Porn As Junk Food

19 Aug

A friend sent me this video the other day.

In many ways, a lot of porn is comparable to junk food. It’s a highly distilled and concentrated formulation that is engineered to tap into some of our most basic urges. As a culture, we’re really good at taking something that’s good for us or fun and distilling it to the point of toxicity. In the case of food, it’s salt, sugar, and fat. In the case of porn, it’s formulaic, unrealistic sex that follows predictable conventions and neglects genuine pleasure. In both cases, real diversity and variety is removed and instead, superficial differences are promoted as innovations. When it comes down to it, what’s the difference between Cheetos, Doritos, or Fritos? They’re all corn products, with salt, fat, and variations in flavoring additives. Their purpose isn’t to nourish- their purpose is to get people to buy their products so the producers can get as much money as possible. [x]

We just have to make sure not to base our ideas of what sex should be like on what porn is like. We don’t cook potatoes so they taste like McDonalds, why would we do it with sex?

5 Responses to “Porn As Junk Food”

  1. The Yankee August 19, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    My main complaint about mainstream porn is the ways in which it exploits its workers. I think this situation is undeniable, and it’s only a combination of organizing and advocacy that will end it.

    As for the images produced themselves? I find myself less troubled by either predictability, or lack of variety. Porn has not, like most visual media (TV, movies, theater), shifted to using authenticity or fidelity to realism as a measure of quality. I remember a Chuck Klosterman interview with Method actor Val Kilmer where Kilmer insists that when he plays a fireman he actually becomes a fireman. You don’t have Method acting in porn, nor do you have anything that resembles the commitment to realism that you see in most visual media. Porn performance takes cues (or actually probably the other way around) from professional wrestling, where a wrestler projects emotion without regard to believability, or from glam rock inspired musical performance, where a lead singer may writhe around on the stage night after night peacocking a hyped sexuality or emotion that the crowd receives as an image rather than an authentic experience of the performer.

    Porn, wrestling, and musical performances effect us not because they present something novel, but in fact because they are hyped up images of situations and tropes that we have seen again and again. These images have gained power through mass culture and socialization, and we feel intense pleasure in experiencing something that is familiar, and imbued with loads of cultural meaning.

    I’m not saying we should value cheetos because the mass is always right, and popularity wins. I’m saying we should value cheetos because eating cheetos is a performance in addition to being an experience, and it is the type of performance that draws experiences, and significances, and meanings from outside of its corn salt husk. A homemade tortilla chip tastes better, but I don’t always want a god taste because I don’t always want qualities of an object to emanate solely from that object itself. I want objects that carry meaning from many places (and yes a homemade tortilla chip does have significances beyond its taste, but those significances have acquired the emotional heft that mass culture archetypes imbue on cheetos).

    Sharon Mazer is a Performance Studies professor at Tulane University who wrote a book on professional wrestling in which she conducted a massive number of interviews with viewers of professional wrestling. Her conclusion was that people who watch pro wrestling watch it for two reasons. First of all, people watch to be able to feel something. In wrestling they call this “heat”. When the bad guy hits the good guy when he’s not looking, the audience feels rage and expresses “heat” through boos and jeers. The second reason people watch is because they like to play a game distinguishing the emotions of wrestlers into three categories: entirely internal, entirely performance, or some mix of both internal and performance. This is voyeurism as play. Audiences like to think about the shifting dynamics between authenticity and performance. Contrast this with all of the (usually upper class, college educated) folks who don’t watch pro wrestling and just dismiss the whole thing as “fake”.

    Can we watch porn the same way? I can’t. I can’t because I know that performers are largely exploited. If I knew people’s salaries and working conditions then maybe I could enjoy the voyeurism as play aspect of watching porn, but as it is I just feel bad for folks.

    But I can say that when I watch porn I do want to see predictable things rather than novel ones. Or at least when I do see something novel I want to see it built on top of some archetype or convention already present in porn tropes. For example, I would love to see a money shot to the face that is followed by a severe beating. Both face shots and physical violence are porn tropes. Having them in those order, though gives a different emotional wave to the experience. You expect things to end after a man ejaculates. This is not about subversion; subversion would be a woman cumming all over a man’s face. That’s fine. Representation is important. Subversion is important. But it is distinct from the meaning the accrues by using culturally acknowleded archetypes.

    The last thing that I would add is to say that I don’t want to watch porn that approximates real sex, mostly because I’m not sure what real sex is. I think holding hands is real sex. I think peeing on someone-and just peeing on them-is real sex. Is being celibate your whole life sex? Is going through every day with a desire for sex, but not ever getting it sex? Are closeted gay men in marriages having real sex with their wives? Are hugs sex? Is witchcraft sex? Are crushes sex?

    I’m kind of rambling, but I just don’t think there’s a monolithic, brightlined thing called sex out there. I think sex is a dimension we move in. We can move forwards or backwards in space. We move forwards in time. We constantly move in sex, and like the other dimensions we cannot escape it. We are immersed in it. Sex is the dimension through which we acknowledge other consciousnesses, or other souls, or fail to do so as the case may be. Moving in this dimension is both authentic and performance, both physical and based on images.

    Porn is sex. And watching it is an activity with established rules and dynamics. And those dynamics are a lot more complex than can be plotted on a spectrum of good to bad, ethical to unethical, or authentic to inauthentic.

  2. Tom August 20, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    I’m bothered by the blanket statement that porn neglects real pleasure. There are countless thousands of sites dedicated to authentic porn. They’re very, very popular.

    Criticizing all porn is like criticizing all novels. It’s a medium, not a genre. You’d never hear someone say “all novels lack compelling characters”.

    Many modern porn sites function like YouTube: users upload videos, and vote them up or down. I’d love to see a study done on these ratings, to see if viewers prefer videos where the participants are obviously having lots of fun (and maybe even a meaningful, loving connection), or videos where the fun is being faked (you can tell), or videos that cross the line into being downright hostile. Such a study is possible, but I haven’t heard of one. If there has been one, I’d love to see a link to it.

    • The Yankee August 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      What is “authentic porn”? What makes the sex portrayed in this type of more more real than sex in what we might think of as mainstream porn? I don’t think we can define what is real and what is not when it comes to sex. In the same way that sex is so many more things than penis in vagina, sex is many more things than penis in vagina minus power dynamics or minus performance, or minus “fun”.

      Also, porn is not a medium. It is an act. Characters in novels are not people, but people in porn are.

      And why does porn have to have performed “fun” or enjoyment in it to be OK? What about a loving connection makes porn, or sex more meaningful.

      It feels to me like you’re trying to narrow and constrain what is and isn’t OK sex, while at the same time censoring pornography and its performers. This feels disrespectful at best, and manipulative at worst.

  3. Jackdaw Gin August 21, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    I found the video to be both interesting and accurate. It makes the point (which must be constantly be made) that porn is not sex, nor is it representative of sex.

    Poronography is to sex what junk food is to actual food. Fast, easy, strongly flavored. Just like junk food is food striped down to it’s most basic elements (sugar, salt, crunch, etc) porn is sex stripped down to it’s most basic elements (intercourse, dirty talk, big tits, etc). Both are good for quick satisfaction, but provide no lasting sustenance.

    • The Yankee August 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

      How again is porn not sex? Do you know what is going through the heads of people who are working in the pornography industry. I don’t think there’s such a bright line. All types of sex work involves intimacy, feeling, and emotion, and porn is no different. Just because something doesn’t line up with our ideology, or even whilst someone is in an exploitative situation they can still have multiple contradictory feelings about the experience.

      I used to work in a strip club (for gay men) in Washington DC. It was a place where our performance was, as you say, “sex stripped down to it’s most basic elements”, yet this did not mean our interactions or relationships with patrons were not complex and meaningful. Most of the patrons were closeted gay men. Many worked in government or the military (this was in 2003), and many were in marriages. There was a wall of video monitors in the club; 12 tv screens that each played a different porn movie, and when you looked at it all at once it was a big bright wall of thrusting. Patrons were allowed to touch us, but only below the knees. And they often had conversations with us.

      I refuse to believe that a closeted, fat, old, lonely gay man who came in every week to chat with strippers and have some human touch in his life wasn’t experiencing something meaningful. It may not have been ideal for him or for us performers, but it was meaningful for all of us involved. I did not love him, nor any of the other patrons, but I loved the feeling of being able to give something intimate to someone.

      I think calling porn “quick satisfaction” with “no lasting sustenance” is disrespectful to people who may not have the same privilege as those of us who have access to relationships. Some people are fat, or ugly, or old, or closeted, or shy, or socially anxious, or survivors of terrible abuse, and porn may be a way for them to experience a feeling that they cannot otherwise.

      I can agree that mainstream porn is not representative of sex, but I would say that the more important point that mainstream ways of conceiving sex (involving mutual romantic feelings, mutual enjoyment, intimacy, and vulnerability) are not representative of sex. Nor are they representative of human relationships. Sex and relationships are full of contradictions, clashing viewpoints and ideas, multi-faceted meanings, anxiety, insecurity, and a lack singular meaning. Sex cannot be represented, because the feelings involved are multiple and fluid.

      People have sex to gain power, people have sex to gain respect or admiration from their peers, people have sex for material gain, or financial security, or emotional security, and they shouldn’t be shamed that their sex doesn’t meet the equivalent of locally sourced organic swiss chard from the Union Square Greenmarket.

      If you know any out sex workers (and I can almost guarantee that you know people who do sex work; out or not), talk to them about what real sex is. Or just stop setting up rules for what sex is or isn’t.

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