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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Amateur vs. Professional
In my seminar on New Media this semester, I've realized that the distinction between amateur and professional pornography -- as well as the latter's incentive to craft products that seem amateur -- provides a useful point of entry for discussing a whole range of issues, from user-generated content to reality television to the nature of selfhood in the era of social networking. I'm even tempted to say that, had there been no amateur pornography, New Media scholars would have been forced to invent it.

Needless to say, the fact that the distinction between amateur and professional pornography is so helpful proves problematic in a classroom setting, where -- with the exception of a very limited number of cases, such as the courses Linda Williams has taught on the subject -- the topic can be discussed but not tackled directly. That's why I find today's interview between San Francisco Chronicle sex columnist Violet Blue and Bay Area porn actress Lorelei Lee so intriguing. In this case, the words that can be spoken do an able job of standing in for the film that can't be shown:
B: How does a performer distinguish between sex work and sex-not-for-work?

LL: I think every sex worker has a different idea about the answer to this question — people seem to have very individualized physical and emotional boundaries and processes of compartmentalization. Some people choose to only perform certain acts on camera, in order to save something for their personal lives or for their significant others. Some women I know who primarily date men decide to only have sex with women on camera. Some women I know who primarily date women, decide to only have sex with men on camera.

Personally, I don't choose to draw that line in terms of physical acts, but rather, I have an emotional boundary between work sex and personal sex. That is, work sex, for me, is not an intimate experience. I don't choose to become vulnerable or emotionally open while I'm having sex at work. I enjoy having sex at work, and I often have affectionate feelings for the people I work with — many of them are my good friends — but I don't expect them to react to me in a vulnerable or emotionally intimate way and I don't react to them in a vulnerable or emotionally intimate way.

I'm not sure that I have good advice about how to do this, because I do think that strategies for this are entirely individual, but I also think it comes back to the importance of remembering what you will and won't get from a day at work. You will get a certain kind of attention for a limited amount of time and you are likely to get an intense physical experience. You are far less likely to get that attention for any extended period of time or to develop a romantic and/or emotionally intimate relationship with your co-workers. Even though you are having sex with some of the people you work with, you are still likely (perhaps advisedly, considering the prospects of your continued employment) to have a somewhat formal working relationship with them.
I'm wondering, in reflecting on comments like the ones Lee makes here, whether the appeal of amateur pornography is not simply a result of our craving for reality, but also -- the word "dialectical" seems hard to resist here -- a testament to our desire to forget the work of sex, whether it's performed for money or not. After all, it takes effort to make even truly amateur pornography, just as it does to produce any cultural artifact. But the pleasure we derive from it, as well as other content imbued with the aura of the amateur, seems to be grounded on the fantasy that it's possible to produce without working, at least in the sense that a market-driven economy defines work. We don't just crave reality per se, but a reality in which production and consumption bypass the circuits of capital. And we're willing to buy into the illusion that such a detour is possible to such an extent that commodities like professionally produced amateur pornography are the hottest thing going.

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3 comments or Leave a comment
bitterlawngnome From: bitterlawngnome Date: April 25th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I wonder what it says that, surprisingly often, people expect me to be able to photograph them AND have Intimate Congress with them at the same time?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: April 25th, 2008 03:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It seems to be a common fantasy, even if most people don't acknowledge it as a fantasy. My class has also focused, though less than in my previous two seminars, on the "documentary impulse" that drives people to record their lives for later consumption. I wonder whether the desire to exert symbolic dominion over time -- reliving what can't, strictly speaking, be relived -- isn't also connected to the economic questions that surface in the preference for "amateur" content.
bitterlawngnome From: bitterlawngnome Date: April 25th, 2008 03:55 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It's not obvious to me what the motivation is. Is it that they both want to have sex, and end up with photos of themselves having sex? Or the end product is the goal? Or the photography is an excuse to have sex? Or the photography is a kind of having sex? Or the sex is a payment for the photography? or any of a dozen other possibilities.
I'm not sure about the documentary/consumption idea. Isn't the photo a separate entity or event in itself apart from the moment that created it? I think "memento" snapshots are only the simplest level at which people make pictures.
3 comments or Leave a comment