Empire of Illusion Ch.2: Porn of the Living Dead

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Aaron
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    Rufus, is there a distinction for you between watching clips of porn on the internet, or photographic porn for the purpose of masturbation, or are you saying that you’ve only ever seen pornography four times? Because I’ve only ever “watched” two porn films — Debbie Does Dallas with some friends in high school, and Behind the Green Door, with my girlfriend. I think there is certainly a qualitative difference between the kind of people who “watch” pornography and those who consume it. I use pornography for a specific purpose — ejaculation, when the girlfriend isn’t around. I do not feel like I have been degraded thereby, or that my respect for women has decreased because of my consumption.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that the kinds of porn that you’re implying — watersports and gonzo and those kinds of degrading things — are unsettling, and nothing that I would want to watch. But I would say that those things have nothing to do with porn per se, and everything to do with respect for women. The two are not necessarily the same thing.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Aaron
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      @Aaron, Okay I see the distinction. I’m still living in the pre-Internet world in a lot of ways. I’ve never seen much of the online stuff, aside from pornographic spam, mostly because I’m terrified that those sites will download a virus onto the computer. Therefore, what I’ve seen has tended to be on video or DVD and with friends or girlfriends. When I was in my early 20s, my friend and our girlfriends thought it would be fun to rent a porno. Back then you had to go to this one adult video store in the industrial zone of town in a warehouse and try to choose between 1000 videos to rent. I think we rented part 14 of something and a spanking video that featured close-up shots of butts being smacked for two hours. We ended up turning it off and watching Twin Peaks.

      Like you, I’ve seen a handful (so to speak) of the classic titles at parties. And then I’ve seen maybe two more recent videos with my wife. Both of us agreed that they were a lot less interesting than porn seems like it would be in theory.

      As for actually buying pornography, my sense of it is that it breaks down into two groups: couples or men who buy one or two titles, teenage boys who buy one or two titles, and then a small group of men who buy a ton of the stuff. I get the sense that porn is more like a niche market that has a relatively small clientèle that buys a lot.

      But like you’re getting at, there’s a whole new world of people who maybe watch a clip or two on the Internet and probably don’t pay. I don’t know if Hedges even deals with the Internet, or even with porn that isn’t produced by the industry because it must be there like it is with every other form of media. And the wide variety probably already exists. So maybe it’s just that minority of porn-collecting dudes that are demanding gonzo porn. Like you, I’d think that has more to do with their feelings about women than sex or porn. One gonzo director is quoted in the book as saying his job is to make films that punish and humiliate the women who wouldn’t ever sleep with his audience in real life, which struck me as abnormally honest.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Rufus F.
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        @Rufus F., Porn taken as a whole clearly has a lot to do with women and respect for women (lack thereof), but it really is worth remembering that we can’t say that porn is inherently about that, because there is this whole segment of the industry (activity, form, whatever) that doesn’t involve women at all. The issue is really the question of truly free choice versus the various possible degrees of exploitation, IMO.Report

        • Avatar Rufus in reply to Michael Drew
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          @Michael Drew, No I wouldn’t want to characterize any form of media as having one characteristic across the board. And I think it’s probably safe to say that me, you, and most of the people reading this support the right of anyone who so wishes to make any sort of art they want to or to purchase any sort of art they want. Okay, maybe others wouldn’t go quite that far, but that’s my opinion.

          But, after we’ve decided that everyone should have free choices in these areas, how do we feel about the level of exploitation? Because I know tons of liberals who rail against how workers are exploited at, say, Walmart. But surely there’s a level of exploitation for the coked-out prostitute in the double anal video, right? (And thanks to Chris Hedges, I now know there is such a thing as a “double anal” video!) And Chris Hedges is probably the first progressive I’ve heard talk about that since at least the mid 90s.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Rufus
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            @Rufus, Well of course, at least for some large number of such coked-out prostitutes. That’s what I’m saying. Economic exploitation of all kinds is sort of at the heart of the progressive critique of free market ideology, but the problem is always that it’s extremely hard to define where exploitation has some aspect to it that can be treated by law, either legitimately according to how we limit the scope of government treatment ex ante, and then with effectiveness. So here just like any any transaction there’s the potential that there are elements of both free choice and exploitation, and it’s hard to say just where they leave off between them, and therefore what we can do about it. Obviously we can simply say this particular industry is vile and the balance is mainly to exploitation and we should strive to eliminate demand for it by our choices. But that doesn’t really treat the question of how to deal with the free and the exploited parts of the choices made by the participants. I’m saying that is the core of the problem, and it’s really murky to deal with that in terms of policy here just like in other parts of the labor economy. One idea would be to consider having law give extreme protection to unions in this industry. That may be a completely absurd-sounding statement, but I actually think there could be room for a lot of good to be done that way via education about risks for members and redressing some of the conditions.Report

            • Avatar Rufus in reply to Michael Drew
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              @Michael Drew, Okay, I see what you’re saying, after having gotten some sleep, and it’s an excellent point. I mean, I think that, if someone wants to be tied up and pissed on in a video, and that’s how they want to make their money, more power to them. But I think the really useful insight of the progressives, for me, is that freedom of choice is critical, but it’s really just the first step. Nobody forces the single mother living below the poverty line to keep working at the factory where they don’t give bathroom breaks and the boss is sexually harassing her, but if your choices are bad and worse, in some sense you don’t have the same freedom to choose for yourself that, say, I do. I think that’s where you’re going anyway.

              In terms of solutions, as I read this book, I keep thinking of an old idea from the 60s that I don’t hear so often lately: building alternative institutions. I was reading in the Times last week about a clothing company that sells to universities, which has set up a factory in the Dominican Republic that is committed to paying a living wage- about three times the average pay there. Of course, everyone’s saying it won’t work, but I know that business pretty well and I think they’re going to do very well. And, of course, that puts pressure on the other factories in the area to compete.

              As crazy as it sounds, if there really are feminists making porn (which I’ve heard, but never seen), maybe they could build a sort of alternative empire that would offer some sort of options to these porn performers.Report

  2. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    I’ve heard many liberals, quite a few of them feminists, say, “Porn isn’t my thing, but I think people should be free to make it and watch it.” And I’m a bit of a free speech extremist anyway, so I agree. But does that mean you have no opinion on the content? Or no personal standards?

    Obviously, to have an authentic opinion, you must call in the state and its goons to enforce it. Otherwise, your opinion doesn’t really count as an opinion, per se.

    Seriously, I’d challenge you to have the courage of your convictions as a “free speech extremist.” Opinions that need jackboots are less authentic, not more.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      @Jason Kuznicki, No, my opinions don’t require calling in the state or its goons. I sort of look at it the other way around- I don’t need the state to decide for me what media is crap. And that’s because I’m perfectly capable of deciding for myself what media is crap. I feel like I can handle this one on my own.Report

  3. Avatar Rufus
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    Maybe a better way to talk about this is with media that most of us already find offensive. Let’s take white power magazines or comic books. I find people will say they want to preserve everyone’s free speech rights, which I agree with, and then I get the feeling they don’t want to be too vehement in their disgust with any art, speech, or media, lest the other person says, “So, if you think white power comic books are repulsive, why don’t you want them banned?”

    But I think that question misses the point. It’s not that I don’t find white power comic books repulsive, and therefore I don’t want them banned. It’s that I do find them repulsive, but I don’t want any books, art, or ideas that I enjoy to be banned, and so that means accepting the existence of things that I personally find repulsive. I think you can be just as disgusted with art or ideas whose right to exist you defend.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Rufus
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      @Rufus, You can, but I hope not wanting to have communications you find disgusting banned stems not from fear of knock-on effects on communication you prize, but rather out of an actual belief that people should retain and have protected their right to those communications notwithstanding disgust — yours or even theirs.Report

      • Avatar Rufus in reply to Michael Drew
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        @Michael Drew, I think they’re basically the same belief- it’s really just putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, isn’t it? I find Nazi imagery disgusting, but no doubt there are works of art in my own house that someone else would find disgusting and ban if they could. So the general principle that people should have the right to communicate however they want to really stems from sympathy for the devil, although naturally it sounds weird as hell in this context.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Rufus
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          says:

          @Rufus, I don’t think it’s the same, though it’s certainly a legitimate way to look at it. But saying you refrain from calling for bans of things because you wouldn’t want things you don’t want banned banned is really not the same thing as saying that even the things you find most disgusting or harmful still should not be banned on principle (whether that principle is due to a natural right or a clause of constitutional law).Report

          • Avatar Rufus in reply to Michael Drew
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            @Michael Drew, Yeah, I guess that’s true. I don’t know if it’s a general principle, but having lived for five years in a country without free speech (sorry Canadians), I am of the opinion that societies simply function much better when people’s opinions are out in the open and that having them all in the open makes it easier to wrestle with ideas and come to the best ones. Maybe that helps. I understand natural law theory and I sort of go back and forth on it, but I haven’t yet come to the conclusion that anything should be banned. Actually I’m probably more liberal than the laws in that sense.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    The problem with liberty is that people will use it to do things that we (as a society!) do not like.

    Culture used to do a lot of heavy lifting that it no longer does… allowing for folks like Max Hardcore to make his degrading movies.

    The problem is that most folks, when defending the idea of pr0n, tend to defend the idea of two (or three, whatever) beautiful people who are, at least, somewhat infatuated with one another who merely happen to have a camera in the room. Who, among us, could possibly object to that?

    But, of course, only the kooks object to that. When you start talking about Max Hardcore’s stuff, it doesn’t take much kookery to feel a violent revulsion. Instead of discussing “consenting adults”, one gets the idea that at least one person in that room had no idea what was going to happen and, as such, informed consent was never given… just uninformed consent followed by falling into the “sunk cost fallacy”.

    I’m not exactly comfortable saying that the girls involved ought not be allowed to sign the contracts… I mean, hey, she’s 18, right? But it’s obviously someone who has been psychically damaged by life so far and life is about to become a little bit worse.

    The feeling that “this is not the way the world ought to be” is normal and healthy. The immediate response that yells “THEREFORE I MUST MAKE THE WORLD RIGHT!” may or may not be, of course…

    But the idea that no one ought to be doing the stuff that Max Hardcore does makes sense to me. The folks working with him don’t seem to be giving informed consent… but, I’ve had similar said about me. “Oh, you don’t *REALLY* agree to such-and-such… you’ve got a false consciousness!”

    And, of course, the folks saying such were very much wrong.

    But it is very difficult to hear of such things without immediately thinking “this is not the way the world ought to be”.Report

    • Avatar Gorgias in reply to Jaybird
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      @Jaybird,

      I was with you up until, “But it’s obviously someone who has been psychically damaged by life so far and life is about to become a little bit worse.” I don’t mean to minimize the tyranny of the choice between bad and worse many sex workers face, but we can do a whole lot better than this. Treating all sex workers as damaged psychological goods only perpetuates the stigma that allows exploitation of those engaged in such work to continue.

      I appreciate the point about false consciousness, and I think it can be expanded upon. While by all accounts Max Hardcore’s treatment of his models, if not illegal, is certainly monstrous, we ought not assume that the subject matter of his videos necessitates Mr. Hardcore’s disrespect for the consent and autonomy of his models. There are plenty of legitimate masochists out there, and making it out as if the presence of such acts makes consent impossible makes a mockery of their own ability to consent and makes it difficult for testimony about their desires to be believed.Report

      • Avatar Rufus in reply to Gorgias
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        says:

        @Gorgias, I do wonder what role the stigma plays. Hedges suggests that kids now dream of becoming porn stars when they grow up, but it’s still a stigmatized job I’d say. It’s hard to imagine anywhere that you can put “former actress in adult films” on your resume. I do wonder if the stigma doesn’t keep the industry from getting any better.Report

        • Avatar Gorgias in reply to Rufus
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          @Rufus, I absolutely think the stigma does. This might seem tangential, but scope http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/article_30865bcc-95eb-11df-9734-00127992bc8b.html, which details a case a woman made against the Girls Gone Wild videos. The long and short of the situation is that a woman was dancing for the cameras, clothed, refused to take her clothes off, and had a third party pull her shirt down to reveal her breasts. She was suing the GGW guys for distributing it without her permission and damaging her reputation.

          I suppose in theory there might be a kosher argument that GGW aren’t the right guys to go after in this situation, and that she’s got a better sexual harassment case against the third party, but the jury’s reasoning for deciding in favor of GGW is illuminating. They claimed that she had given implicit consent by dancing on camera (despite a rather explicit, “no” that can be heard in the video!). Said one of the jurymen, “Through her actions, she gave implied consent. She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing.”

          Now ask yourself, if someone merely dancing for a camera has given implicit consent to being disrobed and filmed, what are the chances of any kind of porn actor or actress or sex worker winning an assault or rape case? Surely if the job gets rougher than he or she bargained for, he or she gave implicit consent that it be so- sex workers “know what they are doing,” after all.

          The bottom line is that getting an assault or rape case to stick against someone who assaulted or raped a sex worker is nigh impossible. It is impossible not because these case are any more difficult to determine guilt in, but because juries will not convict anyone accused of such crimes. They won’t convict such criminals because of stigma against sex workers- they “knew what they were doing.”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Gorgias
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        says:

        @Gorgias, call me old-fashioned but I’d be willing to bet the following:

        Any given sex worker (prostitute, stripper, porn star, etc) that was abused as a child would give a dollar to me… and, any given one that was not and chose this lifestyle because, hey, the money’s good and the work’s easy, would give you two dollars.

        I’d have more money at the end of the day.Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      @Jaybird, My problem with Max Hardcore being in jail is really that he’s in jail for obscene content. Thus it’s possible to imagine people making the same content in optimal working conditions and going to jail for doing so. From the sound of it, there are a number of other things he could have been arrested for and I wouldn’t have sympathy, but here I can see it blowing back on more savory people.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus
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        says:

        @Rufus, this is one of those cases on the edge that really tries my libertarian inclinations.

        It’s difficult for me to look at Max Hardcore and *NOT* come to the conclusion that we (as a society!) are better off with him behind bars and not making movies anymore.

        The obscenity charges are, of course, bullshit given the Incorporation of the First Amendment and, as such, Max Hardcore ought to be a free man and peeing the contact lenses out of the eyes of any given 19-year old willing to sign the contract.

        But, as I said, it’s difficult…Report

  5. Avatar Carsten
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    to me freedom of speech, or any personal freedom we have, has its limits once it hurts others or infringes on other people’s rights. i think the problem with the US debate on freedom of speech and freedom of expression is that it always centers around the initial actor … the one who talk first. i think where most european countries differ is not so much that they dramatically limit freedom of speech but limit it exactly where it infringes on other people’s rights. and i think that is an important part when it comes to these kind of gonzo movies hedges talks about. the actors in his (and i think in many people’s view) are exploited, drugged up, promised the sky … and then taken advantage off. now is this the case with all porn actresses? no, of course not. but similar to most industries the porn industry is bad at self regulation (no matter what companies and industries say, they just can’t self regulate … we have seen the opposite i think way too often especially in recent years). so what does the porn industry do? it hides behind freedom of speech … “we have the right to show rape, to show kidnapping, to show murder” and we have the right to film this in a way that hurts those acting. but the problem is not so much what they are showing but how they produce itReport

  6. Avatar Brett
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    says:

    There’s something disturbing about watching the most emotional event in most peoples’ lives portrayed in a way that’s almost completely emotionless.

    That must have been some crappy porno. Usually good porno has the actors and actresses hamming it up a bit, without badly done breast implants.Report

  7. Avatar Gregory Underwood
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    Whether a clip in the internet or a flick in a dvd, as long as it’s porn will obviously worsen someone’s addiction to porn. My point is, whatever the purpose of the so-called art film, it does have its fallback and that should also be considered by concerned citizens towards the increasing number of porn addicts.Report

  8. Avatar Liam Jackson
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    I was cured from Herpes virus with Herbal Medicine which is really active in most countries today. I was tested Herpes positive and I have blisters all over my genital part. I was referred to Dr. Ahmed who cured me. Email him drahmedusman5104@gmail.com. You will be the next to testify.Report

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