Speaker by Various Artists


Across the Desert with Mandy Morbid (Part Three)

by Dr Creon 14OCT07

A couple of folks have suggested to me that after two episodes this series seemed unconcluded. Neither are particularly prurient types, so I can't imagine that they're on tenterhooks, waiting to be titillated by an account of the orgiastic night in Vegas that it seems my taste for the sensational is willing me to write.

For the most part, our time in Vegas was spent looking for rooms -- with the intention, for the most part, of sleeping in them. Looking for rooms in Vegas presented two significant challenges: finding hotel reception desks deep within the murky acreage of floor-space devoted exclusively to pokie machines; and the fact that there were no rooms. We spent hours, surrounded in the smoky dark by representatives of the innumerable breeds constituting that particular species -- the bewildered American, distinguishable by his unreflective bluster and air of perennial homelessness.

Something that surprised me in America, from Harlem to Hollywood, was the way Zak Smith's haircut elicits endless comments from complete strangers. "But this is what Americans are supposed to look like," I silently reasoned. "Self-evident truths, the pursuit of happiness, the romantic, revolutionary spirit...?" A pokie-playing philosopher in one of these desperate hotel lobbies possibly got to the heart of the matter: "Nice cut, brother," he said. "Everyone can't get away with that."

Above: Getting away with it.

Zak and Mandy took me to a restaurant in Vegas adjacent to, but removed from, the otherwise overwhelming wash of tack. There was leather upholstery, unremarkable waiting staff, a complete absence of flashing lights. Zak had juice, Mandy toast, Creon coffee. Midnight had come and gone. We'd seen the town and enough human tragedy for one lifetime. And we still didn't have rooms. So we decided to keep moving. Hell, LA was only five or six hours away, and I was keen to begin broadening my understanding of porn. We made it, heavy-lidded, around sun-up.

Yes, I'm actually here to write about porn. Porn. It's such a good word, porn. One of those instances where a language finds the perfect phonetic rendering. Esperanto would have been a far greater success if it'd built its vocabulary on all the best words from the world's languages. Star is also pretty good, come to that. The successful coinage of pornstar, then, is actually no great surprise.

The problem with porn, though -- the thing, not the word -- is that it's so terribly boring. I wanted to know about porn, so I watched some porn -- boring. And I looked on the net -- boring. I even sat down with Zak and alt. porn director, Benny Profane, explicitly to "talk porn," and, while the company and conversation couldn't be faulted, it was as if we were happy circling aimlessly and fruitlessly around a topic whose vacuity guaranteed its inexhaustibility.

Benny Profane pretty much invented alt. porn; but as he acknowledges, a bunch of other people seemed to have the same idea in the same week. He's attracted to the genre for, among other things, one simple reason: with porn, as long as you provide the requisite minutes of graphic sex, you've pretty much got a free hand to do whatever the hell you want with the rest of the movie.

So what's alt. porn when it's at home? If it's cynical Benny you're talking to, alt. porn simply means more of the same porn clichés but now incorporating tattoos, piercings, hair dye, better scripts and cooler music. If it's idealistic Benny you're talking to -- and this is a lovely great teddy-bear of a man, intelligent, thoughtful, conscientious, sensitive, uncompromising, with a pair of enormous sideburns that make him disarmingly reminiscent of teen-wolf -- if its idealistic Benny you're talking to, alt. porn represents a genre that's subversive, activist, and that hopefully goes some way towards repairing our unhealthy relationship, under god and the dollar, to sex and corporeality -- precisely where the demand for traditional porn comes from in the first place.

Now, of course some people don't find porn boring. (Only, it's not exactly water-cooler-type conversation, so we don't really know who these are, do we?)

And plenty of people don't find talking, or writing, or reading about porn necessarily boring.

I mean, it's kind of titillating, even for us prudes, if it's at a safe, ironic distance, ensconced in discourse.

I guess I could have framed these stories more truthfully as a journey with a couple of fascinating human beings: Mandy Morbid, an intelligent young woman of poise, who speaks her mind, knows her mind, is seemingly untouched by the ambivalence and coquettishness that afflicts so many her age; and Zak Smith, one of those guys who can speak engagingly and insightfully on pretty much anything, from fundamentalist Christian American politicians, to Civil War battles, to the semiotics of baseball, who also, in passing, happens to do the most astonishing things with the conjunction of his imagination, and paper, paint and ink.

But no. I went for the porn angle.

Maybe that's because listing real-world qualities is somewhat pornographic itself; it reads like a curriculum vitae, that pornography of the labour market, and feels false, insincere, contrived.

Anyways, I got to thinking about why I'd choose to exploit my friendship with these people for the sake of a few laughs; how I perceived my readers (and myself) as implicitly intrigued by the adult film industry. My thoughts revolved around a few things: our begrudging fascination with porn; the feeling we might entertain that it actually services only a market of ironic viewers; the way it catches our attention and captures our imagination; the way the word pornstar is so electrified with meaning.

It seems to me that this all derives from the disruption porn enacts upon our culture's uneasy negotiations with representation (by which I mean how we deal with the endless, tension-filled co-dependence between "image" and "reality").

On the one hand porn is utterly ridiculous -- boring even -- because it is so manifestly false. Yet on the other hand it is so manifestly real. This is untenable. We like our movies to be comfortingly real for only exactly as long as we're watching them, after which they become comfortingly contrived.

We are happy to live within representation as long as we can all know better after the fact.

But with porn, our representation is some girl's reality. Some guy's reality. Who is that girl? Who is that guy? Is what we can never stop asking.

And that's why we like to comfort ourselves with ideas of their exploitation, their drug-dependence, their destructive childhoods, their victimhood. God forbid they're just doing a job, even enjoying it, more or less.

So our ironic attitude to porn -- watching it with our mates, laughing too loud -- is an attempt we make to transcend the fundamental disturbance that occurs within porn: we want to make it into an image of itself, to contain within representation that which disables the category of representation. The supposedly shameful, non-ironic enjoyment of the good-faith consumer of porn cannot be countenanced -- because it is an eliding of the representation in favour of an engagement (however sad) with the real. A submerging rather than a transcending.

And that stirring in your pants while you're watching with your mates must be repressed by your acculturation in the bad-faith discourse of sublimation.

This sublimation is not unusual, of course, and is enacted far more frequently in our experiences of regular, sanctioned pornography. In fact, for every ironic consumer, there are numerous good-faith consumers of porn. Yet how many people don't watch Trinny and Susannah for the singular pleasure of loathing them? The universal hatred that these two inspire is nothing more than the transcendent recognition that what they do is pornography: the conversion of a real, living body into marketable fodder through the disingenuous agency of mediatised representations of sympathy and love.

But the disingenuousness is greater, the pornography deeper, than you might think. Trinny and Susannah actually sell us our own hatred-within-irony. We are paying for the pleasure of our own clever illusion of transcendence -- the pleasure of believing that we can overcome the impossibility of not engaging through representation. We are, if you like, the unknowing pornstars of our pleasure -- self-images of real experience accessed only through a futile transcendence -- which is, in fact, the product we, as ironic consumers, purchase by and large.

Alt. porn is perhaps a movement away from this debilitating culture of self-consciousness. It has the audacity to suggest that sex -- on camera, under lights, with a script -- might still be fun.

And that the makers of alt. porn might be people who are not drug-dependent, cash-dependent, damaged or disturbed. That quite possibly they are people who enjoy a lifestyle where their bodies are less regulated by the imperatives of irony, where they can live in their own versions of the real, where they can get away with a haircut.

My journey across the desert with Mandy Morbid and Zak Sabbath was, for all of us, an exercise in reality: the stresses of shifting house; feeling cramped and ill; driving too long; the awkwardness of spending multiple hours in unfamiliar company; the slight, glowing revelations as you begin to know someone; the tensions that arise and dissipate as things are perceived, misperceived, forgotten; the hilarity of the unpredicted and unpredictable; the ability to care for another, despite the nagging concerns of the self; the amazing human capacity to find something to say; the bad food, and the hunger that's preferable to more bad food; the folks, the roads, the stops and starts: the marvels of experience.

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