Okay then, now that I’ve got a minute off from the mighty labor of burying the world in evil smut, I can at last report my experience of seeing The Price of Pleasure presented in public by no less than Bob Jensen himself. Unlike him, I don’t set out to be anti-climactic, but I must fairly warn readers that the whole affair was pretty desultory in the end.
After so many changes of venue and so much ambiguity generated around the question of whether TPoP would even get its long-awaited debut, what appears to have been a deliberate attempt at audience suppression proved largely successful. Upon arriving at The Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, I found myself in a large room with about a dozen porn people and the good professor himself. Evidently, no one else cared enough to figure out where and when this deal would finally go down. The resulting encounter was fairly surreal, but revealing in its own way.
Jensen was ever so friendly as he greeted Nina and me by name, and if he recognized any of the others, he certainly betrayed no antagonism toward them. He later gave credit to his years of teaching in Texas for his cool demeanor in the face of a jury that would have caused Daniel Webster to recuse himself. Also present were porn journalists Mark Kearnes from AVN and Gram Ponante, whose excellent account is already linked here. Penthouse Media exec and longtime XXX feature director Kelly Holland, who was interviewed for the movie but somehow failed to make the final cut, grabbed a seat up front. Hatman, given a particularly unflattering haircut in the sequence shot at the Evil Angel booth during AdultEx 2005, settled into our row with his trademark fedora tilted down over his eyes. Awesome performer and super-smart Internet whiz Mika Tan sat next to us, notebook at the ready. Video dominatrix-turned-producer Vanessa Blue was there with Michael Fattorosi, Joanna Angel’s attorney. There were also a couple of strangers present, but all in all, it was what stand-up comics would call a tough room for Jensen’s material.
But that didn’t stop him from introducing himself and the movie, making it plain that, though he is ubiquitous onscreen throughout it and is credited as a “senior consultant” on it, he was not one of TPoP’s producers and couldn’t speak for them, though after the presentation, he would take questions from the floor regarding it.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already plowed through my gazillion-word dissection of TPoP itself, and there’s not much more I can say about it after viewing it on a theater screen, other than that making bigger doesn’t make it any better. We all sat through it in grim silence, and when it was over, there was no applause.
I’m sure that came as no surprise to Jensen, who nevertheless commenced the spoken part of the program with a few words clearly meant for this crowd. He wanted us to know that he opposed censorship, as did others who adhered to the radical feminist analysis (though he did admit to favoring measures like the defeated MacKinnon ordinance that would have opened pornographers to civil liability for discrimination against women who felt they had been harmed by pornography, without specifying how harm would be defined). And somewhat to my surprise, he seemed to want us to believe we all shared the common conviction that shaming people for either creating or consuming pornography helps no one. He went so far as to dismiss shame altogether as “a useless emotion.”
Though Jensen draws a distinction in his writing between shame and what he calls “useful guilt,” shaming porn consumers into changing their habits is one of the obvious objectives of TPoP, the other being to shame liberals into abandoning their tradition of supporting First Amendment protections for sexually explicit speech.
Moving along as he would in front of a class full of lower division collegians unfamiliar with what passes for leftist thinking in this country, he moved quickly and cleanly away from the content of the film he had just shown us to propound his theory – presented as fact – that we live under patriarchal capitalism which has shaped our thinking about everything, including sex. He made the claim that human history is a mere eight thousand years old (ironically the same number creationists like to assign to this planet’s period of existence) and that “there is anthropological evidence” to support his contention that prior to the invention of civilization, of which he seems to entertain a low opinion, we all lived in non-hierarchical bliss, free of the oppression of masculinity as we know it. Get it – civilization equals male domination.
That nature itself, completely removed from hominid influence, is clearly hierarchical and that sexual selection that powers evolution tends to favor aggressive mating behavior doesn’t fit this theory, and therefore does not merit the professor’s attention. But then, his colleague Gail Dines, of whom he always speaks so highly, has already stated that she distrusts arguments taken from nature (directly to me, in fact), and for much the same reason creationists distrust such arguments I’m quite sure. They don’t support a generalized indictment of either civilization or socially constructed masculinity.
Plowing onward, Jensen treated us to an abstract discourse on the commodification of sexuality under patriarchy, of which pornography, prostitution, human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children were all symptomatic. That these things bear no direct relation to one another didn’t trouble him much, but their glib conflation was not a crowd pleaser in that room.
I rather doubt he cared much about our opinions concerning these lofty observations, and though he kept his cool throughout, he didn’t look too happy to be there. But then, I’ve seen him in other places around porn people and he never looks happy to be there. Any sensible person might wonder why someone would choose to spend so much time in places where he wasn’t happy, or for that matter, looking at things like het pornography that he has described as filling him with rage and depression. Such a person might also wonder why a man who identifies as gay, at least in front of gay audiences (http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/gaysex.htm), would immerse himself in images of a kind of sex that, at best, doesn’t arouse him, and at worst, makes him physically ill to contemplate. Thankfully, those present were too sensible to go down the road of ad hominem arguments so often taken by Jensen’s allies.
When Jensen finally wrapped his short dissertation, the questions from the audience were largely polite, but predictably pointed, beginning with Kelly Holland’s entirely logical query concerning her interview’s omission from the film. Holland, who pointed out that she had been a documentary filmmaker prior to entering porn (Jensen even complimented her on some of her doc work in Central America, with which he was familiar), now heads up Penthouse Media after 14 years of making features and markets her products to “a quarter of a million eyeballs a week.” She wanted to know why neither she nor any other director who makes non-gonzo porn got to say a word in TPoP, though several were interviewed. Jensen ducked that pretty easily by reminding us all that he wasn’t one of the producers. Holland wasn’t having any, insistently pointing out that the biggest revenue generators in porn were cable-friendly features that had to adhere to strict standards and practices codes forbidding most of the acts shown in TPoP. In a stinging and wonderfully accurate rebuke, Holland characterized the evident prejudice of the producers as “the uninformed ideas of a few neo-con feminists.”
Jensen quickly and took issue with Holland’s characterization, then pointed to the “research” done by the filmmakers that had led them to conclude that feature porn was essentially irrelevant and that market trends clearly favored what he characterized as violent and abusive sex acts.
This opened the door for my typically blunt lead out: Granted that he wasn’t a producer of the picture himself, did he agree with the producers’ claims that it presented an unbiased and nonjudgmental overview of mainstream, “industrially produced pornography in the U.S. today?”
I am quite certain I caught a momentary look of discomfort, but he when dealing with someone who knows how to defend and indefensible position through the use of rhetoric, I wasn’t surprised to find that “coming from where the producers began” he believed they had indeed done so. And where did they begin? According to Jensen, with no pre-existing opinions regarding pornography (the line taken by producer Chyng Sun in her own description of her participation in this project), but rather with open minds. It was, he claimed, the “evidence” they reviewed in their research that brought them to the point of creating one of the clumsiest pieces of propaganda since the federal government got out of the social hygiene film production business.
Yeah, right. That’s why Jensen, Dines, Ariel Levy, Pamela Paul and an entire blog-roll of anti-porn activists get more screen time each than all the pornographers interviewed taken together. One has to wonder how a man can stand in front of an auditorium full of people who all know he’s lying and say stuff like that with a straight face. Years of academic training alone can produce such a mind.
As Gram observed later, nobody was giving up any points. When Jensen described the science-fair project that passes for original research for TPoP as “a well conducted survey,” I felt the need to point out that the list of AVN best sellers was cardinal rather than ordinal, and that simply tossing them all into a hat and pulling out an arbitrary number as representative of overall porn consumption was certain to be misleading, he actually seemed to pause for a moment before suggesting he would pass on my “questions about the methodology of the study” to the producers when he saw them next. No hint that the research was deliberately skewed by treating #250 on the list as if it did exactly the same number of units as #1 on the list, when the list is plainly described as being in descending order by those who compiled it.
And as for Nina’s insistence that, after 25 years of working with huge numbers of fellow performers, she found the vast majority to be at least as satisfied with their jobs as those she’d met, including tens of thousands of fans during that time, as those holding more conventional employment, while he didn’t come right out and call her a liar, he did the next best thing. Citing an ex-stripper “friend” of his (an ex-stripper likely to be a friend of Bob Jensen would logically be a particularly objective source, right?), he pointed out that she claimed to have said favorable things about her job while she was doing it but said very different things after quitting. Though he couched this in very broad, crypto-Marxist language about labor of any sort, it was pretty clear he considered Nina to be deceiving either herself or others regarding the question of job satisfaction.
And who really cares about that, or the lack of voices of sex workers being heard in the film itself, anyway? The real issue is not how porn affects those who make it (though the film certainly wants us to know that performers are routinely subjected to “torture-like treatments” on the job), but rather how it affects those who watch it. Words virtually identical to those I heard from Dines in Vegas about how many students had approached Jensen in confusion and distress over their experiences with porn followed predictably, as did references to the group of domestic violence counselors in the film who cited porn as a frequent component of abusive behavior. And of course there is that massive epidemic of sexual violence that has followed the expansion of the porn industry over the years, as numerous but nameless studies and surveys have demonstrated.
Challenged on that assertion by several audience members who noted that the incidence of rape had declined steadily in the U.S. since porn legalization, Jensen was contemptuously dismissive of these claims as inaccurate as a result of being based on law enforcement statistics as opposed to the testimony of women. The criteria of those FBI stats, after all, are based on the way the patriarchy defines rape (and therefore convicts people of it) rather than on the reality of one in three women, or maybe one in two, reporting in said nameless studies that they had been sexually assaulted in one way or another at some time in their lives.
Holland rose to that one, having spent a good deal of time making docs of her own on the conditions of women in various Third World countries, and made the pretty much indisputable point that women in those parts of the world where pornography is most harshly suppressed were subject to far higher levels of violence, sexual and otherwise, than women living in the pornified West. Jensen tap-danced around that one too, pointing out that those cultures were patriarchal as well and that in our culture we express our misogyny differently, but with the same ultimate outcome of oppressing women. Which is to say, living in a society where pornography is freely available and sexual assault is far from uncommon is morally equivalent to living in a society in which women have no rights at all and can be beaten for showing their faces on the street or murdered by their families with impunity for having been victims of rape.
And so it went, back and forth, with everyone behaving quite predictably, including all of us as well as Jensen, holding fast to our positions and yielding nothing. I didn’t feel we accomplished much, other than to give the wonderful Mika Tan a shot at eviscerating the whole program in one sentence (as Gram’s post describes so well), but I did manage to get in one thing that mattered to me, a short statement from Annie Cruz that she emailed me before the event.
Annie is one of the two performers who actually does get to say something on camera in TPoP (Joanna Angel being the other and please don’t irritate me with any bullshit about Sarah Katherine Lewis being a porn performer unless you enjoy being ridiculed), which is to quote her scene prices. She had been interviewed for two hours but that’s all they used, other than some bondage clips of her pirated from kink.com. Annie was understandably unhappy about how the film treated her, but all the jitterbugging around the event date had worked, as I’m sure was intended, to make it impossible for most of those shown in it to attend, as they have jobs to do and can only take so many days off waiting for a film screening.
Here are the words Nina read into the record on Annie’s behalf: “I did this interview about 2 or 3 years ago with the belief that it was for something positive. Instead, you're intent was to depict everything that I had to say as inaccurately as you could in order to sustain the stereotypes of our industry.
I have been working in the adult movie business for five years now. I have happily chosen to do this for a living because I am a woman with a healthy sexual appetite. In the last five years, I have met many women, who are just the same. We are exhibitionists, fetishists, and open-minded, free, intelligent women, who -- believe it or not -- have grown up in stable households.
I have never once felt "objectified" by men. As I always tell people, there is nothing on film that I have not done in my personal life. It is unfortunate that there are many things in the world out there that many people deem "taboo" -- things such as BDSM and hardcore bondage as shown in your documentary. What people need to understand is that these are consensual acts between partners. The most common misunderstanding is that BDSM is abuse towards women. What you need to understand is that the difference between abuse and BDSM is that BDSM is CONSENSUAL. It is widely known that there are people, who do not work in the porn industry, that live a BDSM lifestyle. People have their own personal fetishes and sexual desires. We just choose to express them on film.
One assumption that many people have is that porn is for men; that men are the only ones, who watch porn. Women watch porn just as much as men, and couples watch it together. I know this because I watched porn before I started doing it. It's about sexual satisfaction and sexual exploration. Statistics of sex crimes such as rape are drastically lower in other countries that have liberal attitudes towards sex and porn. Think about it.”
And thus it was that a sex worker actually got the last word, for once. Mercifully, Jensen called a wrap based on the hour (and his having a flight to catch early in the morning, presumably to someplace friendlier) and the crowd began to drift off.
It was at that point that I had my only authentic moment with the good professor. As he was closing the door in my face, I did mention to him that, even though we were shown a cut of the movie with the hardcore blurred out, what I had seen (and so had Mr. Fattorosi, as he later confirmed) numerous violations of federal law in the film, although I admitted that this was not Jensen’s problem, as he wasn’t one of the producers.
To my surprise, he hastened to incriminate himself by declaring that the same concern might arise regarding the Stop Porn Culture slide show, in the creation of which he was a direct participant. Then, with a look I wouldn’t call cordial, he invited me to “take it up with the FBI” if I wanted. Both programs were “fair use” (though copyright issues have nothing to do with 2257 compliance), he insisted, and in any case exempt under the educational exception written into 2257.
At that point I felt my own BP going up. My tone was probably no more affable than his when I pointed out that distribution over the Internet for substantial sums of money to anyone who requested these things, or showing them to non-vetted audiences at film festivals and on college campuses, probably vacated that exemption in this case.
That was when he made the most remarkable statement of the evening. Grinning at me, he said that he wasn’t really concerned about the 2257 requirements because he was certain that those who had created the materials used in both TPoP and the SPC slide show undoubtedly had the records necessary to prove that no non-compliant images were present in either. In other words, the creators of these pieces of propoganda were hiding behind the pornographers’ observance of the law to justify their own flouting of it. Asked what made him so sure pornographers were so scrupulous in this regard, he dismissively told me that, “you obey the law because you have a profit incentive to do so.”
This backhanded compliment didn’t so much annoy as puzzle me. Really, how could they be so sure all the images they stole were compliant? After all, Jensen and his allies don’t hesitate to characterize pornographers as pimps, rapists, slavers and torturers. And yet despite the implied willingness to risk the legal consequences of those acts inherent in such accusations, we’re presumed to be extremely fastidious record keepers. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but Jensen had me with that. It was so outrageous an alibi as to inspire laughter, and indeed he insisted he was making a joke when I told him so. He saw no legal problem with this brand of “fair use,” and if I felt there was “a moral problem” with it, well, that was just my opinion.
Some joke. Even funnier would be what would happen if either guiding intelligences behind TPoP or SPC were actually called to account for their flippant attitude toward federal statutes carrying long prison sentences. If they imagine that we would all, in the spirit of good fellowship, make our records available to exonerate these noble idealists, or that any federal judge who had bothered to read the language of 2257 would accept such evidence if offered, they truly live in an alternative universe. I look forward to the day that anyone associated with either comes around wanting any paperwork from me. Nor do I suspect any judge will bother to subpoena any in a court proceeding that may not be as unlikely as these misguided crusaders seem to believe.
The plain fact is that what stands between them and jail is a temporary restraining order obtained by the Free Speech Coalition preventing enforcement of the Bush administration’s expanded version of the statute until the new rules could be full adjudicated constitutional. The operative word here is “temporary.” Sooner or later, there will be a negotiated settlement to the F.S.C.s litigation that will undoubtedly leave intact the core provisions of the law, including the necessity of producers maintaining the required proofs of age for all performers. That part of the law is not in dispute. The hotly contested issue, as I’m sure Dr. Jensen and his associates know, is the responsibility of so-called “secondary producers,” which is to say those who merely repackage and redistribute sexually explicit images as distinct from actually recording them, to keep the same records as the original producers.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole concept of secondary producers, which TPoP’s auteurs probably think they are, was eventually discarded, but that wouldn’t help them in any case, as what they have done, with all their splicing and dicing, is to use pirated footage to create a whole, new product, in effect, what we call a comp, or compilation video. And producers of comps were required to have compliant records under the pre-Bush iteration of 2257.
I didn’t get a chance to respond to Jensen’s taunting “joke” about notifying the F.B.I., but it is his mistake, and that of his friends, to assume the authorities don’t already know about all this, and that when either the injunction is vacated or the law re-interpreted, they might very well come around to ask some questions that cannot be answered without self-incrimination of the type in which Jensen engaged when he expressed his confidence that the legal compliance of pornographers would protect him and his fellows from the consequences of their law-breaking. At that time, I suppose, we’ll find out just how seriously these self-styled revolutionaries take their cause.
Those of us who sat through this ordeal went off to dinner and finally did have some laughs, however sardonic, over the nonsense we’d seen and heard. I had the feeling that, long before any criminal liability under 2257 could be established, some unpleasant civil litigation might be headed toward TPoP’s copyright claimants, but that is a subject for another time.
For now, I’m glad we showed our faces, sorry the producers were such chicken-shits about showing theirs, and dazzled as always by the sheer audacity of Robert Jensen’s hypocrisy. He clearly wishes to be thought of as a utopian pioneer of some sort, but whatever utopia he’s hoping for won’t include me, or anyone I care to know.
On that single point, I’m sure he and I find complete agreement.