Saturday, September 19, 2009

Graphic Sexual Horror Part Deux

Not at all meaning to steal a bit of IACB's finely-tuned thunder on the subject, I just had to bump this topic up again now that I've seen the movie. Whatever your feelings about InSex or BDSM in general. If you have any business on this blog, you'll see why a graph or two down the road.

So now that I have actually seen this picture, I just can't wait to tell everybody how good it is. It's more than good. It's a fine piece of documentary work on a very difficult subject of which any filmmaker should be proud, whatever the subject may be.

The directors resolutely resist the temptation to oversimplify the contradictions of InSex - its weird visual richness or the sordid circumstances under which it was often created – allowing viewers to make up their own minds.

Certainly, those who were inclined to see InSex's creator, PD, as either a monster or a genius or a mountebank or any combination of the above will find plenty of evidence here to validate their preconceptions. However, they'll also be confronted with plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Special thanks, after the ugly exploitation of sex performers in a tacky hock of agitprop like The Price of Pleasure, to G.S.H.'s co-directors for allowing sex performers to speak for themselves, at length and without manipulative editing. Not surprisingly, they prove perfectly adept at articulating their own experiences without the need for noxious interlocutors explaining that experience for our benefit.

But of all the fascinating topics covered in this riveting film, the one most chillingly relevant to the matters we address here concerns the manner of InSex's sudden demise. PD claims, and it's a claim confirmed not only by other BDSM Web site operators on camera but also by the experiences of others I know personally, that the Bush administration put him out of business by means that make a paper airplane out of The Constitution, set it alight and hurl it in the face of a symbolic target, burning that target to the ground.

Rather than attempting to prosecute InSex for obscenity, which would have been challenging given PD's substantial artistic credentials, agents of The Department of Homeland Security were sent forth to intimidate banks into refusing to process InSex's credit card transactions. A laughable-if-not-so-disturbing charge was leveled to the effect that Internet porn money was being used to finance international terrorism and that banks unwilling to cooperate in putting their clients out of business might have cause to regret their resistance.

Even I might be tempted to dismiss this as grandiose hyperbole, which is entirely consistent with PD's M.O., had I not heard the very same story from several small, independent BDSM site owners who were similarly shut down without warning by banks with whom they had long done business to no ill effect for either party.

This raises a question more disturbing, or at least it should be, to the citizenry at large than any image that ever appeared on InSex. Why would a regime that was torturing people all over the world, often in a sexualized manner but without the williing participation of those being tortured, go to such bizarre lengths to suppress images of people being tortured voluntarily?

Why indeed? What is it about BDSM that inspires such murderous loathing in authoritarian personalities of all stripes? Go anywhere in the world where human rights are routinely abused and what you won't find is any above-ground BDSM cultural representation of any kind. Clearly, in these various dystopias, torture is regarded as a ruling-class monopoly not to be mocked by ordinary folk playing at it for their mutual enjoyment.

Another troubling element of this part of the story is the outsourcing of censorship to the private sector as a way of circumventing legal restrictions on the use of government power.

Strangely, those howling about government involvement in healthcare seem to find nothing troubling about government involvement in mass communications with no public oversight or debate whatsoever.

The triumph of Graphic Sexual Horror, like that of most excellent documentaries, is how many more questions it asks than it answers.


  1. I'm glad you liked GSH. I'm a big fan of intelligent documentaries like this that engage viewers and allows them to form their own opinions rather than spoon feed them answers or manipulate them toward an a priori conclusion.

    Being for the most part an outsider to BDSM and BDSM porn (other than what I pick up by osmosis just from being part of the sex-positive world), I hadn't even been aware of Insex until this documentary. If I'd seen any images from it, I probably would have thought they came from But the story of this site is one of the more interesting ones in the recent history of porn, and I'm glad somebody finally told it.

    And speaking of different documentary styles, I did make a point of watching The Price of Pleasure in its entirety around the time I saw GSH. (TPoP being, in its own way, the more painful one to watch!) I think seeing GSH really highlighted just how manipulative TPoP is – if those filmmakers had covered the same subjects of GSH, I can picture exactly which individuals, statements, and images they would have focused on, to the exclusion of anything balancing or contextualizing.

  2. Well, PD makes a pretty easy target for anyone wanting to bash porn in general and BDSM porn in particular. He clearly revels in shocking people and finds some intellectual legitimacy in the by-now rather tired Epatier les Bourgoisie defiance that characterized a certain element of the NYC art world that spawned him. He's a bit more complex than that, and his vision really does have a serious esthetic buried in it somewhere.

    But his professed admiration for serial murderers, his mean-spirited egotism in stripping the performers of their names and assigning them numbers so no one would give them any credit for the spectacles of which he clearly regards himself as sole auteur, the way he enriched himself through his work to a vast extent while paying his models what we would consider a pathetic rate out here in videoland, his manipulation of talent to satisfy his personal kinks and, above all, his use of his economic power to stretch the consent of those who worked for him do make him a pretty ideal villain.

    Indeed, if Chyng Sun ever sees GSH, I'm sure she'll be grinding her teeth over having missed out on the chance to nail someone who so clearly begged to be nailed.

    And the images, many of which are harrowing even for experienced BDSM enthusiasts who understand the element of circus magic involved and the careful planning (thankfully highlighted in GSH) that went into creating them as safely as possible, would certainly play right into the porn-is-violence-against-women meme.

    But what separates exposition from polemic is balance. Everyone gets a say in GSH, not just those who agree with whatever personal opinions the directors might have (which they carefully avoid allowing to intrude on the story-telling), but a wide variety of those who had direct experience with InSex. Some found that experience exhilarating and revelatory. Some found it destructive and emotionally scarring. Some pretty much saw it as a gig, set their own limits at the beginning and came away with their expectations more or less met.

    In a propaganda approach to this same set of factual circumstances, we would get the shocking images, a few carefully sliced and diced quotes from the most embittered InSex veterans, regardless of how representative of all those interviewed, and a whole lot of PD burying himself in his own abrasive language.

    Then, of course, we would be non-consensually subjected to endless prating from carefully hand-picked experts, interminably explaining for our benefit why all this is so unspeakably evil and damaging to all women, and men for that matter, everywhere, whether they participated in it, or even saw it, at any time in their lives.

    Missed in all that would be what remains for me the scariest part of a picture that is not without some pretty scary content.

    That the government would treat InSex and just about anything remotely like it on the Internet as terrorism rather than some more conventional kind of infraction gives us a chilling glimpse into the elasticity with which the unlamented Bush gang applied that term.

    InSex may have been many things that were pathological, including a predatory cult or even a bad influence, but it was not terrorism by any definition that could justify action against it as such.

    There is certainly terror in this saga, but the only terrorism of a political nature involved was practiced by the feds.