Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"It's just boobs!"

Well, pornography has been on the news here in NZ this week, on account of porn entrepreneur Steve Crow's Boobs on Bikes parade, which was watched by around 100,000 people in
Auckland yesterday (and protested by a mixture of conservatives and feminists). Which makes it an appropriate time to consider Pornography with a capital 'P' - i.e. the stuff the commercial porn industry makes, and which dominates most people's idea of what the word means (in the same way Marvel and DC dominate most people's idea of comics).

The last few days, I've been mumbling incoherently about the way art - by which I guess I mean depiction - necessarily involves a process of eroticisation. It's a kind of magic, enchanting whatever it depicts - saturating it with meaning and sensuousness, seducing us, arousing us. Anyone who's fallen in love with a photograph of a place (an Ansel Adams or Craig Potton or Robin Morrison, etc), and then been disappointed by the experience of actually being there, has discovered the difference between the enchanted world we see in art, and reality.

As James Kochalka says in The Horrible Truth About Comics:
Art gives us a way of transforming our messy, contingent, meaningless reality into a place where, as Kochalka puts it, we can "boil in the intensity of our experiences."

So what happens when we make art that's designed to sexually arouse? Well, for one thing, we're taking a process that already has the effect of heightening experiences, and then concentrating it into an "ultra vivid reality." It's like taking coca leaves and turning them into cocaine. Artists have been making pornography for ever, of course, and not only because it sells. It's also because it's like working magic. Artists love it when their work has an effect on people; and with pornography - what an effect! Sexual arousal transforms the whole person, nudging them into that other, more intense, reality. An artist who can turn people on is like a sorcerer or shaman, able to summon the spirit of Eros into our world. Pornography is pagan, Bacchanalian, animist; it breaks down the everyday and invites our demons to rise up and take possession of our bodies and minds.

Which is not, imho, a bad thing. But it's poweful shit, that's for sure.

These days, though, pornography is dominated by the "adult entertainment industry," which is a business first and foremost; "the other Hollywood," as it's sometimes called. Its product is a kind of McPorn: cheap, fake, mass produced to a template, unconcerned with what kind of demons or spirits it's summoning or exciting. In McPorn, sexuality is little more than an array of commercialised products: oral, anal, girl on girl, gang bang, etc etc... One blow job is much like any other, and the actors and actresses too have a sameness to them, thanks to the cosmetic surgery, the fake boobs and spray-on tans, the daytime soap opera haircuts, the super-tight miniskirts and death-defying stilleto heels. There's a bland cheap TV advert aesthetic to these things: a kind of porno chic, which seems pretty pervasive at the moment throughout mainstream pop culture. God knows, it dominates mainstream comics...

The reason I hate most of this stuff isn't because it's pornography; it's because it's McPorn. One Boobs on Bikes "model" interviewed topless on TV3 news last night responded to the controversy by shrugging and laughing: "it's just boobs!" Which, y'know, is quite right. What's the big deal, people? Get over it!

But on another level, her comment unwittingly demonstrated the problem I have with most mainstream pornography. In their view, sex is "just sex" - nothing special. just another product to be manufactured, bought and sold. These films aren't anyone's personal fantasy, obsession, nightmare or dream. They're bland collections of cliche, just going through the motions of sex and ticking the boxes: oral, anal, girl-girl, close-up, money shot, end. Gone is any sense of genuine transgression, of pagan ritual, magic or dreams. Gone is the beauty and awe and horror of Eros, the intensity and transformative power of arousal, passion, desire and lust. McPorn is to sexuality what the Big Mac is to food.

Thank god the internet has led to an explosion of 'alternative, independent porn,' a place where anyone can put their own individual obsessions out there for others to discover, where homemade non-commercial exhibitionism can flourish, and where the porn equivalent of zines and minicomics can grow and find an audience. There are websites dedicated to bellybuttons, groups who are turned on by the smell of cut grass; there's deviantart, old school grindhouse, amateur burlesque, webcams and adult blogs. Of course, the industry is expanding like wildfire too, and jumps on every opportunity to exploit every concievable market niche. No doubt thousands of sex slaves are suffering in front of webcams so some asshole can get rich. And for paedophiles, the web has been a godsend. But when you unleash demons, some of them aren't all that nice...

I don't mean to dismiss the entire commercial mainstream porn industry; obviously, every so often there are moments of real Dionysian power in even the most boring pornography. And I'm sure there are some genuine auteurs working in the industry, just as there are some great talents doing interesting things in superhero comics. And maybe even mainstream porn is about to enter another 'golden age' like the 1970s; certainly the opportunity is there. What is undeniably happening, I think, is a creative convergence of porn with independent film, as seen in movies like Shortbus, 9 Songs, Ken Park, etc...

Next time, I promise I'll try to talk about some of the interesting stuff...

1 comment:

Johannes said...

There's a good chance this blog is actually dead. But I liked reading it. There aren't many people giving all that much thought. I read Nietzsche's Geburt der Tragedie too, and Baudrillards Seduction, and some of Georges Bataille's work on eroticism and McLuhan and so forth, and further, I have quite the indifferent mindset when it comes to internet porn. I grew up with it and learned to accept it (while reading the aforementioned). In fact, just now I was looking for articles that compare the semiotics between American, German and Russian porn. I wonder if one could describe them as different discourses, showing a deeper, erotic nature of sexuality. I think it would be easy: and compelling.
Anyway, what I wanted to comment to was the phrase: "Gone is any sense of genuine transgression." It's a tempting thought, but there's one essential factor missing for talking about transgression in the first place: distance. The porn viewer has no perspective of his- or herself. In line with Geburt der Tragedie one could argue that the viewer would identify with the dissonant who upsets the Bacchantus choir -- but in the industry such a dissonant is rare. The format always persists. However it are these "subversive" actors that make porn so attractive imo.
But we aren't equipped with the tools to distinguish the one from the other. And this will have its effects in the future. In many cases watching porn is no more than an extended masturbation, a conditioning sexual arousal. -- And with that the seductive look in the eyes of an aroused partner is completely forgotten...
Don't you think?

Anyway, can I watch your film for less than 225 dollar please? Greets:)