‘Without any mental deliberation, picture the average female porn star. Just let her spring into your mind’s eye looking however she looks. Can you see her?’
I’d bumped into a friend who I’d not seen in a while and this was the first question I asked him. He didn’t realise at the time that I’d be in self-imposed smutty exile for an untold number of weeks, working on the largest study of porn stars ever undertaken, and now I was out and eager to spread the news.
‘Erm, yeah, I suppose,’ he said.
‘What does she look like?’ I asked, struggling to hide my smile.
When he replied by saying ‘a blonde with big boobs’, I must admit I relished the opportunity to lean in, let the grin spread across my tired face, and say ‘That’s what everyone says. And in fact, it’s wrong’.
‘Oh,’ he said, after I explained how I knew what the average porn star actually looks like, as well what her name probably is, how many films she’s most likely done and the probability of her having a tattoo or body piercing.
‘So you’ve spent all this time watching hundreds of porn movies?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’ve spent all this time analysing the demographic profiles and filmographies of ten thousand adult performers. There is a difference.’
‘I see’, he then said. ‘And how, dare I ask, does one go about doing that?’
There’s data porn and there’s porn data. Combining the two is Jon Millward, a self-described “Ideas Detective”.
Millward spent six months going over a ten thousand person porn star database to determine “what the average performer looks like, what they do on film, and how their role has evolved over the last forty years.”
The result is both a longread analysis and multiple data visualizations of things you never know you’d be interested to know.
Jon Millward, Deep Inside: A Study of 10,000 Porn Stars and Their Careers.
Somewhat related: Sex Diseases Cost $16 Billion a Year to Treat, CDC Says
Georgia congressman Paul Broun claimed after Tuesday’s State of the Union address that “There are more people killed with baseball bats and hammers than are killed with guns.” Explainer readers may remember Broun as the congressman who believes the Earth is 9,000 years old. What about his hammer and baseball bat claim?
He’s wrong again, but he’s getting warmer. According to FBI data, 8,583 people were murdered with firearms in 2011. Only 496 people were killed by blunt objects, a category that includes not just hammers and baseball bats but crowbars, rocks, paving stones, statuettes, and electric guitars. Broun was off by a factor of at least 17 this time, a significant improvement on his estimate of the age of the Earth. The blue planet is 4.54 billion years old, or more than 500,000 times older than Broun believes it to be.
FJP: …but he’s getting warmer.
Words and phrases are fundamental building blocks of language and culture, much as genes and cells are to the biology of life. And words are how we express ideas, so tracing their origin, development and spread is not merely an academic pursuit but a window into a society’s intellectual evolution.