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Dec 12 2008

Bettie Page, 1923-2008

Please note: This post discusses my personal sex life, sexual fantasies, and tastes in porn, in some detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t read this one.

I have a confession to make.

Bettie page
From a purely erotic, purely visceral, “what do I watch in porn to get me off?” standpoint, Bettie Page has never been a huge favorite of mine. Of course she was beautiful; of course she was lush; of course her playful manner and big, cheerful grin were irresistibly charming. It’s just that I have a strong preference for authenticity in porn: for porn that looks like the performers are really getting into it. And I never quite got that from Bettie. Whether she was getting spanked or tied up, or spanking or tying up another girl, the playfulness and the grin made it impossible to believe that she was taking any of it seriously. It always looked like a little kid playing Cowboys and Indians. Even when she was scowling or hollering, you could see that she was grinning inside.

But I loved her anyway.

And I loved her for the very things that made it hard for me to genuinely get off on her movies and her photos: her playful manner, and her big, cheerful grin.

Bettie page spank
Bettie Page was doing erotic and fetish modeling during a time — the 1950s — when these activities were not only illegal, but surrounded by a dark cloud of secrecy and intense shame. And yet she posed in her photos and performed in her movies with a shameless joy. Not the wild, defiant, “fuck you and your shame” Jezebel sort of shameless (which I’m also fond of, don’t get me wrong), but the sort of shameless that doesn’t even see what there is to be ashamed of. She was sex-positive before we even had a word for it. She was a role model for fetish pride, for taking pleasure in bodies and in sex, for women proudly and cheerfully claiming their sexuality… way the hell before it was cool.

And even when she became a born-again Christian and left the world of erotic and fetish modeling forever, she never (to my knowledge) disavowed it or spoke of it as anything to be ashamed of. As recently as 1998, she said in an interview with Playboy, “I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.”

Bettie Page died on Thursday, December 11, at the age of 85. She will be missed.

Video below the fold. (Video not for people under 18.)

5 comments

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  1. 1
    David Harmon

    It’s just that I have a strong preference for authenticity in porn: for porn that looks like the performers are really getting into it. And I never quite got that from Bettie. Whether she was getting spanked or tied up, or spanking or tying up another girl, the playfulness and the grin made it impossible to believe that she was taking any of it seriously.

    It sounds to me like what you want is for the performers to look like they’re really acting out the scenario, whereas Page is treating it more as themed exhibitionism. (I would hope you wouldn’t want too much “authenticity”!)
    Anyway, this is a common conflict in another realm of fantasy — that of FRP gaming. It can be pretty annoying when one of the players (let alone the GM) doesn’t want to take the milieu seriously (and the others do).
    I note also that Method Acting in itself was fairly new at the time….

  2. 2
    Ted

    Here’s a funny contrast. When I peruse the selection of gay male porn that’s out in this world, or even check guys out, it’s big goofy grins that really get me going. Your post got me thinking–I wonder whether we might both be reacting to the inauthenticity of most porn, or how gender is played out in general.
    Girls are told to be sweet little dolls and boys are told to be tough little soldiers. We grow into our sexual years with these messages, so a woman who, frankly, sweats and grunts during sex (hopefully indicating a good and robust experience!) strays from the role she was directed to play. Same with a man who smiles and cuddles. Both of those might represent a regression to what they truly want rather than the expectations that were imposed on them.

  3. 3
    nina hartley

    “It’s just that I have a strong preference for authenticity in porn: for porn that looks like the performers are really getting into it. And I never quite got that from Bettie. Whether she was getting spanked or tied up, or spanking or tying up another girl, the playfulness and the grin made it impossible to believe that she was taking any of it seriously.”
    I understand wanting the performers to, if not actually be into what they’re doing, then to do a credible job of making us believe it. I like that, too. My favorite performers are those whom I know to be having an authentically sexual experience. However, I never minded that Betty was clearly doing sex performance (she never did hardcore), and I’ve always liked the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” aspect of them because her detachment from the action allows me to go further into my own fantasy. Betty’s appearance facililates my own fantasies, which are more extreme and fantastical than could ever be captured on video.
    Hell, just the shoes alone juice me up! Why, oh why, don’t they make them any more?

  4. 4
    Lynet

    I agree. Her sex-positivity is wonderful and inspiring. For me, at least, that actually makes me like imagining myself into her pictures — that and the fact that her breasts look natural etc.

  5. 5
    Timothy (TRiG)

    If I’m reading porn, I want it to be tolerably realistic. Suspending disbelief gets in the way of enjoyment. So do typos. Have you ever been jerked roughly back to the real world by a your/you’re confusion? And, when I’m reading Nifty, I wish that people who are going to include underage incest as a plotline would warn us first. It’s nice to know what to avoid.
    For video porn, I don’t want a story at all. I want the young men to look directly at the camera and have a short chat with the operator, then take their clothes off (or, preferably, take each other’s clothes off) and get down to business. No acting.
    Of course they’re probably acting. Some may fake enjoyment. Some may fake disgust. Yes, there’s a studio called “Broke Straight Boys”. How many of them are really straight? I don’t know. I’m not turned on by the disgust. I prefer them to enjoy themselves, or at least to give that impression.
    Yes, goofy grins are good.
    And let’s have a non-porn example. Straight boys will do all sorts of things to impress girls, including kissing each other. The lovely thing about these two is that it seems they discover, to their own surprise that they’re enjoying it. And, instead of being frightened by that, they do it some more. Sweet. And not acting.
    TRiG.

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