The Price of The Price of Pleasure

Somewhere on the campus of the University of Southern California tomorrow (only the elect know), perhaps between 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. at the Montgomery Ross Fisher Building at University Park Campus and couched in a seminar titled “White Privilege,” (but perhaps not) will be the long-awaited Southern California debut of the documentary The Price of Pleasure, a film compiled from footage and interviews taken at 2005’s Adult Entertainment Expo.

Written by Robert Wosnitzer, Miguel Picker, and Dr. Chyng Sun and directed by Picker and Sun, The Price of Pleasure describes itself thusly, employing an opening paragraph ranked #1 in Most Popular Opening Paragraphs of Porn Industry Documentary Synopses:

Once relegated to the margins of society, pornography has become one of the most visible and profitable sectors of the cultural industries in the United States. It is estimated that the pornography industry’s annual revenue has reached $13 billion.

According to its press material, “The Price of Pleasure is an honest and nonjudgmental look at popular pornography.”

Based on its trailer, however, The Price of Pleasure is not a movie that casts porn personnel and their fans in the best light. Which is also understandable. Have you seen some of these people?

But it appears to me that to sell something on its honesty and lack of finger-pointing and then edit interviews so that they fit the filmmakers’ thesis (“the content of pornography has become more aggressive, more overtly sexist and racist”) is disingenuous. This film clearly has an agenda.

Filmmaker Sun shares a pivotal moment in her own porn journey:

Contrary to many women being pushed to watch porn by their boyfriends, I had a shy partner who never had the courage to rent a porn video. The few times that I reached for the top shelf at the Video Smith in Brookline to grab a porn video, I had to endure the torturous journey – ignoring other men peering at me out of the corner of their eyes while I was cruising through this off limits section, holding the extra large video box with vivid pictures for everyone to see while I stood in a long check-out line, and then waiting for the clerk to slowly take the video out of its box and put it in a black box which everyone knew was for porn anyway. Although this journey made me descend from a respectable to a fallen woman, there was something thrilling and daring because I was against the constraints set by both Chinese and American patriarchy that disapproved of women’s consumption of porn. I figured, if not being allowed to watch porn was part of the sexual repression, then rebelling against it must be liberating and even feminist.

Sun does not specify whether her partner was male or female. But in context, we assume her partner was a feller. We imagine the young academic couple disembarking the Green Line and walking through Coolidge Corner in Brookline. Snow clings to their boots, and each is happy to be alive. But he is pensive.

“How come you call me ‘partner’ when I have to call you ‘Doctor’?” he asks. “Don’t you know how emasculating that is when you use the language of the matriarchy to brand me as sexually ambiguous to your friends?”

“Oh, go rent a porn video, Robert,” she says.

“But I don’t like porn. I like you.”

I just became aware of this movie through Ernest Greene’s painstaking deconstruction of it (read it with the lights on) and feel as put out about it as I do when self-appointed spokespeople for the porn industry make fools of themselves.

According to Greene, several people who appeared in the film (including himself and Joanna Angel) believe their interviews were taken out of context or were recorded under false pretenses. Greene goes on to point out that no 2257 documentation was secured for the graphic sexual images contained therein and that the filmmakers themselves will profit from the very images they use to make their case against porn (I will follow Greene’s lead and not post the trailer since the filmmakers are not actually operating under a “Fair Use” provision).

The film’s website lists several screening locations. Curiously, only the screenings in porn-aware Los Angeles and San Francisco, in which many of the adult workers profiled reside, remain To Be Determined, though both Dr. Sun and Robert Jensen, a consultant on the film, are officially in town for other purposes tomorrow. There is a screening at Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary on November 1 that is, according to a receptionist there, open to the public.

The film features the voices of consumers, critics, and pornography producers and performers. It is particularly revealing when male pornographers openly discuss their views about women and how men should relate to them, and when male and female porn users candidly discuss the role pornography has played in shaping their sexual imaginations and relationships. The film paints both a nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate aspects of human relations.

At the same time, the film examines the unprecedented role that commercial pornography now occupies in U.S. popular culture. Going beyond the debate of liberal versus conservative so common in the culture, The Price of Pleasure provides a holistic understanding of pornography as it debunks common myths about the genre.

Holistic according to whom, and whose myths does it debunk? In the same way that pornographers wail and gnash their teeth at the financial fact that “anyone can pick up a camera and make porn,” lazy academics think that bias, bad writing, and poor research can be swept under the rug as long as the source material is pornography.

Then the filmmakers veer from the thesis to money:

J.M. Productions’ Gag Factor is indeed hard to watch when the female performers choke and cry because the male performers’ penises are inserted in their throat so deeply. The crucial issues are not whether a woman freely “chooses” to work in the film, but why an economic system would pay the women who are willing to be gagged 50 times more money than her McDonald’s job and whether this is the best way to organize our labor system.

Actually, the crucial issue is choice. And, though no “porn defender” in the film states the following, this does not stop the filmmakers from saying it is true:

The defenders of pornography like to say that pornography is just a symptom or a reflection of a male-dominated culture.

I have never said that, and I am fond of saying many things.

While the scholarship behind The Price of Pleasure seems as fatuous as the faux scholarship behind “The Da Vinci Code,” it still looks like a compelling film (in the same way, says Greene, as Triumph of the Will is).

…If only someone from the production would respond to my e-mails and calls, or tell me when and where the USC screening is. It is beginning to seem that they are unwilling to face their accused.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Manufacturing creampies: Noam Chomsky on porn; Remembering Haley Paige, a little; Laura Albert might be the next porn crossover; Report: Purchases of “Gene Simmons” sex tape limited to people who already find Gene Simmons repugnant
See also: The Price of Pleasure, Pro-Porn Activism, Robert Jensen’s speaking schedule

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Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist

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