The speculations which follow were partly triggered by the thesaurus on the word-processor I use for much of TC. This device will suggest alternatives for any expression you type in, to help avoid repetition. On a whim, I typed in ‘Trash’ and was mildly surprised to discover it suggested ‘Pornography’; I say surprised, as the two to me are poles apart. But it did generate a train of thought on what pornography is, why it is, and how it functions.
Firstly, a definition. “Writing, pictures, films, etc. designed to stimulate sexual excitement” is the one in the dictionary, but for our purposes, this needs to be refined a bit, in both directions. We should appreciate that pornography is usually more, rather than less explicit, though the boundary level varies from vehicle to vehicle. Additionally, I think it’s the main purpose that matters; a book doesn’t have to be non-stop sex to qualify. I would agree that it’s the intent of the maker, rather than that of the viewer, which is important. ‘Pandora‘ (TC10) remains pornography, as it was designed to be arousing – it’s irrelevant that I watch it because it’s hysterically funny. But raids on places like Health and Efficiency magazine show that the police think otherwise; be careful if you’ve got a Littlewoods catalogue, with that potentially dodgy underwear section!
There’s very little in the way of absolute pornography – one culture’s filth is another’s religious ritual – and even in these days of the global village there still remain significant differences in what is permitted. As this is our Oriental issue, it seems appropriate to mention Japan in terms of how the well-known restrictions on what can and can’t be shown there has affected things. Up until very recently, there was an absolute taboo against the depiction of pubic hair, with a small army employed to remove all such traces from foreign publications with electrically-powered erasers. This is now gradually slackening – ‘La Belle Noiseuse’ was allowed to play there despite containing hitherto unpermitted amounts of nekkid Emmanuelle Beart – but only for ‘serious art’. Magazines such as ‘Beppin’ (which my spellchecker keeps wanting to change into ‘Beeping’) still have to operate under serious restrictions.
What’s intriguing is that, in practical terms, it makes no difference. While UK aims towards a gynaecologically driven Holy Grail, Beppin’s major forte is in being populated by women of quite jaw-dropping beauty, even taking into account my predilection for Oriental cute. In the issues which have drifted across my bookshelves, I can’t recall a babe less than about an 8.5. The poses seem carefully designed to conceal rather than expose, saving needless airbrushing, and the overall effect is thus certainly at least as pleasing on the eye, if not more so. Which is perhaps what elevates Beppin above most of its’ Western counterparts; purely sexual stimulation is not it’s sole raison d’etre. I’ll come back to this point later.
The major problem with Beppin is that I now have a vague belief that, should I ever get to bed a Japanese girl, she’s going to take her panties off and…there’ll be nothing there at all, just a pristine airbrushed region of flesh, or if there is, it’ll be flashing computer-processed squares. It might be worse; perhaps it’s infectious, and I’ll wake up the next morning with a digitised dick.
Which brings me neatly to one potential area of concern, the deleterious effect of pornography on one’s sexuality. Well, like many of my schoolmates, a fairly hefty percentage of the non-biological side of sex was first encountered in magazines, generally nicked from local newsagents by those brave enough to do so. Has this affected me? I wouldn’t have said so – the only effect that comes to mind is a touching, if short-lived, belief that ten minutes into any date with a girl, I should be getting a blow-job under the table. Needless to say, this fondly-held fantasy evaporated with near-vampiric speed in the cold daylight of actual experience. Far more important in creating my sexual psyche was, I feel, wearing glasses for my entire formative years.
Ah, they say, you might be able to handle it, but not everyone can. What about Ted Bundy, who repeatedly claimed pornography was to blame for his crimes? Well, pause to consider what happened to the co-eds dumb enough to believe Mr. Bundy – icky, isn’t it? Then, ponder how the imminent prospect of execution must concentrate the mind wonderfully when it comes to finding scapegoats. Finally, bear in mind the enormous numbers of drooling killers, most recently Mr. Koresh, who proclaim that God told them to do it, yet no-one suggests banning religion.
My views on such things are distinctly libertarian – people should be able to do what they want, but must be fully accountable for their actions. It’s like drunk driving; you should be free to drive after any amount of alcohol, but if you then kill someone, it’s murder, just as much as if you pointed a gun and pulled the trigger. Not ‘causing death by reckless driving’, but murder. This would be a somewhat severe deterrent, I think. Absolute freedom, with absolute responsibility.
Censorship and pornography go hand in hand. The problem is that in ‘polite society’ very few people are prepared to admit that they actually like the stuff, which makes it hard to find champions. Horror films have a similar problem, once you go beyond the ultra-mainstream ones. But pornography faces an additional handicap, in that most of it is very hard to justify from an artistic point of view, because it’s basically crap.
While this is mostly seen in movies, it also applies to other media as well, comics, for example. One need only reach up to the top shelf and browse a couple of the Aircel comics line (if they’re not utterly sealed in browse-proof plastic – and that’s if they’ve got past Customs at all). Poorly drawn or what? The problem is that blots of ink on paper don’t turn me on, and if porn fails to do that, any inherent flaws become grossly conspicuous. The only such comic I like is ‘Cherry’ (previously known as ‘Cherry Poptart’, until the name was changed – as a “design decision” and not due to any pressure from Kellogg’s!), probably because it has a sense of humour sadly missing from most pornography.
Sex is entertaining (if not, you’re doing it wrong!), and smut should reflect this, especially because it’s such an inherently daft concept. It certainly needs something, as otherwise there’s not much spiritual enlightenment to be gained from watching two (or more) people thrashing around. That’s a generally tedious experience, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of skin films I’ve seen without having to resort to the fast-forward button.
The cause of this was mentioned above: most porn goes beyond having a main purpose of sexual excitement to the stage where that’s the only purpose. Everything else is forgotten about. For movies, this results in an total absence of production values, script, acting, characters, technical quality and anything else that would attract your attention for more than five minutes.
The problem is that almost all films are either 0% or 100% porn. Yet there would be, I suspect, a massive market for something that leavened the hardcore with a significant volume of other stuff. I was watching ‘Gothic’ recently, and there’s a film just begging for such treatment – it would definitely be an improvement over watching Julian Sands going mad. Pornography is basically a lost opportunity. It’s a chance to do absolutely anything, tear into any sacred cows you like – religion, politics, whatever. What are they going to do, ban you?
There are one or two films which do deserve mention. Borowczyk’s movies, such as ‘The Beast’ and ‘Within Convent Walls’, happily shot-blast any target within reach – the Roman Catholic Church is a favourite. I’d also class ‘Nekromantik’ as pornography – albeit of a rather specialised nature. Some American films do show unusual imagination, see later in this section. And there are a number of anime which mix porn and other genres with ease: the long-running Cream Lemon series are the best known. Respect is due to all these films, even ‘Caligula’, a movie that tries to cross the borders, but fails in almost every conceivable way with spectacular style. Though Malcolm McDowell seemed to enjoy himself a lot!
Soft-core is, or can be, just as bad. Anyone with satellite will undoubtedly have tuned into channels like RTL; once you get over the novelty value of seeing entirely gratuitous breasts (as opposed to breasts necessary to the plot), it rapidly gets dull and repetitive. The major-benefit of such movies is that you can sometimes convince proficient people to work in them, on both sides of the camera. There’s a definite charm in seeing the early indiscretions of today’s stars!
Is there any hope for change? Not really. Even if we still had a film industry, we British are basically ruled out thanks to the “sex is dirty” doctrine that seems to be part of our consciousness, in contrast to our European neighbours. In France, “Betty Blue” was rated ’12’, and it’s no coincidence that they produced perhaps the best smut peddler, in Just Jaeckin. ‘The Story of O’ is an impressive descent into the depths of S/M, and of course there is the awesome ‘Gwendoline’, a film that sums up everything pornography could, and should be; classy, fun, well-made, imaginative, entertaining…the list continues, basically the same qualities we look for in ‘normal’ cinema.
The Channel Tunnel opens soon. Paris will be three hours from here by train. Can’t wait….