On the way to writing this essay, I tripped over a
pile of porn.
Literally. Or I should so, literary porn. Erotic stories.
The truth is that pornography was the farthest thing from my mind when I sat down to write this essay. In fact, my original intent had been to write about my experiences editing storySouth, an online literary journal. I figured I'd talk about how hard it is to read through hundred of submissions each quarter, or maybe about how needy bad writers can be about their submissions while the good writers I publish rarely hassle me at all.
The problem, though, was that I needed a 'hook' for my essay. When writers want to discuss boring subjects like submissions and rejection letters, they need to have a damn good hook to keep the reader interested. Some writers write about their latest fishing trip (resulting in analogies such as, "Finding a good story is like landing a twenty-pound walleye"). Others debate whatever literary controversy is currently being talked about (Analogy: "Getting your book onto Oprah's bookclub is like leaving a twenty-pound walleye all day in a hot car--it gets you noticed but you ain't gonna enjoy driving that car around anymore").
Anyway, the angle for this essay is pornography.
Actually, my original hook had been to discover the individual words typed into search engines that led new readers to storySouth. As most people are aware, websites keep track of the numbers of people who visit their sites. They are also able to research what links and search engine requests directed people to their sites. So I thought I'd go into storySouth's web history, see what words people typed in to find the site, what stories those words led them to, and use all of that as my angle to approaching this essay.
Unfortunately, along came porn.
Don't get me wrong. Most new readers of storySouth found our journal by typing in words and phrases such as 'southern literature', 'poetry south', or 'fiction from the south' into search engines such as Yahoo or Google. Unfortunately, writers like me are easily bored with such vanilla fare. I mean, how can 'best stories on the web' compare with the one person who found storySouth on Google by typing in: 'pulls+off+her+shirt+at+beach+pictures+of+breasts.'
Amazing, I thought. That means all those words were found somewhere in the different stories published on storySouth. I then began looking for other weird search requests. It turns out that maybe one percent of the thousands of viewers who read storySouth each month found the site while doing a search for erotic stories. Among my favorite search requests were:
'heavy milk filled tits'
'she was so pregnant'
'girls lsu sex'
'brother's wife stories'
'wife topless breast'
'chopped off my penis'
I wonder about these guys (and being a guy, I'm
pretty certain it's guys). Were they typing these search requests at work,
searching for erotic stories while attempting to hide their sexual
obsession from their boss? Or were they in the privacy of their home,
sitting at their computer and...er, maybe I shouldn't attempt to create a
word-picture of this.
Actually, I don't care much for readers who find storySouth through these sexual search requests. They wouldn't be the type of people I'd invite to my house to discuss literature. ("What did you think of Madame Bovery?" "Well, she had some amazing tits.") No, I think my wife said it best when, after reading a few lines of this essay, she said a single word: "Perverts." It's hard to argue with such succinctness.
It is a well-known fact that the most popular item on the internet--and one of the few industries actually making money online--is pornography. People don't like to talk about this fact. People like to ignore this fact. But anyone with an e-mail account knows this is true; the sex industry almost single-handedly created spam (Don't call it spam, call it Sex with PAM).
The down side to this, and what these sexual search requests made me realize, is that the most popular fiction on the internet is probably also pornography. While I can't back up this statement with any hard numbers, I am certain more people read erotic stories online each day than the number of people who read the top 100 literary sites each year. If ten to twenty people a month are so desperate for erotic stories that they are looking for them on storySouth, imagine how many hits a true erotic story site must get.
Of course, none of this takes away from the excellent fiction that is being published online. And, as I originally said, people typing in such search requests are a small minority of the readers visiting storySouth (or other literary websites--don't for a moment think that all literary websites aren't seeing a similar percentage of their traffic resulting from sexual searches).
So the next time you read a short story online and notice the word "breast" used in a moving description of some mother feeding her baby, know that one day some sex crazed fiend will find that story by accident.
Just think of this guy's shock when he realizes his search for a story about 'sucking on mother's breast' didn't give him quite what he wanted to read. Who knows to what depths of despair the man will fall? Who can say how deeply he will be wounded by having nothing to push him over the sexual edge?
But hey, such is the power of great fiction--even on the web.
Return to Bylines