(I originally posted this on my blog but since I attended the screenings officially as a member of SWOP-Chicago, I am putting it here as well.)
To use Serpent’s phrase, the “SWOP posse” (hey, we can put that on a t-shirt, Serpent!) viewed “The Price of Pleasure” this weekend at two separate venues in Chicago: DePaul University and Columbia College. My review is obviously biased but it is not going to concentrate solely on criticizing the technical aspects of the documentary. I have comments about the audience as well.
The audience last night at DePaul seemed a lot more diverse and a little more genuinely intelligent. Perhaps I am being prejudice since I am a student there and since I have an enormous capacity for vanity since I know I am very intelligent then all other Demons (school mascot), by virtue of being fellow classmates are at least as equally intelligent. And I am definitely not saying this to hint that DPU students who screened the film had the same reaction I did. However, the comments from all sides of the aisle sounded well-thought out and mature.
At Columbia there were far too many pompous asses that were attempting to sound more learned than they were. No offense to other CC students (me mum went there!) but there was this one guy I could have gladly slapped the smirk off his little pinchy face.** Maybe it was the timbre of the voices of most of those students but it was so “Yes, I have almost completed my second quarter in college and I KNOW SO MUCH!!!” But…I could be projecting.
Content aside, my personal pornified views aside, the film was not objective. Especially considering the fact that the two credited Senior Consultants were Gail Dines and Robert Jensen. I don’t have a problem with them voicing their views that they think are based on incontrovertible fact. But there needed to be a balance. Personally, the most obnoxious non-objective element was the music. Bethdeath and I were ragging on it during the DPU screening. Mainly it is the music at the end of the film that was so melodramatic. I felt like I was watching a war film and the scene being shown is when the hero(es) fell in battle. Anyone who pays attention to music in fictional or nonfictional film knows there are cues. Music is specifically chosen to underscore a point being made. Even in a fictional film, music being casually listened to by the characters is rarely, rarely accidental. I’m no film student but I love watching movies, especially scifi/fantasy movies, and I know that much.
There were many slow-motion or zoom in shots that were obviously chosen for pure shock value. The movie showed a testimony given by a woman in silhouette about her husband’s stash of porn pictures hidden in a dictionary. The dramatic re-enactment, which I felt was unnecessary, showed the pictures tumbling out of the book in slow-motion and this extremely dramatic music being played in the background. Honestly. I don’t have a problem with her testimony being included in the film; it would be necessary in a truly (attempted) objective film. But the presentation of her testimony was manipulative. It could have just been her describing her husband’s actions, her reaction to his actions and that’s it. It would have made the necessary impact. But the slow-motion and melodramatic music? No. Not needed.
There were several other shots, especially showing SM porn and the more aggressive porn, where the music served to underscore the opinion of the filmmakers that YOU SHOULD NOT LIKE THIS! PORN=BAD! Of course both Robert Wosnitzer (co-producer) and filmmaker Chyng Sun fervently declared their objective status but with evidence like this, I cannot believe it. At all.
In my opinion, most of the statements made by the anti-pornography side and the narrator, which predominated, should have been phrased differently for an “objective” look. For example, at the beginning the narrator asks, “How do these pornographic images shape our perceptions of sex and relationships?”, instead of “Can they…?” or “Should they…?” To me, this is a huge and importance difference. Pornographic images certainly can shape perceptions and for some people they do. This also begs the question of whether or not this is a negative thing. It is negative, definitely, if you take the default view that pornography is bad. The way the question is phrase does not consider the possibility that the consumption of pornography will not shape the viewers perception of sex. Should porn shape perceptions? Yes and no. I think it can be a good outlet to watch depictions of a sexual act the viewer may already have a burgeoning interest in or for people already participating in such acts, suggestions for variety but it the average porn is still not for educational purposes. But this doesn’t make it bad. For the no part to that answer, it shouldn’t be used as force to shape the perception of a person who is uninterested.
This lack of consideration is underscored by Gail Dines declaring later on that “Pornography leaks into the everyday world of your life,” and that one can’t just “zip up [their] pants then zip up [their] brains”. Why not? David Law made the comment at the DPU screening last night that the movie was a bit misanthropic at times and I think he was pretty much referring to this. The idea that people, specifically men, are just mindless automatons. You see it, you do it is Dines’ view when it comes to pornography. That statement and opinion should be insulting to every conscious human being. We’d all be suffering from multiple personality disorders if we adopted the behavior and persona of everyone we see in a film!
Continuing on this point of view, Pamela Paul stated later that some men she interviewed for her book told her that “porn images” come “unbidden” during sex. Okay. And I’m sure those aren’t the only images that come “unbidden” during sex but it is curious that there is an acknowledgment of consciousness during sex when the prevailing view of that side is that people are mindless when it comes to sex. As I was saying, I wonder if Ms. Paul asked what other images come unbidden during sex for these men? I doubt it is just those nasty porn images.
Other comments made could have been rephrased to still criticize pornographic depictions without condemning the entire genre were two others posed by, again, Gail Dines: 1) That porn is a way to understand relationships for people who watch porn. Not that it is a way some people who watch porn try to understand relationships, which would be accurate. But all porn users, period. (2.) That African-American women are depicted as animalistic whores that can’t get enough sex. First, her use of the word whore as an insult. Thanks a lot, Gail. Next, if she were really concerned with specific issues instead of an all-encompassing, naked hatred of porn what she or any other researcher would ask is, “Why does it seem as though sexually voracious (or adventurous or open, etc.) black women are depicted in a light that would shame them for being very sexual in porn?” And actually, this is a subject I will be tackling in a post within the next week. Probably by tomorrow night. She also made a statement about the depiction of black men in porn that, I have to agree, is very racist in content, but I really did not want to dissect that one. Mainly because I kinda agree on that count. The myth of the black man with the huge cock is just that, a myth, very racist in origin and that simply doesn’t exist in large numbers in real life. I say this as a woman who has banged many black men including the one I am with now. Their sizes are as average as any other Tom, Harry or hehe Dick. But I will say that I appreciate the porn films that do make a more obvious attempt to mock and subvert and satirize the myth.
Shortly before displaying statistics that are highly questionable, they explained that the movies were chosen from Adult Video News’ best sellers list. The titles highlighted by way of sending them via cgi sailing toward the audience on the screen, were those with the titles that would shock and titillate those who don’t watch porn (or wouldn’t admit to it in public). I will not say that those movies should not have been considered or highlighted (because I love porn titles, they’re hilarious and kitsch if nothing else) but honestly, why not give the same treatment to titles like Pirates, Briana Loves Jenna, or Teradise among others? But they wanted to make sure to shock the audience into moral indigation with titles like Meat My Ass, which, speaking of, would serve the double purpose to disgust any PETAesque vegetarians or vegans viewing this (of course, ignoring that Jenna Jameson is vegetarian and a publicized PETA supporter).
These are the statistics given in the film upon serious analysis of its contents by people who know better than any of the consumers and definitely any of the performers or producers:
89.8% verbal or physical aggression
48% verbal aggression
82.2% physical aggression
94.4% directed at women
Now, all of this seems to obfuscate for the viewer of the documentary the fact that this is still scripted, often overdramatized fiction. Personally, I have a problem with people voicing misogynistic comments in public and having violent actions that reinforce said words. But that is referring solely to comments and actions IN REAL LIFE, not any sort of scripted fiction no matter how real it looks on film.
This flows into the later concern voiced by one of the academic researchers whose name I can’t recall. She complained about what she implicitly thought was a false enjoyment by a female performer during a gagging scene and the apparent callousness of the male performer not stopping as she gagged but continuing with the scene. Never mind, the gagging scene was the point (fetish, perhaps?) of the movie, it was a staged scene agreed to by both actor and actress in negotiations. I would venture a guess that some sort of safeword was established just in case it went too far for the actress at that time. Of course, she isn’t taking into account that like every other film, mainstream and popular porn alike, EDITING! A good editor can make a single scene shot twenty different times look seamless.
All of the academics were anti-pornography and not one of them was pro. I asked Chyng Sun about this lack of balance from the academic standpoint at the screening at Columbia College today. She and Wosnitzer danced around the question and never actually answered it. I asked if she tried to get in contact with Professor Nadine Strossen, Dr. Marty Klein or Dr. Annie Sprinkle among others. The response was everything except an answer to my question, though later Sun said that she talked to Prof. Strossen but most of her statements were about free speech and that wasn’t what the film was about. I would like to know what questions Chyng Sun asked Prof. Strossen because I cannot believe that the latter would have only talked about free speech if the questions had reflected those posed in the film.
The Price of Pleasure also made a casual but undeniable link between the United Nations definition of torture and the depiction of torture in SM porn. No, I misspoke. The link was not casual, it was obnoxious now that I think more on it. A drawing of a torture victim from the UN handbook on torture (I’m guessing from the way it looked) was shown immediately followed by a similar pose held by an actress in an SM porn film. To me, it said, THIS=THAT. That there is no difference between, oh, say, the torture in Abu Ghraib upon men who ARE NOT actors who did NOT sign a contract consenting to those actions and certainly DID NOT benefit from said actions…to an actress who DID sign a contract and DID benefit from said actions financially or sexually but hopefully and probably BOTH.
At this point another subjective question in an “objective” documentary was posed, “What makes torture/pain sexually arousing?” I feel a more objective question, while still critiquing, would have been, “Can these images be sexually arousing?” or “Are these images of abnormal behavior and what is considered abnormal in sexual activities?” But to ask questions like that one has to assume that they do not already have the answers. Again, this is where the melodramatic music makes its final and most wretching appearance.
The movie ends with a possibly traumatized but certainly morally indignant college student interviewed earlier who declared, “This is not sex. This is not how I wanted to experience sex.” Well, no, it is sex. It shouldn’t been considered sex ed and even some porn performers would agree on that. I think it is perfectly fine that pornography, especially the more “exotic” sex, is not how this young man wanted to experience sex. But that is how some people want to experience sex some of the time. The way he made the statement sounded as though he did not explore sex outside of pornography or that he was incapable of doing so. I wonder if he may consider himself a sex addict or something if that’s the case. I’ve noticed a link there.
I could say more, but honestly, I’m tired of typing. SerpentLibertine will have her own post up at some point and I’m sure she’ll talk about things that I did not. Naturally I’ll post a specific link when she does that. And that’s it folks. My opinion on watching The Price of Pleasure twice within twenty-four hours. I think I need a straitjacket.
**A Star Wars reference was made in relation to people not separating fantasy from reality (dude asked if I knew any SW nerds and I was like, I am one) and I really didn’t get a chance to really shut him down the way I would have if I didn’t think the moderators, if you will, would have used that as an excuse to cut me off. They were already looking for one. I am a huge Star Wars geek. So much so that upon viewing Viva Zapata! for a history class, I noticed that the villanious General Huerta (true historical figure and bad guy in La Revolution) said the line, “Wipe them out. All of them.” In The Phantom Menace, the future Emperor Palpatine, in his “true face” (according to him in Revenge of the Sith) as Darth Sidious gave the EXACT SAME command to his Separatist cronies to wipe out the joined Naboo and Gungan forces. I told the girl sitting next to me, “ZOMG! GL totally used that in TPM when Sidious wanted to wipe out the Naboo!!!!111!eleven!” (she gave me a blank look in response). I just geeked all over her that day. I know George Lucas MUST HAVE seen this movie and borrowed that line because I know The Flanneled One is a Mexican Revolution aficionado, used that as an inspiration for the Rebel Alliance as well as for Princess Leia’s cinnamon bun hairstyle, which was a real hairstyle popular among women in certain socio-economic classes at that time in Mexico. THAT is how much of a Star Wars geek I am.**