Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Antiporn Documentary: The Price of Pleasure

Well, the documentary we've been hearing about from the APRF crowd for the last – what, 4 years, at least – has finally been finished. This was the one that was being put together by Chyng Sun a few years back, and more recently by Robert Jensen and Miguel Picker. Website here:

Trailer here.

The press kit promises, "Honest and nonjudgmental, the film paints both a nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate aspects of human relations." But one look at the who the writers are (Chyng Sun and Robert Wosnitzer), not to mention the obvious slant even in the trailer, belies the idea that there's anything "honest and nonjudgmental" going on here.

Witnesses for the prosecution are, not unexpectedly, Robert Jensen and Gail Dines, but Pamela Paul, Ariel Levy, and Sarah Katherine Lewis are also brought in to further the case against porn and the sex industry. (And apparently the much-circulated video of the anti-porn statement by Chomsky is from this film also.) Interestingly, the documentary also feature some pro-porn folks, most notably, our own Ernest Greene, who, based on the trailer at least, seems to get some good points in, though I have no idea what his original interview versus what made it into the film is like. Joanna Angel seems to be treated to more of a hatchet job, where they select some "worst of" moments from her videos and use them to undermine her statements. Similarly, statements from fans are selected to come across as very self-incriminating.

If anybody's anxious to have a look at it, its scheduled to play in Austin, Montreal, and New York over the next several weeks, and it may play elsewhere after that. I have my doubts it will have anything like a major release (1-hour documentaries usually don't), but, is scheduled for video release next month from the Media Education Foundation, but like other MEF releases, are only available to educational institutions at $150-250 per copy. Like the Killing us Softly and Dreamworlds series (also from MEF), its likely this video end up having a long life life in women's studies and "media education" classrooms, fueling misguided outrage for years to come.


  1. I have plenty to say about this.

    First, I'm going to go back and study their promo site in great detail ...

    before I dismantle this infernal project nut by bolt.

  2. just watched the trailer...unbiased my pornified ass...

  3. As much as I expected from them.

    As soon as I can get home Internet access back, I will have to view this latest bit of agitprop...though Ernest will probably beat me to dismantling it.

    Someone needs to call up Becky Goldberg and revive her documentary "Hot and Bothered" as a pro-feminist porn counter to this nonsense.

    The fact that "The Price of Pleasure" is only available to educational institutions says a lot about the projected audience...and how about the profits?? And they say they don't profit one bit from porn themselves??

    Oh....and the playing off of Chomsky as an antiporn leftist really does piss me off to no end, too....who the HELL are they to say that they are the only representatives of the Left regarding porn and sex media??

    "Honest and nonjudgmental"??? Yeah, right. Like Fixed Noise is "fair and balanced."


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  5. This may take a few comments to fully deconstruct and i have limited time at the moment to devote to the process. However, it has to start somewhere, so I'll begin with the claims these "documentarians" make about themselves and their work, starting with this one:

    "Honest and nonjudgmental, the film paints both a nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate aspects of human relations."

    In Red Harvest, the Continetal Op stands outside a dive bar in a dusty border town that reads a sign saying: "Only Genuine Pre-War British and American Whisky Sold Here" and muses that he could count five lies in that one claim without even trying.

    Honest and non-judgmental, as Anthony points out, is a rather preposterous description for any film about pornography made by a team of professional anti-porn activists. How can Chyng Sun and Robert Wosnitzer, who have worked in collaboration with Gail Dines and Robert Jensen, as well as writing and speaking extensively about the evils of porn presume to convince us that they're capable of presenting a cinematic analysis of pornography that is honest and free of judgment?

    Only by lieing, both about themselves and their latest endeavor. Reading the sanitized bios of the producers on the promotional site for TPOP, someone unfamiliar with these people's histories would have little clue as to their past activism or current agenda. They're just making a fair-minded picture about an important topic, right?

    But the lies, distortions and half-truths only begin with the careful omission of their own obvious bias from redacted CVs. That's just a warm-up for the manipulative propaganda they're attempting to sell at an eye-popping price for an hour's worth of cynical button-pushing.

    The posted synopsis alleges that "The film features the voices of consumers, critics, and pornography producers and performers."

    So, let's see who we find on the Clips page - and more importantly, who we don't.

    Consumers are represented only by someone identified "fan." One faceless dude. That's it for the millions of men, women and couples who look at porn.

    How about the producers? Well, there's me and Jeff Steward from JM and producer/performer Brandon Iron. Taken together with all our works, we account about .001% of the the pornography made in this country, but I won't deny we're producers.

    Performers? Well, Brandon still qualifies, but the only female performer on the Clips page is Annie Cruz, a gonzo player with fewer than five years experience in X-rated video, virtually all of it devoted the hardest material being shot at the moment.

    Ah, but the critics, well, here we find quite the roster, beginning with Noam Chomsky and including not only such luminaries of the anti-porn movement as Bob Jensen and Gail Dines, but also pop-psych authors Ariel Levy and Pamela Paul, rad-fem activist Ana Bridges and "media consultant" Damone Richardson.

    Of course, we also get the obligatory ex-performer-turned-anti-porn crusader Sarah Catherine Lewis, whose experience must be rather unique, in that neither I or nor any of a number of industry veterans I asked had ever heard of her or recognized her by her picture.

    And of course, we have the obligatory "victims," fresh-faced college student Gabrielle Shaw, who asserts that she was exposed to pornography at the tender at of 11 by an older female friend and "Eli" who was pornofied by his older brother during his early teen years.

    Conspicuous by their absence are not only the more experienced performers and producers who often speak in porn's defense, including Nina Hartley, Candida Royale, Tristan Taormino, Jenna Jameson and Annie Sprinkle, but also recognized experts with no financial stake in the industry who support it, such as national ACLU President Nadine Strossen, UCSB professor Constance Penley and author Linda Williams.

    Also MIA are any representatives of the X-rated feature community, which still, despite anti-porn activists' claims to the contrary, is the largest component of the porn market. No Steve Hirsh. No Steve Orenstein. No one from Digital Playground or Naughty America or Adam&Eve or ClubJenna.

    Do you get the feeling somebody might be stacking the deck here just a bit? Pitting a couple of twenty-something performers and two fairly obscure producer/directors directors, one specializing in BDSM genre pictures and the other working at the extreme end of the gonzo spectrum, against all the heaviest hitters of the anti crowd isn't exactly a level playing field. While I haven't seen the whole film yet and understand that some better-known figures of the porn world, such as John Stagliano and rising star Joanna Angel, make appearances in it, I'd have to say from what I've seen so far that this game was pretty much fixed before the opening gun.

    Which brings us to the trailer, offered online to one and all. I'll get to that charming glimpse of the world of porn as reinvented by people who have previously expressed the direct intent to destroy it next.

    That one's going to take some doing.

  6. "Of course, we also get the obligatory ex-performer-turned-anti-porn crusader Sarah Catherine Lewis, whose experience must be rather unique, in that neither I or nor any of a number of industry veterans I asked had ever heard of her or recognized her by her picture."

    SKL is the author of "Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire". She's an ex-stripper who has decidedly mixed feelings about the sex industry. Basically, she doesn't like it and thinks that the men who patronize it are scum, and that most sex workers who have a positive opinion of what they're doing are mere dilettantes, but also holds that doing sex work can be a rational choice for women trying to earn money quickly and casually.

    She claims to have done some porn, but I don't think it was ever more than a few titles at the most. She's Seattle-based and kind of alt-looking, which makes me suspect that any porn she might have done would have been either for Rodney Moore, or some of the internet porn companies in that area.

  7. My opinion of SKL coninues to fall like bad stock, really.

  8. So, this person's experiences as a stripper, a part-time author and someone who may have done a smidgen of porn in some obscure corner of the country far removed from the industry mainstream qualifies as their "insider" regarding the realities of life for women active in the porn business?

    Guess they couldn't find anybody with a more relevant background .... or didn't try too hard.

  9. And if they didn't want to interview any of the familiar "apologists" why not some other performers, like Kylie Ireland or Belladonna or Jessica Drake or Kayden Kross or Sasha Grey or Mika Tan or Bobbi Starr or Vicky Vette or Jada Fire?

    And what about the guys? Why no Sean Michaels or Tommy Gunn or Evan Stone or Mr. Marcus or Manuel Ferrar or Erik Everhard?

    Until I see the whole thing, I can't say for sure who made the cut and who didn't, but the choices they emphasize make it pretty clear they went looking for certain "types" in particular and carefully avoided those who didn't fit the profile.

  10. Quoting Ernest:

    And if they didn't want to interview any of the familiar "apologists" why not some other performers, like Kylie Ireland or Belladonna or Jessica Drake or Kayden Kross or Sasha Grey or Mika Tan or Bobbi Starr or Vicky Vette or Jada Fire?

    Probably because (1) none of those women stated would necessarily qualify as "apologists" for porn, since they have been at one time or another very critical at many aspects of the industry...but still manage to defend themselves as sexual performers; and (2) why let truth get in the way of good agitprop??

    Hey....Gail wouldn't interview Nina when she was at the AbbyWinters booth (though she was more than willing to entrap you as her husband (read that to mean, in her eyes, Nina's "pimp"); why would she waste the time to find lesser performers (in her eyes, of course) who don't parrot her ideology???

    Oh..and JUST ONE FAN?!?!?! Gee, I'd think that if you were out to prove that men who view porn are innate rapists and misogynists, you'd want to quote a bit more than just one fan...'ya think??

    These fools make Peter LaBarbera look like a freakin' liberal. (He's an antigay fundie Christian activist with a huge hard-on for leathermen and their personal sex practices. Don't ask.)


  11. Anthony,

    Basic points well taken, but since we're into telling the truth, as opposed to some people, Dines did in fact interview Nina at the Adam&Eve booth, assisted by her inseparable cohort Bob Jensen, at this year's AdultEx.

    It was Chyng Sun who "interviewed" me (if you want to call it that), the year before.

    To the best of my knowledge, Dines is a talking head and not an interviewer in TPOP, though Jensen is listed in various capacities related to the production and Dines was undoubtedly an influence.

    But your basic analysis seems correct. The filmmakers came in looking for a certain thing and people who would play into that vision, and lo, that is what they found.

    One thing I pointed out to the professor at the time was that by far the largest booths with the largest crowds belonged to major companies that produce relatively mild content, but that her team had seemed to spend all their time in the back of the hall hanging with crowd from JM and Bang Bus.

    Not that it would have mattered. If you read what Dines wrote after her "research" expedition this year, the Abby Winters people were no different from all the other pornographers, just a bit more effective at concealing their degrading, exploitative agenda.

    My central point here is that this little band of storm troopers who have the mission of, in Dines' words, destroying the sex industry completely, deliberately avoid or distort any testimony that challenges the validity of the assumptions underlying that intent, and if they run into any such testimony, as they did with both Nina and me, they slice and dice it to suit their own purposes.

    What's important here is that this latest piece of mendacious trash from their hate factory not be accepted as factual or truthful about anything by gullible souls who know no better. It's being billed as an honest and (choke) non-judgmental exploration of the porn industry, and our job is to make sure that it doesn't get taken at face value by exposing both its unsavory political associations and the sleazy tactics used to assemble its content.

  12. I was just reading Radical Vixen's review of Sarah Katherine Lewis' Sex and Bacon. She takes a takes a pretty strong anti-porn/anti-sex industry line here, too, though I guess in the interest of not losing her potential audience right from the start, saves it for a couple paragraphs late in the book:

    "In all seriousness, a note about the sex industry: Dudes, don’t mess with porn. Don’t go to strip clubs, don’t rent dirty movies, and don’t jack off to nasty pics on the Internet. Don’t pay for domination, get lap dances, get “massages,” or rent women to watch you spank it. That shit will fuck you up-it’s addictive nonsense designed to wreck your chances of having loving relationships with real, live females and to make sure that you keep paying for the fake stuff.

    Take the money your were going to spend on a month’s subscription to a corny adult website with the same tired images you’ve seen ten zillion times before and ask a smart, pretty girl out. I swear to you that hanging out with an actual female is much more fun than paying for the privilege of becoming just another john. Remember that the sex industry objectifies you just as much as it objectifies its performers. Unsubscribe!"

    Some of you will recognize this as essentially a paraphrase of Robert Jensen's Just a John.

    SKL has every right to her jaundiced take on sex work, having been there. At the same time, I take her "all consumers of commercial sex are fucked-up" line with more than a little bit of a grain of salt. Okay, SKL, you hated your work and you hated your customers, but maybe a lot of that is your shit and not theirs.

  13. Christ, these people are wearing me down. After trudging through EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. of Jensen's moronic book last year and then writing as fair a review as I could, I just can't deal with this crap any more. I can barely even watch the frickin' trailer closely enough to think of something intelligent to say. Still, I can't help thinking that it would be interesting to be able to compare this to "Not a Love Story," and see how, if at all, the methods and criticisms have changed.

  14. Ah, yes, Not a Love Story, possibly up there with Reefer Madness as one of the clumsiest pieces of propaganda ever made. I have more to say about it over at Sex in the Public Square, here.

  15. Sorry to be so slow on getting back to this project, but ocassionally I have to concentrate on making porn so I can afford the time to discuss it.

    Anyway, in our last thrilling episode, we were about to take on the trailer for TPoP as it appears on the the promotional Web site. I enjoyed reading the reviews and comments posted on the thread above, but as one of the interview subjects, I have my own ideas based on what I can see so far.

    Let's, as we directors say, start at One, with a stark, B&W title card declaring: "There is Pleasure."

    Against a cheesy drum-machine sound track, a thick-necked young dude on the floor at AdultEx proclaims that he loves porn. Then we get a quick cut to a couple of predictably blonde "pornified" performers doing some tease on a dusty hillside naked. It's just a flash, but it's a first instance of 2257 non-compliance by the third cut. Then we get some blurrier screen-grabs of body parts that probably duck under the legal standard.

    Next up, another fan-boy from the convention floor who extolls "damned good porn that tells us the truth," sounding rather evangelical about it. Now some stripper footage, lit with a garish red wash that appears to have been laid in rather clumsily in post, but it could be bad stage lighting for all I know.

    Now it starts to get good. Another title card poses THE TROUBLING QUESTION: "At What Price? A shadowy figure with an electronically-distorted voice tells us he likes "aggressive sex, really forceful, like a regular hardcore film" and that "that's where I learned what regular sex is anyway. So that's why I have sex the way I do." The speaker comes across as a twenty-something, and a living tribute to the virtues of abstinence-only sex education.

    Now we're off to the convention's "novelty section" for a visit to the booth where they sell the upscale sex dolls. The pitchman helpfully shows off his wares, squeezing a rubber boob, and explains that "when you're done with her you just put her away."

    Of course, nothing that could be described as bias or judgment is implied in anything so far, right? Ah, but wait, we're just warming up.

    Now we're in a darkened room where some man sits alone, smoking a cigarette. On the TV screen in front of him, Joanna Angel, doing a rather effective acting job in a mock interview talking about how her daddy treated her - or more accurately the character she portrays in the video being shown - like a whore when she was five. She's crying, of course.

    Cut from there to Joanna being interviewed for TPoP, saying that the notion of women being objectified by porn is essentially ridiculous because a person cannot be made into an object. We might actually have to consider the validity of that observation for half a second, knowing Joanna's loopy sense of humor, if we weren't immediately returned to the darkened room where the Joanna on the screen is roughly silenced with a strip of tape across her mouth and a sharp slap on the cheek.

    I'm sure we're meant to be appalled by the obvious disconnect between Joanna's comments and the "violence" and "degradation" of the imagery, but the result seems rather as if the filmmakers themselves weren't so sure shutting Joanna up wasn't such a bad idea. They certainly do so in a hurry in this trailer.

    Surprisingly, my old friend Hat Man, longtime Evil Angel production manager, pops up at the EA booth, speculating out loud, a bit wistfully, about what frontiers of vileness gonzo porn had left to conquer. He asks rhetorically: "How many dicks can you stick in a girl at one time?"

    Need we doubt his question will soon be answered? Performer Annie Cruz matter-of-factly quotes her scene rates, starting with DPs, graphically defined for the delicate ears of audiences unfamiliar with porn terminology, moving on up to gang bangs and double-anals. She giggles nervously or merrily, depending on how you choose to interpret a giggle.

    A couple of seconds of mosaiced gang-bang footage later, one of the guys on the infamous Bang Bus, of which Professor Sun made such a big deal in her after-action report on AlterNet two years ago, points out the girl in the GB is moaning and screaming and appears to be having a good time. Hm. Could be, but ...

    No, no, no, Sarah Katherine Lewis comes along to scold us, demanding to know of the viewers: "Are they seeing my humanity? Are they seeing a real live, human being? I'm seeing a disgusting customer and they're seeing a hot slut who wants it,"

    Woah, bummer, dewd. Like I never thought of that before. Maybe this porn shit isn't like it looks. Or maybe that's just SKL's opinion. We'll just have to wade on to find out more.

    The freshly-glazed GB girl pops back into the frame, and pronounces the word "gross" quite clearly (though we're considerately provided with a sub-title in case we miss i) and grins at the camera. I have to agree with the guy on the bus that she does seem to be having a good time, gross or not. Producer Brandon Iron, quite pleased, characterizes the action just shot as "really good."

    Back to the convention floor we go, where a female vendor at a booth talks about how porn seems to have taken a more extreme turn lately, though she doesn't seem particularly upset about this.

    And then... and then ... Holy shit! It's me! In some footage stolen from one of the "Chloe" series I shot for Bon Vue, I'm putting a slave collar rather affectionately around the neck of my then girlfriend, the Chloe of the title. I know I was doing it affectionately because we were still at that stage in the relationship when the picture was shot. I'm smiling and she looks quite serene and dignified.

    What do I have to say for myself in the accompanying interview segment? That I never experience a single moment of guilt or shame or anxiety (regarding what I do for a living, as I recollect the rest of the quote), and that I believe evildoers do evil things and don't need pictures to show them how. I stand by that statement, incidentally, but the filmmakers do their best to undermine whatever credibility I might have with some more stolen BDSM footage (with the making of which I had nothing to do, but it doesn't bother me much) either from or from the now-defunct, presumably for its Abu Ghraibishness. I think that's a naked Lorelei Lee getting caned with her head locked in a box, after which she's lead through some scary-basement set on a leash. This footage is 100% 2257=non-compliant.

    Ms. Lee, BTW, is one of the organizers of last year's Sex Workers' Art Show that caused such a ruckus at
    William and Mary last year. She's quite passionate and outspoken about her BDSM enthusiasms: as she told the folks at Eros Zine: "I absolutely love to challenge myself physically and I've been very lucky to shoot with some incredibly skilled and creative dominants. I think I'd have to write a book in order to explain "what it's like" to perform extreme submission. I'm actually not sure that I could articulate the physical feelings... I will say that I've gained a tremendous amount of emotional growth from my experiences as a sub."

    But enough of what performers have to say about themselves and their own lives and work. Let's get back to the vision of our Virgils for some more of their little package tour of porn hell.

    We get some more footage of a woman or two being choked and one bound to a chair and splashed down with water. In the background, JM producer Jeff Steward informs us "that a lot of women like to be dominated over (sic) and that's basically what it is. That's their fantasy. Women like to be controlled by men."

    Well, alrighty then. That explains everything for us, doesn't it? Pornographers all think that women like to be controlled by men, period. Nothing said about the sex-specific contexts in which those fantasies might exist, just a global assertion covering all possible circumstances. Nice edit. Very, very quick, as if whatever Steward said next wasn't sufficiently helpful.

    And for the finale, what else? We get a girl having her head shoved in a toilet. That's the last image we see before the short credits roll.

    Nothing judgmental about that. And a truly representative sampling of the content of all 15,000 X-rated videos released last year in this country to be sure. Amazing what they managed to convey in a three-minute trailer. We can only await with eager anticipation the truths to be revealed in the entire one-hour running time of TPoP.

    So far, we've seen nothing whatsoever of the vast majority of mild, vanilla fare that, no matter how many times these graduates of the Josef Goebbels School of Cinematography tell us otherwise, comprises the vast majority of the porn industry's output.

    I can say with little fear of contradiction, based on 25 years of making BDSM videos, that this genre comprises a tiny percentage of the porn market, with all "fetish specialty" products combined accounting for about 15% of the industry's total revenues. You wouldn't know that to watch this trailer, which gives both me, and the kind of pictures I've made the most of, an importance that neither has ever enjoyed in the real world.

    The clear take-away from the trailer is that porn is all mainly about violence and getting more so all the time.

    In fact, a strong counter-trend has emerged over the past couple of years, with story-driven features on the comeback as gonzo companies go under almost daily. But that information doesn't compute with the ideology of TPoP's creators, so it must not be happening.

    One thing that's already quite clear even before what I'm sure will prove the delightful and edifying theatrical debut of this masterpiece is that there is porn and there is the filmmakers' conception of porn. Clearly, the two have little to do with one another.

  16. I read SKL's first book and absolutely loved it...I mean, I could really GET what she was saying often times...

    But it seems odd to me. She is one of the ones who doesn't HAVE to do it, and seemingly likes the money...but hates the job. It's...odd. I have no ill will towards her as a person, but yes, she seems an odd choice with no opposing viewpoint from the lesser known corners of the biz.

    But yes, she is generally anti-industry, that is known. So, while nothing against her, it, to me, shows that the film isn't meant to be unbaised.

    However, there is a chance a certain Renegade will be viewing this film at a certain university and then debating a certain anti porn big wig after said viewing. I'm not gonna jinx it, but it could be, why yes, that the time to have to talk and answer has come.


  17. Ummm, you DO understand that there are some downsides to porn, right?

    Obviously there are people out there who exploit other people. There are people who are vulnerable to exploitation. I know this cannot be a surprise to you.

    The people who should be on top of policing the abuses in the porn industry are so often the knee-jerk defenders of everything done in the name of porn.

    It is way past time to grow up and acknowledge the problems, fix them, and move on. Pretending that porn is always executed on a completely fair playing field with people of completely equal power is just ridiculous.

    Lets not pretend there are no problems in porn. Lets fix them.

  18. Anonymous,

    No one here has ever pretended there are no problems in porn and much discussion has been devoted to how they could best be addressed.

    The jerking knees are heavily concentrated on the other side.

    If you'd care to be a bit more specific about what "problems" you'd like to see fixed, perhaps you might have a bit more credibility. If you know what needs policing and who should be doing it, why don't you share your wisdom with the rest of us?

    And if you have any proposed solutions that do not involve shutting down the entire enterprise, that would be even more useful.

  19. Anony,

    I'm going to say the same thing to you I say to everyone who makes the point you do. I hope you are not a drive-by, though I suspect you are.

    CAn you point me, with a specific citation, to where anyone who has ever posted at BPPA has claimed "there are no problems in porn?" If this is a conclusion rather than a quote, can you show me the steps in reasoning you took to conclude that we believe this?

    Thank you.

  20. Oh, look, another clip from The Price of Pleasure, this time about Boink magazine and "Donkey Punching". The filmmakers show clearly they really don't get satire or humor in general.

  21. On the Boink clip: I think it's a horribly stupid joke, and I wish said joke had never been made by anyone. But I also find myself utterly astounded that some women are naive enough to think that this would actually work, or that there are guys who do this and enjoy it.

    It just... boggles me. Anyone who's penetrated anyone ever would understand that, uh, things really don't work that way. When someone violently tightens up from being startled, that *hurts*. Those muscles are *strong.*

    And why someone who gets off on rough stuff would want to punch someone in the back of the head at all I can't imagine either.

    It's just so obviously not a real sexual "move" that I feel sorry for all the young women who now worry that someone out there will be eager to try doing this to them.

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