Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Price of Pleasure Web Site Back Up

After a mysterious disappearance for a week or two on either side of The Price of Pleasure's ill-fated presentation in Pasadena, TPoP's promotional Web site is back in operation, with a new schedule of screenings, some new review blurbs (all favorable, of course) and, more interestingly, some subtle but important changes in the synopsis.

Words like "unbiased" and "non-judgmental" have been dropped in favor of "nuanced" and "complex." Of course, it still claims to feature the "voices" of pornography performers, though we know that such voices are heard in under five minutes of the picture's one hour running time, unless you count moans, groans, screams and dirty words in stolen footage from their work as adding a couple of minutes to that total. The re-worded synopsis pretty much abandons all pretense of objectivity in favor of the assertions, never effectively demonstrated in the actual movie, that "the content of pornography has become more aggressive, more overtly sexist and racist." And Sarah Katherine Lewis is now more carefully identified as " former stripper/porn performer-turned-author," perhaps in light of repeated questioning of her status as a personally experienced expert on pornography, with which she now admits to having had extremely little direct involvement.

The discussion page, virtually inactive in the previous version of this promo site has now been deactivated altogether, which may be a preemptive measure of some sort or may simply be a recognition of the fact that TPoP was drawing far more comments elsewhere than it was at its own URL. This does, however, rid the site of the producers' evasive response to an inquiry regarding the staggering $450 price tag for Internet sales of the program, which is now being sold openly to all comers at screenings for a much more reasonable cost.

A quick check of links to other sites may have something to do with the decision to drop the original claims for the film's "unbiased and non-judgmental" approach to the subject matter. The blog-roll is a convenient Who's Who of anti-porn mouthpieces:

The Price of Pleasure Trailer on YouTube

The Price of Pleasure - Chomsky on Pornography

The Price of Pleasure - Donkey Punch

Media Education Foundation

Open Lens Media

Third Coast Activists

NYU Center for Media and Culture

Robert Jensen's Articles on Pornography

Gail Dines' Articles

Stop Porn Culture!

Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Feminist Law Professors Blog

The F-Files Radio Program

Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs"

Off Our Backs

Sarah-Katherine Lewis' "Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire"

Against Pornography

Now that's a fair and balanced roster of sources that would do credit to Fox News.

Perhaps most significantly, in light of the all the intrigue and skullduggery surrounding October's scheduled screening at the U.S.C. campus in Los Angeles, which was canceled and rescheduled at The Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena at the last minute for reasons presenter Robert Jensen never got around to explaining, TPoP is once again slated to show at U.S.C., this time on February 26, 2009.

I'd be curious to know what obstacles led to the previous rescheduling from U.S.C. to Fuller and how those obstacles were magically made to disappear for the 2/26 date.

If the intention is to propagandize more students with none of those pesky porn people in the auditorium because, like, you know, we've all got such short attention spans from all those drugs and all that PTSD that characterize all our lives without exception, I wouldn't count on that if I were the producers.

They may not be able to count on any other audience in the Los Angeles area, but they can be absolutely assured that we'll be there to make ourselves known, seen and heard as we really are, rather than as the cardboard cut-outs offered up by this so-called "documentary."

Perhaps this time the producers themselves will have the guts to show up and face all the people they lied to and whose interviews they distorted in the making of this monstrosity instead of leaving it up to Jensen to clean up their mess for them.

I have my doubts, but you can bet I'll be there to see for myself, and I'll have plenty of company from within our ranks.

TPoP's creators may be able to show their masterpiece unchallenged to uninformed viewers elsewhere, to admit minors to screenings and sell copies at the door in clear violation of even their dubious claim to exemption from 18 U.S.C. 2257 regulations under the educational and research use clause and to otherwise flout federal law with a collective sneer on their mugs, but whenever they come here, they will find us waiting for them.

I truly look forward to our next encounter. I'm sure they'll have a few new tricks up their sleeves.

So will we.


  1. if I happen to win the lotto, I will fly out to ca in feb.

  2. We'd love to see you here, lotto or no, but it seems likely you'll have your opportunity to carry the standard into battle well before then.

  3. Holy shit!

    I wonder if this means anything will actually change.

    Probably not, but either way, that is awesome. Now at least they are not pretending that they've actually reached their conclusions in an unbiased way.

    That's good, because although I think the bias is obvious, I think a lot of undergrads don't necessarily know that, if they've never seen anything else.

    Ernest, I think I once told you about the anti-porn slideshow I once saw at a NOW meeting? It was really shoddily put together. There was no science to what they chose off the store shelves -- asd I recall, they said they just asked what sorts of things were popular, a clerk pointed them somewhere, and they picked things at random and cobbled together a clip show. The two things I remember most were one movie that was all about ejaculating on sunglasses, which I can't imagine is a popular fetish (though correct me if I've missed something) and one that was about a woman arguing with a man, acting kind of "snarky mominatrixy" and wearing PVC, when the guy told her off, attacked her, and semi-forced her which of course she loved (and "proved" his thesis that women are not meant to dominate.) I have never seen this in any other pornography, and it looked VERY amateur, and you've told me repeatedly that this sort of half-force thing is generally considered NOT ON in the industry... so while it did alarm me (personally, the thought that some men may someday flip and attack me because I'm a top DOES scare me, and while I don't mind people masturbating to the idea of flipping other tops in theory (I've fantasized about it myself, hell), it bothered me a lot to see), I wondered how representative it is, and how likely the kind of "informing" these women were doing was to end that particular type of thing.

    They then showed some by dykes-for-dykes stuff, which most people liked. (One lesbian, though, said that she was upset by the strap-ons, and that lesbian sex ought not be about penetration. She got really upset. Most people disagreed with her.)

    All the women watched it raptly, sure that it proved how awful porn not made by women for women was. I kept raising my hand and asking "How'd you choose this one? What about such-and-such in Dworkin's definition?" The women who'd made it admitted quite readily they'd tossed it together in a week, and knew it was all full of holes, but presented it anyway to get people thinking.

    I am not sure if anyone listened to me. I got the impression from the people around me that they saw me as someone who was speaking a confusing and strange language that made no sense.

    I don't know where I'm going with this. I guess where I'm going is people seem to think it's totally OK to slap something together and not do anything resembling science.

  4. Trinity,

    You have to wonder where people find the kinds of examples you recall from the NOW meeting. I see a lot of porn, and the videos you describe would always have been extremely marginal examples of very obscure genres.

    There is, for instance, a niche market for viewers who fetishize glasses. The most popular line in that field, Specs Appeal, is pretty good-natured and more likely to amuse than offend anyone who doesn't already have an inclination to despise all porn. It's a bit oddball, but nothing particularly disturbing unless you're majorly skeeved by any kind of fetishism.

    As for the forced switching thing, that's kind of throw-back to an earlier era of "bondage videos" in which, in order to get the requisite number of scenes out of the limited casts dictated by the economics of limited sales, performers switched roles routinely. Going back to the day of Iriving Klaw and Bettie Page (who switched in both film loops and stills), bondage pictures were generally all-female, so the potentially loaded issues of switching genders when switching roles or vice versa didn't arise.

    By the late Seventies, this had changed to some degree and men became a visible part of the mix. There was seldom hardcore sex in this material, although for a brief time between legalization and The Meese Commission there was some overlap with mainstream hardcore, but the political implications weren't pretty when they were visible. As you and I both know, there is a certain kind of idiot-boy who genuinely believes that dominance is a function of gender, and porn has always attracted more than its fair share of idiot-boys.

    Fortunately, after BDSM started to evolve a social culture of its own, it began to make its presence felt in pop culture products like kink-porn vids. I doubt as dumb a video as the one you were shown would get made today, not only because there would be legal concerns about depicting non-consensual domination by members of differing genders (still no big in single-gender material as long as nothing looks truly coercive), but also because the people who make BDSM specialty video these days just wouldn't bother to make something that lame. The market is too hip to the content now to shell out for such nonsense, and they're very wired into what's available through various Internet chat sites.

    Now, very much to the contrary of what anti-porn types would have us all believe, consensual switching has become quite popular in video. I've shot some fun stuff in the past couple of years in which male and female partners took turns fucking each other in the ass, for example, something virtually unknown ten years ago. And there's an up-and-coming (sorry, couldn't help myself) male-sub niche for story lines built on cuckoldry. I find that sort of squickishly patriarchal by implication, but that's just me.

    As more people with real-world experience in sexual experimentation get into making their own content, the commercial industry tries to respond with commercial products they'll buy. This is 180 degrees from the the way anti-porn activists construct the market dynamic, but they don't know much about the entertainment business overall, which depends on trend-spotting to survive.

    Part of what annoys the crap out of me about people like the TPoP gang is the poor quality of their research. If I wanted to make my own case against the commercial porn industry, I'd have plenty of facts at my disposal that would hold up to close examination. There's no need to make up preposterous lies to criticize the way the machinery operates.

    But they do because they're lazy and because they'd rather try to prove their particular ideologies correct, even if their lack of credible evidence actually works to the detriment of their larger objectives, then deal with the unruly facts of the matter.

    Personally, one of the reasons I got into porn was because I hated the way it portrayed BDSM with such virulence, I couldn't let what I saw as slanderous stupidity go unanswered. I'm still exasperated by what passes for BDSM as shown in most porn. We've now got some people who sorta get it but not really, as opposed to their utterly clueless predecessors. I guess this is an improvement, but this medium still has a long way to go.

    Another interesting contrary-to-dogma phenomenon is the curious convergence of what was once considered dyke-porn with what dyke-porn makers dismissively call girl-girl porn. The latter really was about women acting out men's fantasies -all female players ultra-femme, lots of toy penetration, lots of bogus orgasms therefrom - as opposed to the kinds of sex women tended to prefer when men weren't an issue. Even something considered pretty hip for its time, like Suburban Dykes with Nina and Barbara Dare, seems pretty dated in retrospect.

    What we see more and more of today, in the releases from Abby Winters, Triangle Films, Girlgriends Films, etc., is a much less male-centered vision of woman-to-woman sexuality, much less dependent on penetration and much more about foreplay and physical affection, but done with conventionally attractive porn performers for a predominantly male audience.

    There are also some very rough GG gonzo products out there, so it isn't all about Sapphic romanticism, but not very long ago, the latter would have been been considered a non-starter. Now lesbian romance is a growth property in porn.

    The one thing you can reliably say about porn consumers, again defying dogma, is that you can't make them buy what they don't want. They're very particular about how they spend their money and if you don't deliver something that works for them while someone else does, you lose and they win.

    We already know there's no scientific research concerning any aspect of pornography. Even Gail Dines concedes that. There's some junk "social science" cooked up by people who start from what they believe and cherry-pick data to prove it, however that's not the kind of science that discovers anything useful.

    But what I recently chided my colleagues for in my X-Biz financial analysis column is our industry's utter lack of market research. For this vast, sinister, conspiratorial, infinitely devious and manipulative conspiracy that it's supposed to be, the porn business in reality is so short of smarts in the business department, it really gets by only because sex is such an easy sell.

    We don't do marketing surveys or focus groups or demographic studies or anything that the rest of the entertainment industry uses to hedge its bets. Nope, we just make those bets. We make a lot of cheap products and throw them all at the wall to see what sticks. If something does, we then ruin its adhesive properties by knocking it off incompetently hundreds of times until the consumers are completely over it.

    That's how it goes in porno land, and that aspect of things hasn't changed much in the 25 years I've been here.

    All of which makes it even more infuriating when hostile interlopers, knowing nothing but unshakable in their conviction to the contrary, attempt to describe an occupational culture that remains pretty much a complete enigma even to those within it.

    What I do know is that what TPoP and everything like it portrays bear no resemblance whatsoever to the facts on the ground, such as anyone could possibly know them.

    I would like very much to see some quality research done by some real scientists with no goods of their own to sell study porn such as that done by Linda Williams back in the day to give us at least a starting place for informed discussion.

    But with garbage like TPoP being pushed on college campuses as if it were the result of such honest research, I'm not too optimistic.