Worlds & Time

Friday, February 22, 2008

Recent Thoughts From Online Chats

First, before I get into the rest of this post, I would like to point out that my absolutely hilarious little brother gave me permission to post a few of his communications from his travels and from his time in Iraq. I've created a whole separate little sub blog here:

Pocket Lint Communications

There are about 40 letters and other works up, and if he ever sends me more then I'll let you know when I update it.

Unlike me, he is brilliant and hilarious. If I could figure out how to get him to write a book, he'd make millions, or at least thousands. We joke about how both my father and I are aspiring writers, and since my brother isn't, he stands the best chance of being published and making a lot of money.

Okay, I've been having some long chats online recently, and I have some things that I want to share from them. The rest of this post is sort of not safe for the more sensitive members of my family. Just to warn you.

First, I discovered a bizarre series of videos on YouTube. They're the "behind the scenes" videos from an amateur gay porn studio. They're all safe for work, contain no sex or nudity, but it's sort of interesting to watch the guys laugh and joke around with each other.

Or just eat chips. There's one video that's just a porn star eating chips. Fifteen seconds of it. I think they're Lays, if that makes it funnier.

Yeah.

The general feeling of these clips reminds me of "America's Next Top Model" or "Make me a Super Model." There's lights, cameras, and the guys are taking direction. If you couldn't see what the pictures were being taken of, and the director wasn't offering explicit direction to the models, I sort of suspect that it would be hard to differentiate the amateur porn video from the high fashion photo shoot.

Anyway, I mentioned these videos to a straight friend online, and he had a few comments. First, I mentioned that the behind the scenes clips are funny, but the actual videos rarely are. For some, I said, reason gay folk rarely like comedy while watching hot guys going at it.

On the other hand, I do like to see some personality. Yeah, I would be attracted to them physically anyway, but seeing them laugh and joke makes them more than just a pretty face, or behind, or whatever.

After some discussion, I realized that I'd been incorrect in my original opinion that gay guys don't like comedy porn. Two of the big winners of GayVN awards recently have been comedies, "The Hole" a spoof of the horror movie the "The Ring" and "The Intern" which is a spoof of the "The Office" television show. There have even been straight comedy porns, although the only one that I can think of off the top of my head will probably get this blog listed as adult content if I mention the name.

After that, we talked about straight gay porn actors. He seemed surprised that I thought that many of the guys seen in the behind the scenes videos are probably straight. I pointed out that this particular studio (although it's certainly not unique in this regard) features a lot of presumably straight guys to appeal to a certain demographic of gay guys (that includes me, incidentally).

I pointed out that in some situations, even if these guys were actually gay, they'd have to pretend to be straight in order to maintain fan interest in them. After all, if they're gay, then watching them isn't nearly as titillating as it would be if they're really interested in women and just convinced to have sex in front of the camera for money. It sort of implies to all of the gay guys out there that all those hot straight guys would be gay, if the right circumstances came up. (Link is slightly NSFW, a few pages in.)

This creates an interesting paradox in which gay people have to pretend to be straight in order to do well in gay porn, essentially forcing them back into the closet. You'd think that this industry would be relatively gay friendly, but what does it say when stars in gay porn have to pretend to be straight to do well in the industry (or at least, in this part of it)?

My friend noticed that one of the photo shoots played on a fairly menial masculine theme: a painter on a ladder. He wanted to know if masculine themes were the norm in gay porn, and I responded that they are.

Mainstream gay porn actors are muscular straight-acting men. The stuff featuring stereotypically feminine, thin, or overweight guys is about as popular in gay porn as masculine, rail thin, and overweight women are in straight porn. It sells, it just doesn't sell the same way the mainstream stuff does.

Personally, I think this sort of skews the perspective on the gay community you get from porn more than it does even for straight porn. You get a serious distortion in physicality and body type in both, and also a serious distortion on how easy it is to have sex with a random stranger, but on the gay side you also get a serious distortion involving a sort of personal characterization. You won't see a lot of lisping men with floppy wrists in gay porn, even if the actors have lisps and floppy wrists in their normal, everyday, homo lives.

The problem is, I don't necessarily think that we need more effeminate men in porn. There isn't something that we can change on the production side that will suddenly change gay people's taste in porn. As Dan Savage often points out, we like what we like. Suppressing it doesn't make it go away, it just makes it more valuable as demand far outstrips supply.

My final thought about porn was this: there is never any truth in it. No model uses their real name, they're often filmed in ubiquitous rented houses and hotels, they use Viagra to induce erections, and the use makeup to minimize any skin problems, and they use men that are better looking than 99% of the population.

So, perhaps that's why I like to see a glimpse of the behind-the-scene truth to the movies. Seeing some sliver of truth to what glossy image is portrayed by the (other) camera is interesting, and strangely exciting by way of its unusual and forbidden nature. You aren't normally asked to connect with the stars, you're asked to objectify and fetishize them.

There's a link between this conversation and the next one, which has to do with self-image.

The stereotypical feminist, whether a real person or not, apparently argues against the internalization of societal values of beauty, especially when you find yourself looking bad by comparison. To accept that all women should be blond size 2s with size DD boobs can seriously impact a woman's self worth if you don't fit those measurements for beauty.

Thus, the argument is that pornography (and pop culture in general) promotes unrealistic views of women and should cease to do so. The problem with this is something that I mentioned in passing above about gay porn: when realistic people are utilized, the interest in the final product decreases. So, despite the best efforts of our theoretical feminists, selling sexuality through highly idealized body types continues to be mass produced and marketed. And it sells very well.

Only a few years ago, back when I was in my first college, I can remember feeling bad about the kind of men that I was attracted to (Tall, blond, with the body of a greek god, see any Abercrombie and Fitch quarterly) because I thought that it was wrong of me to be attracted to someone purely due to their physical appearance. After all, that sort of attraction is very shallow, and I've always been told that it's the mind and personality that should matter most.

In a conversation with a gay friend he said something similar to this, about how his physical self-esteem was low and that he puts a greater premium on personality than on physical attraction.

Over the last few years, I've come to disagree with that. I don't think that it's fair to discount physical attraction.

Switching back to our feminists arguments, I agree that women shouldn't be held to the same physical standards as models, actresses, and porn stars, but I don't think that gutting the porn industry is the answer. Just like kids playing video games don't think that they're actually vital soldiers invading Normandy in 1945, men who watch porn understand that their enjoyment is based on a fictional and fantastic portrayal.

They don't necessarily loose interest in their wives and girlfriends after watching porn, you know.

Now, if they're exhorting those same women to put themselves through the pain of looking like that when they don't want to, that's a problem. In my book, it's just a form of emotional abuse, and that should be stopped. But there's a deep division between portrayal and demanding that women (and men) live up to the same standards as the most common porn shoot.

Thinking back about my three and a half relationships, none of the guys involved looked like porn stars. None of them had a six pack. All of them have been Hispanic or Latino. However, despite the fact my taste in porn runs to white men with six packs that never stopped me from being interested in the guys that I'm dating.

Yeah, real relationships are based on personality and connection and I can't deny that, but you shouldn't deny physical attraction just because it isn't based on the higher minded connection of personality.

I suspect that this is part of the puritan values left over from the foundation of the United States. There's a certain fear of physical, lustful attraction that I think is silly. It might not be the highest form of connection that you can reach with someone else, but as someone whose connections with other people tend to be on the tenuous side already, I don't think that the solace that a meaningless, shallow, lurid relationship can provide is without merit.

In fact, I'm not willing to discount any relationship or encounter that offers something, however small. Just because sex with someone offers a few fleeting moments of chemical induced happiness, it can still be a positive experience. It's when two people have differing understandings of what a particular act conveys that problems arise.

Of course, that's a separate conversation altogether.

Update: It turns out that a few of us had the same idea. Aside from Jesse Santana, the gay porn star who posted about not being a rent boy, Mason Wyler, one of my porn star crushes has a really interesting post that addresses some of the points made in the first part of this post.

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