Jun 28, 2011

The Brain Attempting to Work; Instead, Random Neurons Firing Make a Post

I've been thinking a lot about how derivative porn is. No, really. For numerous reasons, I've been pondering how porn as art object is nearly an impossibility, and yet in the same way that it cannot be considered as simply "art," it also can't NOT be art.

Ok, stick with me here. This is convoluted.

So I was thinking about how one could pretty much never take pornography of either the still kind (photos, paintings, etc) or the moving kind (video, animation, etc) and display it in an art gallery and just let it be "art" because the thing about porn is that it CAN'T be viewed objectively. Not only is modern porn very purposefully designed and presented with the goal of arousing its viewer, but our brains are also actually wired to mistake sexual imagery for real sex, meaning that when we see porn, we are programmed to get turned on, whether we want to or not. Of course, we can build up certain immunities by getting used to it or by focusing as hard as possible on the sociopolitical implications of what we're seeing, but some part of us will still--almost always--be going, "Ooooooh boooooobs!"

So porn can never just be displayed as art. People might be able to overcome their initial arousal and walk away stimulated intellectually, but they'll damn well have also been stimulated in another way. Not always a positive way. The thing about something as viscerally reaction-provoking as porn is that, in the same moment it travels from our eyes to our groins, it seems to bypass most of our upper-level reasoning and analytical processes. It elicits strong physical reactions in us, ones that are more easily compensated for or explained by emotional justifications. We skip the "am-I-making-sense-right-now?" series of events and go right into the "that's disgusting!" or "that's hot" or "I hate it" or "I love it" line of thought. It's a lot more difficult to come up with a well-reasoned look at one's genitals becoming engorged than it is to explain why one feels a certain way about what should be done with the national debt ceiling. The impetus to think, explain, talk about it comes from a very different location than the swift shame reaction and the emotional compensation.

And so porn becomes this polarizing thing, this issue we can't be rational about. We don't know how. It's not in our DNA. It can't just be and be aesthetically pleasing, and it has a tough time getting us to think about it on a level that might move us forward in how we react in the first place. And for the most part, it's not trying to. It's trying to get us off. So in that way, no, porn can never be art.

But at the same time, I wonder, isn't that what art IS? It's not, after all, a well-written and -reasoned treatise. The Persistence of Memory isn't The Communist Manifesto, and for good reason--Dali wasn't trying to explain himself when he painted the former. He didn't want you to nod and go, "Oh he's so RIGHT" like Marx did. He wanted to hit you in a non-rational center, a place where your reaction was pure and un-thought-out. He wanted to present you with something you couldn't make sense of until it had already gotten under your skin. Great art doesn't reason with us, and it only lets us think about it after we've taken it in and already made a snap judgment about it. We like it or we don't, and then we think about it. And in that way, porn is undeniably art. Perhaps art that bears with it a lot more in the way of emotional and moral baggage than most art does, but what good art doesn't offend or stimulate us? The point is to move things forward, to elicit a reaction. Both porn and art do that, and splendidly. It's just whether we allow ourselves to think about those reactions in a way that will bring about any great realizations or reflections or movement forward as a species that sets them apart, and that's a shame. Porn could do a lot for us if we'd spend a bit more time looking at it with our thinking caps on... after we'd gotten the arousal part out of the way. And given that porn lets us masturbate to it in a rather less embarrassed way than, say Nude Descending a Staircase, really, porn's got one hell of an advantage.

Ok, so anyway, then I started thinking about other ways in which porn is or is not art and came around to the question of derivative-ness. Is that a word? Derivance? Derivitancy? Whatever. The point is that most art is highly derivative, whether it will ever admit it or not, because very few artist work in a void. Actually virtually zero artists can even claim to, because whether someone sits alone in a white room for a year before creating something is irrelevant--she damn well saw something man-made before that year started and whatever she makes will damn well be inspired by what she saw whether she knows it or not. The brain is a tricky thing. And so all art is derivative--some purposefully and some trying very hard not to be.

But can the same be said of porn? I think the same difficult, paradoxical answer applies here. Emphatically yes, but undeniably no. In some ways porn is more derivative than any other medium because it's based so heavily on sets of tried-and-true formulas. As a money-making endeavor before an artistic one, adult film will reuse any trope that has worked once... over and over and over again, even after it stops appealing to people, just on the hope that it will come back around. Whole genres have sprung up from single scenes. If one company does it, every company does it. And porn doesn't just reference itself, either--porn parodies of mainstream movies and TV shows are popping up every day, some of them scene-for-scene ripoffs of the originals, using the same clothes, hair, makeup, props. Porn mimics and mocks everything from mainstream titles to performer names to fashion trends to soundtracks. It is hyper-aware of its surroundings and its origins.

And yet porn could be said to be the only form of entertainment that, ostensibly, doesn't have to have ANY idea what it's doing or what's been done. Porn speaks the most universal language in the world--far more ubiquitous than music. Sex can be had by anyone, anywhere, and understood instantly by the rest of us, and, hell, animals, too. It doesn't have to be dressed up to look like anything in particular or follow a certain progression to arouse us, startle us, make us understand it. It might be the most original art form there is.

....and my brain just stopped. That's where we get off the ride for the night kiddos. This new job (just landed a full-time gig unexpectedly, hence the scarcity of me on the interwebz) is sucking the energy right outta me! More later, my lovelies...

Jun 25, 2011

Proud to Be a New Yorker Today

Well, the excuse I offered my mom about why I'm not married yet (that I was showing solidarity with the gays--much easier than getting into my ideological issues with marriage in general, and MUCH easier than explaining that I'm queer, and also, yes, cowardly of me) just got thrown out the window. I guess I'll have to face the music (the Liza Minnelli music) and either get married or tell the family the truth.

But that is the ONLY POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE of the news that the New York State legislature just passed a bill legalizing GAY MARRIAGE!!! Tomorrow's annual pride parade is going to be absolutely amazing, and the weddings starting on July 24? Even better. I'm so happy to be here today and to have seen this huge  leap forward in the rights of all people to be recognized and treated as human beings!

Also, I hope this will change the language in my healthcare policy so that I can get coverage for my opposite-sex domestic partner. I find the term "same-sex domestic partner," which is sprinkled liberally throughout my health insurance policy, insulting and just as discriminatory as the assumption that a "spouse" is opposite-sex. But, all in good time, I suppose. Right now? Bring on the joy!

Also, check out my review of Courtney Trouble's BORDELLO on TheWomansPOV.com. A perfect day for an extremely positive review of a queer porn film, don't you think?

Jun 22, 2011

Interview with the Girlvert

Once again, I'm just linking from here, but I really think you guys should read the interview I did with the notorious/naughty Girlvert herself, Ashley Blue aka Oriana Small for WHACK! Magazine. If you read my review from last week, you know I loved her book Girlvert: A Porno Memoir. Reading it made me think all over again about matters of consent and exploitation, degradation and empowerment, relationships and sex, and, well, everything. If the adult industry fascinates you as it does me, this is a must read. I myself was riveted. Couldn't put it down. I was impressed by the strength of Small's writing, but even more, with her ability to simply tell us her story without moralizing or editorializing. This is a raw, powerful, difficult, and not-at-all-beautiful story, and one I suggest you read. Danny Wylde, whose blog I love, agrees with me.

Anyway, the point here is: I was so impressed I sought out the author and interviewed her about some of the topics her book brought up in my mind. I was just as impressed with the interview as I was by the book, and I think you might be, too. This lady does not mince words. A little teaser:

Miss Lagsalot: I was very impressed with your ability to write a memoir that showed every side of your emotions as you went through extremes, both physical and emotional, without putting much of an op-ed spin on it. You’re telling the story like it was, but not trying to exhort your readers to feel any particular way about it. What do you expect them to feel in response?

Oriana Small/Ashley Blue: Thank you! That is exactly what I wanted to achieve with writing. I respect anyone who decides to pick up this book, read it and think for themselves. Readers and thinkers make make their own conclusions to whatever emotions connected in this story. I don’t want to tell anyone how to think or feel. That is what I hate most- being manipulated and told what to do. I wanted people to feel free while reading this

Read the whole thing here!

Jun 20, 2011

Slutwalks, Whores, and Broads: What's In a Word?

The recent controversy over Slutwalks worldwide has gotten everyone atwitter over the terminology used to denigrate women once again, but I tried to stay out of it personally. I kind of love the idea of reclaiming the word "slut" and reveling in the freedom it can afford. In the same way that porn performers often tell me that they find liberation and joy in throwing off social mores about sexual behavior and morality, I think that there can be a certain expulsion of long-held breath in reveling in the use of a word we've long avoided because it had power over us. So "slut" means sexually promiscuous--so what? That has nothing to do with our right to sovereignty over our bodies or images. So yeah, I say, Slutwalk away!
For a while now, I've felt peaceful about words like "slut" and "whore" because I don't like the idea of giving simple words power over a group of people. I don't like thinking that a four- or five-letter word that could injure me any more than I let it. Sure, feelings might get hurt when epithets are thrown around in the right context, but I believe words like that are only as powerful as the person hearing them or the context they're used in.I have often felt that the more we react to a word used in anger or ignorance, the more power we give it to hurt us. And that seems silly to me. So I like to think I don't care if people use it about me as long as I know my own truth.
Of course, I've never been called one of those words by a Canadian police officer or written off as "deserving of rape" because I might have fallen into one of those categories, so I'm speaking from a privileged position. I've never been tested on my philosophical stance, really. But recently, I had the idea brought up to me in a completely unexpected context and it got me thinking. I arrived early for an event for the Poetry Brothel here in New York, of which I'm a member. Being a group of people that is not easily offended, and preferring an in-your-face approach to poetry, we often call the members of the Brothel "poetry whores." I've always felt pretty good about this--we sell our poems for cash. So the title is fitting, it seems to me.
But when I arrived at an event early and introduced myself to some of the women there, one asked me in an uncertain tone, "...are you one of the... um... broads?"
"The what?" I asked, confused.
"The broads. The members of the Brothel."
"Oh," I said, smiling. "It's ok, you can call us whores. We use the word all the time. It is a Brothel, after all."
She cringed when I said it. "I'm of the generation that doesn't like that word," she said. "I'd prefer 'broads.'"
"That's fine," I said. "Call us whatever you want."
But when she walked away, I gave it a few moments' reflection and realized that though I don't find either word particularly offensive, I'd rather be called a whore than a broad. Here's why: particularly as pertains to the Brothel, "whore" may be an ugly word that can be broadly and incorrectly applied, but its strongest implication is the exchange of sex for money. Selling sex (or in this case, a sexy poetry reading). And while that's been denigrated by our society for ages, I don't think there's anything wrong with selling sex. Why not? It's the most obviously sellable thing on the planet, aside from food. Of course there are all kinds of issues that go along with the practice of selling sex--there are problems with consent, slavery, trafficking of human beings, respect, and so much more. But the actual principle of selling sex? The act of being a person who sells sex? I see no problem with it.
Now, "broad," on the other hand? Personally, once again, I don't have a particular issue with the word. It's a mostly-outdated term that doesn't get used in earnest often enough to make itself too terribly problematic at a practical level. But it is a derogatory term and its power to deride lies in the fact that it is another word for woman. It doesn't imply anything about sexuality, or the sale of sex--it just implies that women, all of them, are indiscriminately less. And deserve a term that shows this less-ness. And that term is "broad." I don't like that one little bit. Call me a woman--that's what I am. But don't write me off as a "broad" just because of my gender.
Just a little musing...

Jun 19, 2011

Full Interview with Drew Deveaux

It's a good thing I've made myself so productive in the past few months! I've been so busy the past few weeks that I haven't had much time to post, but all my previous busy-ness is catching up with me and keeping me covered! Case in point: this interview with the boundary-breaking, mind-blowing, passionate, provocative, perfectly-coifed activist and genderqueer porn performer Drew Deveaux on TheWomansPOV!

I gave you a taste a while back, but now you can read the whole interview, in which we discussed gender expression in porn performance, the circularity of transitioning bodies, and what porn has taught Drew about herself... and a lot more. Ever think an interview with a porn star couldn't make you sit back, think, and go, "Hmmm..."? This interview will prove you wrong.

Jun 17, 2011

Girlvert: A Review, with Apologies

My darlings, I am so sorry for being an absentee blogger! My life has been unendingly crazy for the past few weeks, and I have not had any time whatsoever for blogging! But I have had some time on subway and etc to think, so when I do get the time to sit down and write, watch out!

In the meantime, check out the review I did for WHACK! Magazine of Oriana Small/Ashley Blue's book, Girlvert: A Porno Memoir, now out from A Barnacle Book. If you're interested, like me, in issues in adult entertainment like obscenity, empowerment, consent, drug abuse, and health, this is a must-read from one of the most controversial porn stars of the 2000's.

A smidgen for you:

"But it wasn’t the shocking language, the joy of upsetting the strangers waiting for the 2 train with me, or even the lurid descriptions of fringe sexual acts that impressed me about Girlvert as much as it was its simple, unaffected, unforced honesty. Oriana/Ashley is obviously intelligent enough and has enough perspective on her own twisted story to write a deeply convincing book if she wants to. She could write a treatise on why porn is or isn’t degrading, what people should understand about the porn biz, why she regrets or doesn’t regret about her actions… Really, any weepy, whiny, convert-now fable with a moral at the end, using her massive life experiences as the media to paint almost any kind of picture she wants — but she doesn’t. She doesn’t argue one way or another, for or against any of the things she has done, the people she has encountered, the porn industry, its supporters, or its detractors. She simply tells the tale, never claiming to be an expert on anything except herself. She spends no time moralizing or telling her audience what to think, and that’s admirable. In a world where porn is constantly at the center of debates full of windbags on both sides trying to tell people what to think, and where most of us decline to use our brains at all when it comes to the sex industry, Ashley/Oriana refuses to do the thinking for her readers. She instead pulled off something I myself could never do — she just wrote a memoir, one so full of violence and paranoia and deep empathy toward her own younger, stupider, deeply troubled self in a wise, conflicted voice — and a totally honest one."

Check out the full review, leave comments (please? Oriana/Ashley will be reading them with interest, so now's your chance to ask her your questions!) and go buy the book! And stay tuned--an interview with Oriana/Ashley will follow shortly!

Jun 12, 2011

2 Quick Bytes on Wieners and Women in Erotic Film

1) You know, as disgusted as I am with the hysteria over Weiner's wiener/Weinergate crapfest--I mean, seriously, what is the big DEAL, people? It's not as if the idea that one of our politicians might be a little sleazy in his personal life is anything new to any of us--I have to admit that I'm very glad that the word wiener has now come back into fashion. It's a sadly underutilized slang term for the male organ, and one that I think was due for a comeback. Hehe. Comeback. And just in time for the big Coney Island Nathan's International Hot-Dog Eating Contest on the 4th of July, too! Does anyone else find it odd that we can make an international television spectacle out of a man gorging himself on processed meat products and label him a champion, but one guy sends some pictures of his boxer sausage to a few women and we all fly into a frenzy of condemnation? Which of these two events is grosser? ...It's a strange world we live in.

2) My interview with fabulous adult film-maker Erika Lust is up on The Woman's POV! I'm very proud of this interview, and I really encourage anyone with an interest in erotic film, female empowerment via erotic imagery, and generally incredible women in general to read it. Ta-daaaa!

That is all.

Jun 8, 2011

I've Missed a Lot

Wow, I've been gone for just a week and a half-ish, but I feel like I've missed so much in the world of sex and porn in America! Cal-OSHA is stepping up efforts to impose barrier-only sex in porn, performers are going to Talent Testing for their panels, a gay teen was abducted and sent to "straight camp," and Wiener's been showing his wiener off?? I'm gonna have to hop right back up on this here horny horse of mine! Stay tuned, boys and girls--the schedule is packed full at the moment, but I'll be trying to run to catch up over the next week! Stay with me!

In the meantime, please read Jiz Lee's excellent blog about her take on the barrier debate in CA. They link to other articles on the topic and present a mercifully sane, well-thought-out, and articulate look at a very controversial topic.

Also, check out Violet Blue's reaction to the story of the gay teen abducted, restrained, and sent to a torturous camp for "Troubled Teens"--ie, gay kids. Fucking awful. This needs to be discussed in the mainstream, and hopefully thoroughly condemned.

I don't even care to take part in the hubbub over Weiner's wiener, though, now that I think about it. I could not possibly care less about another politician doing something sexual that goes public. As long as he's not hurting anyone, then who cares?

Interview with Interviews@Will!

I recently did an interview with Interviews@Will, a blog dedicated to interviews with adult industry workers that asks interesting and important questions. The blog has featured interviews with some leading performers, academics, and personalities, and I'm very flattered to have been included in this roster! Not only was the interview fun, but it got me to really think about why exactly I do all this anyway! Very interesting.

Check it out!

Jun 6, 2011

A Response

I got this comment on my recent post about how I write about porn and food a lot:

Hi Miss L,

As a writer, I wonder if you've read any literature on the long-term effects of 'porn seepage' into mainstream culture? The following link is to a MacLean's magazine article (a few years old, but very relevant, IMO):


Are you familiar with the work of journalist Robert Jensen and feminist scholar Gail Dines?


I'm not a prude - far from it. I'm just a concerned citizen that sees most porn as a sad failure of the imagination, driven by profit, fuelled by misogyny. Is there no realm in our lives where we're not being intruded upon by canned experiences? Do you have any thoughts about living in a society where there is profit in making thong underwear available to elementary school-aged girls and do you think tweens having 'rainbow' parties is just kids experimenting with sex? Do you think the ubiquity of sexualized imagery everywhere has NO affect on our culture?

Porn is about lies (especially about female sexuality) and profit; the industry doesn't care about its overall affect on our culture. I don't see anything progressive, sex-positive, or empowering about it at all. It has no soul, as you yourself have stated. It commodifies the most basic of human experiences.

I'm just wondering what your thoughts are since you already state you're conflicted about this industry? Agree/disagree?

Jania Ketterling 

Here's my quickly written answer... I'd like to get into these topics more later on, but I just got back from my travels abroad, am absolutely exhausted, and started a new day job today, so I might not get my thoughts fully in order for a few days yet...

Dear Jania,

I'm very intrigued by your comment! Thanks for reading!

Re: MacLean's article, I think he brings up some very interesting and valid concerns about the sex-soaked culture children are growing up in, and I absolutely agree that the accessibility of hardcore porn to anyone with an internet connection these days will have a huge impact on our culture--it's hard to know exactly what kind just yet because it's largely unstudied and the ramifications are still building. But I hesitate to heap the blame for the sexualization of advertising and media on the porn industry. Porn is the scapegoat for so many things these days, mostly because it seems nobody wants to actually take a good hard look at how anyone else could be implicated in things we don't like about our culture. Because if you really look at it, porn isn't solely responsible for the sexually-imbued nature of our culture these days. Not by a long shot. Obviously porn operates by selling sex, but it's not exactly a new concept that sex sells itself. The porn industry is certainly a mover and a shaker in the tech world and other industries, but I don't think it's fair to say that BECAUSE of porn, our culture is more soaked in sexual imagery. Couldn't it be the reverse, or a much more nuanced bleeding-over between the porn and non-porn worlds? Couldn't it be the case that, sex being such an easy way to sell things because we are at heart sexual beings who are easily aroused by images, the advertising industry has simply hit upon a sure thing and run with it, as has the porn industry, because they're both out to make money?

And in a similar vein, I don't think that it's necessarily porn that is hurting anyone, on its own. Porn has always been a part of human civilization, as has the sale of sex via prostitution, and it's not going anywhere, whether anyone likes it or not. (On the "not" side, ie, Gail Dines's case, I have little to say--I have heard nothing but condemnation for her "views" thus far from serious sex and porn aficionados.) Sex has been a commodity for thousands of years--today it's easier and cheaper to get it via pornography online than ever before. As a profit-driven industry, adult entertainment is under no more an obligation to consider the effects its product has on those who misuse it (ie, kids and others who access it online via free, pirated content on websites that the industry has in no way condoned or encouraged) than any other industry to limit its negative effect on humanity (ie high-fat, high-calorie food makers, alcohol producers, etc) until sanctions are imposed, and though this might not be the best situation in the minds of the moral majority, that's the way it is. So a far more productive way to look at the situation, rather than taking the view that people who make this product are bad and must be stopped, might be to consider the context in which this product is consumed and consider what we can do to change that.

I think the issues at hand would be far better dealt with if we as a society (not just you, Jania, but all of us) stopped treating porn and other sexual imagery as the enemy of moral rectitude and started understanding it as a very established part of our culture that's no more evil or negative than we let it be. For instance, if parents and educators could learn to be more open and forthcoming about sex and sexuality with young people at earlier ages, perhaps young people wouldn't be as negatively effected by graphic sexual images. If kids go into the experience understanding, or at least armed with a set of ideas they might not fully understand, that there's a right and a wrong way to go about sex and sexuality (ie, consent and respect versus violence and degradation) or at least having heard that the things they see in porn online are pre-produced and pre-packaged "lies" (as you put it), they might be less likely to then internalize what they see.

And similarly, many of the negative attitudes that Dines and her ilk have about porn seem to stem from the belief that the porn industry is some sort of monolithic force of immorality that exists only to degrade human beings. But that's just not true. While there are, certainly, people in the industry who really do want to just watch the world burn and destroy young women's souls while they're at it, there are plenty of others who make responsible and beautiful and celebratory movies and who want to share their vision of respectful, consent- and pleasure-driven sex with as many people as possible (look up Erika Lust, Blue Artichoke films, Jennaration X Studios, and everything from QueerPornTv for a small smattering). And while there's surely lots of unimaginative sleaze to be had, porn producers want to sell their product more than they want to make it sleazy. The porn industry is varied and, above all, changeable--easily changed by the consumers who are willing to pay for their porn. The tide of violent and extreme content has been overwhelming in recent years, it's true. But the porn industry isn't just out to degrade--it's out to make money. Your consumer dollars and input are vastly important to responsible porn producers and performers--of whom there are many. Input from the public through purchasing decisions or clear communication (most pornographers and performers are astonishingly easy to contact online) about what it would rather see in sexual content can have a very big effect on the output of the industry, and very quickly.

I don't necessarily want to sound as if I'm adopting an "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude because I certainly think that people should fight for what they believe in, but I do believe that the debate around porn and its moral impact often relies heavily on impractical ideas. Porn isn't going to go away because people think it's hurting our culture, but it can change if we are proactive instead of reactionary. Assuming porn and sex itself to be the cause of our problems without examining how we have contributed to the things we don't like doesn't help the situation. By keeping sex firmly lodged in the shadows as a source of shame rather than joy and responsible pleasure, thereby creating a shady place where kids seek out information about sex online rather than from responsible adult educators like parents and teachers. Opening up the dialogue about sex and porn as performative sex might produce more responsible pornography and shrivel up the business of less delectable fare. We DO have a say in this, but adopting a unilaterally "this is bad" attitude won't get anyone anywhere.

For instance, thong underwear don't have to be a bad thing--as a matter of fact, I find them quite comfortable. Younger people might find them comfortable, too, but that doesn't mean they are a nefarious source of sexuality, and nor does a source of sexuality necessarily need to be a source of shame. As far as "rainbow parties," I don't know anything about the topic so I'm unqualified to say. But I think far more damaging than sexual themes being present in the lives of young people is the polarized attitudes we tend to jump to when we try to talk about and approach those themes. It seems to me that young people are confused about how to approach their sexuality these days, not necessarily because of porn-spawned media images, but largely because of what we are willing, or not willing, to say to them to explain those images. Sex doesn't have to be bad just because it's present, nor does everything that could be sexual always have to be terrifying--it can be a chance to educate and to learn, or to enjoy life. Porn can be a celebration and a healthy extension of sexuality, or it can be a monster that makes us cower in fear. Personally, I think it's the fear and darkness around sex that drives us screaming into a place where we can only get turned on or terrified, then cause porn to dive to the lows that Dines loves talking about because we're all screaming and hysterical about it. But it doesn't have to be this way, and we can't just cry about and expect it to change.

I am very conflicted about the porn industry and the way that I relate to it, but the more I learn about how much variety exists in porn, and consider how it's not just the porn that's affecting us, but how we are affecting porn, the more hope I find in that conflict.

-Miss Lagsalot