Porn and Musicals: An Analogy

Topsecret_2So I was watching a movie musical on TV (actually, I was watching “Top Secret,” which has a sequence making fun of movie musicals), and it occurred to me that there’s an interesting similarity between musicals and porn.

Here’s what it is: Nobody watches musicals for their plot. With some notable exceptions, the plot of a musical exists solely as filler: to provide some sort of excuse for the music/dance numbers, and to get from one number to the next. And of course, the same is true for most porn. There are exceptions, of course; but in the overwhelming majority of porn, the plot — if there even is a plot — exists solely to set up the sex scenes.

So here’s what strikes me as unfair. Nobody really objects to plotless movie musicals. Many a musical ranks high in the pantheon among fans of the genre despite its laughably predictable story. As long as the music and dance numbers are superb, people are perfectly happy to grant full marks to a musical, even if the plot is a dumb, hackneyed, formulaic joke.

SlidebimeBut people constantly use the plotlessness of porn to point out its worthlessness or triviality. And I don’t think that’s fair. If you think “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” is a great musical despite its silly plot, then you should judge “Barbara Broadcast” or “Slide Bi Me” on the same basis. If a porn movie has great sex scenes — sex scenes that are passionate, enthusiastic, affectionate, fierce, beautiful, wild, or in any other way inspired and inspiring — then it makes no more sense to lambaste the thinness of its plot than it does with “Gold Diggers of 1935.”

After all, I’d sure rather see a porn movie with great sex and a dumb, pointless plot than one with a great plot and dumb, pointless sex. In fact, my biggest complaint about mainstream video porn isn’t the repetitive, predictable, formulaic plots — it’s the repetitive, predictable, formulaic sex. I have actually seen porn videos where I’ve fast-forwarded through the boring sex in order to get to the next bit of interesting plot. And I don’t count those videos as successes.

CabaretNow, it’s certainly true that a good, genuine plot can help a musical along. I’d even argue that it usually makes the difference between a good musical and a great one. A good movie musical can certainly carry itself on the strength of its music and dancing — but a great musical, a musical like “Cabaret” or “The Music Man” (or, I would argue, “Once More With Feeling” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), is great because it’s a whole movie, a real movie, a movie that transcends the limitations of the genre even as it embraces it, a movie that expresses something other than “Singing and dancing is fun.”

And porn is much the same way. The rare examples of truly great porn are, in my opinion, the ones that work as whole movies, the ones where the sex is blended into the story as a natural next step for the characters to take, and you care about the sex more because you care about the characters. I agree that that’s a noble goal to reach for, and I’d love to see more pornographers reaching for it. But it’s also an extremely difficult goal, especially given the limitations of porn production (see my review of “Dream Quest” and my comments about the inherent difficulties of a collaborative porn medium). I applaud it heartily when I see it… but I applaud almost as hard when I see a series of vastly entertaining sex scenes, stitched together with a bit of dental floss.

Porn and Sex Toys: Amusing Opinions and Top Whatever Lists

So I was writing my year-end “Top Five Sex Products” piece for my online magazine column, when I realized that I’ve been writing this column for the last ten months and have neglected to actually mention it to y’all.

Oops. My bad.

Here’s the deal. I’ve been writing an every-other-week column since March 2005, reviewing porn and sex toys and such for the Adult Friend Finder magazine. (Adult Friend Finder is sort of like Friendster, but for sex.) I’m enjoying the gig hugely. They’re a cool magazine, with other good writers; they give me a lot of leeway to write what I want to write, in the style I want to write it in (within the column’s basic parameters, of course); the editor is easy to deal with and clear about what she wants — and they pay like Swiss clockwork, which, as any writer will tell you, keeps the creative spirit flowing like nothing else in the world.

So here’s a quick index of the columns I’ve written for them (including the Top Five Something-or-Other List), with teasy little pull quotes to give you a flavor of each piece. (FYI, you don’t have to be an AFF member to click these links. You do have to join if you want to surf around and visit the rest of the magazine, but joining is free, so why not.) I’m also putting this index on my Website, in case you want to find it later. Anyway, here goes.

Year End Top Something-or-Other List (Jan 5, 2006)
“I deeply respect the eternal human yearning for the sense of order and completion that year-end Top Whatever lists provide.”

Cheese Factory:
Dream Quest (Jan. 14, 2006)
“See, in the midst of all the zany Tolkein-in-Vegas costumes and sets and makeup jobs, someone forgot to come up with the zany sex.”

Learning Can Be Fun:
Nina Hartley’s Guide to Spanking (Dec. 20, 2005)
“I love it when information makes me want to whack off.”

Is the Pyrex Half Empty or Half Full?
Vibrating Blue Swirl Pyrex Dildo (Dec. 6, 2005)
“There’s nothing that makes you feel more like a sensual, decadent libertine than taking an exquisitely-made art object and sliding it into your lover’s cunt.”

Art or Sex: Pick One:
True Porn 2 and Dirty Stories Volume 3 (Nov. 16, 2005)
“It seems clear that these are meant to be serious comics about sex., not sexy comics about sex. (Well, except for Sam Henderson’s stuff, which nobody would accuse of seriousness — but even his pieces aren’t meant to be sexy.)”

Artburn:
Art School Sluts (Nov. 4, 2005)
“I had no idea that watching a girl with dyed black hair in Japanese rope bondage getting spanked by a guy in a Mohawk could be anywhere near this boring.”

Shock Treatment:
Electric Paddle (Oct. 21, 2005)
“Yes, it looks doofy as hell. It looks like a racquet from a cheap backyard badminton set. You just have to get over that.”

Playing the Race Card:
Caribbean Heat (Oct. 1, 2005)
“Unlike most adult videos with a non-white cast, this movie treats its Latino characters like… well, like characters.”

Try, Try Again:
The Butterfly Effect (Sep. 13, 2005)
“It was surprisingly liberating to have a vibrator that just went about its business without me having to screw around with it.”

Mighty Real:
9 Songs (Aug. 30, 2005)
“By the second or third scene, the fact that they’re having sex is no more surprising than the fact that any two people in a relationship are having sex.”
(P.S. Yes, unlike every other critic in this or any other universe, I actually did like “9 Songs” a fair amount.)

High-Speed Wireless:
Wireless Vibrating Nipple Clamps (Aug. 29, 2005)
“I could jerk myself off, or fondle my partner, or just keep my hands submissively behind my back… all without having to carry around some stupid battery pack.”

More Talk, Less Rock:
Orgasm! Faces of Ecstasy (August 11, 2005)
“Maybe I’m too bourgeois in my sensibilities, but it seems to me that a ‘making of the video’ video shouldn’t be three times as long as the actual video itself.”

A Hankerin’ For Some Spankerin’:
Spank Me: The Art of the Spirit (July 28, 2005)
“This is erotic art with nothing at all to say apart from ‘Girls getting spanked are hot.’”

Fashion Police:
The Fashionistas (July 13, 2005)
“It’s that rarest of gems, a porn plot that makes the sex more interesting by making you care about who’s fucking and why.”

Gag Order:
Rubber Penis Gag w/Airway, a.k.a. Inflatable Rubber Gag with Breathing Tube (July 13, 2005)
“I like this sex toy because I have chronic allergies. No, really.”

Comic Relief:
Casual Sex Comics (May 31, 2005)
“Comic artist El Bute has an eye for the casual encounter that means something: the slight acquaintance who winds your balls into a twist, the complete stranger who makes you stop dead in the street.”

Finger on the Pulse:
Pulse-Right Bullet Vibe and On Porpoise Sleeve (May 21, 2005)
“When I was whimpering and writhing and begging for it to stop, I was also spreading my legs as wide apart as I could, which I suppose casts some doubt on the sincerity of my pleas…”

For Better or Worse:
Taboo: Forbidden Fantasies for Couples (May 6, 2005)
“‘Taboo’ is so interestingly uneven that you could almost use it in a writing class, an object lesson in what makes porn fiction work — and what doesn’t.”

When Art Porn Works:
Ecstasy in Berlin 1926 (Apr. 28, 2005)
“Watching it made me feel like a wealthy sybarite in an elegant bordello, with lovely and expensive girls performing a series of degenerate sex acts carefully staged for my benefit.”

Hide and Seek:
Dirty Found Magazine, issue #1 (Apr. 13, 2005)
“Dirty Found is like a secret spy camera in a motel room, like being a fly on the wall in dozens of bedrooms at once.”

Ramp It Up, I’ll Take It:
The Ramp (Mar. 26, 2005)
“When I bent over the Ramp for the first time, I was immediately filled with a warm, glowing sense of well-being and the rightness of the universe.”

Throat Culture:
Inside Deep Throat (Mar. 16, 2005)
“My personal favorite was the grandmotherly old lady coming out of the porn theater, saying firmly and with great spirit, ‘Yes, I enjoyed it. I wanted to see a dirty movie, and I saw a dirty movie. I should have the right to do that if I want.’”

Home is Where the Naked Girls Are:
Stripped Naked (Mar. 4, 2005)
“They seem like real people, with real personalities, real sex lives, real pleasures and kinks. And consequently, they seem like women you could actually fuck.”

The Adult Friend Finder magazine has also been kind enough to do some interviews with me, on the occasion of the publication of my books. They’re good interviews, with smart questions that I actually had to think about before answering. Check them out.

The Bent World of Greta Christina, Part 1, Jun 28, 2005
“I had this strong visual image in my head of a woman bending over, with this very insistent, hungry quality to her. Everything else grew out of that image.”

The Bent World of Greta Christina, Part 2, July 13, 2005
“Writing smut is like digging down into the bones and muscles of my libido, and while that’s difficult, it’s also exhilarating. I want more.”

Paying For It (Behind the Scenes), Feb. 26, 2005
“I didn’t just want to talk to regular customers of prostitutes and pro dominants — I wanted to talk to folks who go to strip clubs now and then, or who like to check out interactive Webcam porn, or who might hire a stripper for a birthday party.”

Watch this space for future developments. And have fun!

JT LeRoy and Hoaxes

Actually, I’m not going to talk about the JT LeRoy thing per se (I work for a company that published one of his books, so I don’t think it’d be appropriate). Read the articles in the Times or the Chron if you want the details.

But the JT LeRoy thing is making me think about the whole subject of artistic hoaxes, a subject I find both fascinating and baffling.

There’s something about them that I fundamentally don’t understand: Why would anybody even *want* to pass off their work as someone else’s, or as something other than what it really is? To me, the whole point of artistic endeavor (if I may make a gross oversimplification) is a feeling of connection with the world: a sense that you’ve dredged something out of yourself and put it out in the world, and that other people are taking that something into themselves and letting it have an effect on them. To pass your work off as something it isn’t… it essentially severs that connection, rendering the entire exercise pointless.

Sure, it’s nice to get fame and admiration. But what’s the point of fame and admiration if the person being admired isn’t really you? Wouldn’t that good glowy feeling you get when your work is recognized just feel like it was missing the mark?

Sure, it’s nice to hobnob with celebrities. I guess. It seems a little weird to me, actually, but then I’ve never hobnobbed, so what do I know. But what’s the point if the person these celebrities are admiring doesn’t even exist? Wouldn’t any sense of coolness you got from hanging out with them feel meaningless, since it wasn’t really you they were hanging out with?

I suppose you could say it’s done for money. And it’s true, money buys the same amount of stuff whether you got it fraudulently or honestly. But… well, there must be easier ways to make money than a literary hoax. There must be easier ways to make money than a literary *anything*.

Now, I’m not talking here about hoaxes for the sake of hoaxing: the ones done for the sheer fun of pulling people’s legs, or to make some point about the laziness and gullibility of the media/academia/the human race/etc. Those, I get. But the kind of hoaxes I’m talking about are different. I’m talking about the kind of artistic hoaxes that are meant to stay hoaxed: the ones that are really meant to deceive, truly and permanently.

It’s not that I don’t understand why people lie to each other and try to fool each other. I get that. People lie to gain advantage, to protect themselves, to make themselves seem more attractive, etc. etc. And there’s obviously a sense of power people get from fooling other people. I get that, too. I get why people bluff in poker games, make stuff up on their resumes, lie to people they’re hitting on in bars, and so on.

But making a lie out of years of creative work — that’s a different animal. If you don’t actually care about the artistic endeavor and are just doing it for fame and money and power … well, that’s an awful lot of trouble to go to, for what seems like not that much payoff in the fame and money and power department. And if you do care about the artistic endeavor, then it seems like an enormous amount of trouble to go to for absolutely no payoff at all.

It reminds me a little of the Bible verse (stay with me here, people): “What will it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?” For a long time I thought that verse was just another bit of generic Biblical soul-spouting. But now I think it’s actually very astute — and not just in a religious sense. I think it means that there’s no point in losing who you are in order to get wealth and power and stuff — because there won’t be anybody there to enjoy it once you get it. If you lose your soul, your self, in order to get stuff, you won’t have any self left to feel good about all the stuff you got.