Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Whorient

Here we go. This is the inauguration of an ongoing series of blog posts discussing the ideas, arguments, conundrums, etc. of my proposed but ultimately uncompleted Plan II thesis.


Thank you. First, a procedural detail. All of the blog entries dealing with this topic will be conveniently labeled with the tag "(porn)" so you can easily search for them in the sidebar. If you read them from oldest to newest, a line of argumentation might even manifest. No promises of coherency.

Without further ado about nothing...


Let's start at the beginning and address the topic itself. Now stick with me because I know it may seem a little absurd at first. My proposed (and mind you, approved) thesis would explore the representations of Asian women in porn literature. Not all Asian women, actually, because that scope would have been too broad. I planned to focus on East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands (e.g. the Philippines) because, well, that's who American men like to talk about fucking even if they can't keep all the details straight about what signifier belongs to which collected signified.

The academic legwork consisted of two parts. First, an analysis of the literature about porn, both the anti-porn and the sex-positive / pro-porn camps. Second, an attempt to "color in" the blindness of the critique of porn through an interpolation of the works of black feminist such as Elizabeth Spelman and post-colonial authors including Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan. The final third of the thesis would apply these elements in a bricolage "methodolgy" for examining actual porn texts involving Asian women.

My argument boiled down to this: the anti-porn critcisms were incomplete and inadequate when applied to women of color. They treated race / ethnicity / cultural difference like, as Spelman described it, merely an "ampersand" to the primary category of woman. This "woman plus" analysis failed to adequately capture the unique forms of oppression spawned at the intersections of race and gender. What's intended to get you off about an Asian woman in porn isn't that she's a woman primarily who also "happens to be" Asian; her Asian-ness and female-ness are intertwined in a unique identity whose representation differs not marginally but fundamentally from the representations of other (white) women. The attending signifiers of "Asian" aren't merely accessories to "spice up" the ordinariness / blandness / repetitiveness / scripted structure of the typical porn narrative. They are intended to evoke specific sets of ideologies about the woman or women who are its sexual objects.

One of the first questions posed to me after people stop looking at me like I'm a perv is why I chose to read dirty stories instead of look at dirty pictures or watch dirty movies. Like all good answers, mine is three-fold:

1) I didn't go through a film crit or art /photo crit program as an undergraduate. Interpreting pics or movies seemed to require a critical language which I didn't possess and couldn't rapidly acquire in a short period of time. On the other hand, as a philosophy major interested in social theory, adopting that already-at-hand framework of critical text analysis seemed a lot easier. Also, text seem to "state" what they mean in a much more straight-forward way than unpacking the visual vocabulary of pics or movies.

2) My goal was to examine the representations of Asian women in porn. The problem with pics and movies is that, well, they involve actual Asian women at the level of their production. Although the reality of women's lives involved in porn is an important issue, I didn't want my thesis sidetracked by whether most or every woman involved in porn is abused and unhappy (as some in the anti-porn allege) or if most porn workers are happy, well-adjusted individuals from backgrounds not involving sexual abuse who are capable of forming healthy relationships (as sex-positive women such as Nina Hartley claim).

By working with written narratives, I managed to side-step the controversy of women's bodies at the level of production and focus instead on the representation of those bodies in the act.

3) It's a lot easier and cheaper to cut excerpts from a written story and insert them into your written thesis as evidence than it is to provide pictures or stills from a movie. Text also looks less like you're a naughty boy trying to pass off looking at naked women as rigorous academic work.

As time passed and I read more, I found I had more problems with the anti-porn feminist critique of porn than just its color-blindness. Several re-reads of Michel Foucault's seminal work The History of Sexuality, Vol 1: An Introduction, Rachel Maines' history of the pathologizing of female sexual pleasure and its medical treatment, and an extended meditation on the subject of my authorial position vis-a-vis the topic of female represenation yielded a position that was critical of porn's representations of racial-gendered bodies and the Freudian / Lacanian theory of masculine displacement embodied in anti-porn literature.

To be continued...


In the next installment I will try to start presenting the anti-porn position and my critique of the Freudian / Lacanian theory relied upon by its proponents such as Andrea Dworkin, Susan Griffin, et al.

The Good, the Bad, and the Mind-blowing

The good:

The Dirty Projectors released their 7" Ascending Melody for free via download this week. 20 people who download it will also be randomly selected to receive the vinyl. These tracks were laid down during the Bitte Orca sessions but didn't make the final cut.

The bad:

Pat Robertson is a horse's ass. The man can't help but insert his foot into his mouth whenever he flaps his lips to speak about tragedy. It's like he's got steel toes and a magnet in his palate. This week the radical evangelical cleric blamed the earthquake in Haiti on an apocryphal pact supposedly entered into over 200 years ago with Satan in a voodoo ceremony, freeing the island of French control in return for 200 years of servitude to the prince of darkness. He is referencing the Boukman ceremony that Dutty Boukman is alleged to have held at Bois Caiman in 1791 which sparked the revolt that culminated in Haiti's independence, (By the way, said lease would have expired in 1991, Pat.) Fault lines have nothing to do with it, just God grinding an axe with women, children, and men wholly unresponsible for an act that happened long before they were born and many scholars doubt even really took place. Congratulations 700 Club, it only took you 14 days to prove you're still a bunch of jerks in 2010.

Robertson is well known for his laughable predictions that always, always, always turn out false. The man's clearly not a prophet. Maybe God's telling you to shut your trap, Pat. Obviously embarrassment and chagrin should've had stilled your cruel tongue long ago. WWJD? I'm pretty sure he'd cancel the 700 Club.

Not one to let the jerk spotlight shine anywhere but on his jerk-itude, right-wing propagandha meister and blatant racist (remembe he got canned for declaring Donovan McNabb a no-talent hack bolstered by affirmative action) Rush Limbaugh described Haiti as a "made to order" disaster for Obama. He said the relief effort would be used to "burnish" the Obama image among the "light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country." What, you mean not waiting and watching people drown and "loot" and suffer after a major natural disaster before you send in the emergency relief workers might be a popular move? Who'da thunk it? Well...

You know what? I think people of all colors worldwide are applauding Obama's no-hesitation response to the tragedy in Haiti. The viral efforts to raise money through twitter and facebook have been outstanding. But you know what jolly ol' Dittohead says about giving to charity? DON'T. He encouraged his listeners not to contribute a dime to relief efforts in Haiti because American "tax dollars" fully fund our relief efforts.

Gotta hand it to you, Limbaugh. I didn't think anybody could be more insensitive about the Haitian earthquake than Pat Robertson but you took the cake. So much so that professional conservative meanie Pat Buchanan, no big fan of all things liberal and progressive, publicy chastised your comments as "cynical" and "insensitive." When Buchanan calls you out for being heartless, you know you're a stone-cold bastard.

The Mind-blowing:

A couple of U.K. scientists sent out about 4,000 surveys to British women age 22-83 (average age 55) and got back about 1,800 responses concerning their self-reported sexual experiences. Upon analysing the women's answer to the question if they believe they have "the" g spot and report of achieveing orgasm through intercourse, these scientists declared the g spot a "myth" in the pages of the Journal of Sexual Medicine this month.

Setting aside the methodoligal problems (surveys versus anatomical analysis? really?), I've got to applaud this team for continuing unabatedly and enthusiastically the 2000+ year tradition of murky (male) science which obscures, covers up, distorts, stigmatizes and pathologizes female sexual pleasure and female desire. Pick up Rachel Maines' The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction for an excellent history of this tradition.

Here's my take away. Ultrasounds, heat imaging scans, "hands on" lab tests (that's a joke; really, read the Maines' book) can only reveal so much about female sexuality with their scientific and anatomy-centric approaches. The question we as a soceity should ask ourselves is why do we care if there's "really" a g spot or not? What difference does it make? If you or a lover can press a spot one-third of the way up the front of your vaginal wall and induce cataclysmic, volcanic, earth-shattering, mind-blowing, leg-shaking, sheet-shredding, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs pleasure, does it really matter whether a bunch of research scientists in a London lab think there's a unique anatomical structure to which this "response" can be reduced? I think the answer is pretty clear. And if you're not built with an ecstasy button in said place, does that mean the g spot is just a myth? Who really cares? I think Petra Boynton's advice is particularly salient on this topic.

But for women, how much does it matter whether the G-spot exists? While I’m usually keen to advocate that we follow what science has to tell us, in this case the presence or absence of a G-spot has caused confusion and anxiety, and perhaps we might be better served by exploring what feels good.

It’s generally accepted that some women enjoy vaginal stimulation by finger, penis, or sex toy. Just as it’s understood that some women are turned on by clitoral, anal, breast, or other stimulation. We’re often encouraged by women’s magazines and self-help markets to focus on specific areas (G-spots, clitoris, or anal penetration), so we miss the excitement that can be experienced from exploring the whole body and combinations of erogenous zones—for example, enjoying vaginal penetration alongside clitoral stimulation. Rather than arguing over G-spots, perhaps the best thing science can responsibly do is remind women to explore all opportunities for pleasure.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Youth In Revolt

O Michael Cera. You play the same awkward, lovesick nerd in every movie and yet you still somehow manage to keep it fresh. Youth In Revolt (based on the novels of C. D. Payne) isn't a fantastic movie but it is quite fun and entertaining. Like previous Cera big screen forays, Miguel Arteta's Youth In Revolt wears its indie rock hipster cred firmly on the sleeve of its vintage t-shirt with ironic iron-on decal.

Nerdy teenager Nick Twisp longs to lose his virginity but all the signifiers of his hipper than hip tastes (Fellini films, Frank Sinatra records, vintage shirts and too short pants) keep tripping him up with the girls from his Oakland high school. When his mother's (Designing Women's Jean Smart) current live-in boyfriend Jerry (Zach Galifianakis) crosses a trio of sailors with a shady used car deal, the family packs it up to stay in a conservative Christian trailer park in Ukiah until things blow over. Here Nick meets the flirtatious, bright and pretty francophile Sheeni Saunders (played by newcomer Portia Doubleday) whose tastes and knowledge of film and music rival his own. Unsurprisingly, Nick falls madly in lust and love.

The hitch comes when Jerry, with Estelle Twisp, Nick, and a dilapidated trailer in tow, returns to Oakland. The two young lovers plot their reunion through a series of what-if's: Nick's unemployed, sex-addicted, status-loving father George (Steve Buscemi) gets a job in Ukiah and Nick somehow manages to convince his mom Estelle, who depends on the child support to eat, to let him live with George. "You have to be bad," Sheeni counsels Nick. And so is born Francois Dillinger.

Nick's supplemental personality Francois, a hybrid of Sheeni's avowed longing for a bad boy French lover and Nick's own distorted vision of what the cool guy should be, provides Cera a novel angle from which to showcase his stammer-y, rabbit-in-the-headlights chops. Francois (complete with bad boy moustache) encourages Nick to do all kinds of things, from blowing up downtown Berkeley to uttering such ridiculous lines as "I want to tickle your belly button... from the inside," in an escalating bid to finally bed Sheeni.

Youth in Revolt is helped out immensely by a strong, funny supporting cast. The aforementioned Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, and Zach Galifianakis are all amusingly repulsive as the flawed adults in Nick's life. Ray Liotta is menacing and grotesque as Officer Lance Wescott, Estelle's new live-in boyfriend after he consoles her upon delivering news of Jerry's death by heart attack and then never leaves. The one truly supportive adult presence in Nick's life is Mr. Ferguson played spot-on by veteran funny guy Fred Willard. His rescue of Nick and Vijay (Adhir Kalyan, last seen by yours truly playing assistant Timmy to David Spade on the unfunny CBS sit-com Rules of Engagement) after a 200 mile road trip to see Sheeni at boarding school, resulting in Vijay getting some from Sheeni's avowedly loose roommate and Nick stopped just short of finally getting the tip in with the aid of Francois' smooth talk, is a truly knee slapping, laugh out loud moment. Justin Long also induces a few laughs as Sheeni's older brother Paul, a cool guy drug user with oracular powers who helps Nick while stealing George's comely young girlfriend (Ari Graynor).

As I said before, Youth In Revolt traffics in all the same conceits we've grown accustom to in a Michael Cera film. The soundtrack is crowded with indie and hipster-approved tracks, the wardrobes were obtained by laboriously scouring through vintage re-sale shops, and the youth deliver lines full of adult spunk and wit. Unlike say Juno, which suffered from wise beyond her years cracks from Ellen Page seeming at times forced, Youth In Revolt is inspired by Nick's love of Italian masterpieces by Fellini et al and Sheeni's devotion to French cinema and Belmondo. The dialogue is steeped in important, deep, and passionate thoughts as imagined by hormonal, lower-middle class teens who turn their noses up at anything made after 1977.

Youth In Revolt is charming and quirky if familiar territory. But there's a reason you keep that old ugly sweater and ask mom to make her meatloaf every time you go home. Michael Cera has carved out a niche as a character actor playing the same nervous, mumbly, lovelorn underdog. I loved him on Arrested Development and you can be sure I'll see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Fans of the genre will surely be pleased. We're not seeing anything new from Michael Cera ('cept the 'stache) but, then again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Who the f**k is Pinback?

Greetings! This blog is addressed to all of you who use Pandora. Have you been blitzed in the last week or so by Pinback tracks on your indie rock stations? They have turned up in heavy rotation on 3 of my stations (the xx, the pains of being pure at heart, the temper trap). I haven't thumbs up'd any track because they aren't godawful but leave me more or less meh. I'm curious if Pandora is staging a micro-marketing campaign to hype these guys ahead of their announced forthcoming album due in 2010 on Temporary Residence Ltd.

I'm not exactly sure I would be opposed to such targeting at this point. However, I am getting a little annoyed with the frequency with which these guys are popping up in my rotations. I'm tempted to hit thumbs down next time just to get some relief. A Pinback track has come around every 4 to 5 songs it seems.

So let me know surfers! Are you experiencing a Pinback forcefeed? Do you know if Pandora inks these kinds of promotion deals with record labels? It would be something awful if Pandora became just another Clear Channel chasing revenue in the name of profitability and at the expense of listeners.


I am not shilling for either Pinback or Temporary Residence Ltd. Or Pandora for that matter.