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Niles: That was the same period where you insisted on wearing the wax earplugs and the slumbermask.

Frasier: Well I had to, what with you underneath the covers with a flashlight looking at the National Geographic.

Niles: I was looking at the maps.

Frasier: That's what makes it so scary!
Frasier, "Beloved Infidel"

There are some things that everyone needs from time to time. Quite apart from food, shelter and love... they need porn. Unfortunately, it's not always so easy to come by, even as an adult - maybe it's a more straitlaced era where pornography is uncommon or hard to come by even for the most resourceful people (or maybe you can come by it, but you can't talk about it on television!), or maybe the urge, shall we say, has only just set in and there's no actual pornography nearby. What to do?

The obvious answer is 'find something that's almost as good and work with that'. After all, if it works, it works. There's three main variants of this trope.

Type A - Thanks to National Geographic Nudity, something containing nude or scantily clad people that is intended for cultural or educational purposes can be co-opted for titillation. National Geographic magazines are the most commonly cited here, for obvious reasons. Nevermind that the photo subjects have no reason to adhere to Western standards of beauty (resulting in birthing hips, floppy breasts, etc.); a 13-year-old boy is generally not picky when the urge is upon him. Similarly, workout tapes with scantily clad women, nudist magazines and marital "how-to" guides also fall into this category, and were even sometimes slyly marketed as "legitimate porn" in the past.

Type B - Because Sex Sells, advertising is usually full of slightly erotic and suggestive images - so why not make use of that? While there's no nudity, lingerie catalogues and similar can be used for somewhat more sexual purposes than they (supposedly) were intended.

Type C - Seen in shows from the 80s most commonly, as newer technology has made it obsolete, a character will try to make out a scrambled pay-per-view television program. It is often pointed out that the program they're watching turns out to be entirely innocuous.

Once Truth in Television. Before the Internet rose in the 1990's-2000's, there was a real social and physical barrier up between the average person and pornography. You actually had to go to a porn store (newstands had softer stuff, like Playboy) to buy it, or get a catalog from which you could order it. Many people were worried to the point of paranoia that their work or church would get word that their car was seen in the parking lot of the seedy adult bookstore, or someone would see them buy Playboy at the tobacco store. And if that's how much trouble the adults had it, the teens had it worse - usually having to locate their parents Porn Stash when no one was home.

Times have obviously changed now because The Internet Is for Porn, and anybody with a connection can see as much porn as they like, making this largely a Discredited Trope.

A Sub-Trope of A Date with Rosie Palms.

A Super-Trope to National Geographic Nudity.

A Sister Trope to Fetish Fuel (also getting turned on by something not directly porn).

Compare I Read It for the Articles.

Examples of Type A (National Geographic, etc)


Comics

  • In Twisted Toyfare Theatre, one of Dr. Doom's evil plans involved intercepting the Fantastic Four's mail just so Reed Richards wouldn't be able to get off on awkward tribal totty in National Geographic.
  • Subverted in FoxTrot: Roger thinks Jason is growing up after he comes home from a garage sale with an armful of National Geographics. After all, why else would a young boy want them? As it turns out, the geeky Jason and Marcus want them for the articles, in particular the Apollo 11 issue.
  • There was an article in Mad Magazine, where one of the captions showed a kid jerking off to National Geographic. All we see of the magazine is the cover: "TRIBAL WOMEN".
  • Hobbes once mentions checking out the hot tigress babes on the National Geographic covers.

Literature

  • Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer directly invokes this when the eponymous character finds his girlfriend peeking into technical literature on anatomy belonging to the teacher, which was notable as this kind of literature was outlawed exactly because of this trope (well, as the book is set in mid-19th century Deep South, it is completely justified).
  • In David Klass's You Don't Know Me, John uses the National Geographic for this purpose. His mother just shrugs it off and says that it's normal, but her boyfriend is considerably less understanding.

Live Action TV

  • MASH mentions this one a few times - Radar talks about how his Uncle Ed used to punish him for looking at the nude tribeswomen in National Geographic. Most of Hawkeye's mail for the first few seasons consists of different nudist magazines.
    • When Hawkeye and Trapper are leaving for R&R in Tokyo, Henry tells them to stop at a bookshop where he's ordered some old Japanese prints under an assumed name. ("Some things never change, if you get my drift.")
  • Referenced in Frasier: Frasier talks about sharing a room with Niles and being kept up all night by the latter's looking at National Geographics under the bedcovers. When Niles asserts he was only looking at the maps, Frasier replies that this is what made it so weird.
  • An episode of Married... with Children had the librarian trying to seduce Bud by getting him hot. When he studied in the library, she'd recommend books with the sexiest nudes and mark the pages as what he should study. Predictably, he's caught having A Date with Rosie Palms and nearly gets expelled for it.
    • Also on Married... with Children, Al begins watching rap videos just for the scantily-clad female dancers.
    • And watching Friends with binoculars, because he could see someone wasn't wearing a bra.
  • Speaking of which, one episode of Friends mentions this: Joey is giggling at a National Geographic magazine, and Chandler asks him if he's looking at the naked tribeswomen. As it turns out, he's looking at a pig.
  • Chappelle's Show presented a Parody Commercial for Third World Girls Gone Wild; the video was a documentary film of topless tribeswomen performing a presumably traditional dance.
    • In a similar vein, Saturday Night Live had a Parody Commercial for a homemade DVD featuring The Shake Weight that guys can watch as if it were porn (the Shake Weight is real, but it's probably not intended to titillate in that fashion).
  • Referenced in a season five episode of Oz, when Ryan O'Reily is talking about Hawaii in the drug rehabilitation group, explaining that he read about the well-endowed women in "National Pornographic", with the impressive full-colour photographs.
    • Also the inmates favourite program is the children's TV show "Miss Sally's Schoolyard", because Miss Sally has large breasts.
  • In one episode of Bottom, Richie and Eddie get into an argument about whether or not the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is pornography. Attempting to prove it is, Eddie pulls out their art history book with a picture of the ceiling in it - and finds it falls open to the exact page:

 Richie: How dare you accuse me of masturbating!

Eddie: Who said anything about masturbating? 

Richie: You did, just then!

Eddie: I did not, I just said it's odd how it always falls open at that precise page!

Richie: Yes, you did, and the reason you said that is because you know that's the picture I always look at when I'm having a w-[stops himself a second too late]

  • An episode of Black Books features an audio version of this, with a subplot basically involving Fran having A Date with Rosie Palms while listening to the Shipping Forecast because she finds the voice of the man who was delivering it that evening irresistibly arousing.
  • In an early Buffy episode, it's revealed that Xander regularly checks out rare occult books on witches "to look at the semi-nude engravings".

Music

Film

  • In The Strawberry Statement movie: "Do you remember that... National Geographic you have in your back room? Yeah, well this one is a white version of page 43."
  • In the 2010 film version of Kick-Ass, the protagonist is initially a nerd who is ignored by the female populace of the school and, in his own words, 'easily excitable', so National Geographic is, as shown, enough for his tastes then.
  • In Super Troopers, one of the highway patrolmen/main characters uses a salacious billboard as wanking fodder during his shift. 
  • In Porky's one of the character is seen to use National Geographic to "kick start" his member for his daily measuring routine...

Tabletop Games

  • Exalted has Regent Fokuf, the Puppet King of the Realm, spending his private time jacking off to the holy texts of the Immaculate Order. It's basically the equivalent of reading The Bible and indulging one's self to the Song of Solomon.

Other

  • Robin Williams - in Live On Broadway he asserts this was the case for him.
  • Dave Barry also referenced the phenomenon.
  • Russell Baker asserts this is the reason why knowledge of geography is on the decline - back in the day, National Geographic was all they had, so some real knowledge was picked up on the way.
  • According to Encyclopedia Dramatica, Wikipedia is filling this void in the modern era - after all, someone who walks in suddenly is less likely to be bothered by you looking up something on Wikipedia than by seeing a porn website. However, since Wikipedia is not censored, it still contains a fair amount of NSFW material that can do the job. Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has written an essay accusing Wikipedia of having a "porn problem".
    • Wikimedia Commons is even worse/better, depending on your view. The Other Wiki has roughly five images per article, Commons is nothing but images.
  • For anyone with surfing behind a filter, Deviant ART may also fit the bill. Why else would the "artistic nude" pieces get so much attention?
  • Comedian Tony Martin - in his book A Nest of Occasionals he recounts the time that he and his step brother found some of the same National Geographics in the school library their parents had bought for them and, upon comparing them, were horrified to find that for several years their mum had been removing the pages which had any pictures of naked tribal women on them.
  • Sex ed pamphlets and some anatomy books can have moderately explicit images. In some books, the diagrams of various human systems are superimposed on a photorealistic image or even actual photograph of a naked woman.
  • National Geographic themselves acknowledged this trope in their 1988 centennial issue.
  • Chris Rock suggests that in a horny delirium, teenagers may try to get off to pictures of Aunt Jemima. The pancake mix mascot. Then Uncle Ben jumps off of his box and beats up the kid for looking at his woman.
  • Ever wonder why there are so many fitness videos released before the 1980's? Its not because people want to be fit.
  • Parodied in Touhou fanart: Rinnosuke finally realizes why Wriggle Nightbug was so interested in a field guide to insects.
  • The That Guy With The Glasses group review had The Nostalgia Critic getting off to George Takei's biography.

Western Animation

  • In an episode of American Dad!, Stan shows Steve an anti-masturbation film to keep him from touching himself. In the video, a young boy is home alone and can't decide what to do. He finds a copy of National Geographic with the headline "Women of the Bush" and walks into the bathroom with it, so it's quite clear what he's doing in there.

Examples of Type B (Lingerie catalogues, ads, etc)

Film

  • In The Devil's Playground, schoolboys are seen ogle lingerie ads in a newspaper. The film takes place at a very strict high school seminary where the boys aren't even allowed to bathe naked. One of the monks who teaches says that with all the rules, they've turned the dictionary and Readers Digest into dirty books.
  • Ben Stiller's character uses lingerie ads during the infamous "hair gel" scene in There's Something About Mary.
  • The titular character in Meeting Daddy is a strict Baptist who disapproves of premarital sex, so he makes his daughter and the man she is engaged to sleep in separate rooms when the man comes to visit the family home in Georgia. The man becomes seriously sex-starved and starts fantasizing about all the things that turn him on; he mentions at one point to his fiancée that he's always had a fetish for old-fashioned bullet bras, and used to masturbate to pictures of women wearing them. As it happens, the fiancee's mother used to wear a bullet bra, and the girl slips it on under her blouse in the hopes that her boyfriend will notice. He does.
  • In Adaptation Charlie Kaufman beats it to the picture of Susan Orlean on the back panel of her book The Orchid Thief.

Literature

Live Action TV

  • Friends - Chandler comes to visit Rachel at work so he can take a peek at the most recent catalogues.
  • The Librarians features Frances walking in on Terry, caught with his pants down, jerking off to bra ads in the newspaper.
  • Seinfeld: George Costanza was caught with a copy of Glamour.
  • One episode of My Wife and Kids had junior escaping to the bathroom with increasingly supposedly non-sexual magazines, the height of which was an issue of a monthly cooking magazine. Cue euphemism filled explanation of just how a teenage boy can make that sexy.
  • Lois from Malcolm in the Middle is pleased with Stevie's influence on her boys when she sees them reading a newspaper, unaware that they're looking at the underwear ads.
  • On Cheers, Norm subscribed to the Victoria's Secret Catalogue using the cunningly selected alias of 'Norma Peterson'.
  • When Jeremy from Peep Show is giving a sperm sample, he is horrified to find there's no "reading material" to...er, help him along. Determined to be inventive, he rifles through his pockets and finds a £20 note, and proceeds to masturbate over a picture of the Queen.
  • In one episode of The Wire, Landsman (who usually openly looks at much more dirty magazines at work) is seen perusing a Victoria's Secret catalogue. When asked why he made the change, he remarked, "Change of pace. They look pretty hot with their clothes on, too." 
  • In one episode of The Inbetweeners, Jay masturbates in an old people's home over the problem pages in women's magazines (which he describes as "wanking gold"). Later, when he's been through them all (even having to wank over Fern Britton), he finds a black and white photograph of a woman in a bikini. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Bottom again: Richie repeatedly demonstrates a willingness to masturbate to anything with a picture of a woman in her underwear in it. He once attempted to impress a pair of lesbians by boasting he had a large collection of Freemans mail-order catalogues that "just flop open to the lingerie pages".
  • In Generation Kill, Evan Wright shows off a totally innocuous picture of his girlfriend back home. The other Marines promptly steal it and use it for recreation for the remainder of the tour.
    • At one point Person even "pimps out" the photo in exchange for some batteries.
  • Captain Blackadder uses Type B.

 " I've always been a soldier, married to the army. The book of King's Regulations is my mistress--possibly with a Harrod's lingerie catalogue discreetly tucked between the pages."

Web Comics

 Dora: I'm sorry! I was only fourteen! They were sexy and I didn't have access to any other erotica!

Western Animation

  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Moe is forced to admit under a lie detector test that he's going home to "ogle the women in the Victoria's Secret catalogue". When this is flagged as yet another lie, he admits it's actually the Sears catalogue.
    • Which isn't all that shameful, since Sears catalogues contain plenty of lingerie pictorials that are quite alluring (albeit in a "Main Street" sort of way).
  • In one Family Guy, when Stewie finally succeeds in derailing Peter and Lois' plans to conceive a fourth child (about twenty seconds after he stops trying), Peter takes a lingerie catalogue into the bathroom.

Other

  • Brian Posehn mentions that a young boy can get off on anything, up to and including pictures of bras without women in them.
  • Chris Rock wrote in his book "Rock This!" about his wife finding and disposing of his pornography collection. Needing a substitute, the best he could come up with was a box in the kitchen featuring Aunt Jemima. He starts to fantasize about her being younger and more attractive...only to have Uncle Ben jump from a box of rice and yell at him for trying to seduce his woman.
  • Real Life - during Operation Desert Storm, soldiers were forbidden to possess pictures of scantily clad or nude women, so made do with more fully-clothed and covered models instead.
  • From Travolta3335's Ace Idiot series: "Hmmm, that i looks kinda like a boob! I can work with this..."
  • Many religious “kick-the-porn-habit” self-help books mention being turned on by lingerie ads.
  • There was a newspaper comic strip in which a mother found some magazines under her son's mattress, and didn't look at the covers until she'd already begun her, "I understand you're a growing boy with new interests..." rant. Her voice trailed off as she realized what he'd been looking at was Ladies' Home Journal. When he hung his head and admitted he liked the lingerie ads, she exclaimed, "Thank goodness! I mean ... you should be ashamed."
    • For the record, LHJ used to run ads for breast-augmentation as well, with an emphasis on cleavage.

Examples of Type C (Scrambled Porn)

Film

  • American Pie: In the opening sequence, Jim is caught by his parents trying to watch scrambled porn.

Live Action TV

  • The Drew Carey Show has an episode where Drew, Oswald, and Lewis try to to watch scrambled porn because Drew believes that the cable company will turn him in if he has both Cartoon Network and porn channels.
    • It turns out it's the sugery channel they're watching, not the porn channel.
  • Al and Bud try this in an episode of Married... with Children, turns out it was an elbow.
    • When NO MAAM goes to Washington DC, the first thing Al does is have Ike unscramble the porn channel.
  • In the VH-1 Series I Love The 80's, Type C was mentioned:

 “Masturbation by itself won’t make you go blind, but masturbating to scrambled porn just might.”


Web Original

  • Referenced in Gaijin Smash.
  • Though the primary point seems to be the violence rather than the porn, in one Strong Bad Email Strong Bad, Coach Z, and Bubs watch a movie on scrambled cable. One line in the "movie" is a sexy-sounding female voice saying "Two underwears", implying that the porn is there nonetheless.

Western Animation

  • One episode of The Simpsons reveals Moe is too cheap to unscrambled the porn channel at his bar. It turned out to be an advertisement for shoe inserts.

 Moe: I've been writing creepy letters to that?

    • One of the comics had Moe describe some superstitions, and he started claiming that a lucky shirt of his would help him get real lucky...before confessing that he'd end up at home watching scrambled porn. No confirmation whether it was the ad or not.
  • Not surprisingly, Robot Chicken takes a stab at it. Watch here.

Real Life

  • Older television sets had a focus knob which the especially persistent masturbator could turn to bring more focus to the scramble - you never got a perfect picture, but could see more than a regular scramble.[1] Unfortunately this required ‘’constant’’ attention to keep up with the constantly changing screen - and usually using your dominant hand, too.
  • Moviebob references this in his review of Heavy Metal. He points out that the reason this movie was such a big deal was, back then, "boobs were really to see". Before the internet, if young men wanted access to nudity, they either had to steal Playboys from the least responsible male authority figure or use "tin foil and pie plates to unscramble Cinemax for a couple of seconds".
  • Technology eventually marched on, and beginning in the very late 1980’s new televisions had a chip that recognized the scrambled signal and replaced it with a solid blue screen. (Not really a blue screen of death, but it certainly dashed hopes here and there.)

Notes

  1. Cue many tropers saying to themselves “I thought I was the only one who thought of that!”
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