Donate

Categories

Advert

XHTML

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional

Appropriate Talks about Porn

There is currently some discussion about a talk which used pornographic imagery and jokes to illustrate points about Ruby programming [1]. A similar event happened in 2006 here is the description of the event from the author – which includes an unreserved apology [2].

It seems to me that the current discussion focusing on what is inappropriate for a public lecture is the wrong way to do it as there is a vast range of inappropriate material. I suggest that instead a white-list of appropriate references to porn in lectures will be more effective – if nothing else it makes for a much smaller list. Here is a first draft of such a list:

  1. Pornographic web sites handle a lot of traffic. There are significant technical problems that need to be solved. A lecture from an employee of an Internet porn company which covers the solutions to those technical problems would be of interest to many system administrators. Of course such a lecture should not promote the Internet porn company or show any samples of their products.
  2. Digital processing of images is an interesting topic. Having a digital editor from a magazine such as Vogue describe in detail how they do their job would be really interesting. There is a lot of overlap between the range of pictures displayed in Vogue and those displayed on porn sites. Having an employee of a porn company demonstrate how they touch up the picture of a fully clothed model would be an interesting technical topic, but of course it would be totally inappropriate to make any specific mentions of how the parts of the picture which are not PG-13 rated are edited. Even showing a picture of a porn star might be controversial, but I’m sure that the same work could be reproduced with a photo of someone who has a more respectable career. Touching up a picture of RMS to make him look like a politician would make for a challenge for the presenter and an interesting lecture.
  3. The image known as Lenna is a photograph of a Playboy model named Lena that is widely used to test image compression [3]. While the image remains controversial, it seems to me that it would be impossible to give a complete and factual account of the history of image compression without mentioning it.
  4. The police have great discretionary powers to determine which crimes should be actively investigated. Senior police decide how many resources to assign to each case. I believe that in many jurisdictions the police will assign a much lower priority to a hacking case if the victim is running a porn service. Rumor has it that porn sites put a lot more effort into system security than most Internet services, partly due to not having as much protection from the police as other industries and partly because their customers don’t want to be identified. I would be very interested in attending a presentation about practical computer security by a system administrator from a porn site. As an aside I’m always interested in talking to people who do security work, so I would like to have a chat with someone who does such work for a porn site.
  5. A few years ago I attended a lecture about the security implications of porn surfing. It had some scary statistics on the number of porn sites that try to deploy malware on the computers of the people who view porn, and it made a good business case for banning porn at work without reference to HR issues (which is very relevant for the jurisdictions where viewing porn at work is not considered to be a social problem). I would like to see a new version of that talk with statistics based on more recent research, my theory is that modern porn sites are more toxic than the old ones due to the general increase in criminal activity on the net – but I have no evidence to support it.

Of course in all cases jokes about porn are not acceptable, mentions of porn need to be strictly on the basis of historical analysis or the description of technical and legal issues which are relevant to the audience. Delivering a talk about porn without inappropriate jokes would take a great deal of effort, but it can be done (and I’ve seen it done once). For these five cases (and the few others that will probably be suggested in comments) it would probably be best if the conference organisers viewed the talk first to ensure that there was no misunderstanding about what is appropriate.

I think that comparing a short list of specific cases where porn can reasonably be mentioned in a public lecture with the vast number of potential inappropriate references illustrates the probability of a random porn reference being acceptable. The probability of making a random porn reference that is appropriate is probably slightly less than that of winning the lottery.

2 comments to Appropriate Talks about Porn