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Friday, August 20, 2010

Joss Whedon, Porn, Science Fiction and the Future of Feminism

Someone forwarded me a self-righteous rant about one of my favorite subjects: the late, lamented sci-fi classic TV show Firefly, one of the most brilliant pieces of television ever created (and cancelled by Fox – boo, hiss). I’m sure you can tell I’m a fan. Why? Not just because it’s brilliantly concepted, delightfully rendered, lovingly detailed, incredibly well-acted, and intriguingly plotted – I love it most because it’s the best-written television show I’ve ever watched. Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, and their crew put together one of the highest pieces of art to ever hit the small screen – and then came back with the critically-acclaimed by woefully under-exposed movie Serenity, which extended the franchise brilliantly, before it was snuffed out.

Now Joss And Friends cut their teeth on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel before they ascended to the level of Firefly, and in Buffy in particular Joss was widely hailed as bringing to the fore some contemporary feminist topics and addressing them in the context of a fantasy series with a strong young woman as the lead character. It often led to Joss being portrayed as a feminist, something he hasn’t done much to discourage. The blog rant called into question Joss’ feminist street cred by hammering out an exegesis of parts of his scripts for Firefly and Buffy. Taken by themselves, and from the most extreme points of view, they do seem misogynist in places.

But what the writer, a self-described “lesbian feminist sister”, had go completely over her single-minded little head (and yes, that condescending phrase was intended to be such, though I assure you my assessment had nothing to do with her gender) is that television is ART. You can slam it as “popular culture”, but all of history’s great art was, at one point or another, just another piece of “popular culture” – and this utter lack of perspective seethes through the rest of her piece. It might not be considered high art, but then Firefly’s main purpose was never to be a fascio-feminist manifesto, it was meant to be an adventure story set in a future dystopia. Remember that point. It’s important.

The writer also shudders at the idea, that
“I find much of Joss Whedon’s work to be heavily influenced by pornography, and pornographic humour.”

Considering that virtually all art outside of its most pure and inaccessable forms is a relation of human emotion, and that all human emotion is affected by sexuality – which includes pornography and pornographic humor – I concede the point.

Pornographic humor, of course, is rooted in the depths of our human subconscious. Recall, for instance, that one of the great Western religious traditions of all time, the Eleusinian Mysteries (which are often siezed upon by feminists as a positive feminist allegory) includes the part of the Myth where Demeter, Goddess of Grain and Motherhood, is brought out of her divinely inconsolable grief about her abducted daughter, Persephone, by a dirty joke. Pornography and pornographic humor are as essential a part of human nature as eating and sleeping, and to consider any cultural construct without accepting that is evidence of flawed reasoning or an inadequate education.

The writer makes the further mistake of intepreting the writing exclusively through a radical feminist filter, without considering the idea that inter-gender relations exist as a part of a greater cultural whole: Zoe calls Mal “Sir” not because she’s a submissive female, as the writer contends, but because she is a spiritually wounded soldier who clings to the trappings of the military life, including treating her superior on the ship (Mal is Captain, and therefore entitled to be referred to as “sir” by his first officer) with military respect – in other words, she’s a complete character, not a caricature, of the strong female warrior. Joss treats her like a real person subject to the real world, and that includes such things as elementary adherence to protocol in line with her official duties. Sorry if real women performing in a heirarchy rocks your feminist boat. I’m sure Katherine Janeway, strong female captain of Star Trek: Voyager, internally winced every time she was treated with respect and addressed as “sir”.

Her next contention is the most astonishing. Inara Serra, a major character on Firefly, is a “space whore”, that is, a high-class Companion who rents her company (including her sexuality) to select clients. In the world of Firefly (“The ‘Verse”), the Companions are a powerful and well-respected institution. Far from being mere prostitutes, they are adept cortesans who use their considerable (and expensive) charms in pursuit of a vocation where their sexuality, like their other characteristics, are used to the benefit of their clients and themselves. In many ways she’s the strongest woman on the ship, but her profession – respected in the sophisticated areas of the ‘Verse – is held in contempt by the low-brow yokels who inhabit the backwater colonies she haunts. To them she’s a whore, nothing more – and that’s the same contention the writer of the rant makes. It’s a type of intellectual slut-shaming of a woman who decides to be powerful by including her sexuality in her life, not excluding it.

But then again the writer also seems to consider any heterosexual coupling “rape”. We’ll get back to this again in a moment.

She seethes at the fact that an intelligent, well-educated woman would EVER want to use her sexuality for anything but (presumably) lesbian hand-holding. Real self-actualized, self-aware, powerful woman in that society, or our society, apparently must check their hearts at the door and use their vaginas only for empowerment unsullied by mere males. Real feminist women cannot be heterosexual without betraying their feminist ideals, in the writer’s narrow universe.

She further castigates Zoe, a very emotionally complex and complicated woman, for having a real, live, functioning heterosexual relationship with a (gasp) White Male. They’re a real couple: they fight, they fuck, they call each other endearing names, they depend on each other for fulfillment and support. But apparently Wash, who is, compared to his warrior wife, a “semi-muscular man”, treats the woman he loves dearly and is hopelessly devoted to like “a piece of meat” according to the rant writer. Despite the fact that Wash is probably the most Beta male in Sci-Fi history, his simpering masculinity is just too strong for the rant writer to handle. The fact that his devotion to his wife is so strong that (in one famous scene) he’s not even tempted when he’s in the middle of a whorehouse should say something about the character – but he’s merely male, and therefore an implicit rapist. The fact that Zoe is equally devoted to Wash, to the point where she is willing to sacrifice her Captain, leader, and war buddy Mal in order to save him is also lost on the writer. Heterosexual relationships are apparently fundamentally flawed no matter how well they work and make people happy.

And then she starts in on the violence, throwing around words like “homoerotic” and “hypermasculinized” and “manliness” and “rivalry” with gay abandon. I won’t get into it, save to remind you that Firefly was an action-adventure sci-fi story. Last time I checked, they did best with a lot of fight scenes. Action adventure stories that center around discussing the characters’ feelings without a couple of good fistfights or gun fights aren’t, by definition, action-adventure. Firefly is set in a lawless frontier, where violence is part and parcel of the characters’ lives, not to mention the way they made their living. You’d think she’d know what she was getting – it was right there on the box, since all the characters are heavily armed in the picture. If she was that opposed to violence, homoerotic or otherwise, you’d think she’d skip it and pick up Personal Best instead.

So that brings us to consider her total perspective, which associates anything male or masculine automatically with rape and oppression. Men, in her opinion, are not allowed to be masculine, they are not allowed to be sexual, they are not allowed to be violent – they just plain aren’t allowed. Feminism, in her view, is the glorious idea of a world untainted by Y chromosomes. Half the human race is expendable and undesirable. Women good, man bad.

And that’s a problem. For feminism.

Because you can look at feminism in one of two ways: as a real, vibrant, creative and correcting force in our society – our whole society, men and women – or you can look at it as a mindless dogma more attached to idealism than to constructing real solutions to the very real problems we face today. And I mean “we” as in “men and women” – because the the transformative power of feminism has touched all of our lives. For the ranter and the radical anti-sex captial-F Feminists she parrots, the feminist ideal is a lot like the Marxist Workers’ Paradise, a mythical lesbotopia utterly unconnected with reality. The problem is the latter attitude is at odds with the former in such fundamental ways that it threatens to discredit all of feminism and the good it has done with crazy misandrany and complete male-bashing.

The promise of feminism is that men and women should ideally be treated as equals in our society, and despite a lot of reactionary misogyny over the years the march toward that goal has been steady and consistant. Many of the original outrages that inspired the movement and philosphy have been defeated and tossed in the trashheap of history – and I say good riddence. But the issues of chattel marriage, female disfranchisement, and economic independence, among others, were the low-hanging fruit. It was easy to see the injustice and take action. Now – in our Western culture, at least – what remains gets far more complicated, because the feminist philosophy in its single-minded pursuit of its goals, is now running up against some of the very basic aspects of masculinity that men, as a gender, are probably unwilling to compromise on.

This might be more important to little-l feminists than you might think.

Let’s start with pornography. Simple issue, no? Well, no, it isn’t. Because men aren’t going to give it up, ever, as individuals or as a society. Porn is an expression of masculine sexuality, and I would no more allow my sexuality to be dictated to me by a “lesbian feminist sister” than I would expect her to let me dictate what her sexuality should be. While the big-F Feminists rail at porn as inherently exploitive, I’ll remind everyone that they also rail at heterosexual sex in any form as inherently exploitive, if not actual rape.

Since a good 80% of the women of the world are primarily heterosexual in orientation, that fallacious idea saps the credibility from any further arguments even among small-f feminists. As a member of the porn industry, of course, you may consider my opinion highly biased and my perspective narrow. I’ll freely admit to that. I cannot consider all porn “exploitive”, and I certainly don’t consider my heterosexuality to be implicitly so. But even if you discount my profession, please don’t discount my perspective: because if feminism is to progress as a socially relevent philosophy and movement, then it must do so in concert with men and it must come to terms with the idea that masculinity isn’t going to dry up and fade away.

I know men. Good, strong, happy, healthy men who love their wives and girlfriends, do their best to avoid being complete dicks, and try to be the best fathers to their children they can manage. Like the characters on Firefly, they are flawed, of course, as we all are (even lesbian feminist sisters). But taking their flaws into consideration, even the ones who get closest to being feminists (I doubt the rant writer would allow that anything with a penis could actually be a feminist, regardless of captialization) balk at the idea that their sexuality is inherently evil, immoral, and oppressive. Nor do they want to give up their porn.

Men like porn. We need porn, as a gender. And men won’t give up their porn even when there’s a state-imposed death penalty for its possession. That’s not a cultural affectation, that’s a human universal, part of the male sexual psyche that’s basic to us. We can’t put it away any more than women can put away maternal instinct. We can mitigate the need, but somehow I think a world full of sexually-repressed men would not lead to the Feminist lesbotopia the rant writer imagines. Men are driven by sex in a way most women are not, and that’s not a flaw – it’s part of who we are. We are who we are, and we will always be so. Feminism needs to accept that fact if it wants to move on to any meaningful change in our society. Some small-f sex-positive feminists are doing just that, and change is happening. The rant writer, on the other hand, has inspired nothing but contempt – not for her gender, but for her misandranous, male-hating perspective on our gender.

Science fiction (often called Speculative Fiction) serves an important role in our culture: it shows us the possibilities of our future, in a variety of ways. One way is the socialist-utopia of Star Trek, where everyone wears gender-neutral spandex and only has sex on vacation. Another way is the Firefly method, where real, honest-to-goodness problems in our own society (like a woman’s turmoil at the necesity of dividing her loyalites between career and family, as Zoe experiences, or a woman’s struggle to define herself as independent and still enjoy a healthy sexuality, as Inara experiences) are dealt with by real, deeply flawed, deeply human characters in bad situations.

That’s the art of the TV show (see, I told you I’d get back to it). Firefly took nine very real characters with baggage and flaws and hopes and fears and it put them through the wringer of a wild and unpredictable life, to see where they would end up. It wasn’t always pretty, and it wasn’t always clean, and it was frequently bloody – but real life is like that, too. And that’s the value of science fiction in general, and Firefly in particular: it is through the flaws and the mistakes and the injustices it portrays that the art of inspiring a depth of feeing shines through. And if the rant writer can’t get a handle on that, then she should find some secluded Lesbotopia Paradise Island of Amazon Women of her own where she need never be bothered by a Y chromosome again.

And I'm not even going to get into Kaylee. Can of worms, there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aurora Snow: Porn MILF

I've been in lust with Aurora Snow since I saw her first appearance in one of Ed Powers' noted series, Dirty D├ębutantes. I liked her instantly as the shy nerdy girl who didn't hesitate to get freaky when the mood struck her. Recently I've been worried about Aurora, though: I thought that she, like many girls after being in the business for a few years, would quietly "retire". Aurora's no slouch in the industry -- she was an AVN Performer of the Year way back when, and recent appearances in the Brady Bunch, Not Bewitched XXX, and Star Trek porn parodies have been outstanding. And since I'm a fan, I wildly push anything I see her in. I have to admit, I loved her old nose (I don't know for a fact that she's gotten a nose job, but either way she's still beautiful) and she knows how to screw, a rare combination in porn these days. I count meeting her on the last day of last year's AVN show as my personal highlight. She's very down-to-earth in person, and absolutely lovely, the sweetest pornstar-next-door you'd ever want to meet.

But I didn't know she could write well. I came across this little article in the Daily Beast, about how she has made the transition from Nymph to MILF in ten short years, and I was pleased to see that she still has a generally favorable view of the industry that leaves so many jaded, disillusioned, or broken all together. Porn is a tough business for just about everyone involved, and these days its only gotten tougher. And when I saw that Aurora Snow was worried about being cast as a MILF, I wanted to reassure her: While it might feel rough to be considered a MILF at 28, MILFiness covers a wide range of ages (as seen on this MILF-related blog) and is one of the few niches in porn to see steadily increasing interest. MILF titles sell about as well or better than "fresh faces" titles, indicating a certain sense of sophistication emerging among the average wanker.

But Aurora should feel secure about her job: I'm thrilled that she's considered an (albeit young) MILF, and hope she continues to give the outstanding performances we've all come to expect. I know I, for one, am rooting for her hard, even with hot talent like Alexis Texas, Kagney Lynn Karter, Bree Olson and Teagan Presley around, I am pleased that we'll see her moving from Outrageous Bombshell to tranquil Sex Kitten status. Not that the girl can't hold her own with the big blondes, but Aurora always had a more intimate, sensitive side. one of the things I always appreciated about her performances was the complete sincerity and authenticity she brought with her. I swear by Aphrodite, if I ever get the chance to cast a porn flick myself, you can bet I'll do my damndest to put this sultry hottie to work.

And the fact she can write a coherent and well-constructed sentence? I've never been hornier for her than after reading that article. You not only still got it, girl, you got more of it than most of these fresh pussies will ever have.

Call me!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Porn V. Romance

Men like porn. Women like romance. Thus runs the conventional wisdom.

Porn is exploitive to women. Romance is good harmless fun. Thus runs the conventional wisdom.

Men treat women as sex objects. Women treat men as valuable partners in a relationship with no expectations or unreasonable demands. Thus runs the conventional wisdom.

As a porn-loving, sex-loving red-blooded heterosexual male, I find this a frustrating dichotomy. That doesn't mean I'm a slope-browed Neanderthal ready to drag any convenient woman back to my cave (I'm not in college any more, after all). No, I like relationships, I'm in a fabulous one that has lasted 19 years this past Sunday, and I'm probably one of the more romantic guys I know. But I like porn and I like sex, so to a lot of women out there, I'm a beast and an exploiter with unrealistic expectations of women in the bedroom.


I came across a great blog post on the subject from the Ms. Naughty Porn For Women Blog (love it!), with the question "Why isn't there romance out there for men?" I was stumped by this, until I realized something. There is romance out there for men. It's called porn.

Okay, I can hear you screeching already that porn and romance are miles apart in so many ways that even mentioning them on the same page is suspect. But both media are designed to elicit an erotic response in the audience. Some might argue that romance has more merit because it deals with character and plot and motivation and feelings and life and all of that, while porn is the one-dimensional portrayal of a singular physical act, bereft of emotion and meaning. How can it be art, how can it even be entertainment, the cry goes, if it doesn't focus on these women as people, first?

But I would argue that those issues are largely of strong importance to women, not to men. Give the average male one of the better romance novels out there, and he'll end up shaking his head in disgust about the grossly unrealistic portrayals of the men in them, and if he's got a brain at all he might even start to realize something he's always suspected: that women in these books -- and by extension the women who read these books -- place a high value on men who they can economically and emotionally exploit.

That's a kind of devastating revelation for most men, believe it or not. While most women in our culture feel justified in their revulsion of being objectified by porn and it's cognates, say beer commercials and Hooter's, they think nothing of doing exactly the same thing to men, only using economic data instead of perceived prettiness, sexual availability and cup size. No man wants to think that a woman is just after him for his money, or his title, his tangible symbols of success. But if you take a good, long look at the dominant form of sexual entertainment women enjoy, the stuff that really gets to the dark heart of their fantasies, there's a thin veneer of sex over a massive desire for a credit check on perspective guy.

I have a good female friend of mine who was, until recently, single. She played the dating game pretty hard core, since she'd already had one failed marriage behind her, and she didn't want to repeat any mistakes. So I helped her get out there and get dating again after the divorce, because I'm nice like that, and after a few weeks she was back in the game.

Only when I checked in on her, I was appalled by what I found. This woman had always been adamantly anti-porn, insisting that it degraded and exploited women on the basis of their physical appearance and sexual availability. How could a man really get to know a woman, she complained, when he wouldn't date anyone in a B-minus cup size? Or with too big a nose? Or with any other of a hundred perceived physical flaws? It was unfair, she'd say, over and over again. It was unfair and it was wrong, and institutions like cheerleaders, Hooter's waitresses, strippers and pornstars purposefully poisoned the well for the rest of women by portraying standards of beauty that most women had no hope of achieving. I could see that, I suppose. If I was a flat-chested woman with an unfortunate face and a big ass, I might get a little grumpy about the buxom blonde who serves beer sans bra. I mean, isn't that every man's fantasy? (I tried to show her that no, it wasn't every man's fantasy, and probably not even a plurality's ultimate fantasy, but she refused to consider that).

But when I checked in on her, I found her screening her dates based on far more rigorous standards than mere penile size. I got to watch her in action one day when a new internet date popped up. She made a cautious, general inquiry, got his name and address, and promised to meet him for coffee. Then the real work began . . .

Within moments she had run his credit report, gotten verification of employment, evaluated his career path and speculated about his earning potential over a five-year period. She researched which high school and college he went to. She found out his parents' names and addresses and evaluated their home to establish their approximate net worth. She ran a criminal background check in both our town and his hometown. Next she had a Google maps aerial shot of his home, ran a search to verify that he owned it (but was pissed when she couldn't find out how much equity he had), speculated about how much left he had to pay on student loans assuming his initial starter salary in his field was x and that he had proceeded up the ladder at rate y . . . you get the picture. Before the Starbucks had even touched her lips, she knew more about this guy than a Secret Service background check would reveal.

I didn't just find this obsessive, I found it creepy. I thought it was an appalling aberration and quietly mentioned to my wife how our friend needed to invest in some therapy. Then my wife floored me by wishing out loud that she had access to those kinds of resources back when we were dating. I almost left the room in disgust.

This is the thing, ladies: you cannot criticize the false expectations and essentially exploitive nature of porn, and the powerful role it plays in the development of male sexual psychology, unless you're also willing to admit the false expectations and essentially exploitive nature of soap operas and romance novels. Does seeing a big-titted blonde writhe around in her panties while she proclaims how aroused she is make you mad? Well, seeing a successful businessman who's ecstatic waiting fifteen minutes after the dinner reservation for a date with a primped-out "strong, intelligent, caring and universally desirable woman", only to declare his love for her, insist that they wait for marriage to have sex, and offer to support her even though she has her own successful career turns my freakin' stomach.

The cartoon above spawned this whole tirade on the other blog, and I think it's worth studying. Because the two sides are equivalent, if not equivalently judged by our society. A woman can want her "prince" -- that is, a handsome, financial and/or careerwise successful man willing to risk all of his power and resources for her sorry little butt -- and be considered a "romantic idealist"; whereas when a man voices his desire for a "whore" -- that is, a reasonably attractive, sexually adventurous, sexually available woman without stifling inhibitions, hang-ups about sex, or an ungodly amount of relationship baggage -- we're considered "pigs". That is, when women follow their idealized fantasy, they are rewarded. When men follow ours, we are castigated and condemned.

That may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but I have sons. I don't want to see them exploited in the prime of their lives, no more than I want to see my daughter exploited. I plan on teaching them to be wary of the pernicious women out there who would treat them as “success objects”. I'll teach them that “So, where do you work?” is the moral equivalent of “So, how big are those boobs?” and “What kind of car do you drive?” is roughly the same as asking a woman, “So, what kind of birth control do you use?”. In essence, it's none of their damn business. Maybe you ladies don't think that how often you perform fellatio is a vital statistic worthy of making or breaking a relationship, but I assure you that it matters to a whole lot of men out there. About as much as most women desire their men to be gainfully employed. But inquiring about either subject on short acquaintance should be off-limits. You want to know how much that handsome guy you met in the bar last night makes? Then in the interest of fairness you should go ahead and tell him up front just how far you'll go on a first date before he invests one dime in the relationship. Fair is fair.

I do not want my boys falling prey to the same humiliating pop-culture exploitation of men that previous generations were exposed to, where a man is valued only for his abilities as a provider and his visible success, not his value as a human being. A woman doesn’t need to know how much a dude makes — or even if he has a job or still lives with his parents — before they decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with him, any more than a man needs to know whether or not a woman is open to the possibility of anal sex before he’s willing to pursue a relationship with her. Fair is fair.

Likewise, I'll condemn my single comrades' obfuscations about such things (and downright trickery) only when a woman is willing to give up all the cosmetics, clothing enhancements, and other obfuscations about her body and sexual availability. My wife was appalled when she found out a single male friend of ours was using other people's ATM receipts showing extremely high balances to give his number out to women. The dude works in a computer store. When he's out tom-catting, he has no compunctions about using whatever trickery necessary to get in a woman's pants -- without explicitly lying. I pointed out that he never claimed that was his ATM receipt, he just provided them with the information and they drew their own conclusions. My wife wasn't impressed.

So then I asked her if her single friends would agree to go out on a blind date with a guy they knew up front was only average-looking, who worked in a computer store with no hope of advancement, and who considered comic books and superhero figures as worthy investments in his future. She scoffed, of course. No woman in her right mind would date such an obvious loser, not unless she was desperate. They wouldn't, she assured me, even dress up much for a date like that, since they didn't need to impress a guy they had no intention of seeing again. Oh, he might be good for a date, but I couldn't seriously expect her pals to risk their hearts and tender parts on a guy who, let's face it, just wasn't going anywhere in life?

Why the double standard? So I asked her, If the dude was a real "prince", with limousines and a stock portfolio and real estate holdings, would her friends dress out then? Yes. Oh, mais ouis! Would they put a little effort into their cosmetics and clothes? Of course! Would they consider hiding their blemishes with cosmetics, concealing their saddle bags under Spanks, hoisting their boobs up in frilly bras that countered gravity, put their butts in the air with 4 inch heels that made their legs look great -- essentially all the traditional "feminine wiles" stuff that women spend so much time learning -- well, of course, if the guy was a "real prince" then every effort should be made. And if that didn't work, then lying to him outright about just about anything was acceptable, as long as they agonized about the guilt later.

But using a fake ATM receipt was deceitful and misleading, in her eyes.

Only it's not. Women can use the oppression meme and throw all the equality crap out the window and get away with it. But when men stand up for our sexual self-interest, we're monsters.

So, let's be blunt about this, shall we? Ladies, if you'll be our insatiable whore, then we'll be your handsome prince. Anything less on either side, and, well, I think we'll have to take it to arbitration.