New Media Schooling of the Amateur Pornographer: Negotiating Contracts
and Singing Orgasm
Katrien Jacobs (First published In Spectator, Vol 24. no 1, Spring, 2004)
This article presents the works of amateur pornographers engaged in the
production and consumption of mediated sex scenes as web-based performances
or home-made filmmaking. These are skilful amateurs, a wave of savvy media
practitioners who make products around their candid bodies and sex acts,
thus challenging the business goals and performance management of commercial
pornography. Their efforts are not to be confused with individuals who
pose for porn sites and simulate sex as “glossy amateurs”
--bored housewives, horny freshmen, nasty teen virgins, battered Russian
migrants, pregnant mommies, crude aunts or rapist uncles. In most types
of commercial porn, amateur roles are scripted, filmed and edited by producers
who direct and pay models to enter their stage setups and sex scenes.
Real amateurs, on the other hand, are sexually driven media practitioners
who make sex scenes to explore personal desires and respond to cultural
phantasms as mechanisms of power. Amateur pornographers are sexual beings
who record their affairs and adventures for the pleasure of others. They
use low-budget cameras to capture moments, screening scenes privately
or in small groups, or uploading them on the global web through webcams,
live journals and web logs. The article develops concepts and profiles
for amateurs and their ways of having sex, focusing on their performative
schooling in new media and their habits of sharing sex within peer communities.
Amateur pornographers thus live the premises of Jon McKenzie performance
theory, developed in his study Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance.
They thrive on complex sexual feedback loops, as participants negotiate
small-scale “business” deals and “love” contracts
to steer desire and relationships with partners. The article looks into
collaborative work practices that produce the “pornographic contract”
between producers, actors and consumers of amateur pornography. The article
features work and profiles of new media producers Isaac Leung, Tanya Bezreh,
and Barbara DeGenevieve, and includes an analysis of the HBO TV program
Porn 101: xxxtra Credit, a special edition of the magazine Real Sex that
highlights a group of Boston-based amateur pornographers.
Katrien Jacobs is assistant professor in new media at Emerson College.
She wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on dismemberment mythologies in 60s/70s
body art and theory. She has published several articles on sexuality,
pornography and new media art in journals such as Wide Angle and Cultural
Studies. She has lectured widely on pornography in Europe, Australia,
Asia and the USA. An Emerson College Faculty Advancement Grant and residency
at arts center KC nOna (Belgium) have enabled her in recent years to develop
work as web-based entity ‘libidot.’ (http://www.libidot.org)
“the love of doing it.” In the final scene, where she is getting
fucked and she has her orgasm and she walks up the stage and is singing.
That is just exactly right. Somebody who has sex on the screen is not
just a porn-star. They are also a singer and dancer and so many other
Tanya Bezreh, The Naughty Garden.
Introduction: Will the True Amateur Please Stand
This article discusses a new wave of amateur pornography, where the central
metaphor is that of a mutually developing sexual act, a bodily communication
with one party responds to the other, and language and lust spiral together
into a recorded pornographic process. In this article, pornography simply
means a recording of a sexual act implemented for the excitement of others.
Pornography thus breaks way from more current uses of the word, as profit-oriented
entertainment industries that efficiently invade our senses. If pornography
today is mostly understood as methodically organized industries, the article
hopes to investigate productions and strategies that are produced and
invented “in-between” official work sessions. Pornography
becomes more fun, and means an amorphous bundle of sex scenes made with
divergent goals in mind. Amateur pornographers are female or male, gay
or straight, polyamorous or monogamous, regardless, their recorded sex
lives traverse the organized industries to hatch new moments of sexual
The schooling of amateur pornographers is an important aspect of their
pleasure, as they engage in collaborative work practices, learn how to
plot a course in public sexual representation and consumer desire, electronic
networking and communication strategies. A first pocket of porn awareness
stemming from this development would be Peer-to-Peer Porn,
or web-based consumers using peer-to-peer platforms to exchange products.
Most peer-to-peer porn is traded between anonymous consumers and involves
mainstream commercial images. However, these groups have begun to cultivate
a responsive environment in which alternative porn makers can build on
economy. Porn consumers may resort to privately managed mammoth porn sites
such as www.sublimedirectory.com (with 10903 pages of “true” amateur porn) or www.frogsex.com.
They also typically trade porn on “peer-to-peer” networks
and file-sharing programs such as Napster, Morpheus, Grokster and KaZaA.
Porn is made up of sex and queer activist networks who distribute
porn to their sex partners, social circles, or larger groups of web users
and movie audiences. This category includes work by individual activists,
who may have traditionally been left out of public sexual imaging and
are opening doors to a coalescence of pornographic “coming out”
and politics. Take for example Asian-American scholar Darrell Hamamoto’s
“yellow porn” movie Skin-T0-Skin, whose activist-intellectual
impetus he unfolded in the 1998 essay ”Joy Fuck Club: Prolegomenon
to an Asian-American Porno Practice.” Yellow porn stems from an
urge to unleash and represent potent Asian-American male bodies. Hamamoto
explains that the Asian-American male sex is typically ignored in the
American porn industry, where Asian-American white males are typically
featured with “submissive Asian girls”. Hamamoto’s idea
of sexual renovation is to produce a new line of Asian-American produced
porn: “To engage more specifically in an Asian American porno practice
is to take self-determined control of an unfixed, variable, malleable,
but thoroughly radicalized human sexuality, shaped and constrained over
time by politically oppressive forces.” Hamamoto uses the concepts
of radical jouissance to describe porn productivity that contains a release
of libidinal energy and makes viewers aware of sex political struggles.
Thirdly, Art Porn, or artistically inclined amateurs,
who frame their cultural performances as “body art” or their
movies as “erotica” and exhibit sex in (virtual) galleries
or arthouse theaters. Web-based platforms have certainly helped these
producers to expand the aesthetics of sexual representation, to distribute
their works and find supportive networks for pornographic work that will
not get endorsed by official art institutions.
I will show that these three groups of amateur pornographers inhabit “performance
strata” of their porn-societies and are ruled by the axiom of “Perform
Or Else.” As explained by Jon McKenzie in Perform or Else: From
Discipline to Performance: "Performance will be to the twentieth
and twenty-first centuries what discipline was to the eighteenth and nineteenth
an onto-historical formation of power and knowledge.” Strata are
layers of forces and intensities that give form to matter by organizing
small molecular entities into aggregations. The performance strata bundle
a variety of cultural, organizational and technological performances as
discursive and embodied working methods. McKenzie explains that the agents
of the performance strata harbor new forms of normativity, while recognizing
cracks, fissures and “outside” discourses as agents in their
force field. There is no dominant voice in these strata as they thrive
on a further dissolution of grand narratives of science and political
ideology, a moment in intellectual history labeled by Jean Francois Lyotard
in 1985 as a “postmodern condition.” The strata are cultivated
and solidified by an attentiveness to the active-performative nature of
language and bodily gestures, developed in corporate-organizational settings
as modes of efficiency, as creativity and competence in our dealings with
art and technology, as a new attitude towards social-sexual networking
and cultural vitality. Work ethics, the use of technological languages,
social and intellectual curiosities intermingle and intersect to become
strata of power and knowledge.
Whereas nation-state governments and capitalist porn industries are arguably
organized by the older “discipline or punish” maxim (as consolidated
empires decide to “push-down” content onto consumers, or punish
consumers who access porn in surveilled places), the performance strata
thrive on a different type of consumerism. In the performance strata,
agents negotiate and articulate everday fluctuations of their sexual relationships
and pornographic roles. To perform sexually, according to McKenzie’s
maxim, simply means to respond to communication signals.
Performance theorist Luk Van den Dries describes a similar tendency in
theatrical events that make us of electronically manipulated outsider
discourses. For instance, In Emil Hravtin’s performance piece Miss
Mobile (2001), the audience shares private cellphone conversation with
the onstage performer, who finishes the phone-call and amplifies them
for the wider audience. The audience here is neither a passive voyeur,
nor an active performer who jumps on a stage, but somebody who is linked
to to the chaos of surrounding technologies and discourses. As Van den
form of theatre the movement on stage is no longer regulated like a
ribbon of motorway with the teleological transport of meaning from point
A to point B, and to which the spectator can surrender blindly. It offers
the endless arranging of possibilities, a highly diffuse field of points
of energy between which there are countless connections."
For Internet critic Clay Shirky, to perform on the web equally means to
enter the wet fields of decentralized communication, a sharing of personal,
social and artistic issues and work/play practices. In an article on weblogging,
he describes bloggers as writers whose stories thrive on an active sharing
of thought and culture. Even though some blogger efforts are supported
financially by publishers, or an occasional “star” blogger
will be published in book format, “pure” bloggers write to
explore the economies of pleasure and networking:
"But the vast majority of weblogs are amateur and will stay amateur,
because a medium where someone can publish globally for no cost is ideal
for those who do it for the love of the thing. Rather than spawning
a million micro-publishing empires, weblogs are becoming a vast and
diffuse cocktail party, where most address not "the masses"
but a small circle of readers, usually friends and colleagues. This
is mass amateurization, and it points to a world where participating
in the conversation is its own reward."
We can see how a person’s ideas and explicit body images can be
revealed through daily writing modes on the web, as in the example of
Carly’s pornblog http://www.pornblography.com/daily_grind.
In her recent entry written on March 26, 2004, she shares some ideas about
the subject of pornography and parenting, then also attaches her private
‘artsy’ webcam pictures of a variety of dildo’s used
around the anal region. In short, the new pornographer mixes the overlapping
discourses of knowledge and sexual representation as a social-intellectual
awareness. In this way, s/he learns how to write the performative movements
of sexual education and practise in par with other individuals –
amateurism can be a life-long lesson indeed !
1. Peer-to-Peer Porn and the Legal Arm
Historically, a wide range of web-based “peer-to-peer” networks
have been developed for people to chat, opiniate, show and trade images,
such as BBS’s, MUDS, Usenet newsgroups, AOL chatrooms; some of them
offer more personalized spaces for sexual performance and conversation.
Shirky explains that “peer-to-peer,” as an enabling concept
within web culture, went through a rough patch in 2001 when p2p file-sharing
companies were hit by fierce legal battles over copyright, and investors
started to withdraw their money. In March 2003, peer-to-peer networks
in the United States received another major blow when Congress came out
with a report to show that such networks were being used for the trading
of illegal porn, specifically child pornography. Unites States Congress
thus initiated a widespread crackdown on popular peer-to-peer networks.
The General Accounting Office and the House Government Reform Committee
came out with a report entitled “File-Sharing Programs: Child Pornography
Is Readily Accessible Over Peer-to-Peer Networks” and carried out
surveillance tests on the networked computers of individuals and student
communities. The study concluded that web users are at significant risk.
To document the risk of inadvertent exposure to pornography, the GAO invited
the Customs Cybersmuggling Center of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
to perform additional searches on KaZaA and found, indeed, child pornography
was being traded: “Juvenile users of peer-to-peer networks face
a significant risk of inadvertent exposure to pornography when searching
or downloading images.” Koontz’s report also cites that the
Federal Bureau of Investigation in the fiscal year of 2002 allocated 38.2
million dollars and 228 agents to an “Innocent Images Unit,”
in hope of collaborating more efficiently with p2p companies on the issue
of child pornography.
Under the U.S. Constitution it is legal for adults to own and distribute
most types of pornography. However since the 2002 Supreme Court ruling
over COPA (Child Online Protection Act), the US government has made efforts
to excessively monitor Internet pornography, arguing that minors are automatically
exposed to, and harmed by, pornographic images when they surf the web.
Some producers within the porn industry have equally denounced “peer-to-peer
porn,” suggesting that the adult porn industry itself follows a
more rigorous code of ethics and does not make products that would be
harmful to minors.
Despite a widespread “peer-to-peer porn” backlash, the web
has continued to foster its porn societies, enabling sexual encounters
and the non-commercial trading of products. Meanwhile, software companies,
such as Verso Technologies, are making money out of the backlash, trying
to sell Internet Access Management Appliances (porn filters) to “minimize
our risk of porn liability and increase access to a truly business class
Internet.” In one of their web ads, a well-groomed business man
expeditiously types away on his laptop computer, presumably unperturbed
by porn or sexual emails. Files-sharers, on the other hand, may want to
draw social contours around the sexual web, and be inclined to govern
their own mediated bodies and desires.
For instance, Cloei, owner and web manager of www.nakkidnerds.com, wants to feature her community of nerdy girls.
As she explains her objectives:
"I wanted to capture the girl you see in the back of the class
sitting there reading her book, not paying attention to anybody; the
girl you see on the street walking to work, or the girl who sits in
the cube next to you day in/day out coding her little heart out. (…)
These girls are not professional models who go from site to site, they
are not even real “amateurs,” just friends, and friends
of friends whom I have with my sly smile convinced to model for the
site, who believe in the site, and who are just in it for the fun and
maybe a little ego boost. Who does not need one of those these days?"
“Suicide girls” and “Nakkid nerds” are models
who negotiate the powers of lust and knowledge as complementary forces
within their body-packets. They respond with mixed feelings to the glossy
formulas of commercial pornography and know that their own ideas and bodies
occupy a space of learning. Amateur pornographers have sexual urges despite
the Internet backlash, and it will be interesting to see how governments
may use “peer-to-peer porn” as an excuse to invade sex-active
or activist schools of the Internet. Because pornography is such a sensitive
issue in the political world, particularly how it pertains to young children,
one has to wonder what laws governments may enact in efforts to stifle
not just porn, but the schooling of porn as mutually negotiated sex, all
under the guise of keeping the nation-states safe and clean.
2. Pride Porn: Reading and Fleshing Out the Pornographic Contract
A good example of pride porn’s coming of age would be queer networks
where individuals collaborate in scripting, shooting, uploading and analyzing
pornographic portraits. Www.ssspread.com was such a site, launched in
january 2001 and disbanded in january 20o4 because the ssspread.com team
decided to start producing feature-length amateur videos. The team encouraged
queer and transgender people to submit porn stories and organized film-shoots
where people could act out their scenarios. The outcome of this process
was uploaded to the site on a weekly basis as a weekly slide-show. The
site was set up by Barbara DeGenevieve, Professor at the School of the
Art Institute Chicago, in collaboration with Terry Pirtle, who was the
web master and managed the site. As the announcement read, the site was
“… committed to the queer community, to serve a segment of
that community that is under-represented in web pornography.” The
site was marketed towards lesbians and transgender individuals, encouraging
them to become producers and consumers of porn, and paying participants
to the web community. The ssspread.com members had access to weekly updated
slide-shows of porn movies, scripted by members and other participants
and filmed in collaboration with the www.ssspread.com team. As DeGenevieve
explains: “We wanted to create a space on the web that would feel
comfortable for dykes and transpeople. It would be a membership site but
without distracting advertisements, where people would se themselves and
their bodies represented in porn.”
Www.ssspread.com solicited participants who agreed to be showcased on
the site, who were paid a nominal amount of money for each film shoot,
and who did not necessarily conform to beauty norms. For instance, in
the “Road Side Service” slide-show posted on October 30, 2003,
Chicago-based singer Nomy Lamm acted out a macho-redneck scenario as a
“male trucker” who received a blowjob from a “transman”
partner, then penetratred the partner anally with a dildo on the carhood,
only to finally reveal her true phallus in the form of an amputated leg.
De Genevieve as videographer explains the collaboration process with participants:
collaborate with the people that I am filming, and I ask them ahead
of time to carefully consider what they want to do in the session. Very
often, I just leave the scene up them, or they come up with a scenario
that we have discussed beforehand. I will add something to it or ask
them to do something slightly different. But, of course, I myself could
never come up with the variety of scenarios that they come up with.
A lot of people I shoot are young and into punk aesthetics. The environments
they live in are definitely not mainstream, and this becomes part of
the ambience of a shoot. Yesterday, I shot in a model's kitchen. It
was a pretty chaotic environment with dishes in the sink, food remnants
on the countertops and floors, and stuff all over the place. There was
another shoot a couple months ago in a room where I literally couldn't
see the floor for the clothes, CDs, magazines, over-flowing ashtrays,
sex toys, pillows... But I find these living spaces really fascinating
because these are the places where people really have sex."
Www.ssspread.com also enabled social activities between members by having
them share email addresses, so that they would be able to contact each
other. The site contained links to pornographic stories in the “Story
Lounge” area. The “Articles and Interviews” area had
interviews with sex scholars and activists such as Shannon Bell and Annie
Sprinkle. The members also gave feedback to the weekly still-images by
writing messages on a messageboard.
In examining queer-produced porn, we encounter a central paradox within
the paradigm of amateur pornography: the same individuals who are more
skilled in entering complex networks and making deals with others, also
turn out to be the most successful “amateurs.” Porn amateurs
are more likely to be Mc Kenzie’s “performers,” body-ordinaries
who enter or subvert porn shoots as commercial entertainment, yet are
less inclined to fake sexual bonds with partners. Another historical example
of such performative talent would be Annabel Chong, a highly educated
woman who agreed to make a pioneering « gangbang » movie where
she would be penetrated by three hundred men in one day. At the time of
her gangbang-preparations, Chong was a student in anthropology at the
University of Southern California. She wanted to stage her act as an artist-pornographer
aware of gender and sexual politics, testing the limits of her desiring
body while questioning stereotypes of Asian female submissiveness. In
the documentary Sex : The Annabel Chong Story, Chong explains her work
as an angry, yet deliberate, gesture to counter sex-negative ideas circulating
in higher education classrooms. Chong intended to encourage other people
to be more comfortable and capable in sharing their sexual experiences.
Her USC teachers were accepting of her ideas, yet it was the commercial
porn producer John Bowen who materialized her dream, and then turned her
act into a commodity for a mostly male consumer market. Chong explains
in the documentary that she did not receive due profit from the movie,
which sold forty thousand copies during its first year of distribution.
However, she came to terms with the fact that she had been financially
exploited, and does not fully regret having joined forces with John Bowen.
She explains in another interview that she went home on the evening of
the gangbang (which had to be interrupted after 251 sessions because of
physical damage) to finish writing a paper for one of her college classes.
Important to the history of pride porn would be the efforts of web cam
pioneers such Ana Voogt of www.anacam.com and Jennifer Ringley of www.jennicam.com (closed down in december 2003), whose web cams document everyday domestic
activities and include sexual scenes. Their sexual performances are integrated
into the grind of life and appear at irregular intervals, warranting feedback
of friends, fellow artists or consumer communities. Voogt and Ringley
are in command of their imaging process and may decide to turn consumer
feedback into pleasure and profit. The star’s pornographic ambitions
here includes settling a decent pleasure contract that involves sharing
ideassd, sexual and non-sexual images, and conversations with web users.
3. The Gay Artist’s New Medium.
In non-commercial gay webcam sites, the contract is different again, as
the sex consumers are also performers who participate in mutual masturbation
sessions that are shown on a split-screen computer window. The pornographic
exchange is free of third-hand control, yet the performances themselves
are reminiscent of commercial porn, focusing mostly on quick mastubation
sessions leading towards ejaculation and orgasm. The gay webcam culture
was recently explored by Asian artist Isaac Leung, whose nickname “Oriental
Whore” grew out of an art project “The Impossibility of Having
Sex with 500 Men in a Month: I’m an Oriental Whore.” Raised
in Hong Kong in a family of scientists and named after Isaac Newton, Leung
developed a “nerdy” identity from early age onwards. He further
cultivated performative sex research as an artist and student at the School
of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Leung is very articulate person who looks like a well-dressed dandy, his
appearance and ideas showing a real sense of wanting to speak to peripheral
society. He admits that his interest in dissecting cyber sex stems from
obsessive fantasizing about the perfect boy, and a dissatisfaction with
his actual sex life. Leung was introduced to cyber sex before he had any
real sex, using easily accessible gay chatrooms on the web and affordable
webcameras and videoconferencing software:
"I started to experiment with web cams from a young age onwards.
I was using existing videoconference software such as Netmeeting, a
very popular software that splits your screen into two areas and has
a chatbox at the bottom of the screen. I would say that 90% of the people
who use Netmeeting are there to have sex. If you click on an icon, a
person shows up on your screen, which you can either “ignore”
or “accept” for a sex session. But right away you can see
yourself and the other person on the screen and based on that visual
information, you can “accept” or “ignore” his
identity. Then you can also start chatting immediately or talk to each
other through a microphone.”
In his art piece “The Impossibility of Having Sex with 500 Men in
One Month: I am an Oriental Whore,” Leung wanted to analyze his
web cam experience as a gay Chinese man in the western world, his awareness
of AIDS, his compulsive sexual desires and, subsequently, his repression.
He disguised himself as a 18-year old Japanese boy and worked daily to
interact with gay cruisers willing to “accept” his profile.
He researched and categorized the cruisers by nationality, age group,
weight and other features. As he explains:
"My research methodology worked as follows. I was masturbating
and typing with one hand and recording information with the other hand.
I was hiding my mouse yet opening another software for copying and pasting
the images. I asked everybody about their age, where they came from,
their height and their weight, their sexual orientation, and whether
they were a “top” or “bottom”. These physical
features are crucial within the gay community as cruisers are looking
for nice bodies and muscular types. Of course there are also people
who are attracted to chubby guys but they are kind of segregated."
Leung’s website records the daily development of his sex binge and
an intricate struggle to carry through with the project to the very end.
The diary items in particular reveal a frustrated attempt at materializing
an artistic concept. The concept reads as follows: “The project
documents the collective experience of orgasm in virtual space. It creates
a discourse of sexual politics in the context of post-colonial and interracial
sexual relationship by showing my ‘oriental’ identity through
my webcamera.” Leung did not have a collective experience nor did
he make the end. He did realize his goals of researching ethnic profiles,
and the extent to which individuals were lying about their bodies: “People
often lied about their dick size, because they say at that it is at least
nine inches long. That is a real joke in the gay webcam community, as
you can see with your own eyes the discrepancy between the actual size
and the advertised size.” (Leung 2003)
Other statistics in his research show that a majority of cruisers were
married or bi-sexual men, mostly white and between the age of 30 and 40.
Leung was emotionally disappointed to find out that so many men were older
and that they wanted to be a “daddy” type of personality.
He was only rarely meeting people in his own age group. Most men were
from European countries such as Holland, Belgium, Germany and Great-Britain.
There were also older men from Asian countries, with Hong Kong and Taiwan
being the most prominent ones. He admits that this trend partly reflects
the availability of the Internet in those cultures to middle-aged men
of a certain social class, which thus became the “default”
parameter of his research.
Most of the chatroom dialogue centered around a persuasion to show genitals,
ejaculation and cum. As Leung explains:
"In a webcam, the first thing you show people is your genitals,
which is arguably the most private place that you have. It actually
takes along time for people to show their faces on a webcam, you have
to actually push them to show their faces. You have to make people comfortable
in order to get that result. But some people would get creative and
show themselves sucking a remote, or something … I was more interested
in seeing the faces and the facial expressions. I was interested in
seeing the entire environment around the body such as the bedroom. I
was exploring a new kind of voyeurism and exhibitionism."
He writes in his journal how he started to find the experiment depressing,
as he did not find good connections with the participants. Even though
he had very successful sexual experiences, they were after all too ephemeral:
“In real life I have to work through stuff, dealing with my long-distance
relationship and sexual frustrations.” Even though he sobered up
about finding perfect boys within the web cam community, Leung continues
to want to make statements about his evolving sexual needs.
A parallel development to these web cams, would be amateur pornographers
screening their works in community centers or arthouse theaters, where
the audience is invited to watch and share responses. This development
has started to gain attention in the US mass media with TV and film critics
expressing both revulsion and propulsion towards this trend. The pornographic
scenes are thus transported from private video and web activity to public
screenings in theaters, where they once belonged.
In the Boston area, Kim Airs and the arthouse theater Coolidge Corner
Cinema have started to organize annual screenings of amateur porn movies.
The event, entitled You Oughta Be in Pictures, brings together home-made
porn movies and low-budget erotic movies. The producers are university
students, art-oriented or queer producers of porn, while the spectators
are arthouse consumers, gay/lesbian activists, and the good old voyeurs.
The appeal of the event lies exactly in the odd mixture of makers and
viewers, the untrained screen-performers and filmmakers, whose movies
cause exhilirating responses in the audience. Audiences in this screening
are large and loud, at times shouting out their reactions or laughing
hysterically at how the filmmakers conceive of sexual positions and camera
angles. In some movies, the scenes fail to be explicit or dynamic at all.
For example, a female masturbation scene shows a moving hand on a hidden
vagina, where the soundtrack consists of quiet and camera-shy moaning.
This is “real” amateur porn, a bundle of a person’s
sexual actions and their representation, approaching audiences to consider
responses other than arousal and masturbation.
As one man in the audience of the 2002 screening of You Oughta Be in Pictures
describes: “I have seen pornography before. I’ve seen quite
a bit of it. But this was unlike any of those experiences. I am not exactly
sure what is different about it. But the response that it generated made
me feel asexual.” Another female respondent emphasizes the importance
of humor in the implicit communication between the filmmakers and the
viewers. As she writes: “But I think it was the humor part that
I really enjoyed. It allows you to step back from all the taboo-ness of
sex. There is a give and take in the sense that some filmmakers will poke
fun at audience response by deliberately putting extreme images on screen,
while audience members will at points poke fun at the filmmaker’s
attempt at ‘sexiness’ at certain intervals.” Amateur
porn does not always cater to physical arousal or masturbation, but can
trigger fulfilling reactions in audiences. Therefore, the screening give
amateur pornographers an opportunity to interact with audiences and get
immersed in changing feedback loops.
In 2003, the producers of the HBO’s program Real Sex decided to
cover the growing trend towards Boston amateur porn cinema in a special
entitled Porn 101:xxxtra Credit. A guiding idea in Porn 101: xxxtra Credit
is that the amateur pornographers manifest themselves as proud and educated
individuals with Ivy League and college degrees. They are shown as virgin
producers, yet in control over the process of making porn. The HBO film
crew followed the amateur pornographers during their film shoots, at times
supporting their efforts with technical tips and adequate film lighting.
Porn 101: xxxtra Credit shows short excerpts of the amateur movies, at
times adding a separate music track, and conducting short interviews with
the amateur filmmakers.
Who are these filmmakers? Mike is a guy with balloon fetish who stages
an orgy. The audience laughs sincerely at the end of Mike’s movie.
The audience giggles and roars throughout the next movie, Shotzee the
Clown, featuring a horny clown going out and having sex with a “doggie”
girl. Next comes a loving couple, Nicolette and Leo, who made a simple
bedroom movie with a security camera plugged into their TV-VCR. Nicolette
believes that people are not having good sex and she wants to show them
what good sex is like.
I then noticed a very odd product, Tanya Bezreh’s spanking musical The Naughty Garden, which tells a humorous and child-like fantasy
tale of garden flowers, a strawberry, a bee and a snail. During the audition,
Tanya, as “strawberry,” slips into the back room and gets
spanked by the angry stagehand. The movie goes on to show the spankings
as a sexual awakening leading to pleasure and orgasm. Who is amateur Tanya?
A Boston-based artits with a degree in English from Harvard University.
As an artist, Bezreh first ran a puppet theatre at Harvard University,
and then helped develop Brain-Opera (1996) at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. She then moved to New York City were she became a free-lance
writer for Artbyte magazine and contributed to new media exhibits for
the Guggenheim museum and the Museum of Sex.
Bezreh became a web-based exhibitionists with her award-winning website New Century SchoolBook, a magazine about electronic art that
turned into a personal photo-diary and striptease. Later, she used the
site to reflect on her sexual growth and crafted a series of lessons to
be learned in the digital media environment. As she states:
"Making my web pages (since 1998) was a compulsion and I was also
mimicking the e-commercial culture’s way of selling products.
After a while, I flipped it around and started to look back at my work
and writing about how one can learn from compulsions, and the mistakes
one makes carrying them out. You can click on each of the lessons and
go back to the webpage that I was developing at the time. For example,
I was taking a lot of naked pictures of myself, but I was too shy to
put them on the site without painting blobby clothes onto myself in
Photoshop. So the lessons that link to those images say things like,
‘You are a wimp about nudity’ and ‘You always take
your clothes off, but you never put it on the site.’ At some point
I had to get over the fear of showing my sexier work, because I was
hiding a huge percentage of my artwork. Doing the HBO thing was supposed
to help break down the wall."
When Bezreh decided to make a short porn movie for Real Sex,
entitled The Naughty Garden, she was the producer and the talent
of this movie. She directed the movie, wrote the plot and also composed
the music. There was no money involved in making the movie, even though
the HBO crew was following her production team:
showed up with a 15-person crew and shot us shooting our porn movie.
They were actually very friendly and helped us out in many ways. We
used our own cameras and they shot their movie in film. We shot about
5 minutes of film and they ended up excerpting about a minute and a
half of their footage. They did rush us a little bit and try to make
us come to the “sexy” part a bit faster."
Here the amateur pornographer grabs the opportunity to show her work for
a massive TV audience. The “deal” she negotiated with HBO
was specific and respectful of her work, the “love” contract
consisted of her meeting a person named Bruce, with whom she had a special
chemistry and rapport so she selected him to act as “cranky stagehand”
and “master spanker” in her movie. Amateur pornographers Tanya
is an artists and everyday producer of sex, living sex/love relationships
and making porn using digital media technologies and electronic networks.
In 1999, the Danish film company Zentropa Pictures opened “Puzzy
Power” and launched a “Pornouveau Manifesto.” The manifesto
stipulates that movies must be innovative and must turn people on. However,
the portrayal of sex should be “as real and true” as possible,
yet should also show diverse forms of energy and sensuality. Sex scenes
should be integrated into cinematic narratives and written for the enjoyment
of both women and men. Hoping to create positive and inspiring images
of human sexuality, pornouveau filmmakers try to make films that they
themselves would like to watch. They might not believe that films are
better than experiencing real life sex, but it should be a welcome addition
to this experience.
Amateur pornographers are increasingly engaged in a collaborative producing
of porn using digital media and networks. They also assert their primal
sexual bodies as agents of lust and power negotiating or subverting media
regimes. Amateur pornographers have sexual bodies. What are the true characteristic
of these bodies? First of all, as was reported in a recent New York Times
article, “Women Tailor Sex Industry to Their Eyes,” more women
and queer producers are heading the newer sex sites and industries, promoting
better working conditions and the pornography of “body-ordinaries”
within decentralized sexual platforms. The producers of peer-to-peer porn,
pride porn and art porn have inherited the masculine power structures
and male fantasies inherent in porn, yet have been apt to formulate everyday
“performing” bodies as sexual ready and politically astute
This is perhaps the long-awaited schooling of pornography, its rapid democratization,
its return to more diversified expressions of sexual-aesthetic lust. The
aesthetic and social dimensions of our lust patterns should be carefully
observed, and analyzed as case-studies in a reclaiming of porn, in relation
to specific contracts between desiring humans. Instead of applying universalizing
theoretical concepts or outdated obscenity standards, we can study these
sexual performers and their acts of communication. This trend is not yet
common among scholars trained in film/media criticism and theory, as it
requires a willingness to abandon the ivory tower of speculation, question
boundaries between scholarship and physicality, “play” vigorously
with subjects who are informed agents of sex. As McKenzie predicts at
the end of Perform or Else: From Discipline or Performance, there
will be no “good schools” of performance to replace the bad
(crusty) ones. There are only packets of activism that acknoledge a need
to perform and be performed, as interactive technologies are rapidly modifying
the way we share knowledge and nurture the body. More abstract and detached
claims of academic criticism will all too be easily appropriated and reversed
by sex-negative ideology communities, and consequently, by conservative
nation-state governments, which globally have started to “push and
punish” porn through radical censorship and surveillance regimes.
We need to maintain ourselves, as pragmatic networkers of non-reproductive
sex, as “little” or “strange” body-packets swimming
the high tides of superpower politics, the expansionist corporate industries,
warfare as model of intercultural longing, and hopelessly outdated sex
policies or negligent attitudes as “cold” sexual education.
The sexual revolution is over. Yet we can be plainly social, we can develop
reasonable acts of seduction, amorously or with effort, within close communities
and remote peer networks. Clay Shirky foresees a need for acting as sensitive
and socially skilled beings as we enter wider networks and progressive
models of research/education: “…there are now file-sharing
networks whose members simply snail mail one another mountable drives
of music. A critical factor here is the social fabric -- as designers
of secure networks know, protecting the perimeter of a network only works
if the people inside the perimeter are trustworthy. New entrants can only
be let into such a system if they are somehow vetted or vouched for, and
the existing members must have something at stake in the behavior of the
new arrivals.” We are the new entrants to an existing and far-reaching
porn culture, our reflective and cooperative methods of analysis could
be applied to the body-ordinaries, as they themselves may re-enter our
own body-packets. Amateur pornography will be “our sex” or
“our children’s sex” – our hunger for knowledge
and gratification, very soon.
Y, 1998. The Joy Fuck Club: Prolegomenon to an Asian American Porno Practice. New Political Science 20, no. 3. A web-based excerpt of this
essay can be found at http://www.mastersofthepillow.com/written.html [cited 30 october 2003], p 85.
2McKenzie, Jon. 2001. Perform or Else. From Discipline to Performance.
New York: Routledge, p. 176.
3Van den Dries, Luke and Nele Decock. “Keep Out of Fiction: Nobody
is Watching” Janus 9, 2001, p.12.
4Shirky, Clay, 2002. “Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing”
Published on the Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list. <shirky.com/writings/weblogs_publishing.html>
[cited November 15, 2003]
5Koontz, Linda. File-Sharing Programs: Child pornography Is Readily Accessible
Over Peer-to-Peer Networks. GAO-03-537T. March 13, 2003. [online]
http://www.house.gov/reform/min/pdfs/pdf_inves/pdf_pornog_march_13_test_gao.pdf [cited november 13, 2003], p.11.
6Cloei, Nakkidnerds Mission Statement. [online] http://www.nakkidnerds.com/mission.php [cited 7 november 2003]
7Www.ssspread.com Mission Statement. 2003. [online]
/join/aboutus.html [cited November 3, 2003]
8DeGenevieve, Barbara. Personal interview with author. Unpublished Text.
October 9, 2002.
9DeGenevieve, Barbara. Personal interview with author. Unpublished Text.
October 9, 2002.
10Sex: The Annabel Chong Story. DVD. 1999. Produced and Directed
by Lewis Gough.
11Leung, Isaac. Personal Interview with author. Unpublished Text. October
Isaac. Personal Interview with author. Unpublished Text. October 8, 2002.
13Leung, Isaac. The Impossibility of Having Sex with 500 Men in One Month.
I am an oriental Whore[online] http://5sps.com/orientalwhore.html [ cited oct 22 2003]
14Leung, Isaac. Personal Interview with author. Unpublished Text. October
15Leung, Isaac. Personal Interview with author. Unpublished Text. October
Dana. “Real Candid Camera” Boston Herald. October
17Syme, Ewen. Personal Interview with Author. Unpublished Text. January
18Yu, Titi, Personal Interview with Author. Unpublished Text. January
19Real Sex: Porn 101: Exxxtra Credit. 2003. HBO Documentary Directed
by Patti Kaplan.
20Bezreh, Tanya. Personal Interview with author. Unpublished Text. October
23, 2003. Bezreh, Tanya. New Century Schoolbook [online] http://www.newecneturyschoolbook.com [cited 7 november 2003].
21Bezreh, Tanya. Personal Interview with author. Unpublished Text. October
22Pornouveau Manifesto. Unpublished Text. Distributed by Zentropa
Pictures Puzzy Power. 2002.
23Navarro, Mirey. Women Tailor Sex Industry to Their Eyes. The
New York Times, Febaruary 20, 2004. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/20/national/20FEM.html
24Shirky, Clay, 2003.”File-Sharing Goes Social” Published
on the Networks, Economics and Culture Mailing list <shirky.com/writings/file-sharing_social.html>[cited
February 26, 2004]