Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Price of Pleasure Deconstructed - Part Two

Step right up to the freak show, folks, and meet Brandon Iron. Brandon’s been a performer for a number of years, graduated to directing gonzo which as we all know (except for those who actually work here), accounts for the vast majority of the vast majority of “mainstream pornography that is industrially produced in the U. S. and marketed primarily to heterosexual male consumers." A cheerful kinda guy with a the modest air of a successful neighborhood bar owner, Brandon explains the simple concept around which his most successful line, Baker’s Dozen, is constructed around having “thirteen loads on a girl’s face, and then another girl comes and eats it off her face.”

Like most things in porn, this tasteful approach isn’t exactly original. In Japan, where porn is both plentiful and highly specialized and has been for years without the surrounding society degenerating into mindless savagery for some strange reason, there is a whole genre, gokkun,
Involving the consumption of “copious amounts of semen.” Why is this popular? How popular is it? I have no idea and not terribly, in that order. I could conjecture, but let’s leave that to the conjecturing experts, shall we?

When the TPoP interview asks these questions, Brandon digs deep and comes up with this rather poetic theory: “It’s because she’s so beautiful, it’s like a dog marking his territory.” I’m telling you, you can’t write dialog like this. One thing you can count on pornographers for is self-immolating sound bites. This tendency toward naïve candor sure makes them easy targets. Which isn’t to say that pictures of this type don’t exist or that they don’t have fans. Brandon’s done well enough with his series, and it has a loud cheering squad.

However, a fact left-face down on the cutting-room floor by the TPoP team is that gonzo numbers are, with very few exceptions, much smaller per individual title than feature numbers, so the bar to relative success is quite a bit lower.

But Brandon’s work is ideal fodder for the filmmaker’s agenda, rather bluntly put to me as a question by Chyng Sun herself:

“Don’t you think,” she asked me in the painstaking manner one uses with a person one thinks might have difficulty understanding the concept, “that much of the enjoyment of pornography comes from watching the woman’s pain and humiliation?”

Later for my answer. Back to the movie, which veers so far off the tracks from legality at this point I’m mystified that no lawyer intervened to save the producers from themselves. We’re in a generic back yard somewhere in the depths of Porn Valley now for a look at some footage from B.D. #1. Sure enough, thirteen guys engage in a circle-jerk around a kneeling, naked female performer. She sucks and jerks. They wank. Nothing is mosaiced (unlike in the Japanese vids) and we see it all.

That’s fourteen consenting adult performers engaged in explicit sex acts. Maybe Brandon gave the producers copies of his paperwork, but they don’t make such a claim in the movie’s header and I would be rather surprised if they honestly could. The presence of this content alone makes the entire film non-2257-compliant even if the records were obtained somehow, because the filmmakers fail the disclosure requirement. The conduct in the video excerpt is legal. This use of it: Not.

After a quick inter-cut of a young woman at AdultEx reassuring us that you can tell when a female performer is enjoying a scene, we’re treated to the entire, multiple face-splattering that constitutes the penultimate peak of the gokkun experience. Spooge flies as the guys let loose, of which we’re not spared a single splat. The girl smiles throughout, mouth wide-open.

Of course, to Paul, the predictably lumpy, bearded, balding guy on the bus, “They’re moaning and screaming. It looks like they’re having fun. It looks like they like it,” and that’s good enough for him.

Joe Gallant, a NYC-based pornographer whose work I happen to admire, but who definitely sees things on the dark side, seems equally complacent. “In all my work, I want to at least pretend that she’s liking what she’s doing.”

When we cut back to the girl with the messy face, she’s still smiling, but now we know she’s just pretending, right? Even when she actually does laugh out loud, that’s just acting. And when she teasingly asks the cameraman if he wants to kiss her? Pure stagecraft. She’s actually so overwhelmed with pain and humiliation, all she can do is act. She spits a load, and is still smiling, almost laughing in fact, when she turns back to camera and utters the word: “Gross!” In case we didn’t catch that, we’re provided with a handy sub-title. I think we’re pretty clear on that point, but thanks anyway. Brandon looks on, clearly delighted.

Dating back to the Meese Commission, porn-bashers have always maintained that there is no acting in porn and that when performers appear to be experiencing any sort of distress, this must obviously be real. We’ll certainly see many examples of “real pain” as we plod along through the desolate wastes of TPoP, but the pleasure, unlike what both the title and the trailer hint might be found somewhere in porn, is only that of the hateful, misogynistic, sadists who watch it. There is never any real pleasure for the women who make it. As for the men who perform in porn, well, they just don’t count as far as Sun and Wosnitzer are concerned. Not a one of them is identified by name or interviewed on camera.

Yes, porn is often gross. And this genre does indeed partake of the sort of XXX Jackass excess to which gonzo is given. But I find Fear Factor pretty gross as well. Much reality TV is driven by a similar appeal, which is entirely lost on me, though not incomprehensible. It might be about pain and humiliation. It might be about unacknowledged homosexuality. It might even be fun for some of those who do it. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the performers who specialize in this kind of work like to play dirty.

A couple of the fans are trotted back out to remind us that the performers do these videos by choice and the audiences choose to watch them. Of course, the good Dr. Jenson has already told us that the choices of porn performers, and even those of porn viewers, aren’t real choices, only the miserable alternatives allowed them by the brutality of capitalism. Aren’t we lucky the filmmakers’ and their unrelentingly grim village explainers the heavy lifting of interpreting such things for us?

Cue Sarah Katherine Lewis and her pursed, heavily lacquered lips to share her wisdom with us.

“When your best choice is taking off your clothes and sticking toys in your cunt for money, I think there’s a real problem with the labor system.”

You will note here, BTW, that Lewis describes solo masturbation scenes, the only porn she admits to having done. As this makes up a tiny fraction of all the porn “industrially” created in this country, it’s rather revealing of the limitations of her expertise on the subject as a whole, but those limitations don’t disqualify her as an expert witness to the producers. And they certainly don’t deny her the right to an opinion, even if it’s more theoretical than grounded in experience.

The definition of any job is something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t paid, but some people do, in fact, like some jobs better than others and few are entirely without alternatives. Slavery remains illegal throughout the industrialized world (which is not to deny that it still exists, so don’t get your panties in a bunch and start tossing straw men at me). Most people, including sex workers, opt for one job over another that pays comparably. Economic determinists will always try to invalidate individual choice, but that’s a very dangerous philosophical road down which to proceed.

The reason for having abortions most commonly cited by women is economic hardship. When I asked Gail Dines if that fact invalidated their choices, she offered, chillingly, to “take on the question of consent where abortion is concerned.” Just how far would anti-porn fanatics go in their mad quest to rid the world of smut? Would they also throw reproductive choice under the BangBus?

What, other than the economic privilege that enables a Gail Dines to make a nice living as a college professor, author and lecturer, makes a woman’s choice valid in any decision made under the oppression of patriarchal capitalism?

Fortunately, another title card: “Just a Fantasy?” comes along to distract us from these dreary musings with the promise of still more disgusting visions to come. Somehow, I think I know what’s in store next.

Sure enough, the AdultEx fans return to insist that porn is all fantasy. It’s not real. Even Bill Maher is enlisted, via the living room of an anonymous viewer. Maher informs us that there is no such thing as a mutual fantasy in which a handsome prince rides up, takes a woman in his arms and comes on her face. It’s a good laugh line, but if Maher read much “romance fiction,” which my late co-author Bob Stoller used to call “women’s pornography,” he might have to admit that women have some pretty dark sexual fantasies of their own.

Oh. Sorry. I forgot that such fantasies have been implanted in women’s heads by patriarchal brainwashing. Poor things just can’t seem to keep from falling in line with any destructive influence that comes along. I don’t know if society does, as claimed, infantilize women as a class, but I’ve seen plenty of evidence that a lot of radical feminists do.

Like Kathy Bates in Misery, Gail Dines pops up to inflict her ideas about fiction on us once again.

“I think we often make the mistake of thinking that pornography is just an image of people having sex. What pornography is is a world view, an ideology, a way of understanding relationships,” she tells us.

Thanks for pointing out the errors in our thinking, Professor. Without your help, neither men nor women would know that pornography is not pictures of people having sex, but rather a vast, false cosmology that deceives us into believing we like what we really don’t like, or shouldn’t like or what others want us to like.

Strangely, in my 25 years as a pornographer, I’ve never once been invited to the secret conclaves where this world view, this ideology, is shaped and honed into a weapon of mind-destroying oppression. An ideology is usually the result of some thought process, but whose thought process creates the ideology of pornography? I assume it must be the work of The Patriarchy, but somehow the vision of a bunch of G-8 finance ministers sitting around figuring out how to use porn as a means of social control seems just a bit absurd.

My god! Can this really be? What do I hear over the drum-machine-backed footage of yet more red-lit striptease but the sound of my own voice, admitting to the rather obvious fact that men make up the majority of porn consumers. And there I am, onscreen pointing out that this has changed to a degree over the years, but that it remains fundamentally true that seventy percent of the audience consists of straight men watching porn alone. Not hard to see where this is leading.

More ugly box covers for “Swirlies” and “Guttermouths,” while Dr. Richard Wolff of U. Mass states that “Pornography meets a real, human need that people have to somehow break out of their sexual loneliness, their sexual isolation, their failure to connect sexually with somebody, and as with any other human need that gets inappropriately dealt with, it becomes an opportunity for private enterprise to come in.”

In other words, porn consumers are lonely losers preyed upon by clever hucksters who, according to Wolff, shape their needs and desires for them. Again, the purpose of shaping those needs and desires in such a peculiar manner isn’t made clear, but I’m sure it will be if we can endure enough of this kind of academic bloviation long enough. Hang in there and the truth will set you free, if it doesn’t put you to sleep first.

Seymore Butts does the ribbon cutting at AdultEx and the fans flood through the gates in speeded up motion. The narrator lets us in on the big secret that this is an annual trade show sponsored by Adult Video News for over two decades and kindly tells us a bit about it while we see big posters of Larry Flynt and flashes of a bondage demonstration on a stage. The purpose of the show is to sell X-rated videos and sex toys, using female performers to promote the merchandise and attract tens of thousands of fans, rather like the Detroit Auto Show, though the narrator leaves out that part. I’m sure he wouldn’t approve of that either, to be perfectly fair.

Amid crowds of picture-snapping fans, the camera catches up with JM Productions head Jeff Steward, providing yet another of those indispensable sound bites.

“A lot of women like to be dominated over and that’s basically what it is. That’s their fantasy. Women like to be controlled by men.”

Like I said, you just can’t script this stuff.

Joe Gallant delivers the same message with a smoother approach, describing his work as “urban noir, kinky, intense and honest.” I would consider that a fair description. “The sex is really dirty, a lot of people shitting and pissing and enema-ing (to coin a new verb I’m sure will come in handy one day) and not worried about it.”

Video dealer Vanessa Keegan follows up with the assertion that the most popular porn in recent years has been anal porn.

So let’s see, domination, toilet sex, anal sex, now why would these things be so popular? Paul Hesky, a grizzled pornmeister with an East Coast accent makes it all clear for us. The attraction to anal sex is a way of getting back at women for being bitchy.

Well, I guess that clears that up. All those gay men having anal sex out there as I write this are really doing it to get back at women for being bitchy, right? All those lesbians having anal sex too. And all the happily committed couples enjoying anal sex together, regardless of gender? All about revenge on women for being bitchy. The notion that large numbers of people find anal sex physically pleasurable, including large numbers of women, is purely an invention of misogynist smut peddlers. Nobody really enjoys anal sex, or any of the other previously described unconventional sexual behaviors. They just do it to get back at somebody, or because somebody is using them to get back at either them or somebody else.

Ever so base and vile are human beings in this way, particularly men. They wouldn’t even bother to have sex if they couldn’t use it to hurt somebody, were it not of the ugly necessity of procreation. This view was extremely popular among Victorians, who also considered themselves progressive in much the same way as the creators of TPoP. Of course, the Victorians were also amazingly perverse, a vast underground sex culture far more sinister than anything in modern America when not busy putting skirts on piano legs to prevent the inspiration of lustful thoughts.

What kind of mind looks at piano legs and worries about lustful thoughts? Only a very perverse mind morbidly obsessed with the evils of human desires could come up with something that bizarre. Dr. Carol Queen calls such people “absexuals,” individuals who get off on the revulsion they feel when they contemplate the “horrific” sexual practices of others. Gail Dines has created a classic straw-man argument indeed in her insistence that anti-porn feminists are dismissed as just prudes. She also likes to sprinkle her conversation liberally with profanity to dispel this myth of her own creation.

Prudes are afraid of sex and suspicious of its risks. Anti-porn cultists are fixated utterly on the subject, spending hours and hours contemplating what they see as the very worst aspects of it and what it brings out in people. Give me mere prudes any day over an individual like Bob Jensen, a man who identifies as gay in front of gay audiences while never mentioning this fact in mixed crowds and spends much of his free time in darkened rooms watching het gonzo porn until it makes him physically ill. That’s not prudishness. It’s something way more pathological. Yes, that’s an opinion. Unless and until Dines and Jensen get their way, I remain entitled to that.

Back to our main feature for a tour of the convention floor, where we find out all about board games featuring pimps and whores, Telegraphed like every other punch, a close-up of an ugly rendering of a black pimp leads into more gas from Dines about how racism, no longer allowed to be shown in a positive light in mainstream entertainment, is depicted in porn with a viciousness to be found nowhere else.

Alert the media. I’m ready to cede her that point. I know, in a debate you never give up a point, however unsustainable, but unlike Dines, I have some interest in the truth for its own sake and I’m not about to deny the obvious fact that there is a lot of racism in porn. Porn is, after all, still a repository of forbidden pleasures, and racism is a pleasure to some. Not all pleasures are positive, healthy or morally defensible and neither I nor anyone else with a brain ever claimed otherwise.

The use of elsewhere-discarded racial and ethnic stereotypes in porn is one appeal to the transgressive I won’t defend for a minute. Enjoy your triumph, TPoPsters. You have me on your side this one and only time. In fact, the fairly harmless, though totally non-compliant clips of interracial porn used to buttress the case against racist porn are actually fairly tepid compared to some of what’s out there. Anyone who thinks me an uncritical, cynical defender of all porn everywhere has never heard me out on this subject. Nina, a pioneer among big-name players in doing interracial scenes, and I share a complete revulsion at the way racial and ethnic minorities are depicted in many pornographic products. We don’t make those products. We wish others wouldn’t. We wish nobody bought them. We oppose banning them the same way we oppose banning Mein Kampf, holding our noses but recognizing that the dangers of censorship are greater than the dangers of the abuse of free speech.

Banning the expression of bad ideas doesn’t make them go away. It just drives them underground and hides them from those who might challenge them effectively with the expression of better ideas. There are also many excellent, beautiful representations of interracial sex to be found in pornography, as there are of other kinds of sexual expression. I would not sacrifice those examples to get rid of the things I images I abhor. That is called walking the walk of freedom of expression, and it’s a much steeper hike than simply allowing some self-proclaimed experts to decide for all of us what it’s safe for us to see, read, hear and think.

And on that note, I’m going to call it a night. Much that is wrong, foolish and downright evil lies in the final moments of this movie, and I want to take them on at full strength.


  1. Oh come on Ernest, no woman in porn can actually ACT…(eyes degree on wall menacingly).

    And you know, this whole lack of higher education = no other job opportunities thing? It’s been nagging at me. Why, one might ask (Ren says rhetorically)? Well, because you know, I have a fair amount of friends, women and men actually, who do not have 4 year degrees, but have…jobs. Not even in fast food or retail. One is an event coordinator, travels often, good bank. A couple went through fast-tracked trade programs and ended up as things like mechanics & air condition techs, and they make decent money. A couple of administrative assistants who earn solid wages, and have full insurance. Receptionists. Mail room people. All making living wages, with their clothes on, and with benefits! Hummm. Odd that.

    But I bet Gail still makes more money, and oddly enough, she was complaining The Hedgehog commanded bigger speaking fees than she did…hummm.

    Oh, and on the women and their implanted (HAHAHHAHA) fantasies? Girfriend needs to read some Laurell K, Hamilton.

    AH HA… “Strangely, in my 25 years as a pornographer, I’ve never once been invited to the secret conclaves where this world view, this ideology, is shaped and honed into a weapon of mind-destroying oppression” A LIKELY STORY (next meeting is at my house, btw…hot tub is ready, don’t forget the beer and pretzels, I’ve stocked up on the bukkake videos!)

    Humm, if I go to the AdultEx, I’m going to stare at Seymour Butts, not the women. I think he’s kinda cute, really. And sound bite or not, some women DO have fantasies of being dominated…dominating too, but what, no fem-dom in TpoP? How can that be? Oh…wait…

    And you know, pretty much every “pro-porner” I’ve heard will admit, no bones, there is racism in porn? Odd that.

    I look forward to part 3…

  2. "Like Kathy Bates in Misery, Gail Dines pops up to inflict her ideas about fiction on us once again."

    I like the comparison. :)

  3. Ernest,

    Yeah, the double standard thing about acting never made sense to me either. Women are acting when they say they like it, when they supposedly come, when they say they're not upset or harmed our hurt on the convention floor. But any distress is real, is something she just couldn't mask any more.

    Yeah, I don't get it. Can these women act, or can't they? How do we single out what's the performance and what isn't?

    And when I peg my partner, what am I getting back at him for being? Womanly? Macho?

  4. @ Ernest: "Later for my answer. Back to the movie, which veers so far off the tracks from legality at this point I’m mystified that no lawyer intervened to save the producers from themselves. We’re in a generic back yard somewhere in the depths of Porn Valley now for a look at some footage from B.D. #1. Sure enough, thirteen guys engage in a circle-jerk around a kneeling, naked female performer. She sucks and jerks. They wank. Nothing is mosaiced (unlike in the Japanese vids) and we see it all."

    Huh. At the Chicago screenings I went to that scene was mosaiced/blurred but not so much that the audience couldn't tell what was going on. Maybe because it was at college campuses? Interesting, that.

  5. Ernest,
    I've been enjoying your review and will be back for more.

  6. Aspasia,

    The disk comes with two versions pre-loaded, one blurred and the other in the clear. I'm working from the no-mosaic edit because that is the actual material in the original cut, and from a legal point of view, throwing some distortion over the non-compliant parts for public showings doesn't let them off the hook. If the disk itself, and therefore the distributed version of the program itself, contains non-compliant images, the whole package is non-compliant.

    This trick may get them around the issue of not carding audiences at public showings, or may get them on screens where explicit hard core is not welcome, but it has zero impact on the legality of the non-censored version they're distributing through the mail.

    Don't worry, though. You didn't miss anything. As you say, the audience where you were could clearly tell what was going on.

  7. Not to mention the basic fact know, that just might be FAKE spooge those men are spewing on that woman...and that her screams of pleasure just might be as much an act as the cries of pain???

    Oh...but I guess that some are better actresses than others.

    And please...Gail Dines and Bob Jensen, who make more than their share of dollars from speaking engagements, and whose base salaries as tenured professors probably beat my own as a middle-level manager, have the gall to moan about the evil of capitalism perverting people's choices???

    But it was sKL's quote about "putting toys in your cunt" that really took the cake for me; I mean, has it ever occurred to her that since some women might actually like sticking toys in their kittys for free and for personal pleasure, getting paid decent money for doing the same might not seem so....well, degrading and vile?? Only someone who would find the original activity so vile and degrading would make such an asinine statement.

    And oh, how so typical that they can claim to get away with showing the same uncut, uncensored material that, if shown under more traditional venues, would earn the producers a trip to the local jail on obscenity charges.

    Absexuals, indeed.

    Part 3 should be real fun.


  8. # This trick may get them around the issue of not carding audiences at public showings

    My friend was pointed this out about the screenings in Chicago. they didn't card anybody or check to see if everyone was over 18. At one of the college screenings, the film was showed in the lobby area of the dorm where students walked in and out. Even with the mosaiced images, it's still a film that shouldn't be seen by anyone under the age of 18. They did nothing to prevent that.

  9. "The definition of any job is something you wouldn’t do if you weren’t paid, but some people do, in fact, like some jobs better than others and few are entirely without alternatives."

    Actually, I'd love to do it for free... but then I wouldn't be able to pay bills.

    That's right, if I had infinite money I'd do porn for "Extreme" and "fetish" porn at that. And the anti-porners say people who play with dildos for pay are screwed up! *I* must have been dropped on my head as a baby or something! ;)