Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One Five Seven: Lacunae

There are gaps in my education. Even at my age, there are things I haven't done and things I know nothing at all about. That frustrates and irritates me, which I suppose is something you might expect. I've always obsessed over learning new things, or least learning about new things. I spent a great deal of my life in universities--- undergraduate, grad school, professional school. I still live inside books, and I still make the local library use its interlibrary loan services on my behalf on a frequent basis. So I do hate not knowing about things.

Tonight, mind you, what I don't know about is...rice. I don't know about the role of rice in the porn industry. Let's consider--- I saw an article on line about backstage life on porn video sets. The author noted off-handedly that it was important to take care of certain issues before being on camera. Not just make-up and a fresh Brazilian wax, but things that could make a scene seriously unpleasant for all concerned.  One needed, she said, to take...certain measures prior to some scenes. Well, fine. I can see the need. I can see why those measures would be necessary and what equipment might be needed. Or, she said, you could starve yourself for a week or two...or eat nothing but plain, boiled white rice for a few days before the scene. 

You can probably infer what she was talking about. The equipment would be for what the fetish world delicately calls lavage--- a somewhat antique medical term, though better than its period contemporary clyster. And starving a bit, well...yes, that makes sense.

But the suggestion about rice leaves me blank. I understand what a rice diet is supposed to do, or at least what the author says it's used for in the porn world. What I don't understand is how it's supposed to work. What's the actual mechanism here? The article didn't explain. Is the mechanism something I'm supposed already to know? Also...exactly how effective is this advice? How often is this a chosen method in the porn world?

I don't look to the porn world for sets and settings for sex. I look to obscure novels and films for that, or at least to fashion, design, and architecture magazines. But I would think that porn performers know about mechanical things, about techniques for controlling and mastering the body. I have my own fear and phobias, of course. So performers' knowledge would be something I'd look to.  Yet I would like to know why know just what works, but why and how. I'd like to have a set of user's checklists for these things.

It says something about me, though, that I'm more comfortable looking to advice about what we can call damage control or prevention than I am with taking advice about actual techniques of lovemaking. The consequences of mediocre technique seem far less risky than the consequences of not having control of the body and its mechanisms.

Well, here's a research question: would a dietician know at least as much as a porn performer about the plain, boiled white rice issue? 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

One Five Six: Categories

Tonight I'm thinking about categories in erotica and how they shift and evolve. I was reading a piece by the porn star Stoya--- a kind of ask-a-porn-star feature at one of the hipster lit websites ---that brought the issue up. I'll note that I like Stoya. I've never seen any of her films, by the way. I've only and ever read her interviews and her articles and her blog. The blog is called Graphic Descriptions; it's often quite interesting. Always well-written, too. It's something I'd recommend, along with her columns at the Vice and Verge websites. Anyway--- I like reading Stoya. And a few days ago, I ran across a piece where people wrote to her for advice.

The particular question that struck me was from a guy asking about...incest-themed films. He said that he seemed to keep running across an amazing number of such films on line and he wondered, well, why. Was this the next big theme? he asked. Why, he asked, did Stoya think these films were so popular. Her answer did sound a bit nonplussed. Exactly where was he going on the web? Was he just visiting the wrong places? Or was he in some way already looking for incest-themed videos? Was there some fetish that he just didn't want to admit to? 

The question--- and Stoya's response ---raised a few issues for me. The particular category does very little for me, but the issue of categories in general catches my attention. The questioner had said "incest-themed" films--- a fairly general description of the category. Of course you can break down the obvious sub-categories: father-daughter, mother-son, siblings, and a specialized twins ("twincest") sub-category.  Cousin-incest wouldn't seem to be a category that would generate too much interest, and in-laws would barely fit at all. (Would uncle/niece or aunt/nephew just be  left inside the broader father/daughter or mother/son categories? What about aunt/niece?) The questioner  didn't specify what he was finding so much of--- what he may or may not have been looking for. Stoya's answer, though, took an odd turn.

Stoya wondered whether MILF films--- films where a young man ends up in bed with his friend's hot mom ---weren't a kind of incest-lite category. No prohibited consanguinity, true. But there is an age disparity, which is one of the great taboos in sex these days--- taboo enough to be at nearly the same level of transgression as incest. And the MILF image depends on a (late-thirties? early forties?) hot, "older" woman being someone's mom. Is sex with a friend's mom a kind of incest-by-proxy? Stoya lamented that an attractive woman of forty could only be found hot as an incest-lite "MILF" and not for her own sake. Which is fair enough. My own tastes run to beautiful Young Companions, not to the MILF idea, but I see Stoya's point.

You'll note that I'm shying away from discussing the classic pairing of the younger girl and the older man. I never minded being a co-ed's academic fantasy, but I'm not sure I'm ready to be an incest-lite fantasy figure. Fortunately, no girl has ever called me Daddy. Let alone Dad. Those are things that really would freeze my blood.

What goes into fantasy categories--- that really is a question. How do we shape and define what's inside the categories we choose for our fantasies? That's something I may want to think about at some length. Any thoughts any of you out there over the aether might have? 

I'm at a disadvantage here in that I really don't watch porn videos. I don't search the web for porn. I can't talk about what's been filmed or how it's marketed. I do know of a couple of web archives with porn stories, though. (I always go for the written word; that's something you can always count on with me. I'd rather read words on a page than watch a video.) The archives are extensive. The stories are submitted by amateurs--- call it fanfic if you'd like. At least one of the archives goes back to the late 1990s, to the early days of the web. The writing quality varies wildly, of course. What matters, though, is that the stories are searchable. They're tagged with category labels, and there's  a search feature. 

The academic in me wishes the stories were all fully cross-referenced and that I knew exactly who created the labels and definitions and what criteria they used. I'm utterly hopeless at anything like spreadsheets or graphs, but I'd like to do a basic analysis of categories and changes over time. Go back to, say, 1996 or 1997 and work forward. Which categories had the most stories per year? How did that change over time? What became more popular, what faded away? How many different (pseudonymous) authors submitted each year? How long did a given author keep sending in stories? In a perfect world, mind you, there'd be some way to know at least what basic regions/states the stories came from. What cities or states favored which categories over time? How did the number of stories sent from overseas change, and what categories did overseas writers prefer? 

Thank you, Fernand Braudel---- what do the porn archives look like over the longue durée? What's the biography of each archive? Those really are things I'd like to know. Whatever a key porn fantasy may have been in 1996, is that still a major fantasy twenty years later. Some of the stories are about celebrities (models, actresses, rock and pop stars, female athletes). The names would change, but would the kind of celebrity change? One archive does do a category for male-male stories--- more or fewer of those over time? Do the boundaries of what's forbidden change?  Yes. I would like to know. I'd like to speculate about what external events are referenced in the stories and about changes in the way the fantasy figures are presented.

I'd hate to think that I'd end up looking at the graphs and trying to decide what the Next Big Thing might be or what the hip fantasies for the current year might be. But I would like to analyze what's out there. Everything has a history. That's obvious. Even the categories of fantasy. And I would like to see what the contents of the categories are and how they change. I'd like to know what drives the changes, too.

I know I'm building a lot out of a few offhand remarks in Stoya's article.  I was born to be an academic, though. That part of me will always be there. I do want to ask the questions and I want to know the history of these things. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

One Five Five: Fortunate Isles

I'm told that the Social Justice Cult has turned its attentions to the world of polyamory. Not for any of the reasons you might expect, mind you. It's all about nomenclature, all about words. The gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult believe in the power of words as deeply as any medieval magician. If you say the right words, you can call up magical power for good or ill. Words are part of magic spells, things imbued with magical force. If you get the spell wrong, the demons will get you. The Social Justice Cult does not accept nominalism; let's be clear about that.

In any case, the the polyamorists are being attacked because they call themselves "poly". It seems that  there are others who want possession of the word. "Poly" belongs to...well...Polynesians. Or so the story goes. By calling themselves "poly", the members of the polyamory world are showing themselves to be "entitled" and "privileged". "Poly", the Tumblr rants say, should be reserved for community-building and identity-formation amongst the Polynesian community. Assuming that the story is true, my own first thought was that, well, yes, the Polynesians want to make the word tabu in its original sense--- and that the Social Justice Cult wanted to enforce that exactly the way violations of tabu would've been enforced in pre-Contact Polynesia: by clubbing violators to death.

From all that I can tell, the polyamorists are prepared to fold. They're terrified of the Social Justice Cult and its social media power to shame and demand. They're terrified of being called "privileged" and of being tagged with other magical words of disdain: white, moneyed, upper-middle-class. More's the pity, I suppose. I can't see why the Polynesians and their Social Justice Cult supporters can't be satisfied with something like "Otaheetian" or "Breadfruit Islanders".  My own rule is simple enough. Whenever possible, use the most archaic and obscurely-spelled eighteenth-century words you can find to describe places and peoples in what British mariners called "the Far Foreign". I do that habitually--- an aesthetic principle,  which of course means it's a moral imperative.

I have never known what to make of polyamory. I've never quite understood how it differs from simply dating more than one person at a time. When poly devotees have tried to explain it to me in terms of a primary relationship plus other, satellite relationships, I can't see how this differs from some nineteenth-century French arrangement where husband and wife are free to pursue discreet relationships so long as no public scandal ensues.

We're not, I'm told, allowed to say "wife swapping" any more. That has sexist implications of ownership. Worse, it calls up images of people with cheap wood-panelled basement rec rooms and balding men with moustaches--- the "porn 'stache" of so many mocking memes. It calls up the worst of both sex and fashion c. 1970. Flared trousers may be involved. There are, if you must know, small groups of cos-play Klingons at Star Trek conventions who do...mate-swapping. That's as nightmarish a vision as you're likely to find.

You can't say "wife-swapping". Or "swingers".  Well, both remind me of bad fashion and the sort of parties where someone might ask (without irony) what your zodiac sign was. They both call up "key parties"--- where people put their car keys into a bowl, and blindfolded wives selected keys to see which husband they'd be with that night. It's all very, very much like some dark comedy about the way the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s sputtered out amongst the 1970s light-blue-collar class in the Heartland.

When anyone says "wife swapping", I do think of the 1997 film "The Ice Storm".  That had both wife-swapping and a key party. I'll note that it was an utterly depressing film by Ang Lee. I watched it entirely in hopes that Sigourney Weaver would be naked.  I'll just admit that. Well, although Ms. Weaver wasn't suitably unclad, still...at the climax of the film...a hobbit was electrocuted. You'll see what I mean if you look at the cast member list.  A friend of mine tells me that since seeing the film, "electrocuting the hobbit" is now his preferred euphemism for the Solitary Vice. I have to agree with him on that.

I still have no idea what to make of hipster polyamory. Is it done with retro-irony? Is it a way of making an ironic reference to the 1970s while still having sex in the new century? Are its aesthetics any better than those of the days of "swingers"? Even if they are, is polyamory suffused with the identity politics and gender wars language of our own day? Which is worse--- bad fashion or bad ranting?

Well, if the Otaheetians come in their war canoes, that'll settle things once and for all. Though didn't C.P. Cavafy dash those hopes in "Waiting For the Barbarians"?