The Price of Pleasure

Chris's picture
A new anti-porn documentary, The Price of Pleasure, has just been released and is being promoted via a few small showings across the country. There's been some buzz on this one for a while; Chyng Sun, the director, has written about the work in progress in left-wing outlets such as Counterpunch for several years, and I've seen allusions to it by both Robert Jensen and Gail Dines. For those of you who have either seen or heard about Noam Chomsky's recent anti-porn statements, that video apparently comes from this scene. As iamcuriousblue points out, there seems to be a huge divide in how the film is presented in its press package and the tone set by the trailer and clips on the website. The press synopsis explicitly makes the film out to be one that looks at porn through a filter of calm, unbiased rationality:
Honest and nonjudgmental, 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.

That's a film I want to see. That's a film that needs to be made. We urgently need to see it if we're going to stop clawing ourselves to death over our desires. But The Price of Pleasure obviously isn't that film. The trailer confirms every American's worst nightmares not only about porn, but about sex itself. It's hungry, hateful men dangling on the very edge of rape and women who are either victims or who have failed in their duty to restrain men's sexual urges and channel them into more civilized pursuits.

Anyone who's seen a sizeable amount of porn and hung out with other people who like porn knows that the portraits the makers of The Price of Pleasure are hawking aren't total fictions. There's a lot of sleazeballs out there. But they're not the truth, either. The picture that they're giving is one that's carefully framed and cropped to frighten people who haven't seen enough porn to realize that the X-Treme stuff that's so beloved by Dines and Jensen is a small fragment of the total picture.

Naturally, it may be ridiculous of me to be passing judgement without seeing the film as a whole. But I don't think so. There's some obvious philosophical slants in the fact that the trailer shows Joanna Angel asking "How to you make a woman into an object? What the hell does that mean?" followed by an abrupt cut to a film clip showing her being gagged with duct tape. The clips page virtually excludes any activists from the sex industry except for Ernest Greene, in favor of the standard anti-porn talking heads like Gail Dines, Robert Jensen, Pamela Paul, and Ariel Levy.

The juxtaposition of Joanna Angel's interview with her movie clip is particularly disturbing to me. It reminds me of one of the most pernicious tendencies of anti-porn feminists, which is to act as enforcers against other women of a very specific vision of normative sexuality. In order for that particular part of the trailer to have any meaning at all, you have to count on the fact that the viewer will say to themselves "No normal woman would like that," as reflexively as they would say "Water is wet." You can see Joanna Angel one of two ways after watching those few seconds of video: as a helpless victim or as a sick, sick woman. She can be cast as either virgin or whore, with nothing between those two poles that would represent her humanity. That's one of the most corrupt and offensive things about the anti-porn school: the barely-hidden misogyny that they direct towards women in the sex industry. According to the web site, there are screenings planned in Montreal, New York, Los Angeles, and Reno between September and November. What I'd like to see happen is for those of us in communities where these screenings are going to take place to organize in groups to attend and ask questions that are critical of the methodology and philosophy behind the film. I don't think that sex-poz activists should be disruptive at such an event, but neither do I think that a film that presents itself as "nuanced" and "non-judgmental" about pornography should be shown to homogenous, un-critical audiences. Many of these small films have very long lives in very influential circles.



Blog: Literate Perversions