofill for [stormfront] but not for [comstock films], [real sex] returns scrubbed clean of virtually all results with actual real sex — have forced me and Peggy to re-evaluate.
If this is the new reality, with a filtered “Googlenet” in place of the internet that incubated and made it possible for us to do what we do, then there’s little hope of re-capturing our lost website revenues, and that raises questions about what’s next. Google’s actively suppression of sexual content changes the calculus. It devalues honesty and frankness in favor of coded language and pranksterism, and in so doing, it makes it hard for us to make a living making the films we make.
So we’re looking to re-cast ComstockFilms.com to make it “safe”. To that end we’re looking at Christianist anti-sex sites and “women’s” sites that use terms like “vajayjay“.
But in all candor, I find the prospect of this incredibly depressing.
15 years ago I found Blowfish.com and thought: Ah ha, this is it! This is what I’ve been looking for. A place where sex isn’t stupid, or cutesy, or hopelessly wrapped up in phony medical jargon or academic pretense. A place where it didn’t matter if you were a man or a women, gay or straight. Blowfish was a place that was talking about sex they way I was thinking about it.
15 years later I’m remembering what it was like to work outside of the sex ghetto. I’m remembering that when I made films about death and disaster, when I made my living off of other people’s dying, no one ever tried to silence me. No one ever said you can’t show that starving child, or that dying man, or that pile of corpses. I’m remembering that no one was ever made to feel ashamed for watching or enjoying my films.
No, they told me my films were honest; and that my honesty is what let me find the beauty and dignity in the midst of squalor and misery. They told me I was courageous to take so much sorrow into my heart and and give back love.
I’ve tried to bring that to the films I make about love and sex. But it doesn’t look like there’s any place for my sort honesty in the Googleverse – not even with all of their advanced proprietary technology. Like [nude], or [clitoris], it’s just too hard. Easier just to sweep us off into a little corner of the Googleverse, a corner labeled “unsafe”.