So here you are reading a porn site and, even though you have intellectually accepted Porn’s right to exist and you know that intelligent people like yourself use it in hundreds of positive ways, and even that its accessibility might in fact have decreased the types of crimes sexual repression tends to cause (rape, stalking, being a mall security guard), you still find yourself looking back and forth between Dirtpipe Milkshakes on your screen and your framed diploma on the wall and saying, “Sorry.”
Just today I thought, “The Florida Department of Corrections gives me a college education and I choose to repay them like this?”
But, despite the occasional feeling bordering on guilty introspection and despite the real knowledge that many of Porn’s luminaries are boneheads, I am amazed at the aggressive, studied ignorance of many of porn’s detractors.
I and not more than a dozen other people viewed the laughable (were it not taught as fact in schools) documentary The Price of Pleasure at Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary last night. The event was personally sponsored by the seminary’s assistant registrar after (I heard this second-hand) the Fuller proper refused to lend its name (only a viewing area) to a porn documentary.
Representing the film (but pointedly and repeatedly refusing to “speak for the filmmakers”) was journalism professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin. Although featured prominently as a talking head in the film with a credit as a senior consultant, Jensen’s dilemma in dealing singlehandedly with a dozen people from the porn community (the screening was poorly advertised, perhaps deliberately) was one of distancing, distortion, dissembling, disavowal, and disclaimer.
“How many men don’t understand pornographic fantasies (shouldn’t be) transferred to the real world?” asks Jensen in the film, which includes college students’ accounts of discovering porn for the first time and feeling that their fathers weren’t attracted to their mothers, therefore, and that all women were easy.
Had I been interviewed for this film, I would have said that women only became easy once I got to college. But the central flaw of this intellectually sluggish film was that my comments would not have been included in the finished product.
Such was the concern of Penthouse’s Kelly Holland, who began the questioning following the film’s conclusion last night.
Holland reminded Jensen that she had been interviewed at length for the film, but “nothing of what I said about the industry I’ve been a part of for fourteen years was included because it wasn’t part of your agenda.”
The movie is like a college class that looked good in the catalog but was just a ploy to get the professor’s book sold at academically-inflated prices.
The Price of Pleasure, like many “publish or perish” academic exercises that shine no light on anything but the thesis statement of a course proposal, is nothing but a visual reference citation, in which like-minded academics (and their cringing, addle-pated students, and I shudder that we’re all voting for the same person) do nothing but validate each other in saying that porn is more racist and violent than it has ever been.
And there is a very good chance, anecdotally (because the research methods Jensen championed were just a little dopey) that this might be true. Racial stereotypes are, without a doubt, central to the fantasy elements of many porn niches (Chatsworth Pictures’ Oh No! There’s A Negro in My Wife! was cited by the filmmakers) and violence by and against women rated high in the filmmakers’ statistics (they had a team watch a lot of porn).
But the film used one woman, a self-described former porn actress named Sarah Katherine Lewis whom none of the people in the room (including AVN Senior Editor Mark Kernes, a walking and suspendered porn encyclopedia) remembered, to counter the charge that every woman in porn does porn by choice.
Lewis said uneducated women who were given a choice of working in either fast food or porn had no real choice but to pick porn.
As I watched these opinions presented as facts (what Jensen might call “mediated”), I felt more and more comfortable with the movie as a sort of Reefer Madness of anti-porn hysteria. Poorly researched (although Jensen did counter one of Kernes’ attacks by saying, in reference to Kernes’ problem with using AVN stats as a measure of a movie’s sales, “If that is inaccurate, then AVN is inaccurate.” Touche’), the movie can only preach to the converted. Any thoughtful person would have the same problems with it as did a room full of seasoned, passionate, educated, uneducated, articulate, inarticulate porn professionals.
It would be unfair to settle the debate on the shoulders of Jensen but, even if he was disingenuously distancing himself from the movie (of course, considering the crowd, who could blame him?), he was very much up to the challenge of wanting to defend it.
It did seem as if he was being purposefully exclusionary. If one really wants to defend a position to a group of people (as well as a world full of consumers) who – let’s face it – might not know what the word “patriarchy” means, one does not begin by talking about the last 200,000 years of hominid history or say things like “the objectified bodies of one group are bought for the pleasure of another.”
Because it treats what the littlest thinker knows requires a suspension of disbelief as something that a trained thinker must justify his parents’ tuition costs to write a paper about.
But the filmmakers are liars. Not only do they treat the porn-consuming public as less evolved (Wheelock professor/unloved attention fiend Gail Dines was unchallenged when she said of porn consumers watching “racist”/”violent” material, “D’you think they can zip up their pants and zip up their brains?”), they also provide a disturbing portrait, in their choice of young scholars featured, of the real danger in liberal arts education: big words masking a lack of personal accountability and a real race hatred of, impersonating compassion for, the undereducated.
What I wanted to hear Jensen say was that, contrary to the film’s marketing, The Price of Pleasure did have an agenda, was judgmental, and was biased. Director Ernest Greene pressed Jensen on this point. But Jensen did not admit it. I was left wondering if he really believed this, which makes me want to avoid UT Austin all the more (not to mention that clock tower), or if he didn’t believe it and all the polysyllabic media-crit jargon he used was the same tried-and-true ass-saving measure writ large as the person who hits your car, says “look over there!”, and drives away.
I was impressed with the Q & A testimonies of Kelly Holland, Ernest Greene, Nina Hartley, and adult business attorney Michael Fattarosi. Each easily engaged Jensen on his own academic terms, which needed to be done. The Price of Pleasure gives no voice to the people it claims are victimized by the adult industry (and those people certainly weren’t invited to the screening), so even in a 12-person audience consisting entirely of porn personnel, at least there was discussion.
Like the presidential debates, nothing was really said and nothing was ever conceded. The side that should have said “Yes, porn is exploitative and does, in some cases, destroy lives” didn’t, and the side that should have said “Yes, there is something in us that is afraid of overt sexuality, and we have an agenda against it” didn’t.
So I was most impressed with Mika Tan. Tan did not come dressed as a Geisha, she did not have her boyfriend speak for her (regrettably, this cannot be said for everyone), and she kept on topic.
Very simply, she said to Jensen,
“I am very disappointed in this movie. It’s inaccurate. And defending it, you have begun every sentence with a disclaimer.”
She then briefly detailed her own 12-year journey through the adult industry, talking about it like the job for pay that it is. She neglected only to say that she could do anything else if she wanted to.
Like the Psychic Friends, The Price of Pleasure has no scholarly value and should be watched for entertainment purposes only (if your educational institution wants to fork over the $250 for it).
I would have stayed longer and chatted up the pornographers, but I had to head home and beat the shit out of my white wife.