I read a lot of books on film, mentally devouring almost anything I can get my hands on. Lately I’ve been reading AVN: The 1997 Adult Video Entertainment Guide, which features around 2,000 reviews of pornographic movies (not to mention sexual devices like vibrators and whatnot — you know, stuff your mom uses). For those of you unfamiliar with AVN, it is the Adult Video News, a trade publication for those involved in the adult entertainment industry, and it has inspired this column.
I was originally going to write about the strange ways porno films hijack mainstream movie titles for their own nefarious ends. Examples would’ve included “The Immorals 2: The Good, The Bad and The Banged” and “The Bitches of Westwood.” As I wrote the first draft, however, I started to think about pornography’s place in our culture and how it is treated by people with little-to-no understanding of the subject. For example, when pornography is discussed in this country there are two things that always come up: It’s obscene, and it exploits women. I’m going to tackle both of these myths, with emphasis on the films (this is FILM Threat, after all), and I’m going to shatter them like a cop’s windshield in a riot. Let’s start with the obscenity factor.
Obscenity, quite frankly, is in the eye of the beholder. I find it unnerving that New York City cleaned up its porn district in order to make the area more family friendly. What films promote families more than adult movies? Seriously, which caused more children to be conceived: porn movies or Disney films? I guarantee you more children were conceived as a direct result of watching “The Ribald Tales of Canterbury” than they were because of “Aladdin.” For New York City to sweep away the “filth” for the pedophile-like predator organizations such as Disney wasn’t only hypocritical, it was ignorant. I know which action I find more obscene, though I doubt the majority would agree with me.
I believe people label pornography as obscene so they won’t have to talk about it in a serious manner, and they definitely won’t have to defend it — even if they enjoy watching it (which they would never admit). Let’s face it, adult movies are less obscene than lying to go to war or wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Just because these films appeal to your prurient interests (one of the legal tests of obscenity, actually), doesn’t necessarily mean they are obscene. They are simply pornographic, and the industry shouldn’t let itself be defined by morons with an agenda.
These people, the ones who declare pornography to be an obscenity, are churchgoers, politicians, and those who have no understanding of the world of adult entertainment. There is another group, however, that is even more damaging to pornography than all the previous groups combined. It is the mainstream media, and it is dangerous because of its power and its “reputation” for being impartial. Not only has the mainstream media declared pornography to be morally reprehensible (and thus fair game to be victim of any and all one-sided attacks), but it has also created a Trojan horse so as to worm its way into the public’s sympathetic minds.
When it comes to the media’s attack on pornographic films, there is one group that is always portrayed as its victims: the women who star in them. Pornography, as everyone continually tell us, exploits women — none more than its stars. How does it exploit them, though? The answer isn’t that clear.
Women stars of adult films generally make more money than their male counterparts, the opposite of what goes on in the “real” world. The women also have better business opportunities and get first billing in most cases. So obviously the exploitation that is said to exist isn’t of the economic variety, unless they are saying the stars aren’t getting paid enough to be screwing in front of the cameras. Perhaps it’s the sex that exploits them then.
As we are led to believe, the women who star in a film like
“Above the Knee” are used solely for sex. It doesn’t matter that the film’s stars, Rebecca Bardoux and Tera Heart, may actually like their job and the perks that go with it. They are still being exploited for sex and are in turn treated like objects by the same horny guys who used to jerk off to their mom’s Victoria’s Secret catalog. This is a compelling argument, but it doesn’t take into consideration the films made by women for women and gay pornography. How women are being exploited in those films never comes up because there either aren’t any women in the film, or the women have to be exploited by other women, and that doesn’t fit the picture of what the media is trying to sell. The fact of the matter is, the media only focuses on pornography targeted to heterosexual males and nothing else because the foundation of its argument rests on the fact that no other pornography exists. There is no “Marine Code of Silence: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There is only “Gang Bang Face Bath 4.” As simple as a bowl of Cheerios, right?
The media excels at painting the female stars of pornography as victims. We know that an overwhelming number of women in adult films suffered sexual abuse as children. We also know a lot of them have substance abuse problems. How do we know this, though? Because the media continually brings these things up when doing its stories on the adult film business — no matter what the story’s topic. The mainstream media does this so that we see these women as victims and nothing else. It keeps them easily classifiable, and it makes it that much more acceptable to point a finger at pornography as a problem that needs to be solved.
How many female fast food workers are victims of sexual abuse? How many nurses? How many real estate agents? Doctors? We don’t know the numbers because those statistics are never mentioned. In fact, this is a topic that only comes up when discussing adult movies (unless the news story is specifically about sexual abuse). According to one statistic found on Prevent-Abuse-Now.com, there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Not all of them are porn stars, so what are they doing? Are more childhood sexual abuse victims drawn to pornography because it gives them a sense of control over their bodies and their sex lives, or is the number statistically the same as in other professions? We’ll never know because nobody (at least to my knowledge) has thought to study the numbers in other professions.
When the media focuses on these “victims,” it also points out their out-of-control lifestyle. The drugs. The sex. The parties. It’s all done so that we feel sorry for these “damaged goods.” Look at their low self-esteem! Marvel at their lack of concern! If the women were acting like this in any other profession, though, they would be painted in the exact opposite light. They would be problems who need to be unemployed more than they need rescuing. Their behavior wouldn’t be tolerated, but since they are “victims” of the adult film industry, it’s okay to feel sorry for them. They’re too “dumb” to know any better.
Has anyone stopped to think that maybe the stars of the adult film industry are just like the other workers of the world? Some of them think they don’t make enough money, some of them are broken souls, and some hate their jobs. But there are plenty of them who love what they are doing, who make a good amount of money, who are owning companies, and who treat their workers fairly. It doesn’t seem inconceivable to me, but I’ve had contact with some of these people. They are well-adjusted adults for the most part, but there are some bad apples in the bunch, and those are the ones who get the limelight because it’s easier to turn to them when you have the story written before you even investigate it.
The media will always portray these women as victims. Keeping them as victims makes us view them as weak and non-threatening. If we see them that way, we are unable to even toy with the idea that they may actually enjoy taking some control over their economic and sex lives in a way that is all their own. We won’t have to discuss how the porn stars of today shun traditional mores and rub our faces in it simply by doing their jobs. We won’t have to admit that they are the pinnacle of success in a way that is thoroughly legal (which is why politicians and moral superheroes are always trying to find ways to make it illegal) and looks fairly fun. We won’t have to examine how they step outside the borders of what almost every religion finds acceptable to beat us at our own game. We won’t have to think about how they make tons of money and get to have all kinds of guilt-free sex with beautiful people. We can ignore the fact that they are adored by millions, and that people travel from all over the country to see them at conventions. We can dismiss their fame and loathe them for it.
What goes unsaid, however, is that the media does have one thing right. These female adult film stars really are victims. They are victims of ignorance and petty insecurities. They are exploited, too. They are exploited by the media, the church, the government and anyone else who wants to start a moral crusade. Despite that, though, they screw on, and I admire them for it.
Think what you want of these adult film stars and the industry that spawned them. Adult entertainment makes more money than the mighty Disney, however, and its stars are far more approachable then any of Hollywood’s elite. They have that rugged individualism that is the backbone of American culture, too, and I think that makes them more American than their critics. Go figure. Melanie Moore is a better American than John “Cover Those Breasts on That Statue” Ashcroft. The Patriot Act or “Junkyard Dykes 2”? Which is a bigger threat not only to what America stands for, but to our very way of life? Which is more obscene? Which produces more victims? Which exploits people more? It’s time to get our priorities straight. There is a real obscenity out there, and it’s not the “Shane’s World” series.
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Posted on October 28, 2004 in Features by Doug Brunell
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