This post is about the internet. It begins with an anecdote about me and a stripper named Pandora. You may have heard this one before:
When we were seniors in college, we drove from New York to New Orleans by way of Graceland and the Waffle House. We spat in the Mississippi. Anyway one night we sat in the back of our first strip club and laughed nervously away from the men who stared hard out of their faces. Then Pandora came on. She came on to "Go! Speed Racer." She looked right at me as she licked her armpit and I kind of made a face like that was a funny thing to do to lick your armpit and then she smiled like yeah I guess it is. I thought that somehow that exchange gave the two of us the color and shape of real 3D humans in a room full of sad bodies sick for disconnection. Naive maybe, but a strip club is a good place not to be used to. I went up to give her the best tip I could afford on the condition that she give me a high five. Which she did.
NOW: On the internet there is a site for hipsters called VBS TV (of which Spike Jonze is "creative director"). And on that site there is a series called "Shot By Kern" which features short videos of former underground filmmaker and current erotic photographer Richard Kern (whose resume includes a Sonic Youth video) shooting naked ladies intercut with interviews of the models. There is a three part interview with porn star Sasha Grey (I won't link to it as I'm not too sure about what Google allows content-wise, but do go if you're interested and don't mind the nudity).
Sasha, who will turn 20 (!) in a couple weeks, is smart, articulate, and ostensibly not horribly damaged by abuse or abandonment. She talks about her love for Godard and Herzog, of forming a union for pornworkers, and clarifies the question of whether she is a "self-proclaimed existentialist." She considers porn work to be a combination of performance art and athletics. On her blog (also on VBS), she signs off with "Lotta Continua," which I had to google to learn means "the struggle continues" and is the name of an Italian radical leftist group. Intrigued, I went to see if she had a wikipedia page which she does. There I learned that she had a 3.8 GPA in high school. On her myspace page, her "top friends" include avant-garde filmmakers Harmony Korine, John Cassavetes, and RW Fassbinder ... as well as the Criterion Collection and Joy Division. Under "Who I'd like to meet" she includes NPR's Terry Gross.
There's a lot of porn on the internet and maybe just maybe I've stumbled across some of it once or twice when I was innocently searching for a recipe on how to cook chicken breast. But it occurs to me that this same crazy massive instrument can be just as much an instrument of subjectification as it is of objectification. Certainly the ratio of body parts to fun facts is skewed to the seedy side, but if I had (hypothetically) looked at Sasha Grey before, I will (hypothetically) never look at her in quite the same way. This is no justification. I understand that being curious about the personalities of naked women doesn't license my own or anyone's contribution to the Male Gaze that X-Rays its way through the outerwear of gender equity. Nothing is undone with high fives or cursory websearching. But soaked as surfers are in images of oppression ... not so bad if expression washes up in a bottle with a message in it.