To be clear, I am anti-porn. I think its harmful, reductive and destructive. It destroys women’s bodies through abuse and objectification. It reinforces rape culture by perpetuating the myth that women are ALWAYS in a constant state of consent. It destroys sexuality by delineating and prescribing “acceptable” sexual practises which, inevitably, privilege the male orgasm at the expense of a woman’s bodily autonomy [never mind their desire to orgasm]. I agree with the radical feminist philosophy that: Porn is the Theory and Rape the Practise. I have no time for the arguments of “choice feminism” which suggest we should support the rights of individual women to “choose” to engage in any activity which then, necessarily, become feminist [with no mention the issue of poverty, abuse and substance misuse which push women into the porn industry]. Feminism is a political theory which examines structural power. It is not about individual “choices”; especially when those “choices” involve serious consequences on the physical and emotional body of the woman involved and longer-term consequences for the objectification and abuse of other women. Porn is your basic woman-hating, Patriarchy-approved establishment.
Usually, I am a fan of Louis Theroux’s work. I like his ability to play the foppish Englishman and ask awkward and inappropriate questions which elicit answers that others couldn’t. Twilight of the Porn Stars, a return to a 1997 documentary by Theroux, though was, simply, quite embarrassing. Theroux’s failure to challenge the myth that porn is in financial difficulties is incredibly harmful. Yes, I get that he’s more interested in the performers than in the money but still, his refusal to even attempt to tackle one of the most pervasive myths of the sex industry is telling. He could have challenged the myth in his conclusion without impacting on his interview technique. Theroux seems to have taken the information he received from employees in the industry without question. It just wasn’t good enough as a documentary or responsible enough for a man with his reputation. It also shows a remarkable lack of research into the topic and some serious cognitive dissonance.
Whilst Theroux’s failure to understand the economics of the porn industry is interesting, I found his refusal to really question the effects of the porn industry on individual performers quite intriguing. Theroux does return again and again to the suicide of a performer called John Dough that he interviewed in the 1997 documentary but Theroux seems to have a “romantic”view of the industry. At least, his view of the industry has some seriously rose-coloured glasses involved. He does get Francine Amidour to make some seriously unpleasant comments including the fact that she wouldn’t want her children to be involved because she doesn’t want to be the mother of a “whore”. The fact that Amidour is “whoring” out other people’s children is, apparently, so insignificant that isn’t even worth mentioning. Amidour also says that “fucking someone on a camera isn’t as hard as working 16 hours a day in an office.” I’ve worked in offices. It’s never given me an STD, or stretched my anus so that I suffer permanent anal leakage or resulted in my gang rape. And, that’s without getting into Robert Black, who actually served a prison sentence for obscenity, who says that he doesn’t regret forcing women to engage in multiple anal penetration but that it seems “silly” now. The women whose bodies he tortured might feel differently about that. I know I do. It’s actually quite lazy journalism.
Theroux does focus on the suicide of the one male model, ‘John Dough’, that he interviewed in his original film is interesting but very odd considering the irreparable harm caused by the industry on women’s bodies daily like double anal penetration, gang-bangs and men ejaculating in women’s eyes. Theroux asks everyone he interviewed about Dough’s suicide and tracks down Dough’s wife. Monique DeMoan suggests that her husband committed suicide because of “his cocaine addiction and the instability and sense of failure that went with it, not because of the pressures of the industry”. Whilst the interview with Dough’s wife is definitely one of the most important parts of the documentary, interviewing her daughter on camera was a step too far for me. She is a child. She could have been interviewed without her face being shown. I know Monique could have refused the interview but it’s Theroux’s documentary. He could have shown some consideration for the child and chosen not to use her; especially because she is used as a foil to belittle her mother. That made me so very uncomfortable and angry. More importantly, Dough didn’t commit suicide because of the “decline of a media format” as those interviewed by Theroux suggested. And, that’s certainly not what the people Theroux interviewed thought. They have been saying it but its a clear case of cognitive dissonance. After all, no one working in the industry is going to admit that the industry is harmful and kills people. Theroux just didn’t push hard enough on this issue.
I don’t even know where Theroux was going with this bit in his Guardian article:
It’s an open secret in the porn world that many female performers are supplementing their income by “hooking on the side”. It’s also called “doing privates”, as in private bookings. The official industry line is that it’s dangerous (because clients aren’t tested the way performers are) and irresponsible (because the women could then infect the closed community of professional performers). But the women can make far more money having sex behind closed doors than doing it on film and, in fact, the practice is widespread. For many female performers nowadays, the movies are merely a sideline, a kind of advertising for their real business of prostitution.
Male performers do not have the same options. For a tiny subsection of top talent, there is still a regular pay cheque, albeit a shrinking one. But work has dried up for many of the journeyman-performers in the lower ranks and there is a great deal of anxiety across the board.
Because men aren’t financially “compensated” in the same manner as women, we should feel sad for them? “Doing privates” is prostitution. The models, male and female, do so because they need the money. That’s hardly a “free choice”; especially in an industry which has no health insurance and causes serious physical damage to bodies. Using “adult movies” to advertise your body to be prostituted is not a good thing. It just shows how strong the links are between the “sex entertainment industry” [approved by Wall street] and the prostitution and abuse of women’s bodies [approved by Wall Street in all but name]. The fact that we live in a society where women and men are required to sell their bodies to pay their bills is not a society I want to live in.
And, frankly, this bit is just stupid:
Where the industry will end up is hard to predict. Clearly there is still a market for softcore movies made by companies such as Penthouse and Hustler, available on subscription channels. The parodies may continue for a while, too. But it is difficult to see how a business selling hardcore movies and even internet clips is sustainable when most people simply don’t want to pay if they don’t have to. To many people, when it comes to porn, not paying for content seems the more moral thing to do.
I know where I want the porn industry to end up: consigned to the rubbish bins of history and every piece of pornography destroyed so that the abuse of individuals is no longer the fodder for men to wank over. The morality of people who masturbate over the abuse of women’s bodies is questionable but its not because they don’t like to pay for porn. It’s because they are masturbating over the rape and torture of women; vulnerable women. That is the morality issue.
And this bit just made me want to vomit:
And there is also the wider question: do those who use porn not, perhaps, owe it a little something? Should those who download it not be ready to pass on a little cash incentive to the business? And if not, why not? Does the stigma attached to porn make it OK to steal it? These questions underpin a much bigger dilemma being faced by all media: how do you sustain an industry that provides a certain standard of product – be it journalism, music, or mainstream movies, or X-rated movies – when more and more consumers are in the habit of downloading content for free? In the world of porn, the answer is: you can’t.
I’d like to see the BBC do a real documentary on pornography and the real effects of it on individual performers and the larger effects on the objectification and sexual violation of women. The obfuscation in this documentary is just depressing.
Theroux is better than this. And, the women and men abused daily in the “sex entertainment industry” deserve better than this documentary.