Monday, October 27, 2008

Sasha Grey takes lead in next Steven Soderbergh movie

In what is sure to be denounced by the usual sources as another symptom of "the mainstreaming of porn", Sasha Grey has been cast in the lead role in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience. As is obvious by the title, the movie is about high-end escorting, but I'm not clear whether its going to be a sexually explicit porn/mainstream crossover along the lines of Shortbus or Nine Songs. In spite of being a relatively low-budget film by Hollywood standards, its a big role for a porn performer, who in most cases find themselves excluded from more mainstream roles, even when they have some decent acting talent.

Such crossover success has been happening for a few years now in Europe, such as French model and actress Dany Verissimo, who got her start as porn star Ally Mac Tyana. And, of course, porn stars crossing over into indie film has been going on for a long time now, for example, Marilyn Chambers lead role in Cronenberg's Rabid, Rebecca Lord's supporting role in I Am a Sex Addict, not to mention Nina Hartley's featured bit part in Boogie Nights. These movies unfortunately did not bring about more mainstream roles for the actresses in question, and time will tell whether or not the same will be true for Sasha Grey.

In any even, its great seeing a talent like Sasha Grey get this kind of recognition. In a recent column, Violet Blue sends out suitably mad props to Sasha and her cohort of upcoming, stereotype-busting porn stars:
For me, Grey occupies that hyperpublic, female-sexual-power groundbreaking space shared with young female porn performers such as Lorelei Lee (articulate eloquence embodied), Dana DeArmond (vanguard realist), Kimberly Kane (cutting-edge visionary), Ashley Blue (powerful muse), April Flores (playful agent of change) and Madison Young (soft-spoken shock troop of female sexual power). These women are my heroes, and they are not to be trifled with. Like her amazing colleagues, Sasha Grey is articulate, smarter than the journalists and pundits (and pud whackers) that record her every move, and she more than sees the forest for the trees when it comes to sex work and porn. Third gen feminism? Try screw-your one-size-fits-all feminism, or fuck feminism altogether and watch me shred your quaint old notions of female sexuality into pure feminine power and the redefinition of sex and gender roles — and porn.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I guess anybody can be a pornographer now....

I was rather amused to see that I've shown up on the radar of "feminist law professor" Ann Bartow. In a post about Wikipedia she writes:
To take just one example, the entry about Melissa Farley has been heavily edited by a pornographer who sometimes uses the pseudonym Iamcuriousblue. He also shows up numerous times in the edits to the Catharine MacKinnon entry and virtually every place feminism is mentioned. That any judge, or anyone generally, would think these accounts of feminism are unbiased or authoritative is truly scary.
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I'll take on the stuff about Wikipedia later on my own blog, since that's kind of peripheral to the subject here. (But I'll just say that I'd be happy to scrutinize my record of writing balanced entries and general adherence to the rules of Wikipedia, particularly compared to the past contributions of Nikki Craft, whom Bartow posits as being driven away by the evol anti-feminists who inhabit the Wikiverse.)

I think what is interesting, though, is that she calls me a "pornographer". Not that I find that an insult – I'm honored by the label, actually. However considering that I've never shot a single sexy photo, or a single minute of porn video, or even published or posted an erotic story in a public forum, I'm afraid I have to decline that title.

Then again, as we discussed in a recent entry or two, high-falutin feminist academics aren't always known for getting their facts straight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Price of Pleasure now viewable online

Here

Low-rez, watermarked, and mosaicked, but, hey, nobody's viewing it for the visuals.

(I was thinking of embedding it here, but seeing as several writers here have been complaining about their utter lack of 2257 compliance, I'd rather just keep that shit on their site.)

Addendum 8/12/09:

A DVD-quality copy of TPoP is available via BitTorrent (you'll need to use a piece of BT client software like LimeWire, Vuze, µTorrent, etc) if you want to see this thing in its full glory. Link here. The torrent is linked through the anarchist site OneBigTorrent.org and I'm not sure if its "authorized", however, regarding copyright issues around TPoP, I'll just note that I have as much respect for copyright as TPoP's producers and leave it at that.

Zack and Miri Get Banned in Philly


It seems that shooting porn has been a popular comedy theme over the last few years – The Amateurs, Slippery Slope, and I Want Candy all come to mind. Kevin Smith adds his contribution with Zack and Miri Make a Porno, coming out at the end of the month.

And it also seems that some of the advertising for Zack and Miri is now the latest battle in the new porn wars. Apparently, billboards for it have been banned in several places and a number of newspapers are refusing to carry the ads. So is the ad really raunchy or something? No, actually the ad only contains stick figures, with no added naughty bits or suggestive positions. It seems the big problem is the title of the movie itself, which contains the word --gasp-- Porno.

According to "child development expert" Diane Levin, the simplicity of the ad is part of the problem, since the fact that the ad contains stick figures means that its being marketed to children and is trying to sell them on the idea that "porn is an acceptable occupation". In case anybody is wondering who this person is, she's none other a Wheelock College professor (yes, that Wheelock College, which must have its own Department of Anti-Porn studies), and fellow footsoldier of Gail Dines and Jeane Kilbourne in the "progressive" battle against smut. Levine is co-author of "So Sexy So Soon", the latest in the century-old tradition of "lock up your daughters" lit, and in general is somebody who is milking the scare over "the sexualization of girls" as a stick to attack adult media. She's particularly off base with this one, as whatever you want to say about the inappropriateness of Bratz dolls and the like for young girls, Zack and Miri is clearly not being marketed to children, nor is mere exposure to the word "porno" going to damage them.

Now I will note that I actually have some sympathy for the idea there's some things you just shouldn't put on billboards displayed to the public, who are in most cases, not a voluntary audience. Time and place restrictions are acceptable under a general climate of free expression, and, in the case of private companies, they can refuse to carry whatever they want. (I'll leave the more radical question of who owns public space out of this for the time being.) A few years ago, the "torture porn" movie Captivity crossed what I think is a definite line when they put out some extremely disturbing ads on public billboards, and a lot of people have big problems with American Apparel billboards for analogous reasons. However, I am also against the total bowdlerization of public space – one cannot possibly remove from public display all things that are going to possibly be offensive to somebody, and in fact, that kind of bowdlerized public space would in turn be equally offensive to many others (like myself, for instance).

Its especially problematic in the case of newspapers that won't carry this ad, because they almost certainly will carry news stories, often very salacious ones, about porn. In these cases, its really amounts to point-of-view discrimination – Zack and Miri present making porn as lighthearted, comical, and, in some ways, normal. That's a view that clearly clashes with a moralistic view that porn is a road to ruin or "unacceptable". Of course, people have every right to that view and they have every right to push it (and, boy, do they), but trying to suppress the opposite point of view from the marketplace of ideas is wrong and unworthy of a news organization.

Ultimately, however, I'm not too worried about how Kevin Smith and his film will do. Smith is no stranger to controversy – some feminist and lesbian activists got their knickers in a twist over Chasing Amy, and the Catholic League went after Dogma, and both movies actually benefited from the controversy. Kevin Smith actually scored a minor propaganda coup when he showed up at a Catholic League protest against Dogma and helped them picket his own movie, apparently without being recognized. If Zack and Miri is the new front in the porn wars, I say, bring it on – lets expose the antis for the pinched humorless scolds that they so often are.

(H/T to The Legal Satyricon.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

And this just in...

Anti-porn activists PROFITING from the "fair use" of non-2257 compliant materials? You know, making MONEY off the images of these exploited, degraded women?

Say it isn't so, Ren!

It is so.

Now, look at that. Please tell me no one is considering showing this in HIGH SCHOOLS.

"Dear DoJ-....."

Enter Jensen, Right On Cue

Here's the latest bilge from Usual Suspect Number One

You'll note how once again he cherry-picks some three-year-old comments from dubious sources to present as actual data in support of his contention that porn is ever more about brutality.

Will this guy ever lay off? Not while MSM continue to lionize him, treat him as a crusader for the good and never question his claims to expertise in an area about which he has far more opinions than actual knowledge.

Follow the link if you want to really make this a monday:

http://www.adultfyi.com/read.php?ID=30799

Ahem

The first amendment is not a goddamn suggestion!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Okay, I'll answer Anonymous...

Anonymous:

Ernest, far as I know, is working a lot this week, thus, he is busy. However, I’m chillin’ with a messed up toe not doing much of anything, so hey, I’ll give it a shot!

I am in the UK and therefore have had no opportunity to see this documentary. I do, however, have some questions for you Ernest which I hope you will have time to respond to.


I’m not Ernest, but hey, a visitor from the UK here at the BPPA? Let’s roll!

You state that 'not all pleasures are positive, healthy or morally defensible'. Could you give some examples of these?

Some people get off on murder (thrill-killers). Some people get off on having sex with children. Some people enjoy truly torturing animals and people. Some people get off on stalking people. Some folk enjoy some really vicious mind games. Some like orchestrating the social destruction of others. I think all these examples qualify.

I noted that you feel unable, as a white man, to offer any opinion of gangsta rap. I'm wondering why this same criteria does not apply to your critiques on pornography and it's impact on women. Is it your position that women do not face sexist discrimination and inequality?

Racism and sexism are not the same thing. Both exist, but they are different. Also, if (or any other person) is not versed in gangsta rap, it’s hard to talk about it from a place of authority on said topic. Ernest is partnered with and involved with women in the sex industry on a daily basis, he hears and speaks to them. He is not involved with rappers on a daily basis, and thus has no idea where they are coming from. Nor is he black. Me as a white identified woman, I don’t think I’m really an authority on gansta rap either. Yet I can still say this- I may not agree with what is said in a lot of gangsta rap songs, but the right to say it? Why yes, I absolutely believe they have that.

You make reference several times to POP being propaganda. Would you say, as someone who has made a living from the pornography industry for 25 years, that you are immune to engaging in propaganda to promote and defend your work in that industry and the money you make from it?

POP is propaganda, pure out. Now, I’ve not been in the porn industry for 25 years…I’ve been in the overall sex industry for almost 20 years, and yep, I’ve done and made porn, and absolutely believe people have a right to make and perform in porn, however…what I do not do (nor does Ernest so far as I’ve ever witnessed) claim to make something that is fair and non judgmental, as well as an unbiased look at top selling porn made in the year 2005, then fill it with porn that is not at all representative of top selling porn made 2005, spend the majority of the time speaking to known anti porn advocates and scant seconds talking to people actually involved in the industry- leaving much of what they’ve said on the cutting room floor, try to pass off people who are not industry insiders as such, or dramatically edit and film things with a decidedly anti porn stance. I also don’t make “documentaries” filled with 2257 non compliant images and use images of performers without their knowledge or consent. Do I engage in propaganda? Only if talking about my experiences, feelings on it, and taking issue with a lot of anti-porn stuff counts as propaganda.

You also express concern at the impact this propaganda could potentially have, stating 'collateral effects are far from funny'. Given the proliferation of pornography, might that not have some collateral effects also?

Of course it could. The difference is, pornography does not pretend to be anything but what it is. This film claims to be fair and non judgmental, unbiased, so on, in other words, the truth. And it isn’t. It’s not the truth at all. It’s a huge smear on the industry, and the people in it.

Other mediums being as bad as or worse than pornography also appear frequently in your writings here. I am aware of feminist critiques of wider media and culture as well as those on pornography. What is your position on the impact of media on culture and society? I ask because I am confused by your dismissal on the one hand of hypersexualised culture but your concerns about the potential influence of POP and other such critiques of pornography on the other.

Other mediums are discussed. Occasionally. They are given about .10 the attention that porn is given. I read a lot of feminist writings, a lot of them. There are the occasional discussions of music, or Hollywood films, or mass media, however they are not, at all, given the attention porn is. And porn is supposed to be entertainment for adults. Flat out. However, extremely violent television is accessable to anyone. Brutal rapes and murders are depicted on network television every night. I have yet, actually, to read a feminist critique of Law & Order SVU, or CSI, or The Sopranos. Do you truly think more people, even more young people, are watching porn, or mainstream nightly television? Porn has never caused a school shooting. Truthfully, the people who do bad acts are the ones who should be held responsible, but are you ready to go after Marilyn Manson because he’s been implicated in a reason teenagers shoot up schools or kill themselves or do drugs or worship satan? I’m not. How about other “bad influences”? More people have been hurt and killed by alcohol related things than by porn…yet…booze is still out there and abused heavily…most people can enjoy a drink harmlessly, but…? How about all religions? More people have been hurt by or killed in the name of God than anything in history. Yet the idea of policing it is something that chills most people and as seen as a huge violation of their rights.

You mention that you've never been invited to a secret gathering where sexist ideologies are formulated to guide the making of pornography, I wonder if you believe yourself, or individuals in general, then, to be immune to the influences of society at large; that socialisation has no impact on who we are or how we develop; that we are not influenced or impacted by our relationships with family, friends, lovers, partners. Is there no cultural hegemony?

I for one absolutely think all people, to some degree or another, are influenced by culture and society. I also think even amid that, most people can make their own decisions about things and exert some sense of individuality and reasoning. And once again, porn is far less prevelant and influential than a great many other forms of media out there. I suspect more girls end up with eating disorders due to the images presented in high fashion magazines than from porn. People are not immune to anything, but is the answer to get rid of everything…and I mean everything…which might influence them in a negative way? That would leave us with nothing. No form of art, or entertainment, or politics, or…anything.

On a related point with regard fantasies.. Do you think we pop out of the womb fully formed as.. sadists, say, or subs?

I think some people do, actually, if not fully formed- like Athena out of Zues’s head- with definite leanings. People start to develop sexually very early on, people have fantasies and such early on in sexual development. There are people who are into kink or what have you in societies where there is no pornography, and people had them long before pornography was prolific at all. What I do not believe is that porn or media can “make” anyone do anything.

You regard the statistics presented in POP as junk social science. Could you present more accurate figures on which titles and genres are most popular, including the internet? Pirates is mentioned frequently, I'm interested in figures for that but would like more general stats.

Pirates is the highest grossing porn film of all time. Other features like Island Fever and Bloodlines (a vampire themed porn feature) were also very high selling films. Feature films in general outsell gonzo films. The fact that the POP researchers had to go to like number 125 on the film list to find a title they could highlight says something. As for the net, that is harder to tell. I think it was once said on NBC that Playboy.com gets millions of hits a day. I seriously doubt “Women in Pain” rates nearly that high.

You question the categorization of violent acts by the researchers. Could you give your definition and, given your experience and knowledge of pornography, your own perspective on the prevalence of violence in pornagraphy.

Depends on the porn. Will there be more “violence” in BDSM or gonzo themed porn than feature films? Yep. Feature films, you might see a bit of hair pulling, a bit of spanking, and some hard…well…fucking. (things that people actually do in their own bedrooms). You will see more in gonzo and BDSM porn. However, you know what I did not see in POP? At all? Not once? A single female dominant in any of the BDSM clips, and within the subgenera of BDSM porn, women as the dominant figures is pretty popular. Yet, this was totally ignored. I also did not see a single female as a dominant figure in any of the gonzo clips, which also happens. It was also totally ignored. In all the BDSM footage they used, not a single female Top…which is not at all reflective of the BDSM porn out there.

Girls Gone Wild is mentioned as a 'favourite punchbag' for feminists. Isn't this, in part, because a prominant player has been accused of rape? Why is it ok for industry insiders that you mention to be critical of this and not feminists? You state that women are 'certainly more jovially mocked' in GGW than male participants in jackass. It appears that not only are they more jovially mocked but are raped and sexually assaulted too. What are your thoughts on why this might happen?

Joe Francis is an asshole and belongs behind bars (IMHO). He is also not every pornographer in the business.

Chyng Sun asked "Don’t you think, that much of the enjoyment of pornography comes from watching the woman’s pain and humiliation?”

I missed your response to this and am interested in hearing it. What is your take on, for example, why men are aroused by woman being ejaculated on her face by multiple men and then consuming it or having another woman consume it?


Do some men get off because it can be seen as humiliating, sure. Most men, no. And of course, not even a nod towards women who watch pornography in this film, but that’s nothing new. But to break it down…why are men aroused by a woman being ejaculated on (on her face)…the answers to that are legion. Vicarious thrill of having achieved an orgasm? Marking behavior? Thrill in the thought that a woman enjoys “wearing the evidence”? It’s sort of strange and thus there is a novelty factor? Why multiple men? More semen, bonding experience, the idea of sharing? Why consumption by one woman? Not sure really, still haven’t figured that one out enough to have a theory, and have not really asked. It’s neater, for one I guess. Why another woman? Well, hum, as many average hetero dudes enjoy watching girl on girl, two women making out/licking eachother with no semen involved, I doubt the enjoyment of watching that with semen involved lessens.

What is your take on the reasons why degradation, of women usually, comes to be eroticised and fethishized?

I am so the wrong person to answer that question. Yet, I note, very little concern on wondering why women might get off on degradation. Funny that. Once again, I will bring up the large subset of femme-dom porn that apparently does not exist (which hey, could have fooled me considering what I’ve seen out there in the porn shop and on the net!)

You state that 'anti porn cultists' are fixated on sex. Is your basis for this purely the one element of their lives - anti pornography activism - that you are aware of? Given your objections to what you see as poor research and generalisations on their part isn't this a questionable assertion to make?

I’d say their fixation on what is watched and goes on in other peoples bedrooms is a big indication. The mere idea out there that no woman, out or in porn, can actually enjoy giving a blow job, or anal sex, or group sex, or BDSM says a lot about that fixation too. Also, the fact that so much time, engery, money, and ink is devoted to porn, rather than videos of people being beheaded in Iraq or violence in mainstream media also indicates they are a bit fixated on sex.

'..it is not beyond the realms of possibility that performers like to play dirty..' - what percentage of women would you say are in pornography because they love sex/enjoy the sex acts on screen versus those there for a paycheck (and the other reasons they ended up in pornography).

”It’s nice to get paid for what you enjoy doing”. I’d say at least half. And yeah, the money matters, sure. However, when a woman says that, like Jessie Jane did in the film, they are not believed. When Joanna Angel, who started up her own company (a grad from a prestigious university who certainly had other choices) talks about her feelings on it in the film, she’s slaughtered. Truth is, any woman who says she’s in it for anything but the money or because she was abused speaks, she’s not believed and her words are twisted or ingored. I know that one from personal experience.

You opine that skull fucking to gag point is minor in comparison to some violent acts portrayed in mainstream shows. Can i ask if you see any differences in how violence against women is represented, why that might be, the cultural meanings behind it? Certainly my own critiques of pornography do not happen in isolation. Nor are those of any radical feminists that I know or have read. It is placed in the context of society and the world at large; the role of poverty, inequaltity and power.

Okay, skull fucking in porn. I do that, as the fuckee. I’ve consented to do it, I don’t mind doing it, I walk out with a pay check. A point is made often when making porn to talk to me (or whatever performer) before and after the scene to insure why yes, I’ve agreed to do this. Yet, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows the other day…Heroes. I love Heroes. Heroes is very popular with a lot of viewers, including teenagers. Now, on Heroes, I’ve seen several female characters get the tops of their skulls sawed off (male characters too), there have been some steamy sex scenes, and some allusions to rape and molestation/abuse. One of the most off-kilter, screwed up, appears to, at heart, be a villain characters is, of course, the stripper/net porn performer. The main heroine is a teenage cheerleader who gets chased all over the place and subjected to incredible violence, in her cheerleader outfit. Or, I also watch Law & Order, where weekly I can see dead sex worker of the night. And brutal rape scenes. And violence against women, gays, and minorities. Or, I can turn on the Investigation channel, where I can spend five hours watching shows about serial killers (who are almost hero worshipped by some elements of society) who prey on sex workers, gay men, children, and women. And these shows are far more popular and generate more money and ratings than porn. Yet these things rate as practically nothing with a lot of folks as opposed to pornography. Also, people forget, male performers in porn make a fraction of the money female performers do.

Thanks for reading.

Anytime.

I know, I know...

I know I shouldn't look. But it's just a horribly grim fascination. Why yes, some people just loooove TPoP! They probably even think it's fair and honest and unbaised and whatnot.

Ah, crusaders...

You know, I am sure some people would say the same thing about me, that I'm some sort of sellout black knight fighting an unholy war...oh, wait...but you know, there is a huge difference between myself and a whole lot of these folk. A huge one.

I am not telling anyone they should view or participate in pornography. I'm not telling anyone they have to like it. Nor am I afraid to look outside my own sphere and see what other people are saying, to hear and read their experiences.

I also, ahem, do not stack my data, misrepresent the findings of various studies, or use material made 2-3 decades ago.

Or flat out lie about the most popular porn of the year 2005. Ahem.

Let it never be said I ever told any person what to do, what to feel, how to think, and used underhanded -and illegal- means to make my point.

That, I think, is a major difference between us and them.

The Price of Pleasure Deconstructed - Part 4

Though his name is dropped often in the promotional hype for TPoP, Evil Angel’s founding producer John Stagliano makes a single, brief appearance in the film, caught at his vendor booth on the convention floor.

John, as anyone who knows him will attest, is a complex and intelligent man with wide-ranging interests and many unexpected and unconventional opinions. He has plenty to say about plenty of things, but this is all we get from him:

“Have you been watching these movies lately? There’s a lot of hard stuff – S&M mixed with sex, S&M fetish of all kinds. That’s where people are going with it.”

Does he think this is a bad thing? A good thing? A thing with broader implications? John is one person who could, and I presume did, give a detailed and analytical response to whatever question elicited the sharply-cut clip we’re offered here, but through the magic of video editing, he serves only the producers’ purpose of validating, as an industry insider, a allegation they’re about to ram down our throats with a hydraulic jack.

Full disclosure: I couldn’t possibly claim any objectivity regarding the next segment of this film, not only because I appear in it, but because it concerns a subject about which I care passionately in both my personal and professional lives. If I treat what follows as singularly despicable, you’re welcome to take that into account.

But I won’t be alone in taking offense at the egregious and slanderous distortion of reality to which TPoP audiences will be subjected. There are tens of thousands of ethical, consensual BDSM players out there who would share my revulsion if confronted with the same vile smear.

And like my lunch, it’s coming right up.

First, we get a quick glimpse of the kink.com homepage, with its teaser image of a bound girl wearing a ball-gag. Tacky Twilight-Zone-style spooky music swells in the background as we’re shown the ominous interior of a subterranean-looking dungeon studio used for kink.com’s associated site, device bondage.

A naked female performer sits bound on a concrete block with her ankles raised and some kind of dildo gizmo presumably penetrating her, although the penetration itself is blurred, contrary to previous practice, which suggests that a stolen prevue was the source material. The performer is also gagged, but sounds of whipping and screaming are laid over the soundtrack. Another naked female performer is shown locked into a vertical pillory. Nothing is happening to either, but the whipping and screaming continue.

We finally get a half-second glimpse of the noise source, a third female performer, bent over a bar-frame, her nipples decorated with weighted clamps and a dude in a black T-shirt whipping her from behind. Her expression is distressed and she squawks out a tormented “oh shit!” before we jump to the next image, lasting maybe two seconds, of yet another girl restrained in a seated in some other elaborate bondage contraption.

Now, I well understand the power of such images taken out of context, and so do the operators of kink.com, devicebondage.com and all the other sites from which this, and more content to come, has been excised. Would they appear to be anything other than horrific abuse when shown in a swirl of jump cuts? To an observer utterly unfamiliar with consensual BDSM activities, likely not, which is why we don’t get to see the performer interviews that are among the most conspicuous features of all kink.com’s presentations.

Performers talk at length, both before and after their scenes, about their individual responses to BDSM activity, their prior explorations of it, their views and feelings while engaging in it on this particular occasion and the reasons they find it enjoyable. If, as I have no doubt, the producers would claim, these interviews are faked (while all the pain and torture and shit is completely real, of course), and are utterly without credibility, why are we not allowed to see even a moment of one?

Why, once again, are the performers in these acts denied any voice other than a scream? Why are they once again depersonalized by these filmmakers in a way that pornographers would hesitate to do?

Pornographers understand something that these … humans … do not. The audience is genuinely curious about sex performers of all sorts. They want to know more about them. They want to hear them speak, to see them goofing around on the set in behind-the-scenes footage.

Yes, there are porn viewers who say hateful things to and about performers, and who undoubtedly despise them projectively for the conflicted feelings of shame and arousal they inspire. But most regular porn viewers, viewers of BDSM porn who invest a great deal in their own fantasy lives especially, consider themselves fans of performers. They do not hate them. They do not wish them harm. They want to feel they know and share something intimate, even if the intimacy is artificially created, with the individual they’re watching.

No manipulation among all this mendacious parade of trashy agit-prop, is more libelous of pornographers, porn performers and porn viewers than the systematic exclusion of any and all hints of empathy that might be part of the “pleasure” referenced in the title. It is that quality of empathy that the filmmakers, to put over their bullshit hypothesis, must relentlessly deny where pornography is concerned, as empathy and objectification are mutually exclusive in the primitively wired brains of professional porn-bashers. The very concept of such things co-existing in the minds of human beings is just altogether to complex for them to grasp.

Not to digress too far here, but BDSM sexuality depends on empathy for its erotic appeal. Even Sade observed that he couldn’t enjoy the things he did to others if he couldn’t imagine what those things would feel like if they happened to him. Indeed, most BDSM players switch back and forth between dominant and submissive roles situationally (no, I have no statistical evidence to support this opinion, merely four decades of personal familiarity) and not only imagine but also experience the sensations of both roles at one time or another.

But these nuances are of no moment to TPoP’s perps, because their subject isn’t BDSM, which they clearly regard as mere rationalization for what the filmmakers really think they’re showing us: sexual violence.

Lest we somehow manage to misunderstand what we are being shown, Joe Gallant returns for another fragmentary clip in which he gravely tells us that: “I hate to say it, but I feel the future of American porn is violence.” To underline this rather dubious claim, the whipping and screaming continues on the soundtrack as he speaks. Gallant likes shocking people, and sometimes I think he forgets that, with certain people, he isn’t shocking them, but rather validating precisely what they already believe.

Still, I’m sure he qualified his statement in some way, given the hard audio cuts on either side of it, but such annoying nuances aren’t to be allowed to interfere with the lip-smacking delight the producers have saved up for the visual chamber of horrors through which the audience is about to be dragged.

Back to the very, very abbreviated clips from the streaming videos ripped from devicebondage.com, and then, in the single, most heinously libelous distortion of this whole misbegotten venture, we’re immediately shown a rough sketch from a human rights report on the use of immersion torture by the military regime of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.

As if we couldn’t make the connection ourselves, the narrator grimly informs us that: “The United Nations defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” Just in case we still haven’t put it together, we get a few seconds each of several sequences of bound, naked, female performer getting quick dunkings for another kink.com site, waterbondage.com, with another sketch or two from the Pinochet material interspersed between.

“What,” asks the spooky-voiced narrator, makes a torture-treatment entertaining?” against a backdrop of more kink.com bondage, fucking and sensation-play snippets. “What makes an image of suffering sexually arousing?”

Please note the very careful parsing implicit in the term “torture-like treatment” as opposed to straight out calling what we’re being shown torture. I doubt that anyone who has experienced actual torture could be convinced that such a thing as a “torture-like treatment” could ever exist. Wouldn’t that be kind of similar to a “rape-like treatment?” Is it not insensitive and offensive in the same way?

Anyone who has known real violence, and here I speak from some direct knowledge, could never confuse it with something that might be “like” it. There is nothing remotely like violence of any kind. A sure sign of any metaphor turning to shit is the introduction of the V-word, as in “she was racked by violent orgasmic spasms.” As an editor, I’ve taken the blue pencil to plenty of copy like that in my day, because before I was an editor, I was a night police beat reporter. I’ve never much liked T.V. cop shows or the balletic slow-mo hokum that passes for the portrayal of violence in most entertainment media.

I do not for one moment dispute the gravity of the underlying issues. Torture and suffering have been entertaining human beings of all ages and both major genders since well before the beginning of what we like to call civilization, so these appetites would seem to run wide and deep among our species. However, since Gail Dines is “suspicious of arguments taken from nature,” as she told me in Las Vegas (and I’m sure for much the same reason as creationists), we needn’t hold our collective breath awaiting any attempt at a scientific explanation.

This show isn’t about science. It’s about politics. It occasionally hides its objectives behind some of what screenwriters call “relatively scientific crap,” (R.S.C. for short), but the kind of science that requires methodical verification isn’t always politically useful, and when science and politics collide, science is usually the worse for the impact.

And now, here’s Gail, back again to tell us just what we’re supposed to think of these admittedly “difficult” visions of sado-eroticism.

“Pornography takes violence against women and it sexualizes it. And when you sexualize violence against women (cut to Otto Bauer doing some rough fellatio with his wife Audrey Hollander in a non-BDSM gonzo film, ever so 2257-non-compliantly) you render the violence invisible.”

Wait a minute. Why would pornographers want to make violence against women invisible if they intend to market it by sexualizing it? Not too swift on the economic analysis there, Professor. But never mind, we’ve got lots of non-2257-compliant choking and fucking to spin, so we needn’t waste our time trying sort out the jumbled logic of this pronouncement.

As a girl gets her head pushed into a toilet, the somber Professor Wolff pitches in his two cents to the effect that “pornography, with all its destructive effects, is a sign or a reflection of the failure to question an economic system that reward enterprises for profit maximizing and endlessly market expanding.”

Bad grammar aside, this chunk of wheezy Marxist dogma would seem to point to the very contradiction in Dines’ quote above. If the idea is to turn a buck off of sexualizing violence against women, why would pornographers want to make that violence invisible? If violence really was a key element in expanding the market for pornography, why would that element be minimized?

Another possible explanation, one of many not addressed in this intellectual sink hole, is that what is portrayed in BDSM pornography is not, in fact, violence.

One of the performers recognizable in the kink.com content is Lorelei Lee, a sex-worker advocate, writer and co-organizer of the sex workers’ art show that recently traveled cross country, dogged by controversy as might be expected. Like most of the kink.com regulars, Lee is also a BDSM enthusiast in her private life, and has this to say about it: “Nobody likes to stub their toe or drop something heavy on their foot. You need to understand that it is a different kind of pain. You have adrenaline going and especially if you are mixing it with sex. So then there is the pain and the pleasure happening at the same time. My experience came in that context compared to if someone were to come up to you and hit you in the face in a bar during a fight.” Seems like a clear enough distinction to me, if not to someone as well educated as Dines. But wait, there’s more.

Not long ago, I interviewed another kink.com regular, Madison Young, who performs in and directs her own line of BDSM videos, in which she usually plays submissive roles. She’s also in a full-time D/s relationship with her life-partner, also a BDSM peformer-director. Here’s what she told me: “I love to be fucked while bound. Rope bondage alone is enough to get me off, but when you add a fist or a cock up my ass or pussy, my body just tumbles into a bottomless abyss of orgasm. It's a very unique sensation to be made completely open and vulnerable to your partners and be penetrated and gifted by their domination and love at the same time.”

No talk about violence from either one of these two women. No wonder the makers of TPoP don’t want performers talking for themselves.

Now if Dines had suggested that violence were being disguised as something else in order to avoid legal complications, she would have had to acknowledge that the legal suppression of pornography does, in fact, occur, and that would blow a big hole in the film’s central conceit that pornographers enjoy free reign in all aspects of modern society.

Not one word is ever spoken by anyone on the subject of adult obscenity prosecutions in this film’s entire running time. Professor Sun’s dismissive response to an audience question at a recent showing regarding why ACLU director and long-time opponent of adult obscenity prosecutions Nadine Strossen never appears in this film, even though Sun spoke with her while making it. Apparently, Strossen wanted to talk about the legal implications of pornography and censorship, and these things were not “media critic” Sun’s concerns. I’ll have a go at that one later, but let’s get back to the business at hand.

And business it is. After this package tour of BDSM hell, we find ourselves tossed once more into the gaudy depths of the AVN awards show, where a mediocre comic M.C. tells a vulgar sex joke. BDSM I can defend. AVN’s talent choices are not my department, fortunately.

“It (meaning pornography) will explore every kind of sexual perversion, dysfunction, misery, sadness, desperation,” proclaims Dr. Wolff, as if all these things fall neatly into the same category of “icky.” Examples from Web sites selling images of rape, large women having sex, old women having sex, midgets having sex, pregnant women having sex – you know, more icky stuff – help punch up his insistence that: “if we don’t question the pornography industry, we’re allowing the producer to create the need that he can profitably meet.”

In other words, if it weren’t for porn, nobody would ever think of such things. Pornography is what capitalism substitutes for individual sexual imaginations, sort of like something out of “Attack of the Body Snatchers.”

That’s why nothing but wholesome, vanilla sex existed before the invention of pornography, right?

Not very informative stuff from Wolff here, whom I’ve come to dislike with a peculiar intensity in a film full of utterly unlikable people. At least we do finally find out where the 900 million rentals figure used way back when at the beginning of this nearly concluded waste of video stock came from. AVN Publisher Paul Fishbein himself appears onscreen to tell us. Far be it from me to doubt the veracity of anything from this source. At the very least, I can agree with him that there are a lot of consumers out there.

Jensen agrees as well, citing this as evidence that pornography no longer represents a deviant sexuality, but in fact expresses a very conventional sexuality. “That road,” he says, delivering the Big Message, “takes us not just into the valley in California where this material is produced. It takes us into our own lives and into our own bedrooms.”

Back for one more visit to that anonymous flat-block exterior, and another chat with Eric the student, who talks about the excitement of watching pornography in the moment, but if you continue watching after you’ve had an orgasm “it’s kind of just foul.”

Deep. Very deep. And about as subtle as the visual closer of a kneeling girl getting her face splattered with semen. I’ve lost count of the number of non-compliant images long ago, but I think there are more than enough of them in this show to get any actual pornographer sent up for about a hundred years. We slowly pull out of this, amid the gasping and grunting of an unseen male masturbator, until the frame freezes, signaling the merciful conclusion of our own immersion in disingenuous bullshit.

There are some illuminating items in the closing credits, however, that we shouldn’t overlook, although the mournful dirge sung over them makes me want to eject this disk and put it right into the shredder.

It should be noted that Rebecca Whisnant, anti-porn activist and editor of the anthology “Not for Sale” served as a narration editor/consultant and that Dines and Jensen are credited as “senior consultants.”

I know these are the first people I’d consult for an unbiased and non-judgmental overview of the porn industry. While I was at it, I’d give James Dobson a call if I wanted a balanced perspective for a documentary about reproductive freedom.

Also noteworthy are the interview subjects who didn’t make the final cut. Catherine MacKinnon gets her credit first, with Noam Chomsky down a bit further (actually, he’s credited twice, which tells you a lot about the technical quality of TPoP overall, which is sloppy). Poor Neil Malamuth, the UCLA professor who has probably done the best, most objective research on the behavioral effects of porn viewing is listed as well, but having read his work, which concludes that there is no demonstrable connection between porn consumption and anti-social behavior, I’m not surprised he didn’t make it into the film. And I must express gratitude where it’s due that we were also delivered from having to endure Melissa Farley Dianna Russell.

But then, neither do we hear from some articulate individuals who might disagree with the producers’ conclusions. We don’t get to hear from photographer/author Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, or women directors Skye Blue, Candida Royalle and Kelly Holland, or writers Mark Kernes, Bruce David and Mark Cromer.

Any of these individuals might have introduced some measure of rationality to the proceedings and thus spoiling the whole project.

Okay, so there it all is. I don’t claim my interpretation of The Price of Pleasure is unbiased and non-judgmental. As a pornographer, I am merely unsympathetic to its point of view, but I don’t think it’s much of a threat, as it preaches to the converted and is unlikely, in its ham-handed literalness, to convince anyone else. As a filmmaker, I dislike its ineptitude too much to even enjoy it as an exercise in camp. Unlike something Ed Wood might have made, it’s not so bad it’s funny. It’s just plain bad.

But personally, I loathe it. I despise the lies it tells about me and about what I do and about my friends. I disdain it for its hypocritical hand-wringing over the fates of female porn performers who are never allowed to speak for themselves on any of the serious themes the film claims to address. I hate it for silencing them while assuming the martyr’s mantle of speaking up for views that have been silenced, when those are the views heard most often in mainstream media, on college campuses and from pulpits all over America.

The very worst thing about this film as that it denigrates the women in porn far worse than porn itself could ever manage to. It treats them the way a film made by PETA would treat farm animals: as faceless, voiceless, mindless, anonymous victims too pathetic to be regarded as individuals.

Just as the filmmakers wrongly allege porn does, The Price of Pleasure treats women in pornography as nothing more or less than meat. And for that it deserves a kind of infamy that time cannot erase. Unlike Reefer Madness, this film will never become funny, no matter how much time passes, because real human beings were harmed in the making of it.

As an epilogue, I’ll describe my own meeting with Chyng Sun and her jolly crew in an expensive room at The Venetian that someone else undoubtedly paid for, but that can wait a minute.

I think we’ve spent quite enough time with these noble humanitarians for now

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Price of Pleasure Deconstructed - Part Three

The black screen returns: “Empowered by Porn?”

Note carefully the punctuation here. I wasn’t expecting an exclamation point, but a simple period would have sufficed. It might even have implied the same derisive message, but with a bit more irony. Like the porn it “critiques,” one thing TPoP lucks utterly is irony, at least of the intentional kind.

Can we guess the answer to the question posed? Sure, but that won’t spare us from further exposure to the producer’s opinion. I’m beginning to think nothing short of mortality could deliver us from it.

Lisa, the female fan we met first at AdultEx, comes back, as usual far more rational-sounding than the assorted ringers with which the picture is larded. She thinks it’s hypocritical for women to take porn out of a man’s life, and that neither marriage nor any other serious commitment justifies such action. It would be better if women just learned to accept porn and “roll with it and have fun with it.”

No proposition so real goes “unexamined” in these parts, so the narrator comes back, voicing over a Cosmo cover to the effect that “The pressure to be hypersexualized is increasingly present in women’s daily lives. Advice programs, talk shows and books instruct average women to spice up their sex lives with pornography.”

Hold it right there. Can anybody here tell me just what makes a woman “average?” The hypersexualizing pressure assertion, unsupported by anything other than some advertising pix and a few more magazine and book covers, is easily enough swatted down, but before getting to that, I don't want what I take to be pretty much a blunderbuss insult to women at large to pass unchallenged.

Clearly, this is a condescending slam, conscious or not, at women everywhere who, not having had the benefit of the Stop Porn Culture! slide show, are the feminine lumpen proletariat the enlightened vanguard in TPoP’s presumed audience must seek to liberate. I’m sure they should all feel ever so grateful to be accepted as merely average rather than deluded and victimized like those really tragic cases in porn.

Anyway, we’re next exposed to the “pressures” of pole-dancing classes and Carmen Electra exercise vids that these average women must face daily at whatever cost to their fragile self-esteem.

The ever-insightful Ariel Levy: “What’s interesting about porn or strippers or any other kind of sex work is it’s women whose job it is to impersonate lust or, you know, fake arousal. The idea that you’re going to get more in touch with your own authentic, innate personal sexuality by imitating a woman whose job it is to imitate sexuality, I mean you’re getting pretty far removed from the real thing.”

Pausing for a moment to ponder the sorry state of American publishing that lays out hard cash for the services a writer with such limited command of basic English syntax, I reread this passage a couple of times and decrypt it to mean that all sexuality shown in porn is essentially fake (and BTW, while porn performers do strip and some strippers do porn, the constant use of the two very different trades interchangeably does a disservice to both, and to the viewer). Therefore, none of the techniques used in either profession to produce arousal in a male audience could possibly be of any use to a woman of the real world seeking to arouse a male sexual partner.

As we all know, the use of artifice for such purposes is entirely a modern development and a by-product of cultural pornification. If you don’t count The Bible, The Kama Sutra, The 1001 Nights and a body of lore and literature stretching back to the dawn of recorded history, that is. And the sexual experiences of those men and women aroused by such artifices in their private lives have all been having inauthentic experiences throughout those thousands of years. Gee Ariel, thanks for the news, even if it is a bit dated.

Not that we’re given time to sort through this rhetorical hodge-podge. A clip from Girls Gone Wild, favorite punching-bag among raunch culture scolds, unspools to remind us of just how bad the situation has gotten for women who don’t wish to engage in drunken revelry on the beach with equally inebriated yobbos.

According to Levy, who has “walked around the beach” with the GGW posse: “Girls come running up them screaming ‘I gotta be on Girls Gone Wild. I gotta get a hat. And the just start, you know, flashing and stripping and the rest of it.”

The look on Levy’s face speaks to her opinion of such behavior far more effectively than her words, which don’t seem to suggest anything particularly repellent. Drunken young people have been known to do things far more dangerous. I’m no defender of Joe Francis, and I like GGW even less than other forms of reality TV (I’m a Dancing with the Stars fan myself).

I think the whole premise of watching people make fools of themselves for our entertainment is problematic, to use one of those words favored by self-styled “media critics,” which is the hat I’m wearing tonight. I don’t know if it’s the blatant schadenfreude that bothers me or the contemplation of the possible consequences for the participants, but I can process the appeal of physical cruelty in much less value-laden terms.

But the idea that GGW is that much more damaging to its participants than any other entertainment built on the same template because the content is sexual is dubious. The women of GGW are certainly more jovially mocked than the guys on Jackass, but fortunately the vast majority of men and women can quite handily avoid such hazards.

But we’re given plenty more of GGW just to make sure we don’t miss the point. After a quick glimpse of tits plastered with “Censored” signs and some giggles and talk of puffy nipples, we must immediately be reminded that THIS ISN’T FUNNY by the dour Ms. Levy (like we didn’t know this already).

“There was this one 19-year-old girl who had stripped in the back of a bar and simulated masturbation and I said ‘So what’s in it for you? Why did you do this?’ And she looked at me, totally baffled and she said ‘the only way I could see someone not doing this is if they were considering a career in politics.’ And that was an idea that I heard a lot from young women down there. It was just like obviously you would do this. This is just what women do, what ‘hot’ women do.”

That, ladies and gentleman, is a mighty big inductive leap. The woman in question – the one of age to shoulder a rifle in Iraq – sees no significant risk in exposing herself unless she were planning on a career. Whatever I may think if that logic, it’s hers and hers alone. How we get from that to a generalization that this woman, and by implication others, believe this to be “what women” or even “hot women” do is less supported than the flasher’s tits. She speaks for herself and Levy speaks for, at the very least “a lot of young women down there,” at the beach. There might be someone out there who could risk hypothesizing about these women’s motives with some objectivity, but that someone probably wouldn’t have written a book titled “Female Chauvinist Pigs”.

Back to MTV and Damone Richardson, expressing his surprise that women come to him when he DJs wanting him to play hip-hop with dirty lyrics. Worse, he’d even see women on the dance floor dancing to it.

“To me, it would almost be like white supremacist hip hop, saying, like, you know, ‘those drug using niggers in the city...’ but I would dance to it because the music was catchy. I don’t understand why more women don’t take offense to this stuff.”

Maybe it’s because they’ve been culturally conditioned to accept it as normal. Or maybe it’s because the music is catchy. There are legitimate questions to be raised about gangsta rap, but as a white person, I wouldn’t feel qualified to raise them. No such inhibitions plague the producers of TPoP, who happen to be white also. Still, I’d cut Richardson some slack I wouldn’t cut them. For one thing, he’s not talking about porn, a subject with which I can claim some familiarity. Last time I checked, that was the subject of this movie, though plenty of other media crit certainly seeps in through the cracks.

Meanwhile, out at the leafy campuses of the Ivy League, students have gotten into the porn business themselves, making “dorm porn”, at least according to cultural commentator Tyra Banks, who would never exaggerate any kind of excess for ratings purposes. Sure enough, the narrator validates Tyra’s claims with examples of student-run erotic magazines, many featuring (gasp) students themselves as nude models, and not just any students, but those from Harvard and U. Chicago.

Viewing the rather tasteful and creative photo spreads and covers of these periodicals is a welcome deliverance from the land of “Swirlies” at this point, though the filmmakers clearly don’t agree.

Looking at these images, ranging from lyric to outrageous, I’m inappropriately reminded of Dorothy Parker’s quip to the effect that “If all co-eds from Smith College were laid end-to-end … it wouldn’t surprise me.” THAT’S NOT FUNNY!

Certainly not to the narrator, who drags us back from our brief moment of erotic reverie to the grim, Dickensian reality of life at universities where tuitions run upwards of $40,000 a term. We’re reminded that many of these student publications make no secret of their profit motives. Hey, desperate people do desperate thing. Isn’t that what we’ve been told so far?

Oh, I forget, even women who don’t need money are still prostituted by a pornified culture. These clever folks have an answer for everything, don’t they?

We’re introduced to “Boink” founder Alicia Keys by way of a Tyra interview, which rarely bodes well. Alicia points out that ”Boink” does run serious articles on contraception and STDs, but admits: “It’s here for entertainment. It’s here to masturbate to. It’s here to titillate. It’s supposed to arouse you. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” Mercifully, we’re spared Tyra’s rejoinders.

We do learn that reality TV has come calling, and that a six-figure book deal may be in the offing for the devilish boinksters. We’re not entirely sure who is exploiting whom in this deal, but somebody’s always getting exploited in this movie, of that you can be sure.

College Student and political activist Elizabeth-Wrigley-Field sorts it out thus: “When people don’t actually feel like they could challenge sexism directly and change the terms on which we’re evaluated, than the reaction is “if you can’t beat sexism, you can join it.” So much for those troublesome Third-Wavers out there. They’ve just joined up with sexism because they don’t think they can beat it.

That they still identify as feminists might put a dent in this interpretation, but we’re not going to have to deal with such paradoxes just now. As far as Wrigley-Field is concerned, the way such women think is “actually a huge mistake. It’s just giving up on the idea of changing the way women are thought to be.” Oddly, many sex-positive feminists consider themselves to be doing just that, but they’re just plain wrong. Like all women who don’t agree with the producers, they simply don’t know their own minds.

Which brings us all the way around to Joanna Angel, whose full-on crucifixion is this film’s second most repulsive moment. You’ll have a hard time believing there could be something as foul, but TPoP is never to be underestimated when it comes to new ways of stripping sex workers of their personhood (no, that’s not what we do, that’s what they do).

We see Joanna arriving at a party, where she’s greeted by smiling autograph-seekers. But don’t be confused about the source of her fame. She maybe Rutgers grad with a degree in lit, but the important thing about her is that she’s the founder “Burning Angel” the Web site where she fuses punk rock with pornography.

Cut to her interview at AdultEx, where she tells the interviewer she’s learned a lot about herself and become a more powerful person through porn. Hah! They’ll show her, and us.

Cut to a darkened room where a cigarette-puffing guy reminiscent of Cancer Man in “X-Files” watches Joanna on TV, giving quite an impressive acting performance as she explains in a whiny voice that her daddy treated her like a little whore when she was five, then breaks into giggles. This material is so outrageously over the top, anyone who wasn’t hopelessly literal-minded would see it for the premeditated camp that it is, but everything about this “documentary” is to be taken literally and at face value, other than comments made by those who don’t share its ever-more-apparent biases.

In her interview, Joanna goes on to make the rather obvious observation that porn can’t really objectify women because you can’t turn a person into an object. It’s hard to refute that contention on scientific grounds, but that doesn’t keep the movie from trying. A quick shot of a female performer being slapped and having her mouth taped gives us little doubt about how that objectification thing works.

But Joanna soldiers on, insisting that showing a woman being choked and hit and spit on and called a dirty slut can still be feminist as long as everybody there is in control of what they’re doing.” But the images of Joanna being fish-hooked, spanked, bent over a table and having her hair pulled are unlikely to persuade those who don’t know, or care, what Joanna thinks about her own experiences, that she’s not an abused victim. That’s the image of her with which we’re left.

This whole documentary crew followed her around for days, told her lies, interviewed her for hours and served her up to us as self-deluded and pathetic. Not that they exploited her for their own purposes in any way, of course. These noble social reformers would never stoop to such tactics.

Right, and if you believe that, well, wait for the conclusion (not too much more of this to go, thankfully) lying just the other side of the title card reading: “Harder and Harder”,,,

Who do we find behind that final door? Me, of course, insisting that there’s all kinds of porn: “Now there’s everything for everybody who likes any kind of erotic depiction (a bit of hyperbole, as I failed to leave out depictions involving minors or quadrapeds)”. We get a bit of Dita Von Teese playing with another girl in Andrew Blake’s “Pin-Ups 2” while I point out that Blake and Candida Royale make “lovely, lushly mounted, high-fashion looking pictures.” All we see of Royale’s entire, vast body of work is her company’s animated logo.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is ALL the feature porn you’re getting in TPoP, because feature porn, we will soon learn, is obsolete, despite bringing in something over half the revenues in porn video, surpassing all other genres combined, and generates mega-hits like “Pirates” that sell millions of copies. And though the growing momentum in porn these days is back toward bigger, higher-quality productions with the sex dialed back a bit, such things really aren’t representative of “current trends in mainstream pornography that is industrially produced in the U. S.”

“It’s very easy,” I go on to say “for outsiders, particularly those who have a hostile agenda toward porn to seize on ugly porn or mean porn or porn where the purpose seems to be to inflict some kind of abusive sexuality on one or another party involved.”

I didn’t expect that statement to go unchallenged when I made it and I was not wrong. What the narrator calls “a team of scholars” from New York University (where Sun teaches, by a coincidence in this film where coincidences don’t exist, as we recall) a U.Mass. and U. Rhode Island “examine” the content of popular pornographic videos.

Dr. Ana Bridges, who previously presented the results of her “content analysis” at a feminist anti-pornography conference with Wosnitzer, informs us that: “Defenders of pornography often state that critics hold up the worst examples, most degrading, most violent pornography and talk about why this is harmful, but that in fact pornography is very diverse. Our research team was interested in what people are actually viewing.”

And how did they go about finding out? “We randomly selected videos from a list of best-renting videos. In that way, we were not responsible for choosing which videos to content analyze. Rather, the viewers are choosing which videos to watch and we are sampling from their choice.”

The operative words here are “random” and “sampling.” As the research used charts from AVN, it’s hardly surprising that they found so many hard gonzo titles. Features are more expensive to make, thus less common. However, they routinely occupy a majority of the top ten renting and selling titles. Gonzos are cheaper and more plentiful, so if you go by numbers of titles on the list, they will be represented out of all proportion to what the majority of viewers “actually watch.”

This is called junk social science. Start from a conclusion and ignore all evidence that contradicts it. Though the narrator insists that the team studied over 200 scenes from “the most popular videos released in 2005,” they don’t show us a single frame from anything made by Vivid, Wicked, Adam&Eve or Digital Plaground, all feature companies that rented and sold hundreds of thousands of videos that year.

The montage that follows shows us only gonzo titles ranging from “No Swallowing Allowed” to “Teen Fuckholes.” I seriously doubt that “Teen Fuck holes” posed much competition to “Pirates,” bit when you’re cherry-picking data you have to overlook a few exceptions here and there, no matter how large.

Not surprisingly, considering how loosely they define “aggressive sex acts,” the team found that 89.9% of what they watched contained such acts. 48% contained “verbal aggression, mostly name-calling and insults.” Just what constitutes name-calling and insults is a highly subjective matter depending on the context. Sure, there are clearly porn vids where the terms used are meant to be offensive. In a different context, the same words might be construed as complimentary. As we’re not told how these terms we’re defined, all we have is a meaningless statistic based on someone’s opinion of what constitutes an insult.
Intent and tone are not considered.

But wait, let’s move on to the real thing, physical aggression. They found that in 82.2% of what they watched, 94.4% of these acts were directed at women. We’re shown some (literally) nakedly non-compliant footage of a man yelling at a woman and dragging her across a room by a handful of hair, then some spanking. The narrator does note that the women in these scenes “frequently expressed enjoyment of this behavior.”

To make sure we understand what behavior is meant, we’re shown more spanking, a bit of choking. Counted as “acts of violence” across the board. Spanking and gagging during oral sex were found to be the most common acts of aggression. We’re shown numerous shots of oral sex with gagging, all completely non-compliant as we’ve come to expect. This is very hard hardcore and we see it all, yet nary a record is proffered to establish, as lawful pornographers must, that all participants were adults over the age of 18 acting of their own free will.

Spanking and skull fucking to the gag-point are not everyone’s preference, but they are common acts in private as well as on video and were before video was invented. As acts of aggression go, they would have to be classed as pretty minor compared to anything you might see in a mainstream network crime show.

Nevertheless, Hatman pops up to talk about the terrible problem gonzo producers have figuring out “how many dicks can you stick in a girl at one time. If you’ve been following along, you’ll expect an answer to that question with numbing predictability. Hatman suggests that four is about the limit – one in her mouth, two in her ass, one in her pussy.

Have no doubt that Gail Dines will return next to remind us that there are “limits to what you can show and the way you can show it because there are limits to what the human body can endure. So what pornographers have to do is think of new and different things to keep the audience going.”

Clearly, we’re dealing with a progressive addiction here, right? That’s the model the producers are eager to sell us.

As an example, Bridges comes back to tell us all about ATM footage, in which performers suck cocks that have recently fucked them anally. Her team found ATMs in 42% of the scenes they saw. Yep, it’s pretty common in gonzo porn, though not allowed in features at all. I keep forgetting that features don’t exist.

And lest the troubling gaps in the research distract us, Dines, scarcely able to contain her revulsion, talks about the guys in the films make jokes about the girls having to eat shit. Girls make those jokes in these films also.

Well, if shock value is the value you want to cultivate, that’s pretty effective use of propaganda tactics. That similar behavior, once again, is not limited to porn and was not invented by porn, and that couples freely engage in it on their own time just don’t count as facts. The idea here is to make people queasy and I have no doubt this detailed discussion of a particular fact will have just that effect on many. So who cares of those who perform the acts consented to them or even enjoyed them? The actual experience of the individuals involved is irrelevant. We never get to hear any of them talk about those experiences, so we have no way of knowing how they are seen subjectively. Subjectivity gets little respect anywhere in TPoP, unless uttered in the form of rad-fem rhetoric, where interpretation rules all things.

The closest we come is a predictably self-loathing soliloquy from conflicted porn director Jimmy D., who feels ever so sad for the girl he shot doing the ATM, whom he was certain didn’t want to do it. If he had those misgivings, he might have stopped the scene and asked her if she wanted not to, but he kept on rolling and collected his check, so he must not have felt all that guilt-ridden at the time we see him filming it. Graphic retching noises leave us to draw the conclusions nicely set up for us.

Mr. Anonymous fan returns in silhouette to testify that most women wouldn’t be interested in performing ATMs “because they probably think it’s kind of digusting.” Again, no woman who does this is asked about it, though we’ve expended about five minutes on it, concluding with another gem from Jenson:

“All these acts at the base are about male domination and female submission, men’s ability to do whatever they want to women and women accepting it and not only accepting it, seeing it as part of their nature.”

Individual nature, nature as women, nature as women who make gonzo porn? Since we never hear from any, naturally we’re to assume that he means all women as far as the “ideology of porn” is concerned.

I will save the very worst for the very last, and then offer up a closing summation. It will be worth waiting for, I promise.

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.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Price of Pleasure Deconstructed - Part One

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.

Next this:

"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.