International Pornography, Part I of II

Apparently there is an internet pornography search engine called PornMD that must have been feeling small compared to other, better known websites.  So they came up with a pretty ingenious plan to get them more traffic:  publish the top search terms for every state in the US and quite a few countries.  It generated a ton of commentary, but the thing I find most interesting is how everyone these days seems to be a pseudo-scientist.


Top search terms from Japan, according to PornMD

So much of the commentary has been about how this country or that country must be really into it’s own race because in Japan people search for “japanese,” in Germany they search for “german,” in Britain it’s “british,” in Nigeria it’s “nigerian,” etc.  What a presumptuous conclusion!  Any conclusions you draw about people who use PornMD would only apply to those people.  If you want to generalize it to a larger population than that, then you have to prove that the people who use PornMD are representative of whatever the larger population is.  And there is absolutely no evidence that people using PornMD in Nevada are typical of porn watchers in Nevada, let alone the general population of Nevada.  And these assumptions become even more farcical when you try and extend them to countries where the common language isn’t even English.

I guess people love data, but hate to think.  Because if you consider who the major users of a US-based, English language porn search engine are, you might not unreasonably conclude that they are likely Americans, and at the very least English speakers.  Now the phenomenon of a country’s demonym tending to be the most popular search term in that country at this website suggests a different explanation:  it is English-speaking foreigners who live in those countries who want to see the natives naked.

This makes a lot of sense if you think about it for a minute.  Some young American gets an English teaching job or joins the Peace Corps and soon finds himself all alone:  a stranger in a strange land.  He doesn’t speak the language well, he doesn’t have any friends; in short, his prospects for getting laid in the near future are dismal at best.  But sex with the natives is exactly the sort of thing he had been imagining before he set off on his world adventure.  Oh well, the internet will have to fulfill his fantasies for him.  How many thousands of times a day do you think this happens?

This just recently came to the fore of my mind again when I was browsing Amazon’s Kindle store on my new Kindle Paperwhite.  The thing lists some two million books, but over 1.8 million of them are in the Western section of it’s store, brought over from no doubt.  Still, if you look at the best sellers in the whole two million you get this:

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The manga “Attack on Titan” (進撃の巨人) definitely is dominating the rankings right now, but there are other books besides, none of them dirty.  But what if we take out those two hundred thousand Japanese books and just look at 1.8 million listed in the Western section?

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Starts out normal enough (Steve Jobs, cats) but very quickly we’re into “Squirting Girls,” “Creampie Photography” and “Chicas Desnudas.” Wait a minute, what’s that down there at number 18?  XXX Japanese Innocence?

Indeed, before very long the best sellers list starts looking very similar to our PornMD data:


But is it really Japanese people who are buying these?  Probably there are some Japanese businessmen with sufficient English who are also interested in the West’s take on Japan as reflected in it’s pornography.  But I doubt that there are enough of those people to so affect the best-sellers list.  Especially since there are some five thousand volumes in a separate “adult” category of the Japanese store:


I’m thinking those are the ones most Japanese people are buying.  It is almost certainly the foreigners who are buying all those books in the Western section, especially when you consider that the number three best seller there is some set of flashcards for learning Japanese vocabulary.  Probably not a big seller among people who speak Japanese natively.

All of this just goes to show how hard it is to conduct social science research where language barriers are involved.  I’ve read plenty of books and seen plenty of documentaries about Japan where the filmmakers and authors do all of their research in English.  They rely entirely on talking to the (pretty small) section of Japanese society that speaks English well enough to be interviewed, as well as English-speaking foreigners who have often learned very little about wider Japanese society in their capacity as an English teacher or stock broker, yet are consider by the West to be experts on any Japan-related topic by merely having existed in Japan for some amount of time.  And if they still can’t get what they want from those two groups, they’ll just interview a Japanese person who’s English isn’t up to the task of being interviewed, put words in their mouth, and then get them to nod and agree that that is what they’re trying to say.  Japanese people are both very polite and agreeable as well as very trusting that reporters have integrity so this isn’t hard to do.  And all this is to say nothing of the people who simply make things up.

So next time you read something about Japan (including this), take it with a heaping helping of salt.

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