My collaborators and I are writing a show about the amateur pornography industry. Yes, my parents know about it, don’t you Mom and Dad? Of course we need to do our research, which is how I found myself watching a documentary about the porn industry yesterday morning. Which then made me upset and cynical for the rest of the day, until I read the entirety of David Foster Wallace’s essay “Big Red Son” about the Las Vegas AVN (Adult Video Nonsense or something like that) awards and remembered that there are intelligent and sane people in the world.
I feel like I should write about what upset me and threw me into feelings of feminist rage and borderline despair (and hyperbole and melodrama!), but I don’t really want to get into that head-space again. I also don’t know if I would be able to articulate an argument very clearly. Because I go back and forth on the subject of pornography. I don’t begrudge people their sexual tastes and don’t want to get in the way of their proclivities unless they’re hurting someone else, I think sexuality is a healthy and normal thing and that embracing it is a positive thing to do. I have no problem with people watching sexy videos.
What I have a problem with is just how often porn seems to operate at the expense of what should be half the fun–the woman’s experience and pleasure. (And her individual personhood, but that rant would never end.) I know that a majority (although by no means all) of the people who watch pornography are men, but correct me if I’m wrong, don’t lots of men want to see women who are enjoying themselves?
I don’t even know how to get into this without getting really explicit and going on a huge tirade. Because we can start to talk about how the women seem to be enjoying themselves, and then get into the fact that everyone is acting and how likely it is that someone actually enjoys having x happen in or on their y, and the idea that what’s sexy and taboo about it is the thought that these are special women who for some reason DO enjoy this thing that really shouldn’t be pleasant, and how do you know they don’t like it, and on and on and on, and whatever goes on between two consenting adults yadda yadda yadda.
I agree on the consenting adult thing. It’s just all of the pressures and the power dynamics and the manipulations that I feel are part of the industry make it hard for me to feel confident in the quality of the adult consent. Which is something we’re going to explore in our show, and I’ve got a whole lot of conflicting emotions and thoughts to bring to bear for it, which should be good fodder.
Here’s the thing that makes me most uncomfortable: The way that the hyper-sexualization of women that I see continuing to grow in our society, which I don’t think you can leave pornography out of, exerts its pressures on women young and old. The fact that magazines like Glamour and Cosmopolitan make a lot of their money by creating anxiety in women that unless they’re doing increasingly exotic things in the bedroom, they won’t be good enough for the kind of man they want to be with. The increasing pressure to somehow balance on the tightrope of the Whore-Madonna complex just right so that you’re girlfriend material but not the-boring-girlfriend-who-will-be-cheated-on material.
I’m sure guys feel pressure and anxiety about sexual performance as well, in fact I know they do (Viagra ads anyone?) and I’m not trying to trivialize their experience either. It makes me sad that videos that exist ostensibly for entertainment make people of all genders feel potentially inadequate in important aspects of their own lives. It’s that component of a culture in which pornography and porn-inspired images are becoming increasingly mainstream that I just hope people will be able to keep at arm’s length. I hope that the clear distinction between fiction and reality, actors and real men and women, fantasy and real-life situations with real-life individuals who have their own hang-ups and desires, will remain something that most of us can make.
What gets me down is worrying that that’s easier said than done.
(Downer entry, I know. But hey! “The Rocky Horror Show” has its first open dress rehearsal tomorrow and is going to be a lot of fun! Now go watch a YouTube video of a kitten and we’ll all be all right.)