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on Porn Parodies and Fanfiction…

AvX porn parody

Hmm, now here’s something that I really kinda want feedback on but I wonder how many people are going to be willing to comment given the subject matter. Ah well… lets see. Let’s talk about geek porn!

A few weeks back, I tweeted that I was watching porn or academic research but that it was totally 100% legit really, I swear. Obviously, I did that for humor value, even though it was true, I really was looking things up for academic research. I never really went into many details at the time. I was reading Jeffrey A. Brown’s Dangerous Curves, where he talks about the construction of the female action hero in film (and comics) and he makes a comparative argument to the way female characters are constructed in pornography, particularly genre-heavy softcore porno. He made some really good points, that I didn’t really get that far into at the time. I just thought it was a funny observation so I tweeted it and moved on with my life, reading other stuff about geek culture and comics (a lot of which I have talked about here).

Now I’m reading another book, Playing Fans: Negotiating Fandom and Media in the Digital Age by Paul Booth and I’ve returned to another discussion about porn. Booth has a whole chapter devoted to porn parodies wherein he makes an argument connecting them to fan fiction created by the geek community. This is an extension of the argument that I talked about a couple days ago. In fact, he argues that porn parodies basically are fanfic that is just highly produced:

Porn parodies depict that sexuality within novel and (often) humorous mockeries of mainstream movies and television shows. Previous research has examined soft-core pornographic parodies as ready-made cult products, paratexts, and intertexts capitalizing on the popularity of mainstream films and television. Discourse from the porn industry itself characterizes porn parodies as a type of fan film; as Tessa Stuart writes, they “are called parodies for legal purposes, but they’re really closer to erotic fanfiction.” Arguing that porn parodies are more about the costumes, sets, and characters than they are about the sex, Stuart quotes parody director Axel Braun: “‘ I’m basically making fan films with boobs,’ he says. ‘I’m making them primarily for people who don’t like porn, for people who are fans of the source material.’”(126-127)

His reasoning behind this is that porn (and fanfic), in their attempt to play to the base sexual fantasies of their audience (and honestly, probably their creators as well), “positions sexuality as the most relevant cultural aspect of the media, running counter to what traditional mainstream media texts depict. What mainstream media texts elide, porn makes obvious. By depicting sexuality and sexual acts pervading mainstream media, pornography comments on the nature of sex in popular culture” (126). because “pornography depicts some of the most basic human acts but in the most ideologically constructed way possible. It is fake reality, hard-core hegemony. The sex becomes, as David Andrews discusses, a spectacle on a par with Hollywood-style musical numbers” (127-128). He points out that porn parodies come in three basic subgenres: reappropriated footage spliced into to extant media (we can ignore this one for this conversation), comedic parody (which mocks the original text for humor value) and “serious parody (which tends to treat the parodied text as sacrosanct)” (125-126).

It’s the “serious parody” that Booth is focusing on and which is intriguing me right now as I think it probably has the strongest relationship to the fandom text. Again, I’m not really a big fan fiction guy. but my experience with it is that a great deal (I don’t know if it’s most… but most that I’ve seen) isn’t really trying to “make fun” of the canon text, but instead insert into it. Technical writing skill of the fan-author aside, it has been my experience that whether the text is an attempt to depict a further adventure of the characters that the canon text doesn’t cover (What was Neville doing at Hogwarts all that time during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows?) or it is a view into the imagined sexual encounters that cannot fit into the canon-proper (the erotic coupling of Draco and Snape!), fanfic seems to WANT to be taken seriously, even if it is comedic. That is, it wants to be “good.”

Anyway, this got me thinking about the comments I made in my review of the Killing Joke film yesterday. I talked about how, in the original book, the raping of Barbara Gordon is omitted. This is probably likely for reasons of taste. The book was already by FAR pushing the boundaries of what was sexually acceptable for a comic book in 1988 and showing the rape in any detail would have been read as incredibly gratuitous and even more sexually disparaging to the character and agency of Barbara than the book already was. Since it isn’t her story, this sort of works in context. In the film version, since Batgirl has been expanded to ostensibly be the main character (at least for part of it) it seems a little weirder. And I understand the reluctance to show a rape in a DC cartoon, even an R-rated one, but It especially seems weird that they they pan away from her consensual sexual encounter with Batman earlier in the film, especially given how hard the film seems to be working to say “hey look at me. I’m Rated R! We’re dark and gritty! That’s why Batgirl and Batman are fucking in the first place!”

Joker rapes BatgirlBUT it turns out that there is Batman porn parody called The Dark Knight XXX (by the aforementioned Axel Braun), because… of course there is. Before you go checking it out, understand that it is totally NSFW (duh!). So, you know… totally in the name of research… I just watched it. It’s kind of an odd film because it doesn’t really parody a specific Batman story…. not the Dark Knight movie and not the graphic novel. It’s sort of an amalgamation of Batman stories. They’re not “original.” They’re moments of “you know, I bet there was really some sex in this classic Batman moment and if I had to guess it went sort of like this.” And so, it turns out that among other things, the film adapts the rape of Barbara Gordon from the Killing Joke. There are some liberties taken. The Joker is clearly modeled after Heath Ledger’s interpretation rather than Brian Bolland’s drawings and Barbara appears in costume as Batgirl  rather than as a civilian as she (rather than Batman) is rescuing her kidnapped father. This becomes odd, because in a sense, she almost has more agency than she has in the actual Killing Joke movie (and certainly more than she does in the graphic novel). Granted, it is quickly stripped away as the Joker humiliatingly rapes her in front of her father, in a scene clearly played for the male gaze. But, care has been taken to make the sex in this scene feel traumatic. It is clearly a rape and not just sex. Sure, there’s probably porn fans that will not distinguish, but Braun is clearly TRYING to present his own faithful interpretation of the characters here. It’s disturbing… and it’s clearly supposed to be.

Jean Grey & Emma Frost by Garrett Blair

Jean Grey & Emma Frost by Garrett Blair

Obviously, not all parodies (professionally or amateur) are taken that seriously. Some clearly are intended to be ridiculous and probably most of the sexual ones are clearly just intended to be hot. A look at deviantArt shows me that a great deal of the drawings of superheroes and super heroines having sex are just that… some guy thought “hey, people have always wanted to jack off to Jean Grey and Emma Frost dry humping, so I’m drawing it! Awesome huh?” And I’m actually fine with those. There’s a sense of artistry in there and a cultural statement as well. It is a view into that persons view of sexuality intermixed with geek media. Hell, I’ve even done it with my cosplay photography before. My picture of Hermoine Granger hints at a theoretical story, but certainly plays off of the hypersexualized fake-reality that Booth talks about.

HermoineSo, what I guess I’m wondering is, what are people’s views on porn parody. I’m wondering about video as well as fanfic and even just random drawings. Is there a purpose beyond “oh my god, I want to see Batgirl and the Joker fuck because SO HOT!!!!”? Is there something to be said critically for the literary interpretations of a scene like that. Is there an actual statement that you are invested in when you read about the sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock in slash fiction? Is it just nice to get lost in an alternate take on a story with characters that you love? Or is it all simply “look, I’m a geek and I like masturbating so give me what I need?”

 

16 comments for “on Porn Parodies and Fanfiction…

  1. avatar
    August 4, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    1. Yes. There’s always something to be said for the literary/critical interpretations for what such a reading tells us about ourselves. That doesn’t mean the text needs to have “value.”

    2. I don’t think I can answer any of your other questions with anything other guesses, but I would ask…if the porn is “well produced” just how many studios make such porn?

    The ideologies and how they’re presented from, say some young adults making cosplay porn somewhere in San Francisco might be markedly different than what Hustler or Vivid or whoever….

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      1) Oh, I totally agree. (I mean, obviously… that’s why we do this).

      There’s a couple levels here. There’s both the close reading of the actual scene, much like any other text. What is the artist saying with with a scene where a superhero is captured and explicitly raped by a super villain. This is especially interesting given that it’s a line that the canon texts are extremely loathe to cross (something I’m kicking around for an actual paper right now… actually… rape appears to be verboten for super villains. Murder… even genocide can be dealt with, but rape is too far).

      But also, from an extra textual level, what is the attraction for the viewer to watching the verboten material. I’d say that there appears to be a level beyond simple masturbatory fantasy. Certainly that’s a large part of it, but the parody subgenres of porn are popular enough that there must be something that builds value to the viewer beyond just sexual titilation. There must be value in subverting the standard story into something more perverse. Otherwise, why do it?

      2) Are you asking me how many porn studios exist? I have no idea. But there clearly appear to be about 3 or 4 big ones that actually have the capital and the technical skill to make films with actually production value. There are certainly parodies that come from the lesser ones too… but they don’t match up. I mean, sex aside, no one would confuse the quality of the Dark Knight XXX film i mentioned with an actual Disney or Warner Brother’s release, but they’re definitely on par, or even exceeding what is done with many very successful Cannes/Sundance level indy flicks. I mean, even without going to watch the movies themselves, look at the still and the poster attached to this post.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      2. I’d argue that a limited number of producers with that kind of capital is relevant to your questions. I’m just trying to push your thinking here about what these representations are and how they get made.

      Because (as I probably learned from Angela Carter) this field of inquiry is likely to be one that exposes power in multiple ways.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:27 pm

      in what sense? I’m not disagreeing. I can just think of about five different ways to interpret what you just said off of the top of my head and I’m wondering specifically what YOU mean by it.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      Oh no. Use all five. Including those generated by the puns.

      bell hooks style with the intersectionality.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      hahaha…. fair, but I’m still curious to hear more what you were thinking

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      Sigh. As a theorist, I’m a Marxist with a heavy does of Feminism and a deep interest in Affect Theory.

      So…

  2. avatar
    August 4, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    It makes me wonder if there exists a porn “parody” better done and more faithful to the source text than a “proper” movie adaptation.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      I don’t know. I mean, I’m not exactly a connoisseur. I do know that there’s a move called Pirates that has pretty good production value beyond some theatrical releases. Supposedly it is the (or one of the) most expensive pornographic films ever produced.

      It’s not really a true parody of Pirates of the Caribbean (storyline is completely different) but it clearly is riffing off that aesthetic and came out in its wake. But they certainly can’t keep up with the power of the Disney machine.

      I expect in some less CGI-heavy/fantastic porn fare (either original stories or parodies of simple sitcoms or television dramas) you can at least hit something on par with the original production value pretty cheaply. I mean, it doesn’t take a lot of technical ability to film something like Friends. In these cases, I imagine the acting ability is more the stumbling block.

  3. avatar
    August 4, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    So I’m thinking about this and I am wondering if, while there are commonalities to porn parodies and fanfic, they are actually the same thing. I don’t think I quite agree that they are, although they are both responses to something in the original text.

    They’re both, to a certain extent, responses to where the original text stops or elides — that I would agree with — but part of why I think they differ is that fanfic tends to shift the lens more, if that makes sense. That porn parody, in my limited experience, is not interested in changing the default view from the normative male gaze — whereas in fanfiction, this is often at least as much of the point as any sex that happens to be in there.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:34 pm

      Yes. Who makes it matters. Exactly.

    • avatar
      August 4, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Agreed. And again, I’m not a connoisseur of either. So, unlike with comics, I’m working with extremely limited datasets of my own.

      But he APPEARS to be arguing that the films he is interested in (What he calls serious parodies as opposed to what he calls comedic parodies) are attempts to extend beyond the simple fantasy angle of the male gaze and into trying to deconstruct sex on a deeper level within the confines of appreciating and extending fandom (larger argument throughout the whole book). And he mentions porn parodies titles that at least *sound* like they’re not necessarily heteronormative.

      That said, his primary sample film in the chapter is Star Wars XXX, which I have seen and totally IS a heteronormative male gaze playing film.

      So yeah… I’m pretty torn on his argument in exactly this capacity.

      I’m not so sure he’s super concerned with differences in gender (this isn’t something he talks about a lot at all throughout the book) so much as subcultures. He ties a lot of his analysis towards Hebdige. So that’s the angle that he’s going for… and I get it… I even think the link is there for what he’s saying about the function of the works (fanfic or porn parody) being to extend the hegemonic power of the group OUTWARD rather than inward. But tying the two things together seems like a marriage of convenience more than anything else.

      I mean, gamers and comic book fans are subcultures that can be viewed together, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing.

      Oh, also… I think you specifically would really like this book. It’s extremely academic in tone, but I think you’d be pretty interested in his argument for better or worse.

  4. avatar
    August 4, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    So I’ve now finished the chapter. He does sort of address some of the things that Les Kay and Laura Valentine asked about. More Laura’s concerns than Les’s.

    In specific, there is a subchapter that goes directly into slash fiction specifically that builds on some of her concerns regarding the differences in common author gender and perceived audience and purpose:


    Slash, as a predominantly female-authored genre, represents the tensions inherent within patriarchal culture and rejects the notion “that gender roles are fixed and predetermined and embrace[ s] the idea that sexuality can be fluid and filled with various erotic possibilities.” In this scholarly view, slash represents empowerment and denotes the creation of a queer space for rereading mainstream media texts. The men in slash reject society’s customs, participating in the “more fluid and less restrictive” relationships that traditionally women have had. 49 According to this type of slash discourse, slash writes outside the hierarchical restrictions of mainstream society (Booth 133-134)

    Of course there’s more, but that’s a pretty good excerpt. He appears to be clearly aware of Laura’s issue about the differences and goes on to quote and analyze a bunch of scholars on fanfic (and slash specifically) to sort of situate himself. He goes on to basically conclude what I speculated he was going before. That while he sees a distinction between the specifics of what slash and porn parody are doing, his primary interest is in how they work to destabilize societal norms of sexuality, albeit with different end goals.

    In his view, “porn parody works simply because it is making a statement about something media-savvy audiences are already aware of: the hypersexualization of our culture. Similarly, slash fiction works simply because it is making a statement about the heteronormativity of mainstream culture” (149).

    I’m not sure that’s the conclusion Laura would come to, but that’s where he seems to be setting his argument.

    He’s less clear on the issue I think Les was getting at, the power differential of the greater access and capital that a million dollar porn studio run by and targeting heater-male viewers has vs. the single female slash author writing for women in her living room. In fact, he sort of hand waves it away, since it isn’t really part of his argument. That is, he seems to be suggesting that the point of both is to transgressively destabilize the normative views of sex of mainstream culture by the subculture. The class differential just isn’t as important to him as the subcultural divide. Neither is the gender one.

    But it does seem somewhat problematic to make that lumping. You both make particularly compelling points that probably should be delved into deeper and could probably strengthen his argument just as easily as it could weaken it if he’d just address it. I imagine the lack of doing so is probably because the focus of the book as a whole isn’t on investigating the fan produced media (though that’s what I’ve been finding most interesting) as much as it is in investigating how fan subcultures interact with the media they engage around.

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