Okay, at long last, let's get started. This is going to take several posts and others will undoubtedly chime in before I get all the way through, but I want to try and stay OT as much as possible and beg the indulgence of other contributors in helping me do that. After I get my critique laid out, I'll be glad to take on the various tangential issues that will inevitably arise.
But before I begin my exhaustive (and exhausting) exegesis of TPoP’s content, I want to take up Trinity’s suggestion and share a revealing encounter I had recently that sheds light on the methods used to assemble TPoP’s footage of members of the porn community. It says far more than I think this film’s author’s might like about the lengths to which they went to get what they wanted, the element of premeditation involved in manipulating situations to suit their objectives, and the complete and utter disregard shown to those who might have been hurt in the process.
I think people’s means tell us a lot about their ends, so I look to the former first in evaluating the latter.
Here's a short account of my meeting with Joanna Angel at an FSC benefit last weekend, during which I told her about what actually made it into the final cut from the interview they did with her.
According to Joanna, the TPoP crowd chased her around the 2005 AdlultEx convention floor for three days, trying to convince her they were making a "friendly" doc on porn and just wanted to get her side of the story.
As a former fish-wrap journalist myself, I can tell you that's the oldest trick in the reporter's handbook. Tell the mark you just want to "get their side of the story out because all their enemies are already talking."
So she finally capitulated to a three hour interview during which "they all seemed so nice," and of which about three minutes made it into the release, followed by the hardest, most triggering clips of Joanna's on-camera work they could find. She was all of twenty at the time this transpired and brand new in the biz with no idea that these nice "documentarians" might use her and then kick her to the curb far more callously than any pornographer.
She was practically in tears when she heard about it. "Do I come across as, like, totally stupid?" she wanted to know.
I could honestly reassure her that she seemed perfectly intelligent in the interview stuff, but that they definitely slagged her with the clips. Clearly, using an actual woman to her detriment to get what they wanted didn’t bother them. Exploitation of someone young and vulnerable? She was practically in tears when she heard about it. "Do I come across as, like, totally stupid?" she wanted to know.
I could honestly reassure her that she seemed perfectly intelligent in the interview stuff, but that they definitely slagged her with the clips. Clearly, using an actual woman to her detriment to get what they wanted didn’t bother them. Exploitation of someone young and vulnerable? Joanna, now 27 (which means she was all of 24 when they got their hooks into her), weighs about ninety pounds and stands 5'2" in heels. She’s the bright, gothy, founder of Burning Angel, an alt-porn site of her own, with a cheerfully rebellious attitude. Apparently, using down and dirty methods to manipulate such a person into providing material they already had mapped out prior to interviewing her didn’t trouble them much. If the ultimate goal of this production is meant to benefit women in some way, and I’m sure that’s what it’s makers hope it will do, evidently the sacrifice of the dignity and self-esteem of some women in particular is justified in their minds by the importance of their labors. Lenin used to call this “ruthlessness toward the goal,” and there’s plenty of that on display with TPoP, both in its form and in its execution.
I’ll save a short re-telling of my own experience with the producers for the end. You’ll need a good laugh by then, make no mistake.
First, this overall impression: The Price of Pleasure is clearly propaganda, and I’ll have little trouble making that case as we go through it item by item. The good news, however, is that it’s lame propaganda, so heavy-handed, clumsy and obvious it falls far more readily into the category of “Reefer Madness” than in the far more sinister and threatening company of “Birth of a Nation” or “Triumph of the Will.” It fails dismally, both as agitprop and as filmmaking, and that it was created by a director who teaches filmmaking to others at a major university says nothing promising about the future of film overall.
This doesn’t make it harmless. Far from it. There will always be those susceptible to bad ideas presented in a sensational and blatantly dishonest fashion. Laugh though we may at “Reefer Madness” today, marijuana remains illegal and the arguments against it now are just as unsound as they were in Harry Anslinger’s day. If there’s one thing we should have learned over the past eight years, it’s that really, really foolish ideas have a durable appeal to a lot of people who stand ready to be fooled. That’s why even foolishness like this sorry attempt must be treated seriously rather than simply laughed off. The potential collateral effects are far from funny.
So let's start at the beginning, with some title cards containing pertinent information the producers want us to know.
The very first one asserts that all the copyrighted material shown in the program is covered under the Fair Use doctrine as commentary, criticism, and education and is therefore exempt from claims by the creators of said material.
To just get that part out of the way quickly, I agree. I don't think there is an issue with copyright infringement that would hold up in a court of law concerning the work as a whole. I do think a creative litigator of the type who sues over a product label appearing onscreen without permission could make trouble over many minor and careless displays of trademarks and copyrighted images not central to the picture's primary concerns, but that would be expensive mischief-making to no good purpose.
However, the producers get themselves in much deeper water with the next title card:
"The following film contains explicit sexual activity, explicit and offensive language and violence. Viewer discretion is advised."
That disclaimer might do just fine for a network TV episode that had a flash of skin and the word "bullshit" somewhere in it, but for the material to follow here, it is completely inadequate as labeling under federal law. Here is what the video disclaimer looks like on nina.com:
"Videotape 2257 notice.
All models appearing in this production were at least 18 years of age on the date of principal photography. The records required pursuant to 18 USC ¤ 2257 pertaining to this production and all materials associated herewith are on file with the Custodian of Records M.L. Levine at MLL, Inc. 2404 Wilshire Bl. #10 D Los Angeles, CA. 90057."
TPoP carries no such statement of compliance, does not warrant that all models appearing therein were at least 18 years of age on the date of principle photography, does not claim that records required by federal law are on file with the producers, identifies no keeper of records by name and offers no information regarding where such records, if they exist, might be found. Given both the producers’ own warnings and the fare they proceed to deliver up, this is hardly a minor omission.
BTW, if anyone cares, that's our real address up there and I have no hesitation about posting it here or anywhere else. Anyone who wants to can find us, and our records. See, as professional pornographers, we live with the risks inherent in obeying the law, including the exposure of sensitive personal information, such as our legal names and addresses, to potentially hostile strangers at the click of a mouse.
The producers of TPoP evidently lack either the concern or the courage needed to make such information about themselves available to the public. Of course, since they don't have the records, they would be violating a few more laws by claiming they did. I guess they figure they'll just break the law big-time at the outset and not bother to enhance the major violation with any additional counts of fraud. Probably a wise decision.
Oh, and one other thing before we roll the picture. Their disclaimer contains a direct reference to violence. While the images that follow certainly meet the test for sexually explicit material, the term "violence" used in this context is entirely subjective and merely the first hint of the pejorative messages conveyed unrelentingly throughout the production, which is, of course, completely non-judgmental as claimed in its promotional material.
And just to pile the bullshit a bit higher, yet another title card claims that:
"The pornography discussed in this documentary represents current trends in mainstream pornography that is industrially produced in the U. S. and marketed primarily to heterosexual male consumers."
Remember that assertion, because it will become extremely relevant as we move along.
"Many of the films excerpted or described herein are directed by industry award-winners or appear on the industry's lists of best-selling/top-renting movies."
Hang onto that too. It's not entirely false, but it does fall well short of true, most particularly on this point:
"The industry" as such keeps no lists of this type.
Later on, a spurious case for the producers' opinions of what constitutes "current trends in mainstream pornography that is industrially produced in the United States" will be based on lists generated by porn industry trade journal Adult Video News, but no attempt is made to support the contention that AVN's lists accurately reflect such sales and rentals. Maybe they do, but that's not a widely held consensus in the industry and is in no way definitive.
After all this specious boilerplate, we go straight to the convention floor at AdultEx 2005, where the male partner in a friendly and affectionate young couple asserts that: “You know what? If it’s between two people, and two people are comfortable with it, that’s all that matters. It’s not about what anyone else has to say about it.”
The next interminable hour will be spent trying to disprove this very basic foundation of The Constitution’s implied right to privacy, on the basis of which Lawrence v. Texas decriminalized homosexuality.
Time for the predictable “sleaze montage,” completely with cheesy drum-machine soundtrack. Cue the blue-lit stripper, the anonymous consumer checking out DVD cases, the nameless pig-tailed female performer sucking a popsicle on a TV screen (in an ever-so-subtle hint at the “hidden pro-kiddie-porn agenda hidden in mainstream material”, the mook who declares: “I love porn”, a flash of a couple of nude girls on the beach with a loud m-and-g track in the background, blurry flashes of body parts, the return of the mook telling us that: “It’s damned good porno that tells a good truth,” more strip-tease, this time lit red, then some adult bookstore exteriors festooned with gaudy neon signs. All in all, pretty much like a sweeps-week feature on your local news.
We hear from our first expert, the famously impartial Ariel Levy, author of “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” a book-length indictment of the “raunch culture” that has engulfed America’s young women. “I don’t think we’re over-sexualized,” she tells us, “I think we’re over-commercialized.” She’s followed immediately by my old pal, former Evil Angel production manager Hatman, who asks the intentionally rhetorical question: “How many dicks can you stick in a girl at one time?” Next up, a flash-cut of the box-cover for Mike John’s “Elastic Assholes #3.”
Now the stage is set for the good stuff, signaled by a blurry shot of a bunch of naked men standing around a naked woman in a bukkake vid. We get a blurred image of her face as well. She’s smiling, and there’s some looped audio of a woman, not necessarily this one, talking about how it feels so good.
Enter Expert Number Two: Professor Gail Dines, a big-time anti-porn crusader who has vowed on national television to do all in her power to “destroy the sex industry completely.” “People say to me, if you’re against pornography, are you against sex?” she begins. “That’s like saying to me that if I’m critical of McDonalds I’m against eating.” Sounds reasonable, if oddly out of context until we see what is to come.
Finally, some credits, starting with “Open Lens Media Presents” and the full title: “The Price of Pleasure, Pornography, Sexuality and relationships,” which is certainly broad enough to cover a multitude of sins, of which we’ll get plenty, have no doubt. Then come the perps, producer/directors Miguel Picker and Chyng Sun. I’m sure many here will remember the latter from her spirited exchange with Nina on CounterPunch over the evils of pornography. Obviously, no pre-conceptions were at work in the construction of this objective filmic overview.
Time to meet the victims, of whom the first is male, Gregory Mitchell, a college student who deduced from watching porn that women wanted to fuck him, like, all the time. We get a quick flash of a beckoning porn girl to drive home the point. All points in this deal are driven home with a nail-gun in case you might miss any. Poor Gregory explains that he’s not a “big guy” and that if a girl actually said such a thing to him, he’d be really scared of her. Well, I guess that lets him out of the gene pool. An invitation to consensual sex doesn’t seem all that terrifying, but whatever.
But wait, and not very long, the first wounded woman is about to make her entrance. In a V.O. laid across a picture of her as a pre-adolescent, writer Stephanie Cleveland (described in The Boston Review as “a feminist who has spoken nationally against pornography and prostitution”) informs us that she was about ten years of age when she discovered her father’s stash of Playboy magazines. After studying them for “a long time,” she concluded: “in comparison with them, my mother just looked flawed.” From this, she inferred that her father must have these magazines because her mother wasn’t good enough for him. We’re then introduced to college student Gabrielle Shaw, who at age “ten or twelve” was exposed to pornography by another girl her own age, whose dad had a large porn collection. The barrage continues. A still frame of a pre-adolescent boy appears, who we then meet as a young man by the name of Eli Schemel, now a college student also. In his case, the early introducer to porn was his brother, who downloaded some off a computer.
This episode is even reconstructed for us with a couple of other kids who remain nameless while a male narrator gravely intones that what kids looking at porn on the Internet these days see is not likely to be the image of a naked woman, “but rather aggressive penetration of a woman’s multiple orifices.” I’m not makin’ it up, folks. I’d edit a V.O. that heavy-handed out of an actual porn vid. But worse, much worse, is yet to come. And BTW, showing pictures of children in a movie that contains sexually explicit footage? This is neither morally nor legally defensible, whatever the motives of the creators.
Cut to the anonymous exterior of a generic apartment block. We get this odd cutaway several times in the reel, which makes me wonder if this is somebody’s idea of production value. Yeah, an establishing shot of a building. Always adds that touch of realism. Anyway, closing in on this building, which appears to be entirely populated with self-loathing wankers, we hear some actual porn dialog of the ruder sort in which a young woman’s voice invites some unseen party to “tear my little asshole and stick my head in the toilet.” Sounded familiar enough. No one who knows pornography reasonably well would deny that such language is often heard. However, other and very different language is often heard in porn, just not in any of the porn ripped off for this little gem. Predictably, a disembodied male voice calls the speaker some names while she moans, sounding not at all unhappy, in the BG.
Back comes the narrator, this time yakking over a Google search page of raunchy porno titles, telling us all about how the ease and anonymity of Internet porn has led to “skyrocketing production and consumption of pornography.” No statistics given to support this, but we’ll grant it for the sake of argument. Likewise the claim that there are an estimated 420 million pages of porn online is made without attribution. I’m a little skeptical on that one. There are some pretty big numbers being thrown around these days, but 420 million is still a lot of pages. The follow-up stat, 12,000 new porn DVD titles released per year, is more readily verifiable and widely accepted to be reasonably accurate within the industry. Where they come up with 900 million videos rented, I have no clue, and am given none by the narrator. The accompanying montage of jewel cases floating in space and vids being cranked out on an assembly line is a true Reefer Madness moment bordering on pure camp. That’s my critical opinion as someone who has always had a secret fondness for docutrash. It’s one of my last guilty pleasures.
How, the narrator asks, do these “pornographic messages help shape our gender and sexual identities, and our relationships? How did this industry, once considered seedy (but actually ever so much worse, of course) become part of the cultural and economic mainstream?”
When or where are we given a chance to ponder the proposition that these images do, in fact, influence these other aspects of our lives, or if, in fact, porn really has become part of the cultural or economic mainstream? The answers to those questions, at least, are clear enough: at no place or time during the interminable hour of this film.
Think we’re about to find out the filmmakers’ perceptions of these issues? You betcha. Now we get footage from MSM porn coverage, a bit of Diane Sawyer, some E! channel fluff, than a bold narrative leap to the allegation that porn rakes in ten to fourteen billion dollars a year, which is both inexact and unsourced. The NYT puts the number at 8 billion, but Forbes only estimates it at 1.4 billion. So it’s somewhere between a billion and a half and fourteen billion dollars we’re talking about, maybe. This is the kind of accounting that got us where we are today. Anyway, the narrator goes on to claim that porn enjoys “close ties with telecommunications and media corporations. A rogue’s gallery of corporate logos is paraded for our disapproval: Verizon, New Frontier Media, Cablevision, Time-Warner, CBS (still waiting for my call from 60 Minutes) and Newscorp. A giant number is brought upscreen, One (1) billion dollars, that these companies collectively reap from their close ties with porn. Now I’d dearly love to have that billion, and it’s certainly not chump change. But if all those publicly traded companies can only squeeze that amount out of this business through their combined efforts, call my broker. I’m selling these guys off. And BTW, that includes both V.O.D. sales and “porn-related content,” whatever that is. Naturally, we get some HBO late-night fare – a shot of “Cathouse”, a smidgen of “G-String Divas”, to give us the general idea.
“Pornography production, once considered exploitative, is now depicted as a fun and normal business, “ we’re told. The assertion is underscored with the opening roll from Showtime’s “Family Business,” in which Seymore Butts tells us how much he loves his relatives and the trade they all share, making adult entertainment. More narrated claims about the vast wealth pornographers have accumulated and the increasing acceptance it enjoys among “the establishment.” All I can say about that is that a big porn company owner makes less than a junior partner at a mainstream talent agency and the establishment only calls here late on Saturday nights to ask if there are any good parties happening. I guess that’s acceptance. It doesn’t include invitations to The Bohemian Grove.
And, oh yeah, in addition to all that money and respectability, our little industry has also acquired political power. Now we’re off to the annual awards dinner of the FSC. Seymore leads a crowd of well-dressed porn mighties in a round of applause of the Free Speech Coalition's legal team. Hi guys, nice to see you when I’m not wearing handcuffs. The F.S.C., viewers discover, was founded in 1993 as “a lobbying group that builds relationships with lawmakers and state officials” as well as tracking legislation all over the country.
And who do we meet from the F.SC.,? Bill Lyon, it’s fired ex-executive director, who we’re told previously lobbied for the defense industry. I could say something very snide here, but it’s too easy. A short clip of Steve Croft interviewing Lyon for 60 Minutes reveals that, while legislators may be shocked at first to find themselves talking with an emissary of the infernal porn industry, they soon discover “that we’re talking about votes and money,” which evidently is a great ice-breaker. Jesus, no wonder we fired this guy. With that kind of representation in the media, we might as well have had Donald Rumsfeld do our PR.
The fruits of the F,S.C.’s labors on behalf of freedom of expression are soon made horrifically evident. Thanks entirely to the F.S.C.’s litigation – and of course having nothing whatever to do with what the justices of The conservative-dominated Supreme Court who actually ruled based on the merits of the case before them, a ban on virtual kiddie porn, CGI of “children” engaging in sexual acts, was struck down in 1992. Just so we don’t fail to grasp the true monstrousness of this assault on the public decency, we’re shown several of the computer-generated images of child pornography in question, including one of a naked female child being anally raped and another of a naked female child in bondage.
Seeing this material in this particular film preserves a peculiar personal record. I have never in my entire life, both before and after entering the X-rated vid business, been shown any kind of child pornography by anyone other than an anti-porn crusader (which, if you haven’t been following along, is clearly the category to which the makers of TPoP belong). It happened the first time when I was a talk-show host back in Denver and it’s happened to me several times since. Where do these porn-busters lay hands on this genuinely revolting visual offal? Oddly, none has ever told me. I guess we just don’t hang out in the same places, but that’s something the gang from TPoP wouldn’t want you to think, based on the very carefully chosen juxtaposition of these pictures with those of the daily activities of the F.S.C.. That the F.S.C. has also been involved in numerous other court cases, including the challenge to the current iteration of 18 U.S.C. 2257 by which any dubious right to exhibit this film tenuously hangs, is not evident in TPoP.
In a ham-fisted transition if ever there was one, we go straight from the fake kiddie porn to a cover of Barely Legal and a clip from one of the many videos with a babysitter-fucks-daddy theme. Though neither the magazine nor the video has any minors in it, and complies with all legal requirements to prove that this is the case, the audience is left to connect the large and obvious dots.
Jumping from this weird alternative universe in which all these things that have nothing much to do with one another are conflated, we’re back in mainstream land, where we see snips of network shows like “Friends” and movies like “The Forty-Year-Old Virgin” and the solemn voice (too bad James Earl Jones was unavailable) tells us that mainstream media no longer treats watching porn as something dirty and disgraceful, but rather as normal male behavior.
How did this terrible distortion of reality come to pass? Professor Dines pops up to explain it for us. According to her, no one is more to blame than Howard Stern. We see a bit of Stern himself, some semi-naked girls and a goofy ambush of Bill Clinton having a laugh at the idea of Stern running for president. Considering the past eight years, even I would have voted for Stern, and I’m not a fan. The narrator goes on to tell us how Stern has introduced various kinds of pornography to mainstream audiences, thus agreeing with Dines. But wait a minute, isn’t this supposed to be an unbiased and non-judgmental documentary? And didn’t the narrator just repeat virtually word-for-word a claim by one of the interviewees? That isn’t the way they taught me to do things in J-school, but that was a long time ago. Stern is seen with Dave Letterman while we learn that Stern talks openly about his own and others’ use of pornography and routinely interviews porn performers. Once again, I’m shocked, shocked.
I’m sure Tipper Gore will be pleased to know that MTV is not spared “examination” either. We get a few flashes of porn performers in music videos, and are then shown the gaunt and genuinely scary visage of former porn director turned music vid wiz Gregory Dark. Yikes! Are they trying to give us nightmares or what? I mean, I like Greg personally, but they make the most of his incontestably satanic appearance. The narration identifies him as a former producer of “extreme porn” including a sequence in which a black woman is allegedly shown being raped by Klansmen. I’m not a fan of Greg’s work in porn, which I think strains for shock value, and I’m not about to approve of a picture I haven’t seen, but I’m betting it was a typical consensual gang-bang with the Klan stuff thrown in as a lame attempt at political satire. Well, I never did think Greg was a good fit in porn. Ironically, his entre to the business was a demo reel cut from a sensational anti-porn mocumentary he did as a student project at NYU film school, home base to Chyng Sun. Ironies are never in short supply in these parts.
After a quick tour of album covers for rock artists Greg’s shot, we hear from “Media Industry Consultant" Damone Williams, who talks about the links between hip-hop and porn. Snoop Dog’s short-lived porn vid line is given more play than it got in distribution.
With the predictability of a stopped-clock, we’re shown some of a sexed-up Britney Spears vid, getting us back to the theme of universal pornification woven relentlessly through the entire running time of TPoP. To underscore this message, Gabrielle Shaw returns to remind us that “it was just thrown at me from the time I was thirteen that you’re obligated to have sex” and that that’s how you exist as a woman. This breathtaking generalization, like so many others, is never challenged with a single question as to whether Shaw’s experience is universal, or a matter of her interpretation of media influences she experiences. No assertions by porn opponents are challenged by this film in any way … ever. Instead of any give and take that might explore these implied universals, we’re barraged with more visual evidence, examples of sexually suggestive advertising for Chanel, Old Navy, Guess, Napster, Carl’s Junior, etc.
In the skewed alternative universe of TPoP, there are no coincidences or accidents. Everything happens as part of some grand scheme, hinted at but never directly identified, to use sexualized images for the purpose of indoctrinating innocent young women like Ms. Shaw into becoming “female chauvinist pigs” unknowingly collaborating in their oppression by sinister capitalists bent on selling them tainted goods of all sorts (including, god forbid, hamburgers) after they’ve been dumbed down by the relentless rain of smut and stripped of their capacities to make other choices. This doesn’t say much for whatever confidence the filmmakers might have in the ability of young women to make their own decisions about what images from consumer culture they care to embrace or reject. But as we’ve already seen, respect for young women’s choices, unless those choices coincide exactly with what the filmmakers consider appropriately feminist, don’t get much respect where this project is concerned, onscreen or off.
Indeed, if you’re bothered by these media images, Stephanie Cleveland returns to tell us, “there’s really no place left to go,”
Again, an opinion presented as fact. No place left to go? How about the library? How about the Nature Channel? How about the entire vast body of art, literature and entertainment having nothing whatsoever to do with modern ideas about sexuality? Or how about feminist literature and debate on the subject that rather obviously drives this film?
I’m sure this will come as a huge shock to the TPoP crew, but there are large numbers of American citizens of all ages who have never seen any porn whatsoever, shrug off Mad. Ave. attempts to sell products using sexual images and in general experience virtually no impact on their personal lives from the existence of such things. I’ve met lots and lots of such people, but no one ever appears in this film to say a thing I often hear in the real world: “Porn? Never seen any and don’t care to.” The option of simply ignoring all this evil propaganda is never addressed in the Manichean world of TPoP, where there exist only victimizers, victims and recovering victims. That is the paranoid lens through which our entire society is depicted in this airless, lightless reinvention of the much broader and more diverse reality of daily life for most people.
Well, so much for Chapter One, in which the prosecution lays out the broad outlines of its case, thus far unsupported by much in the way of substantive facts. Maybe we’ll get those later. Maybe not.
Meantime, we’ll move on to Chapter Two: Porn Stars: Myths and Realities. Again, we start out with some MSM news footage about “a new generation of women proud to call themselves porn stars.” Actually, that started about twenty years ago, but I guess news travels slowly to the ivory towers where projects like this one are conceived. Jesse Jane, skinny-dipping in a luxurious pool, does a short bit for HBO’s doc “Thinking XXX,” made by our friend Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who treats women in porn far more respectfully than the ardent feminists responsible for TPoP. Jesse tells us that she chose to be in this industry because she is comfortable with her sexuality and performing on film.
As we’ll soon see, she’s a mythical creature, as opposed to a human being, just like the dressed up performers walking the red carpet to the AVN awards to follow.
Thankfully, Ariel Levy comes along to rip the scales from our eyes. The mass media are responsible for idealizing and holding up these porn stars as idols. She cites Jenna Jameson as the ur-glamorized-porn star by way of example. The narrator identifies Jameson as “a central figure in legitimizing the porn industry.” That’s a good one. She may have broken through as a mainstream celeb more than anyone else, but she has been and remains highly critical of many aspects of the porn business, both in her book and in her public and media appearances.
Of course, since she’s never once allowed to talk for herself in this film, viewers would have no way of knowing about that. We do get to hear about her multi-million-dollar sale of her company to Playboy (though nary a word about why she quit porn and sold off ClubJenna), and we do get to see her have “virtual sex” from an interactive program she did several years ago. And of course, we find out all about the dolls and sex toys modeled from her body parts, just to up the “ick” factor. Icky or no, she’s responsible for glamorizing porn as a career choice and making herself a cultural icon in the process, so we're told.
Frankly, I defy anyone to read Jenna’s autobiography and come away with the belief that she’s glamorizing anything. The harsher passages of Jenna’s book are frequently cited by anti-porn cultists by way of proving that even the most successful porn performers still lead lives of squalid violence and cruel depravity. Evidently, these minor contradictions won’t be allowed to interfere with the filmmakers’ reinvention of Jenna-as-Judas-goat for gullible young women lured into porn.
After brief praise by porn producer of Brandon Iron of a system that allows young women to make a quarter million dollars a year just by using their bodies (clearly referring to porn performers but equally true of professional athletes, male and female) we find ourselves face to face with the grimly solemn Bob Jensen.
He explains it all for those of us who just can’t follow the oh-so-subtle line of reasoning that runs throught TPoP like The Missouri River.
“The argument that porn gives women meaningful economic opportunities,” he intones, “masks the fact that few women actually sustain a career in pornography and acquire any kind of wealth.”
While I might agree with Professor Bob that porn is a short-lived gig with lasting consequences for most players, no evidence is presented to support this contention, once again. In fact, there are in porn, as in most early careers, a large number of short-timers and a smaller but by no means insignificant number of performers who continue to work and earn good money both in front of and behind the camera for many years. Of course, we don’t meet any of them in this picture because they just don’t fit the narrative and therefore must not exist.
And for the record, I don’t disagree with his claim that “the lion’s share of the profits made in porn go to the producers, who are overwhelmingly men.” To be fairer than he would be to me, Prof. Bob is anti-capitalist and probably agrees that the same statement would be true for most large industries, and that he sees that as unjust also. We actually have a point of agreement on this. Women represent fewer than 4% of the board members of Fortune 500 corporations. Porn is merely no exception to that rule, but it’s still a shitty rule.
Time for another rogue’s gallery of big, bad porn guys, with Larry Flynt (big surprise) topping the list, followed by Vivid’s Bill Asher, Christie and Hugh Hefner, Phil Harvey from Adam&Eve (largest single contributor to Planned Parenthood and pioneer of socially responsible porn manufacturing, BTW) and Evil Angel’s John Stagliano.
More Jensen who, along with Dines, is really a major star of this unbiased and non-judgmental movie, despite having built almost an entire career on bashing porn in books, on the lecture circuit and in his media broadsides to be found all over the blogosphere.
This time, he argues that the success of a few porn stars obscures the fundamental reality of women’s economic inequality in the larger society. I don’t question that reality, but I doubt porn does much to obscure it. The subject of porn rarely comes up in broader discussions of the income disparity between men and women, which is only reasonable, as there are at most a few thousand female porn performers in the world by comparison to the millions and millions of women in the workforce in other capacities. He asks if we as a society want to just accept that inequality. Frankly, I doubt it. Much has been achieved since the advent of feminism in narrowing the income gap and much more is yet to be done.
Porn is, ironically, one place where women invariably get paid more than the male partners they work with. A few guys have managed to up their rates to competitive levels with female players, but no guy’s picture on a box ever sold a single straight porn vid, and producers know this, so men are simply paid less for their labor than women in porn and that’s just the way it is. Don’t believe me? Check out a few porn performer agency Web sites, call them and get a few quotes for male and female performers.
On average, women in porn make at least twice as much as men. That women from low-income brackets may see porn as an undesirable option but better than other choices is a function of the kind of market capitalism under which we live, and that Jensen, to be fair, opposes across the board, but porn is a product of that system, not its source.
But then, as Jensen would have it, women in porn are particularly exploited as laborers because “they sell the most intimate parts of themselves.” I think Ren and a few others here would have a problem with that “selling of parts” thing. Is that not a statement a Calvinist preacher might have made? Selling one’s most intimate parts. Nice. Anyway, last time I checked, porn performers generally take those parts home with them from the set, so they could hardly be considered to have sold said parts.
A less demeaning description might be that they sold their time and labor as performers using those parts of their bodies among others, but not demeaning porn performers is no more a priority for the ever-so-humane Dr. Jensen than it is for anyone else connected with this stinker. If he cares so much for the poor darlings, could he not thing of some way to defend them without simultaneously accusing them of the same things in exactly the same tone as fire-and-brimstone religious patriarchs? Seemingly not. May I just pause, as the life partner of a performer to say, fuck you Bob Jensen, at this point? I guess I just did. Oh well.
Buttressing my point about how few women are actually involved in making porn out of the total female workforce, the narrator cites the dubious estimate from now-defunct World Modeling that approximately a thousand women a year come to L.A. to seek employment in porn.
By contrast, there are over 200,000 women in the U.S. armed forces. They are able to join up at age 18, just like in porn, but unlike in porn, thousands face death or injury in combat and sexual assault is an endemic problem. I eagerly await a courageous film directly addressing the economic stresses that make such dangerous and often degrading work the best option for 200 times the number of women who enter porn each year.
TPoP then steps right over the line into flat-out criminal defiance of federal law, showing us the fully nude audition of a new female performer. If they can come up with ID and a release for that sequence, I’ll eat them while they watch.
More of Bob nattering on about capitalist commodification of everything, including sex. True enough, but not exactly news, or specifically relevant to porn.
Cut back to some BangBus footage of producers handing out money to girls on the street, followed by more of Bob telling us that “pornography takes the most intimate, the most private spaces of our lives, our sexual experiences, our connections to other human beings and sells them to us.”
Funny, all I thought we sold were dirty pictures. I had no idea we’d been granted such awesome powers. Must have missed the memo.
In one of the worst misuses of a porn performer in the whole picture, in my view, Sunny Lane, who is an extremely bright and articulate individual with big ambitions she’s enjoyed remarkable success in realizing, flashes her tits, smiles and declares that “I know I’m a product and a damned good one!” She’s obviously goofing for the camera, but we’re shown this in a context that makes it, and her, appear completely pathetic and delusional. Just who is doing the commodifying here, Professor?
Gonzo player Annie Cruz, looking understandably uncomfortable at being put on the spot about a sensitive, proprietary matter for all performers, quotes her rates for various sex acts. This is in the clips on the TPoP Web site, so I’ll spare us the numbers here. They’re pretty representative.
Obviously, we now need to hear from someone who really knows the truth about porn, author Sarah Katherine Lewis, who by her own admission has worked mainly as a stripped and done a few single-girl shoots for some Web sites far removed from the “industrially created pornography” this film is supposedly about. I’ve taken a lot of guff for calling her out on her credentials as a porn expert, but she’s not and I stand by that assertion. A couple of solo shoots on the Web do not a porn insider make. No, I never said she was a liar or implied it directly or indirectly (just in case Ms. D. is actually reading this), but putting her up to speak as somehow representative of porn performers in general? Total bullshit unrelieved by the faintest hint of reality.
When she talks about having to choose among low-wage, low-skill jobs and sex work, as she does in her first appearance, she speaks the sooth.
But when the filmmakers’ cut to Brandon Iron talking about gonzo porn, in which SKL spent not one day of her career as a sex-worker, the association is totally false, misrepresenting both porn as the locus of the sex industry overall, which it is not when it comes to numbers employed, and the experience of author/stripper Lewis, who states on her own blog that she was interviewed for this film for hours and that only a couple of her quotes made it into the finished product. She likes the film anyway, but many others who had their remarks similarly cherry-picked don’t share her approval of such tactics.
I certainly don’t, and in our next installment, I’ll have plenty to say as to why not.
Right now, I feel desperately in need of a shower.
And we’re only a third of the way through the film.
More to come, as the saying goes, and it’s all downhill from here. I haven’t even gotten to the ugly stuff yet. And there will be plenty of that, rest assured.