As faces become ubiquitous on the Web through social networking sites and YouTube, it is perhaps no surprise that an adult, subscription-based Web site has emerged seeking to capitalize on investing faces with sexual meaning. This article engages in a close examination of the Web site BeautifulAgony.com, a site exclusively focusing on the face of orgasm. Using Tom Gunning's research on the gnostic impulse of cinema, or the drive to reveal “new visual knowledge” through technology, I interrogate hard-core representation in the context of visual media and knowledge production. Beautiful Agony's success, I argue, should be understood as symptomatic of the contemporary fascination with seeing ourselves reflected back to us, a fascination fueled, in part, by technological innovations. The site capitalizes on the public's growing willingness and desire to become participants in the erotic representations they seek. The facettes de la petite mort featured on Beautiful Agony are drawn from amateur video submissions of the faces of women and men experiencing orgasm, or so the viewer is meant to presume. While the site may be conceptually innovative in the realm of adult Web sites for its lack of nudity, it contributes to a long-standing obsession with revealing a person's interiority through the translation of embodied signifiers. Modern technologies, and the cultures of self-display they have fostered, offer up new methods of achieving what more self-consciously empirical projects have always sought—the means to make the body meaningful. Beautiful Agony provides a useful lens through which to examine categorizations such as “hard core” and “amateur” and how these designations are shifting as a result of increasing access to new media technologies and the subsequent cultures they fuel.
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Anna E. Ward; Pantomimes of Ecstasy: BeautifulAgony.com and the Representation of Pleasure. Camera Obscura 1 May 2010; 25 (1 (73)): 161–195. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2009-018
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