“I’ve seen how democracy is under duress,
But I’ve never seen a nipple in the Daily Express.”
(John Cooper Clarke)

Tabloids’ indiscriminate muckraking produces a telling mash-up of porn and politics. Both embody the workings of power, and power requires a dynamic between have/have not.The problem of porn is its insistence on a retro-futurism of inequality at odds with our PC present. As Peep Shows contributor I. Q. Hunter argues, porn is “utopian science fiction, in whose imaginary ‘pornotopia’ the sexes converge, feminism did not take place, and women want what men want to do to them.”

 

Peep Shows runs a leather gauntlet between academics who want to find the good in porn’s perverse dystopia, and its producers/consumers who don’t really know what all the fuss is about. “Please keep in mind that not all appears as it really is. After all, it’s only the movies…” porn star & director Veronica Hart warns in the Forward, setting the scene for ambiguity. What also becomes clear is that both ‘cult’ and ‘the cine-erotic’ (AKA porn), are not qualities inherent in films but in the reading of them. Confusingly, this is an academic discourse about the least intellectual of cultural forms, with a pheromonal whiff of farce. The articles that make up Peep Shows imply a level of detachment needed to stop you from falling into porn’s many traps (misogyny, exploitation, passive consumerism, even pleasure).

It’s interesting that only one contributor admits to wanking off to the analytical subject (I. Q. Hunter, in Peep Shows’ best article). Hunter attempts the impossible; “analyzing a porn film for its own sake as a meaningful aesthetic object.” His study of Kubrick parody A Clockwork Orgy (!) battles with the conflicting urge to consume the film as a critical ‘interpreter’ and as a (porn) ‘user’, or more bluntly, a thinker and a wanker. One comes naturally, so to speak, the other requires more effort.

Taken as a whole, Peep Shows suggests culture is a cycle rather than a continuum: keep on going after the artiest fartiest stuff and you get back to the trash. Chapters on avant-garde directors Stephen Sayadian, Joe D’Amato and Catherine Breillat, as well as camp re-readings of sex/dyke-sploitation argue convincingly that porn is produced and consumed with not only a hand wedged down the pants but a tongue firmly in the cheek too, and it is this ‘meta-porn’ aesthetic that makes it subversive.

This is a body of work about the body at work that stretches the genre of porn to breaking point. From sexploitation farces to Sadean BDSM and the laws attempting to clamp this sweaty mass together, porn refuse to be unambiguous. What emerges is a political manifesto that refuses to condemn to ignominy anything that seems bankrupt or unpalatable. Gary Needham’s statement about disco’s gay pre-history should be applied to all aspects of trash culture: something “to be continually reclaimed, rediscovered, canonized for its inspirational models of life.” This is the hard work that follows the easy wank.

Peep Shows: Cult Film and the Cine-Erotic. (2012). Edited by Xavier Mendik. is published by Wallflower Press. London & New York. http://cup.columbia.edu/distributedpress/0

Book Review by Vienna Famous

Secret Diary of a Former Failed Celebrity: viennafamous.wordpress.com

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