“[T]he wave of lurid erotic thrillers in the ’80s and early ’90s proved to be the last era in which Hollywood allowed any significant degree of sexual content, having ceded the territory first to pay TV and then the nonstop smut bonanza that is the internet.”

Jason Anderson published an article for The Grid this morning about Hollywood’s “fascination with all things triple-X.” Outlining various films regarding the porn industry, he scrapes the surface of a larger issue. In the 60’s and 70’s, pornography and sex was taboo, something to keep from the kids. In the 80’s and 90’s Hollywood didn’t hide sex from the public. It was found in mainstream cinema, challenging audiences to think and react. Now, in the 2000’s and 2010’s, it’s everywhere. Accessibility has changed the face of sex in cinema. But to what end?

Jay A. Fernandez at Word & Film subtly addresses the issue through Fifty Shades of Grey. Undoubtedly a milestone for the public perception of erotica, the series sold over seventy-million copies. When I worked at the hospital in Richmond Hill, it was commonplace to see middle aged women sitting next to 18-year-olds reading the novel in waiting rooms. It can be found on the subway, on streetcars, and neatly tucked away in purses at bars. It is everywhere.

However, this ol’ grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. Fifty Shades is a hyperactive fantasy masquerading as liberated sexual desire. No woman cums that quickly, let alone a virgin. “BDSM” undertones or no, it’s a safe little nest to test the waters. It’s the Harry Potter of erotic fiction.

Similarly, films like Lovelace seem to offer a prettier picture of a complicated existence. Adam Nayman explains in his review of the film that “It might have been compelling to see the actress portray Lovelace’s descent into drug abuse or her contentious career as an anti-porn activist, but it seems the ambivalence of that period […] would exceed this disappointingly slight film’s very slender parameters.” The reality of the situation, of sex and its tawdry industry, is left by the wayside in favour of narrow views and accounts of a life. It, too, is a fantasy.

Sex has become little more than a comfortable gimmick to inject into our lives in only the most fantastical way that we’re comfortable with. Fifty Shades of Grey is the Coke Zero of BDSM erotica – all talk and no substance. It’s for the meek and mild who want to say they’ve engaged in something illicit and tawdry. Lovelace feels like much of the same, dabbling in the truth while not truly addressing the industry or its complete effects on Lovelace’s life.

In the 90’s there was a simultaneous repulsion and fascination with the porn industry. Films like The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Boogie Nights (1997) seemed to explore the industry hesitantly, cautious to keep their moral hats on in case they be misconstrued as tasteless. It was fringe, but not quite out of bounds. Other films like Hardcore (1979) explored the darker aspects of a seedy industry that, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, was predominantly inaccessible. As Peter Boyle’s character says in Hardcore “Nobody made it. Nobody sold it. Nobody sees it. It doesn’t exist.”

Perhaps that’s the defining factor behind mainstream interest in the porn industry: accessibility. In the 60’s and 70’s it was mostly relegated to seedy theatres and relatively well guarded magazines. From Midnight Cowboy (1969) to Hardcore (1979), the sex and porn industry was a bit of an enigma. Cinema of the time strongly reflected this. They were darker, almost cautionary tales.

By the 80’s and eventually the 90’s porn became steadily more accessible through the advent of home video. You no longer had to see porn in seedy theatres with scary men in trench coats. You could bring the films home to enjoy them in solitary comfort. As a result, they were less of an enigma, and significantly more normalized. This is evident in the likes of Larry Flynt and Boogie Nights – films that explore the industry itself, the stars and producers, trying to understand the creature rather than judge it. Even Larry Flynt spins the take on the porn industry to focus on issues regarding freedom of speech. This approach – forming a moral argument out of presumably amoral activity – would have shocked and appalled filmgoers of the 60’s and 70’s.

Now everything is different. Anyone and their mother can get their hands on porn without a moment’s hesitation. In fact, some people stumble on it accidentally. Erotica is no longer hidden away, but rather it’s being sold by the millions in mainstream bookstores. Porn stars are getting lead roles in mainstream and festival circuit films – James Deen in The Canyons (2013) and Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience (2009). An internationally renowned director is even exploring nymphomania with mainstream, A-list celebrities. Naturally I’m referring to Lars Von Trier’s upcoming Nymphomaniac, which will receive both a hardcore and soft-core treatment.

Has accessibility to the world of porn made us blasé? Is that why films such as Lovelace are struggling critically? Why they seem so aimless? Are we no longer aware of the difference between what’s titillating and just boring?

In one final thought, what intrigues me most about all of this is how countless articles have been produced today on Hollywood’s attraction to porn. We’re infatuated with it, yet we question it and degrade it from a moralistic standpoint. And all of this brings me back to a film that nearly received an NC-17 rating for a realistic sex scene between a husband and wife: Blue Valentine. We’re all obsessing over the fantasy of sex – the porn industry and “erotica” the likes of Fifty Shades of Poorly Written Drivel. But the reality of sex is taboo. A wife allowing her husband to have sex with her because she can no longer muster the emotion to care has become what porn was in the 60’s. Seedy and frightening, a concept to be hidden and tucked away. It looks to me as if we’ve become afraid of the reality, allowing the fantasy to dominate.