“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
Now that Gitmo is basically kaput and Bush’s war on the future has been replaced with Obama’s strategy for the present, is Orwell’s forewarning still relevant? Or has the real-world manifestation of the Orwellian already reached its peak and entered into decline?
Let me entertain you with a fantastic scenario – If Orwell had been born in 1984 rather than 1903, he would be a member of a subset of young men whose lives have been framed by two critical shifts in the mental landscape: the collapse of the global superpowers (USSR/US) and the rise of the pornography industry. Obviously there are countless events that have shaped the world in the past quarter century, but in terms of timing and impact, none have had such a profound effect on the average G8 20-something as the reshaping of conflict and sexual narratives. Just as the war on terror mainstreamed the notion of war without actual war, the pornography industry has successfully popularized sex without sex. So what would this bizarro Orwell be getting up to while the world totters on the brink of depression? Plumbing the depths of the English language or playing Call of Duty in his underwear? As newspapers are dying off quicker than Mexican salamanders, our young Orwell would probably not be a down-and-out journalist, but more likely a disengaged copywriter – his dystopian prose taking on an entirely different shape and form:
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a woman’s face. Now zoom out, it’s a slutty blonde bitch getting her ass hammered by two monster cocks. Coming soon to DVD, Nazi Sluts 9: Invasion of the Schwarzkommando!”
It’s the early ’90s, sometime during the beginning of the Clinton era, around the time that the Democrats put an end to the Republican war on porn that raged throughout the Reagan/Bush years. The Berlin Wall has crumbled and East Germans are no longer forced to smuggle in their contraband pornos from the liberated West. Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms have made it possible for Moscovites to get their hands on Japanese camcorders, the first small steps towards the production of Soviet smut.
History is so, like, over. Western liberal democracy has proven itself to be the superior form of human governance and capitalism is set to conquer the remaining holdouts by the end of the decade. This ideological evolution is made consummate by the image of a barrel-chested David Hasslehoff, running in slow motion down a sunbathed beach with nothing but tits ’n ass heat-waving in the periphery. This is, in the words of Slavoj Žižek, the true utopia.
“Professional ethics … I’m not just a doctor, I’m a man!”
I’m sitting in a rumpus room with some friends, surrounded by a pastiche of half-empty bottles of Crystal Pepsi, Cherry Coke, miscellaneous snack standards and bits and pieces of Super Nintendo paraphernalia.
The tips of my fingers are stickied with thousands, if not millions, of microscopic junk particles that have joined to create a thin, coagulated coating of Cheetos-brand neon magic cheese dust.
I let the plastic Cheetos bag fall onto the epically-outdated shag carpet and I’m licking my fingers one by one – lapping up the Sunset Yellow FCF (CI 15985 or Yellow No. 6), the disodium-based colorant that gives Cheetos their trademark hue. My eyes are glued to the TV. It’s a newer Japanese model that’s connected by an analog umbilical of tangled black wires to an oversized VCR that loads chunky VHS tapes from the top.
Beyond the faint hum of the machinery, my mates’ chuckles and gasps and the crunching sound of cheesy poofs, my ears are keenly attuned to the dialogue of the “film” that’s got us so transfixed.
“Fuck my pussy doctor!” the nurse commands, putting an end to the corndog foreplay that I thought would never cease. She then lays herself out on the examination table and spreads her milky thighs wide open as the shot dissolves into a close-up of a mustachioed physician’s abstractly penetrating gaze.
And so it began. My virgin eyes were submerged into an ocean of luma-chroma sex acts and the outrageous poetics of consumerist eros: turgid hard-ons mechanically harpooning seeping vaginal canals and gracefully spraying sperm streams atop mountainous titties with their omnipresent nipple peaks.
But my encounters with the world of adult home videos were rare. Like Playboy or Hustler, skin flicks had to be obtained indirectly, usually through an older bro who would just end up taking your money and keeping the booty for himself.
And then everything changed, drastically. The nightly news told a story about some hicks in Oklahoma City who had detonated their imaginary Death Star with a truck full of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Boom: disconnected body parts strewn about and a federal building torn into shreds within seconds. Pundits and experts alike labeled the attack as an act of domestic terrorism. But the tasseography of the news ticker was of no interest, the television had become redundant and outdated. I was 14 and a friend had just gotten a 14.4 US Robotics dial-up modem – our ticket to unchecked informational freedom and, more importantly, thousands of pictures of naked women.
In tune with my demographic dropping its collective nutsack, pornography transformed from a primarily physical medium into a limitless stream of easily accessible imagery. Production costs bottomed out, profits exploded and a booming transnational porno industry came into its own.
The mass appeal of Deep Throat,-era sex cinema hits was resurrected in the form of downloadable masturbation resources. Only now, rather than experiencing sex media in a gender-inclusive mainstream setting, Internet pornography catered primarily to the individual male’s niche desires. Jerk-off fantasies were the dominant leitmotifs of the early Internet – its raison d’être. The Internet was, and still is, for porn. In the ever-expanding webiverse, pornographic imagery supplied the perfect vacuum in which blogs, social networking and YouTube could come into existence. Buoyed by this exponential growth and the backing of media conglomerates like News Corp, the production of hard-core video increased by 700 percent from 1992 to 2005, with worldwide revenues clocking in at nearly $100 billion. Porn had officially arrived, and its enviable profit margins forced “legit” mass media to gradually conform to the aesthetic of its fleshy contours.
It was as if the white noise of consumerism had turned a shade of hot pink. All of a sudden the leader of the free world was evoking Peter North via René Magritte à la “this is not a blow job.” Soon after, the world gasped as two giant metal phalluses penetrated the twin monoliths of capitalist civilization. A blockbuster snuff film to ring in the new century, the “I can’t look but I must” sensation of the 9/11 tape loop would go on to serve as the stylistic precursor for 2 Girls 1 Cup.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2007. I’m 26 and I’ve been tapped by a bro to do a shoot for a website that specializes in “gangsta porn” – tattooed bad-girls tricked out with sawed-off shotguns and a “fuck the world” attitude.
I walk into the makeshift studio and there are a number of naked and semi-naked porn “stars” (white dwarfs really) floating around like wandering livestock. After drilling back a couple vodka tonics, I follow the girls over to a cheap white-paper backdrop and we get to into it. “Spread your legs,” I say. “Eat her pussy out, yeah, that’s it, oh fuck yeah.” I’m just regurgitating tired clichés but it feels natural, like swinging a bat or popping a jump shot. Hostile facial contortions and faux cunnilingus ensue. The producer is up to his eyeballs in blow, pacing back and forth, his teeth chattering up and down like a wind-up toy.
Around the same time that I’m snapping snatch for a hundred bucks an hour, a fellow that goes by the nom de guerre of Max Hardcore is on his way to prison for obscenity offences, the first victim of the Bush administration’s reignition of the Bible Belt’s anti-porn crusades.
An infamous character even within the industry, Mr. Hardcore is a noteworthy pioneer of the gonzo subgenre – a grimy lo-fi POV style that champions a depraved and misogynistic approach to adult video. The typical Hardcore film features female performers who are made to look like prepubescent teens, schoolgirls who skip class to get brutalized by Mr. Hardcore himself.
A Wisconsin-born, cowboy hat-wearing opportunist, Hardcore took advantage of the mid ’90s amateur boom and has steadily pushed the limit ever since. His work foreshadows the style of video (no plot and little pretense) that now dominates Internet upload sites: an increasingly violent performance style dubbed “abuse porn.”
I’m browsing a porn upload site, watching a scene from a Hardcore compilation vid, and writing the sentence you are reading right now, my MacBook on my lap nuking any possibility of future offspring. The video features a performer dressed up to appear as if she were 13, she’s sucking off Hardcore in the most hard-core of manners, so forcefully that she begins to vomit through her nose. Hardcore responds by urinating into her mouth and onto her face and with urine in her eyes and mascara running down her cheeks, she starts looking like a battered clown. In the next clip Hardcore is pulling on her hair and shoving a dildo down her esophagus and she begins to fake cry, which turns out to be more disturbing than if she were to shed real tears.
Not my cup of tea. I continue to surf, looking for a video that features Sasha Grey, who should be calling me for an interview at any moment. Grey, 21, is the porno industry’s public relations wet dream come true. She has already performed in over 100 adult films and stars in Steven Soderbergh’s arthouse feature The Girlfriend Experience. She’s slated to be the “next Jenna Jameson,” and might be the first porn star to successfully convert her adult video (AV) celebrity into a legit acting career. What interests me about Grey is that she represents a notable shift in the pornographic ideal – she doesn’t project the typical persona that we’ve come to accept as the standard AV schtick. She’s young and calculated and delivers performances that are provocatively masculine. A quick Google reveals that her personal brand is rooted in the alternative. She’s done an American Apparel advertising campaign, promotes herself as a quasi-postfeminist intellectual and frequently name-drops the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Sartre.
The first video that pops up is titled Sasha Grey Anal. I click play figuring it will provide a good warm-up for our phoner. It starts with a close-up of Grey’s lips and she is directly addressing the viewer:
“I want to be your sex slave, I want you to hurt me, I want you to make me cry. I’ll do anything, anything at all, whatever you want, I’m such a fucking whore, I need to train, I need to be broken, I want you to fucking hurt me.”
A couple of minutes later some dude is holding the camera and staring down at Grey, who is staring up at us while giving one of her trademark ‘throat fuck’ blowjobs. She sounds like she’s choking, and the dude starts to drag her by the hair with his cock still in her mouth.
Then the phone rings, not in the video, but in my apartment. It’s her, the real Sasha Grey, as opposed to the porno-world Sasha Grey flickering on my laptop.
“What does the word pornographic mean to you?”
“To me it’s not just people having sexual encounters, or pictures of people having sex in magazines. More than half of the news we see on television today is pornographic because it’s not real news. It’s pure junk for the mind…They are manipulating the audience to feel a certain way. It’s all encompassing. American Idol is pornographic, completely exploiting people’s talent or lack of talent for television ratings.”
On screen, Sasha is gagging on a dildo that the dude has just pulled out of her ass. “Choke yourself on it” he says. I skip ahead a few minutes and Sasha is presenting to the viewer a rather apt existential dilemma:
“Is that what you fucking want? You want this filthy whore’s tight little asshole?"
The real Sasha Grey says in my left ear:
“… I think we’re still very repressed, especially in America. It comes back to what does pornography mean. In Europe there are more films that have to do with sexuality than violence and here in America it is the opposite. And I think we can sell sex all day on television, in magazines and on billboards but when it comes down to it people are still afraid to talk about their sexuality …”
“So are we lacking an important dialogue?”
“Definitely, It’s still embarrassing. If you try to speak with a Midwest housewife, or a young 20-something from the Midwest and say cunt or pussy she is going to freak out, even if you say vagina – for some of them, the word vagina is a disgusting, vile word. You have to say ‘down there.’ It’s really bizarre.”
The calm, thoughtful tone of her voice creates an unsettling sensual cocktail when mixed with the vacancy of her pixilated hazel eyes, an oasis of “the real” in a desert of unreality. Or perhaps it’s just a mirage or a “lovemark,” as marketing guru Kevin Roberts might say. The Sasha Grey brand is an ideal vehicle for the normalization of porn because she’s a willing industry activist who genuinely believes that the consumption of her videos promotes a positive understanding of sexual health.
But has our outlook on sex become so pornofied that we’re willing to accept 20 minutes of vacuous anal sex as sex-positive edutainment? Although porn has been embraced by feminists looking to shrug off the failures of the Dworkin era, the discussion that predominates current analysis of the medium tends to ignore the nature of the industry’s core demographic: males, aged 18-29.
If the average porn consumer – a male North American, Japanese or European 20-something – were to walk into a doctor’s office and receive a virility exam, the results would be abysmal. Due to our toxic living standards and the prevalence of untested chemicals in the social environment, the male gender has recently entered into rapid physiological and genetic decline.
In affluent, industrialized nations, the birth of males has dropped every year for the past 30 years. Genital defects, learning disabilities, autism, ADD and a variety of other afflictions have all skyrocketed in males while remaining comparatively low in females. But perhaps the most telling indicator of the male plight comes down to that which is essentially synonymous with the pornographic: sperm. The average Gen Y bro has a sperm count that is 50 percent lower than his father’s and, of the few spermazoids he does have, 85 percent of them are genetically damaged. According to Dr. Fernando Marina, fertility expert at Barcelona’s CEFER Reproduction Institute, if this trend continues, all men will be infertile within 60 years.
On a genetic level, the male gender is crumbling, which almost seems natural when one considers the fragmented state of modern masculinity.
On the other end of the feminist spectrum of opinion from Sasha Grey is Virginie Depentes, who initially gained notoriety (and infamy) with the release of her book/film Baise Moi (Fuck Me), which follows the story of a part-time prostitute and a part-time porn actress as they go on a hyper-sexual, murderous rampage against the rape-prone patriarchal society that oppresses and humiliates them. In her latest book, King Kong Theory, Despentes states:
“Pornography hits the blind corner of reason. It directly addresses our primitive fantasies, bypassing words and thought. The hard-on or wetness comes first, wondering why follows behind. Self-censorship reactions are shaken. Porn images don’t give us any choice: here’s what turns you on, here’s what makes you respond.”
I recently had a discussion with Despentes on the subject of porn and masculinity, during which she commented:
“In front of climate change or economic crisis, men and women are equal. We are being confronted with something very big … I don’t think men are trying to understand what masculinity is like women did with femininity in the ’70s. Lots of women asked themselves ‘what was femininity?’ Men seem to think masculinity is so natural. It’s not.”
In her work, Despentes raises two very interesting points pertaining to the pornographic dialogue. First, that the traditional anti-porn stance on how violent and misogynistic material incites rape and violence towards women is false due to an inaccurate analysis: pornography actually subdues rather than provokes. Consuming pornography does not lead to more sex, it leads to more porn. Much like eating McDonalds everyday will accustom you to food that (although enjoyable) is essentially not food, pornography conditions the consumer to being satisfied with an impression of extreme sex rather than the real.
Second, unlike women, men have largely failed to re-evaluate their sense of purpose in the 21st century. Feminism as a social revolution resulted in the emancipation of the female and the displacement of traditional male roles. Rather than making a conscious effort to resituate “the masculine” in the context of rising gender equality, heterosexual men have in many ways fallen into a subconscious, anti-feminine counterrevolution.
And this takes us back to our imaginary Orwell. Picture him sitting on a couch, in his underwear, at 2:00 a.m. His naked profile lit by the warm glow of a laptop screen. He’s surfing the net, reading about how Hitler invented the first sex doll, which prompts him to play a quick round of Call of Duty. He’s tossing grenades and sniping Nazis, but then he gets bored so he pops in a bukkake DVD and tosses off to the image of a female performer being submerged in seminal fluid. He’s satiated and disconnected but in the virtual world he’s still a dominant, violent, virulent alpha male.
The porn industry, now bigger than Hollywood and pro sports combined, has facilitated the transformation of sex into a liquid consumer good. There is nothing left to separate the individual from the market and the industry’s success has also produced a feedback loop that results in its own intensification. In order to compete with porn, the mainstream media appropriates the pornographic, which in turn forces porn producers and websites to create more vicious and chaotic content. The mainstream becomes porn and porn gradually edges closer to snuff.
Of course very little of this sexual media reflects reality in any way. When watching hard-core porn, one is struck by the message it so desperately attempts to communicate: sex is boring. And the more violent the porn, it seems, the more anti-sex its message. But could anything be further from the truth? Isn’t having sex with another living, human being the one thing that provides the most intense connection with the present moment?
As our surroundings become inundated with pornographic imagery aimed at keeping us plugged into the feedback loop, it’s easy to get distracted from what’s going on beyond all the hot pink noise. It’s in this fog of fake fucking that man sleepwalks closer toward an abyss of genetic implosion, environmental destruction and total economic collapse.
But crisis can precipitate change, and what needs to occur now is the genesis of a new “masculinism” – a philosophy of man that embraces the achievements of feminism and strives to reconnect with the real.
Since the beginning of America’s recession, over 80 percent of those who’ve been laid off have been men. This ironic byproduct of pay inequality provides a couple of great opportunities: the chance for a radical shift in gender relations, and the chance for men to rediscover how to subsist outside of the tyranny of consumer ease.