Making sure sex is boring
“Surely there’s so much going on—”
“That it’s deeply boring. An excess of boringness does not make something interesting except in the driest academic sense.” (Iain M. Banks, “The State of the Art”)
It’s clear that the primary problem, both aesthetic and political, with contemporary pornography, is how boring it is. The particular boringness of porn encapsulates a specific vision of the world and of humanity, which is not at all attractive. It’s common to look on pornography with a certain knowing indulgence, laughing at the hackneyed scripts and shoddy acting. This is a mistake: pornography is a massively wealthy industry, and surely if there were any demand for it, money could easily be found for competent writers and acting lessons. No, the “bad” writing and acting in pornography are intentional, part of what makes porn “work” in the way it does.
Defenders of pornography sometimes argue that we should not be concerned by it because it is mere harmless fantasy, while critics respond that pornography and its effects are all too real. Both of these positions get it slightly wrong, because they miss the point that the fantasy that sustains pornography is the fantasy that it is real. This is why pornography rejects basic cinematic competence: a little bit of play-acting is OK at first, but when the sex starts, the costumes come off and the props and performances, anything that might suggest that this is pretend, are dropped. Pornography puts forward two interlinked claims: this is really sex, and sex is really Real. Any suggestion that sex might be linked to human concerns of imagination, language, or politics, is rigorously supressed.
There is a growing “alternative” porn scene, which one might hope would provide an alternative to this grimly realist logic, but unfortunately the alternative appears to be merely one of decoration rather than underlying aesthetic practice. The Doll Underground seems like it would be a good candidate for a more interesting view of sex, with its references to the Weather Underground and advertising through a series of ambiguously rebellious communiques (note that that page includes automatically starting—but non-pornographic—video). Despite the claim in Violet Blue’s enthusiastic review that the film “feels like anti-porn,” the film seems to mostly be conventionally attractive people having conventionally athletic porn sex, although the costumes are goth-loli and the props are sticks of dynamite.
There’s one exception: the first scene in the film, in which two women have rather disaffected and not obviously terribly satisfactory sex on a train, does something almost unimaginable from the point of view of pornography: it repeatedly interrupts the sex to show the landscape through which the train is traveling.