I was surprised this morning to see myself name-checked on Tony Comstock's blog, (one image on link not safe for work, however the post is interesting so check it out!). The post regards the history of the MPAA - those folks who make the movie ratings and the progression of the X rating through the NC-17 rating. I responded again with a consideration about sexuality in narrative, stories where graphic depiction of sexuality is warranted, at least where I believe it to be warranted.
For those not familiar with Comstock Films, they produce award-winning, sexually graphic documentaries featuring couples discussing their relationships and sex lives, intercut with footage of their lovemaking. I've only seen Matt and Khym, but I'm curious to see more.
Here's a portion of my response, with included links:
On the whole though, doesn’t the cinema’s barren approach to sexuality reflect the lack of discussion that society has put into it? That we feel that sex is a “dangerous topic,” means that we associate it with darkness. It seems to me that many folks feel the need to talk about sexuality in hushed tones and thanks to you for endorsing a more open view.
Perhaps strangely, I find the occasional joyful sex trip in comics more than cinema. Even though I grow tired of the industry on the whole, it does seem to have room for folks who couldn’t (or don’t want to) get their stories told anywhere else. A couple of light-hearted porn strips like Xxxenophile (NSFW) or Small Favors makes the porn comics world worthwhile. I still want to see serious discussion of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls.
The last link brings up the interview I did with Melinda Gebbie a couple of years back. Part two of that interview can be read here: Lost Girl Found. I'm really proud of that interview, so I'd love for more people to read it.
This whole discussion brings up some thoughts to me. For purposes of discussion, I generally think of the label of "Porn" as pertaining to stories told in order to help get someone off, or to inspire its audience to touch themselves or others. More often than not it's the narrative version of a lap-dance or a virtual brothel. It's a very profitable market and has always been, as far as I know.
The question I'm considering at the moment is about that line between Porn and other sexually graphic storytelling (see, I don't even have a word for it yet!). One significant difference is that Porn more often than not has not much to it in a literate sense; the goals of the characters are simple and predictable and it seems that there is really no potential for growth or evolution, those elements of story that make us relate to stories in emotional, intellectual or spiritual ways. I'm reminded of Victorian porn ("I'm spending! I'm spending!") though the formula probably goes back a bit further.
Perhaps it works differently in pornographic novels. Pornucopia, by Piers Anthony is probably the first that I read and for an obscure book which I only read once, I want to assume that it was wholly influential to my sexual worldview, or at least the way I view sex in fiction. It is self-proclaimedly pornographic, but I remember relating to and caring about the characters, especially the main character, Prior Gross. Maybe other porn novels are better, but I haven't read many. This was wild for me, back in my Xanth-reading days. Maybe what made it fun was its airy quality, like reading those pun-tastic fantasy stories.
It seems to me that the other sexual storytelling (would anyone like to suggest a phrase?) is more often than not quite bleak, as Tony Comstock suggested. When an art-house director approaches graphic sex, the results are often depressing. That might have more to do with art-house directors than the notions of narrative sexuality, but what are you gonna do?
Going back to the Fight or Fuck post, I think that these impulses are generally exclusive, and I still endorse an inclusive worldview by far. However, now and then I have a new conversation and realize that the sex and violence aren't mutually exclusive. I would hope that the two activities were separate, but life is occasionally more complex than the way I would wish. Sexuality can be joyful, but it can also be traumatic.
Maybe it's that last that brings out the navel-gazing in the bulk of film-makers. I believe that sexually graphic storytelling has a potential to be much more than that; healing, uplifting, inspiring, revelatory. I wonder if these kinds of stories will grow out of the porn world or out of projects like Shortbus or Comstock Films. All I can hope is that those stories come eventually and that the world is less afraid when they do.