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September 14, 2009


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Craig, excellent analysis of the limitations (or blind spots) of the sexual libertarian position, as well as the fallacy of the male/female symmetry of Bougie's argument, i.e., the idea that substituting a woman for a man in the S/M scenario should yield the same reaction, an assumption that doesn't hold water given the disproportionate abuse of women in our culture.

To me there seems to be something almost counter-phobic about the desire to expose oneself to the extremes of what is representable. I have the same problem with horror films along the extreme torture/voyeurism axis. This is not to deny that horror has its way of circumventing the conventional and the superego and plugging into the unconscious in a powerful, bracing, sometimes even life-enhancing way. But the intellectual arguments made for extreme horror (where verisimilar ultraviolence reigns), as for other body genres such as hardcore S/M porn, always seem to pale besides the sheer visceral kick, licit or not, of the stuff. Not for me, thanks.

And this just killed me: "Nigga please! Fuck that sexist shit!" Aside from the fact that the argument does not convince, the appeal to postmodern minstrelsy here, via the N-word, is lame. Gambits like these seem like tests, or opportunities for the reader to demonstrate his/her (but in this case surely his) liberality: do I object, or do I show my degree of cool by not objecting?

Your honor, I object.

BTW, is it just me, or is there some echo of Bob Fingerman in Bougie's style and self-caricature?


I love B-movies and all that stuff, but for personal entertainment, I draw the line at a lot of the movies discussed in Cinema Sewer. I'm not going to say I don't watch porn, but I certainly don't watch entire porn movies for the same kind of entertainment that I get from say an obscure '60s biker flick. Cruelty and sadism I find particularly unpleasant on screen (even in big blockbusters).

However, I really love Cinema Sewer. I love reading reviews of these movies and all the fascinating industry history behind them. The very existence of this magazine, for me, solves the intellectual and moral conundrum you discuss above. I can learn about the stuff that interests me without actually having to participate in the elements that I find disturbing.

I do think Bougie's stance is an important counterbalance to the overwhelming prudish morality in North America. Compared to the millions of people parading the dangers of alternative sexuality, violent videogames, dungeons & dragons and anything else they can find to be shocked about, one person saying "Hey the representation does not equal the act" can be significant.

Molly Ren

"In fact, the performers in KKE may suffer literal mental illness; it's not impossible that a woman who loves to drink piss and get fisted so violently that her body is lifted off the ground may need psychiatric care (as well as a trip to the emergency room), and men capable of degrading her like must have an almost pathological lack of empathy."

I think you may have missed out on the changes that have happened in the kink and porn worlds in the past generation or so. Woman can actually enjoy being fisted or drinking pee, and there are now many queer porn companies and sex toy companies that are entirely female-owned. Have you ever heard the words "sex positve"? Though most of the movement seems to be spread mainly though blogs, you might have your eyes opened by reading Maymay's blog (intellectual debate on consent and sexism written by a submissive man), Bitchy Jones' Diary (a sexually dominant woman critiquing the current BDSM community) or hell, even Violet Blue, the sex educator of web 2.0. The experience you had in that movie theatre is worlds away from what porn looks like now, though there is still much to debate.

That said, I also think you have misunderstood Brougie's work. Part of the attraction of his work has been that it harkens back to an older time, much like some of Tarantino's work evokes exploitation films. This may explain the confusion you feel when "He seemingly denounces it as the most extreme example of a wave of "sickening and jawdroppingly vile recent German porn" (39), but he's also amazed as just how extreme it is". When he draws amputees, aliens, and really sick stuff for the inside covers of Cinema Sewer, they also seem humourous, parodies of Mad Max and the like. I think Brougie is very much aware that the things he draws are filthy and enjoys the shock value they still have for people, but they are also filth from another era. I see his work to be much like how someone can have a fascination with horror films without wanting someone to get ripped limb from limb.

Molly Ren

Drat, the links to the blogs I mentioned seem to have been lost:

Maymay: http://maybemaimed.com/

Bitchy Jones: http://bitchyjones.wordpress.com/

Violet Blue: http://www.tinynibbles.com/

Craig Fischer

Excellent comments, walkerp and Molly.

Molly, you're absolutely right when you point out that I'm out of touch with contemporary trends in porn. I wrote the lengthy introduction to my post partially to reveal what a naif I am. Thanks also for the links to the blogs; I'm especially interested in Maymay's blog, since I'd like to know how a submissive deals with issues of consent.

However, I think you misunderstand me when you talk about Bougie's "filthy" drawings. His drawings may not always be my cup o' tea, but as I said in my review, I still think he's a fine cartoonist regardless of his subject matter. My real objections to SEWER focus on Bougie's celebratory writing style about movies like KKE.

Walkerp, I agree that there's much to like about SEWER (I hope that came through in my post), and I also share your affection for old exploitation films. But I think it's too easy to say that "the representation does not equal the act." Film and video images do record, at the very least, a particular person and place at a particular moment in time. We browse through old photographs to remember how we looked 10 or 20 years ago because photographic representation does capture time and mummify it for posterity. Bougie writes about TV on-air suicides because he accepts footage of these events to be real (and thus shocking); in other words, he assumes there IS a connection between the representation and the act. That's why I find it difficult to dismiss moral concerns ("Jesus, I feel uncomfortable reading about these TV suicides...and I hope that woman in KKE is OK") while reading some of the articles in SEWER.

Steve K

Three things:

1. I'm a bit hurt (not really) that you didn't mention in your introduction that you directed a master's thesis on Bettie Page!

2. Not sure this adds any dimension to the discussion, but I think it certainly complicates it: While women's wages are not, on the whole, equal to men's, when it comes to porn, women make considerably more than men. If this statement is true, how do we reconcile the implications? Certainly, my argument with Bettie Page rested on the fact that she made more for wiggling around in front of cameras than she did in legitimate avenues of employment ala secretarial work and teaching. Can the industry of porn, where a woman takes the Warren Buffet role (Jenna Jameson), ever be a viable conduit for redress? (Not sure where I'm going with this...)

3. You make clear your lack of ease with sleaze, but I find the statement (one I personally agree with) "as long as nobody gets hurt" defeating in this context. It is precisely the threshold of pleasure/pain that murkies up the waters of sexual discourse: Where pain becomes purposed, can we object-- if the giver and receiver both agree to this end? The dysfunction (I even find this term suspicious given the political implications of determining normal/abnormal; sorry, I've been reading Nancy Fraser's 'Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World') may be questionable (whether or not both parties can truly consent if either is psychologically damaged), but who are we (normal, prudish outsiders?) to judge? Yeah, judge. We're not judging here, I guess, but I do find the conversation interesting!

Craig Fischer

Hey, Steve! How's Boston? To update TB readers: I directed Steve's MA thesis on Bettie Page a few years ago, and I should've mentioned it in my review. It was a terrific thesis, but don't take my word for it--when Bettie died, Steve posted a lively excerpt from the thesis on his blog. Check it out:

http://semeiotikos.blogspot.com/2008/12/queen-of-curves-is-dead.html [.]

Great point about women's wages. I think it's true that there plenty of female porn stars who like their work, really like their pay, and live more independent lives than other women. I don't think porn can ever "redress the wrongs of the patriarchy" or anything like that, but I suspect that for many women it's a fulfilling career. I do worry, however, about those women and men--surely they exist--who do porn because they need the money, and find the work embarrassing or a grind. Porn doesn't work for me because I think about stuff like this and I can't focus on my own arousal.

I haven't read Nancy Fraser (looks like I need to!), but I will come out and admit that I do think that there are some behaviors that should be off-limits, even if "giver and receiver both agree" to them. Yes, that's a judgment call. I'm not interested in forcing my judgments on anybody else--I'm no censor--but the acts that Bougie described in KKE crossed a couple of my personal limits (even if they didn't cross the limits of the participants). And while there's a lot to like about SEWER, I was troubled by Bougie's use of a self-described "carnival barker" writing style to describe KKE and other extreme porn. The "threshold of pleasure/pain" that you describe, Steve, seems to me a delicate and dangerous place, and should be treated with respect rather than as a sideshow.

Or so I'd argue. What do you think?

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