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Dragged into Google’s Sex Ghetto, Kicking and Screaming.

“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”.

Unsafe.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted November 24, 2008 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    A bloke who can’t find a clitoris – how very 1970′s our Googlebot buddy can be!

  2. Posted November 25, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    So you think it makes more sense to “clean up” your site to target people who have safe search filtering on (people who PROBABLY aren’t in the market for porn anyway, no matter how real and artistic and celebratory it is and have specifically chosen to filter out explicit stuff) than it does to buy adwords? You know, PAY for advertising rather than think mathematical formulas will be tweaked especially to favor people who make award-winning and beautiful wonderful feel-good porn over people who think like machines and optimize their pages to get top search engine rankings? Or to hire someone who thinks like that to suggest and implement SEO and design improvements without compromising the spirit and personality of your work?

    Search engines ARE stupid and they RARELY return results people really want or results that are the most “deserving” of front page attention. It’s not a plot, it’s the limitations of search engines and their ability to be taken advantage of by people who specialize in doing just that. Your “diminished visibility on google” and falling revenues are probably less a result of google ghettoizing you and more a results of a billion other factors (more competition from people who make it their business to make money) which you have the ability to deal with through more effective means than adding stupid words like “vajayjay” to your pages.

    I know it’s all very unfair and depressing — you’ll get no argument from me there and I love to whine and cry about it too — but other people SPEND MONEY and PAY PEOPLE to get more exposure online; it’s not something that’s just going to be handed to you on a silver platter of critical recognition and product superiority, and bitching about google like it’s some sentient monster out to bury the good guys who make the best content isn’t going to get you very far and seems really lame when google has ways built in that you can get front page results through old-fashioned ad-buying targeted at people who want exactly what you offer. Or try diversifying your content delivery methods (or, if you don’t want to do that, recognize that THAT might be another major factor in your falling revenues, that you’re not giving people ways to buy your films that internet savvy people WANT).

    I hope google hears your pleas and takes clitoris off the list of banned words, first because it makes sense but also so you can focus your energy on things that will actually make a difference to your bottom line. I know I’m acting like a total fucking asshole by posting this, but I can’t seem to help myself. I really do wish you success and TONS of visibility.

  3. Cobalt 60
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    The reason there are no search results is simple: there is no such thing as a clitoris. It is a myth perpetuated by feminists and lesbians with glans envy. If women were meant to enjoy sex, they would have been born men.

  4. rose
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I for one, after reading this post and the googlesbannedwords post went and did my own safesearch, and then submitted an actual unsafe site to google for removal along with as long a rant as they would let me type berating them for discriminating with their filters. honestly. when ‘nude’ is banned, but ‘nudy’ isn’t? grow up, google.

    good luck, it’s a hard fight, but worth fighting.

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