At Large: how to watch a pornographic movie

Taking longer than he would like, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell goes from A to B and prepares for whatever follows . . .

It is a saucy little industry we work in, isn't it? We may think that it's fairly dull, a complex of corporate dealings that essentially generates money and keeps us employed, but we're wrong. What we wait for in this industry is anything that grabs the attention, makes us stop in our tracks and stare for a while in helpless fascination. Things like newspaper columns entitled "How to watch a pornographic movie", and such like.

Lest you think I'm going to tell you anything I oughtn't, I should clarify my topic. In an essay entitled "How to Recognise a Porn Movie" (1994, translation by William Weaver), Umberto Eco defines the genre as movies "whose true and sole aim is to stimulate the spectator's desire, from beginning to end, and in such a way that, while this desire is stimulated . . . the rest of the story counts for less than nothing". Eco's criterion for identifying pornography is based on a measure of wasted time. Basically, he argues that the audience believes it wants to watch a solid hour and a half of unspeakable transgressions, but such a film would be unbearable and unacceptable - both for the actors producing the film and for the audience.

In order to make the transgressions interesting, they must be played out against a background of normality.

Normality, of course, is very boring. A film containing scenes of gross abnormality would have to contrast these with scenes of gross normality - thus the process of watching a character get into his car and drive from one place to another will seem unbearably slow and boring.

In short, Eco concludes: "If, to go from A to B, the characters take longer than you would like, the film you are watching is pornographic."

By that measure, we can safely conclude that the IT industry is highly pornographic and unsuitable for children and sensitive viewers. It is periodically dominated by scenes of absolute debauchery, exploitation and abuse, separated by lengthy periods of normality. Normality, in this industry, can be amazingly dull.

I would like to offer the following stories as eligible for X classification: "Justice Does Microsoft" (also known as "Justice Is Done To Microsoft").

Easily the biggest sideshow going at the moment, as the industry hangs on each new development. Major IT news organisations have dedicated resources and entire teams of people to monitor this one story. Web sites are devoted to it.

Any development, whether it's the CEO testifying before Congress or an e-mail exchange between two unheard-of employees, is reported, dissected and analysed for its implications to the rest of the industry.

Obviously the IT public wants to see the fight - to roar and to cheer as the dragon is brought to its knees, to hiss and to boo as it rises to resist. But if something new happened every day, we'd all find it unbearably boring and look at something else. In between fight sequences, we need to have seemingly interminable delays, or we couldn't bear to watch.

"Apple's Deeply Personal Adventure". The Cupertino company's unfortunate habit for self-abuse held industry watchers in thrall for two solid years, up until about August last year. The spectacle of an industry icon wracked with internal turmoil and on the brink of bankruptcy made irresistible viewing. Like Microsoft's current imbroglio, there were "Apple death watch" Web sites, and columnists confidently predicted dates upon which the company would cease trading or be bought.

Like the better-choreographed works of John Holmes, Apple's story struck a perfect balance between exciting action and boring corporate palaver. As if trying to create the archetype of Eco's definition, Apple played out a scenario in which any story other than its self-started death spiral counted for less than nothing. With a change of director, though, the story has become rather less compelling.

"Compaq Swallows Digital". Most people thought this movie was over ages ago, more of a short than a feature. Two of the giants of the stage and screen unite for one spectacular show - it made great headlines for about a week, after which it was believed to be a done deal. Then there were little titillating snippets to keep us interested while we watched other shows, and finally the spectacular climax last week as Digital's shareholders finally released their stock to Compaq and the formerly irresistible Robert Palmer rode away with a healthy package of options. Steamy stuff.