I finally sat myself down to watch The Price of Pleasure a documentary that is being hailed as either an “apolitical lifting of the porn veil” or the “Reefer Madness” of our time. The documentary has traveled around college campuses and women’s centers for everyone to be shocked and appalled at how porn is perverting our consciousness. I had been avoiding it myself. I saw the trailer, I watched the clips, and I knew it was going to give me a migraine.
Erotic art is the oldest form of art. There have been two reports commissioned by conservative presidents on the effects of porn. The Commission on Obscenity and Pornography was done under Nixon and LBJ as Deep Throat filled theaters with fancy and middle class viewers and it found no ill impact of watching sex on film. The Meese Report under Regan came to the same conclusion. It still seems to unnerve people though.
There are, undoubtedly, issues in and about porn. When tits and lips are blown out of proportion, so are stereotypes and identity. One thing I always keep in mind is the hand-in-hand relationship sex has always had to comedy. Looking back at Greek plays, sex jokes were crucial to plot development (or does that go the other way around?). Giant phalluses were waved around as a flag that it was now okay to begin to deal with the things that make us uncomfortable. We air dirty laundry in sex. We let loose the animal we keep tamed as otherwise respectable people in our day to day lives handling…well…all of the drama. There are also issues of sexism, queerness, and everything else. It is a playground of fantasy and many fantasies are taboo.
Maybe that is why there is a healthy side to porn consumption. Most people who enjoy porn don’t find their entire lives revolving around it. Some will. Although I am highly skeptical of sex and porn addiction, I’m sure there are some who do have a compulsion around it. Just because your partner doesn’t like the fact that you beat off to porn doesn’t mean that porn is a problem, per se. The only problem is god awful cheap porn. Boy, that stuff can ruin an otherwise good night.
The documentary was full of interviews with the usual anti-porn folk who were given amazing editing, lighting, and time. Pro-porn people or performers only seemed to be talking about pricing or things clearly taken out of context. I always love it when the editing team puts someone’s words up against a visual background contradicting everything that they are saying. For a team of people making the claim that moving images are infinitely more powerful than words to our human brains, the action of actually using this technique was not lost on me at all.
My favorite part of the documentary was the Kink.Com bashing segment. I recognized clips, directors, and fellow models on the screen as it churned to “bad” music to let the audience in on the fact that this was the worst of the worst- the dreaded torture porn. There was no comment on the fact that Kink.Com has a fantastic record among models, it fails to mention their work in restoring a historic building, and the models who have worked for them often are cut out of the discussion. The documentary that had every sign and symptom of bias really showed its colors here.
If you’re looking for something good to watch, I do recommend Penn and Teller’s Bullshit episode on porn (Season 6, Episode 1 “The War On Porn”). It’s a lot funnier, for one, and you’ll some of the same people there. Penn says aloud the same things that ran through my mind except they were far wittier. I’m not going to cry about that, I’m the only writer here at MMM. I can also say that The Price of Pleasure gave me a migraine. Bullshit gives me a stomach ache from laughing so much. Maybe have a double feature and save the best for last.