My Favourite – Art Films

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Persona

The art house cinema finds its definition, firstly, in how its main imperative is the need to achieve expressive merit… as opposed to entertainment value or commercial gain. That is not say that art films cannot, like high concept Hollywood, provide entertainment sustenance, but this is secondary to the aim of the continuous re-invention of what the cinematic form can be. As a result, the art house film is less easy to define, in some respects, than genre cinemas that have aesthetic and narrative specificities.

So art house cinemas are perhaps best approached in terms of creative history and film movements.  What constitutes an art film movement? Arguably the first art filmmakers were the Russian formalists. A group, mostly known by the works of Sergei Eisenstein, who helped re-invent film form via the utilisation of the ‘edit’. Soviet films like Strike and Battleship Potemkin, cinematic weaponry in service of the Soviets, employed editing techniques designed specifically for audience manipulation (it is worth noting that all forms of cinema have to degrees, employed their editing techniques ever since). Unlike previous cinemas, that imitated theatre techniques simply to ‘tell the story’, these films sliced shots together to ‘build a picture’.

It may seem obvious to us now, because we are so literate in cinematic language, but the early cinemas began by simply training the camera onto the subject or object and rolling the film. The camera was, then, a conduit for the ‘theatre spectator’. Eisenstein and his mates went their own way. They cut up the film reel and glued the shots back together into formed sequences. Instead of just watching the Tsarists forces crushing the proles,  those scenes are spliced into shots of a bull being slaughtered. Two different events, no literal relationship, montaged together, and you have a new meaning. And because this is an incredibly insidiously emotive methodology, you can manipulate your audience into making them feel what you want them to feel. Often, and eventually, so subtly, that the don’t even know it is happening.

Spend any time at all consuming not only films, but advertisements, music videos even party political broadcasts, with this history in mind, and you will realize that Sergei and the Formalists have a lot to answer for.

So on the one hand, art film is about recreating what the form can do (which can then be later assimilated into commercial culture) but it is also about recreating, re-evaluating, how we view the world, people, relationships. Not simply a mode for telling dramatic tales, but for exploring the nature of storytelling itself. Not simply a method for introducing characters, but for investigating what it means to be a character, or human more generally.

David Bordwell suggests that art cinema follows the modernist literature of the 20th century in this respect. Makes sense, like time wise, and stuff. The author creates protagonists that are psychologically complex and stories which may not achieve a simplistic resolution. However unlike the author’s pen, the auteur utilizes the ‘camera pen’.

Influenced by the previous decade’s Italian neorealists, and Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, members of the French New Wave, such as Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, wanted to move away from literary adaptations to realize the cinema as an art form in its own right. Not simply another way of telling old stories or bringing the theatre to the screen.

The New Wave’s work, in films such as Godard’s Breathless – an art house cult classic if there ever was one – and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, proved influential to the High Modernists of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Auteurs such as Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bergman created films that can be seen as the paragons of the art cinema. Bergman in particular, with his mode of high seriousness and philosophical inquisition, and Fellini with verbose tales of Italian society, sexuality and hypocrisy, were indeed the grand masters of the art cinema. Like the Hemingways and Scott-Fitzgeralds of literature, they weaved their creative worlds, employing distinctive styles recognizable across a body of work.

Since then, the auteur and the art house have been near inseparable. In the 1980s, this was as broad as Peter Greenaway’s theatre of debauchery and colour in films such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, David Lynch’s surrealism in Blue Velvet, and Kieslowski theology in Dekalog.

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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

In 1995, however, a group of Danish filmmakers, established The Vow of Chastity, a new set of rules for a new brand of filmmaking. The Dogme ’95 manifesto’s precepts included sole use of 35mm, on location shooting and handheld camera use,  and, importantly, a lack of film credit for the director. However, although it sought to disavow the auteur as the harbinger of the work, its proponents, particularly Lars von Trier, were nonetheless strongly associated with the manifesto’s creative vision. His first film associated with the movement, The Idiots, based on a group of people who play act idiocy and instigate impulsive orgies, helped forge Trier’s reputation as a cinematic provocateur par excellence.

In the last twenty years, directors like Iranian Akira Kiarostami (with films such as Ten, set entirely within a woman’s car) and Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-Liang (with a film like Vive L’Amour, containing very longs sequences often totally devoid of dialogue) have continue to push the cinematic envelope.

The movements of cinematic art are, however, far from concise. Its influence has proven discursive, as art house cinema’s influence can be distinctly seen in the larger Hollywood productions.  The indomitable Quentin Tarantino named his production company, A Band Apart, after the youthful Godard film of the same name, and Tim Burton’s aesthetic can be clearly traced back to the German expressionism of the 1920s. If you want to see Burton’s roots, watch The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.

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The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

 

At the risk of over-simplification, then, art house is less a set of distinct visual and narrative specifications than it is the result of creative desire. The desire to constantly re-form and re-create what the medium can be and do. Like many artistic forms, then, the periphery is always one step ahead of the centre; the art films often (but not always) precede in style the more commercial films that are influenced by them. But it’s far from a one-way street. Head back to the New Wave and you’ll see a set of art house directors heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker who displayed with finesse a personal style that long outlasted the commercial considerations of the then film studios.

Five of my Favourites

F.W Murnau Nosferatu (1922)

Often cited as the first vampire film, Nosferatu was, in fact, preceded by several other films now out of print and lost to the cultural consciousness – and almost itself disappeared. F.W Murnau’s German Expressionist classic was almost destroyed when the courts ruled it an unauthorized adaptation of the Stoker novel.With its stark chiaroscuro lighting and oblique, gothic style, Nosferatu embodies the art film’s potential for visual creativity as a representation of psychological realism. In this case, the psychology is the fear of the seductive capabilities of the dreaded other/unknown.

 

Jean luc godard, Breathless (1960)

 

Godard’s most well regarded film by both critics and audiences, Breathless ranks in the British Film Institutes poll of films as the best work by a still living director. Despite its art film status, Breathless utilizes some of the themes and tropes of the Hollywood gangster and film noir genres. Michel Poiccard, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, is on the run from the Parisian law after shooting a police officer.  Caddish, charming and whimsical, he refuses to leave the country for Italy, until Patricia, American Jean Seberg, leaves with him.The genre narrative is painted in a unique and creative style; Breathless is an example of jump cutting and fourth wall breaking interspersed with long and languorous conversations between the two title players. In this way, the film is a good example of the cross roads between art and entertainment cinema.

 

Ingmar Bergman, Persona (1966)

 

An ideal specimen of an art house picture if there ever was one, Persona is one of the most critically acclaimed of the Swedish directors oeuvre. David Bordwell specifies complex psychology as of major importance in art film and this Ingmar Bergman has it in bucket loads.A nurse and an actress come together in a beach house when the actress, Liv Ullman, relinquishes her power of speech. The nurse, Bibi Andersson, becomes enchanted by the muteness of the actress and, corrupted by the intensity of the circumstance, falling into a desperate desire for a contact that is unrequited. Identities merge whilst surrealist and horror imagery abounds. Persona is, then, as much a tale of the lady vampire, as it is of psychosomatic degradation, borne of the inevitable loneliness of being.

 

Abbas Kiarostami, Ten (2002)

 

Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten is set entirely within a young Iranian woman’s car in the capital Tehran,  and is predicated around a set of ten conversations she – Mania – played by Mania Akbar, has with her passengers. In it, Mania talks with a friend, her sister, an old woman and a street prostitute she gives a lift. The conversations often considering  the role of women in modern Iran. Her young, quite belligerent son also makes several inclusions in the film, and as the only male, it is arguably the case that Kiarostami is making a statement about the petulance and selfish self-aggrandisement of masculine society.

Even if not (and it is for the spectator to decide), a female focused film with a meandering, loose narrative and tightly interiorized setting goes against the American commercial grain, with its preference for exterior, male driven, action heavy and ‘resolvable’ narratives’.

 

Lars von Trier, The Idiots (1998)

 

A controversial remedy to more saccharine or simplistic cinemas, The Idiots is perhaps one of Lars von Trier’s most tendentious pictures. Seemingly splitting the critics down the middle, The Idiots deals in the performance of disability by a group of bohemians.

Trier’s film is both the tracing of its protagonist’s social discomfort and their sense of being on the borderline of society – as it is also a political manifesto arguing against the exclusive nature of Capitalism’s purported ‘meritocracy.’

My Favourite – ‘International’ Cinema

Originally Published in the now defunct Subtitled Online


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Persepolis

International film, or world cinema, is largely a sort of genre category utilized by film distributors and retailers in Britain to designate non-British, Australasian and, more specifically, American produce. The category is loaded with notions of otherness and exoticism, political, racial and sexual complexity and, in many senses, the highbrow. In effect… international cinema holds a firm place in the populist, collective consciousness as inaccessible, designed for the subtle eye of the critical spectator and not for mass consumption, or ‘entertainment’.

In truth, many world cinemas, like Hollywood, have their own brands of majority produce, designed to satiate the audience’s most straight forward leisure needs. Bollywood, in India, is a notable example, for its gargantuan output of romantic musicals and historical epics. China also has a long history of family dramas and, of course, its martial arts Wuxia pictures, and Egypt was termed the ‘Hollywood on the Nile’ for its large yield of tragic, often female centred melodramas. These films are not, in the main, what immediately springs to mind when one considers ‘international cinema’. Often less exported and translated for the English speaking audiences, much of these various national cinemas are created for, and consumed by, the home audience. In this sense, then, no cinema is ‘foreign’ or ‘world’ until it is transported or translated. And that counts for Hollywood, too.

With that in mind, this introduction is mainly concerned with summarizing a diversity of international pictures currently absorbed by the English speaking audience in, most specifically, Britain. What carries a film here from Africa, Asia, the Middle East or the rest of Europe is dependent primarily on the funding capabilities of that particular nation. It will probably come as no surprise that Western European countries such as France and Germany have much greater financial muscle that many African countries, where little or no money for production and distribution is available.  Aligned with that, exhibition at film festivals, such as Cannes and Sundance, is often imperative in getting a film to reach a wider, international audience and thus engage critical notice. However, combined with marketing and distribution costs, entering films into festivals is an expensive business. Finance is one of the primary reasons why most audiences will have seen more Hollywood pictures then French pictures, and even discerning audiences will have seen more French or Chinese than African or Latin American pictures.

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All About My Mother

Western and Northern European cinema is often considered the apotheosis of cinema as ‘art form’ due to the reputation of past masters ranging from Vittorio De Sica, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky, if one wanders as far as Russia. However, long after these cinema deaths, the legacy of the European masters continues with the camp and burlesque melodramas of Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother, 1999), the often sexually bleak dramas of Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4 Ever, 2002), the controversial experiments of Lars von Trier (The Idiots, 1998) and the psychological thrillers of Michael Haneke (Funny Games, 1997).

Veer to the Middle East and cinema production seems to be most heavily concentrated, contemporarily, in Iran. In the last two decades, the country has been responsible for a plethora of both male and female cinema authors, dealing often in the socio-political tensions of the age, to critical acclaim. Abbas Kiarostami, in particular, established a strong reputation with acclaimed pictures such as A Taste Of Cherry (1997) and Ten (2002). Aligned with this, a high percentage of female filmmakers’ projects have been exported. Samira Makhamalbaf, for example, has told the stories of Iranian and Afghani women in films like Apple and At Five In The Afternoon (2003). These socio-realist films are also complemented by films like the internationally successful Persepolis (2003) by Marjane Strapi, a darkly comic look at a woman coming of age during the Iranian revolution.

As mentioned, African films have struggled to find finance and, as such, much of its international head rearing has been intermittent. In the Northern country Tunisia, Moufida Tlatli,  achieved a hugely positive critical reception with Silences Of The Palace (2004). The film, about servant women prostituted in a Bey palace, demonstrated the relationship women have with nation, as representatives of nation. Travel further south to Senegal and you will find two of Africa’s most well renowned directors. Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki, 1973) and Ousmane Sembene (Borom Sarret, 1963) both dealt, in their differing ways, with the social traditions and tensions of Senegal, the hierarchies and sexualities of its people, and the corruptions of government.

Into East Asian and an eclectic diversity of film practice. Park Chan-wook has cultivated an aura of brutal creativity with the martial artistic The Vengeance Trilogy (2002-2005) and the vampiric Thirst (2009). Much less brutal, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films are slow and idiosyncratic, using themes of nature, sexuality and spirituality, in pictures such as Blissfully Yours (2002) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang has been lauded for his brave employment of slowness and sparse dialogue in Vive l’Amour (1994) and What Time is It There? (2001).

Some Latin American works, in Mexico in particular, have amassed large, global audiences. Alejandro González Iñárritu gained popularity with, what could be called, ‘gritty’ and complex narratives, in Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003). After these films, Babel (2006) completed what has become known as his ‘Death Trilogy’ – a film that incurred Academy Award success and belongs in the pantheon of global narratives, telling its story in Japan, Morocco, Mexico and the USA. Outside of Mexico, Fernando Meirelles drew British attention to the early mortality of the gangsters of the Brazilian favelas in the hugely acclaimed, MTV style film  City Of God (2002).

What is evidenced from this brief compendium is the English speaking audience’s proclivity for International films with political narratives. The inequities between men and women, between rich and poor and, specifically in Tsai Ming-liang’s films, between heterosexual and homosexual, and the anxieties that arise as a result, are common across the films mentioned. However, if one were to watch all these films, what would also be evidenced are the vast differences in the aesthetic and narrative qualities across, and within, nations. There is a heterogeneous miscellany evidenced between East Asian brutality or slowness, Senegalese casual performance, Iranian social realism and Latin American MTV culture creativity.

So, as suggested, International or world cinema is not a coherent category, but exists in terms of its opposition to the national product, in the first sense, and the commercial product, in the second. Once they manage to surpass the financial difficulties, in particularly in the instances of the developing nations, their ability to capture an audience’s attention comes from their artistic, cinematic handling of human difficulties that are both specific to nation, as they are also, transcendental across place and time. The troubles of women in Tehran, recall the upheavals of the Western feminist revolutions, and the poverties of the urban classes of Brazil echo the kitchen sink realism of 1960s British cinemas, and the trials and traumas of the working classes detailed therein.

 

Five of my Favourites

Pedro Almodovar, All About My Mother (1999)

In many ways, the Spanish auteur’s most highly considered film, All About My Mother is often credited with being a goal post in Pedro Almodovar’s creative maturation. The film retains the kitsch camp of his earlier works, but extends itself more fully in to the melodramatic.In a sense the film is not simply all about the mother, but all about the feminine and the performative nature of contemporary women-hood in Spain.

 

Marjane Strapi, Persepolis (2007)

 

A modern animation classic if there ever was one, Marjane Strapi’s adaptation of her own autobiographical graphic novel helped translate the dilemmas and tensions of the Iranian Revolution to the wider audience.Helped along with the vocal talents of legendary French actor Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, Persepolis looks at the growth of girl torn between her country’s conservative values, and the more liberal values of her parents.

 

Moufida Tlatli, Silences Of The Palace (1994)

 

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Moufida Tlatli’s film, a rare success for the North African country, traverses the decade before and after colonial Tunisia.Young Alia (Hend Sabri) is the daughter of a servant in a Bey palace. Unable to receive any formal education, and watching her mother, Khedija (Amel Hedhili), having to submit to servitude and sexual exploitation, the future for Alia looks bleak. However, in this reflective film, there is an aura of optimism for the emancipation for, not just women, but women as emblems of the Tunisian nation.

 

Tsai Ming-Liang, The Wayward Cloud (2005)

 

Image result for wayward cloudCherry picked out from the Taiwanese director’s oeuvre to demonstrate the true eclecticism of foreign pictures, this tale of love in the pornographic age has the capability to shock (possibly rather, surprise) even the most blasé cinema spectator.Set amidst some outré musical numbers and set pieces, often involving watermelons, Tsai Ming-liang’s exercises his common themes of sexual, romantic and familial repression.

 

Fernando Meirelles, City Of God(2002)

 

A good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with non-Hollywood produce, this Brazilian film from Fernando Meirelles harnesses the visual techniques of the music video – in a similar style to Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie – to tell its tale of corruption and violence in the Brazilian slums.When other young men around him are turning to cocaine dealing and gun toting, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) has dreams of becoming a photographer to make his escape from poverty and early death.

Fat, And?

BigYoga

Let me confess. I am a bit of fatster these days. It feels like confessing to being a heroin addict or a dogger or a Trump supporter… but the funny thing is I genuinely don’t actually give much of a shitehorse about it. My anxieties and my feeling the need to ‘confess to fatness’ has a great deal more to do with the importance that other people place on ‘the fact’, rather than my own values or feelings. Like, having to ‘warn’ people about it before I meet them, or make jokes to relax their tensions when I eat a biscuit or watch television in my pajamas, or go swimming without my moo-moo.

Lets make no mistake, women’s cultural anxieties about being Fat relate hugely to our obsession with aggressively manipulating our bodies into suitable eye candy for masculinist voyeurs. Some people pretend it has to do with health, but I shall believe that when such people are as interested in insomnia, stress, work and financial pressures, air toxicity, povertous mental health provisions and the ramifications of abuse… as they are with the contents of women’s draws.

Being a woman makes you – or at least your exterior – public property. Being a fat woman, makes you public property that nobody wants or likes.

No, scratch that, many people love the existence of large women, because we provide a socially acceptable sounding board for other people’s anxieties or insecurities. A worthy object upon which they feel justified in dumping their pathological thirst for passive aggression. People actually  believe that they have the inalienable right to stand around and deliberate on your structural and aesthetic ‘flaws’, as though you were the living, female manifestation of The House That Jack Built.

And even if you have not even ventured an open dialogue about your waist band, and the ‘convo’ has been thrust upon you like a soggy nappy, there is still a pressure to be gracious about people’s ‘concerns’ or criticisms, lest you seem defensive or persnickety. As though your being unhappy with someone’s dissection of your form is some insight in to your own desperate unhappiness with it, rather than your fed-up-ness with being taken to be a problematic speck on other people’s otherwise fruity landscape.

Even people ‘trying to be kind’ fall foul, because they still are participating in a discourse that promotes the idea that women’s bodies are some kind of problem if something ‘beautiful’ or ‘admirable’ cannot be found about them. Such as those people who tell me I have a pretty face or nice coloured eyes or a good ‘rack’.

To these people I say, Stop. It. You are being about as subtle  as a set of novelty underpants… par exemple…

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Or those people who ‘helpfully’ recommend diet books or Fat Clubs. To them, I say, flat no. They don’t work, they make people miserable, they are naughty, naughty  fascistic bollocks by another name. Oh and they usually involve spending money and making someone else rich. If you want to spend your life weighted to the scales in a effort to stay slimmer than is common for a female over the age of 12 to be, that is your look out. Don’t drag me into it. Oh, and while we are at it, don’t recommend holdy in pants, corsets, growing my hair long to compensate or proffer the fallacy that Marilyn Monroe was a dress size 16. She wasn’t, OK? She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen, with her fine comedic talent, and guess what, being commercially beautiful? it did not make her any less unhappy.

Also, if it is all the same with you, don’t peddle the idea that I was super brave to leave the house or to eat a muffin in public without a sign on my forehead saying ‘yes I am fat, but I am working on it!’. I don’t want to be dis-empowered or treated like shit for being fat, but I also don’t really want a medal for it either.

Do you know what I want? I want it to not be a thing. Or at the least not your thing. But it is right? My body, someone else’s thing. Like Katie Hopkins!

Indeed, when crud cultivators like Katie Hopkins make a big, fat issue out of big, fat people, you know why she does it? Many aspects of the human person — how we judge each other, how we make preferences or create ideals — are very subjective. Intelligence, creativity, decency, morality, even charm and beauty are very ephemeral and shifting. People like Hopkins hate subjectivity, nuance or personal preferences because they are authoritarian in their bent. They like things to be simplistically demarcated, and one of the primary reasons that is so, is because then they know how to ‘win’ at being an elite person. Or, as important, how to ascertain where someone else is placed in the social hierarchy. Who to kiss up to and who to piss down on.

Katie Hopkins may not know how to be (or how to be seen to be) intelligent, creative, decent, moral or even charming and beautiful — but she has worked out quite easily how to be thin. And in being thin – in a culture that prioritizes this as a commodifiable goal in women particularly – she wins.

Compounded… the sexism of men like Trump or MRAs arrives out of their ability to delineate on the worth of women, as it relates to their body size. Their power is in holding jurisdiction over this authoritarian, simplistic and rigid value in women. You can see who probably wins in all this.

So women, often those who are not especially overweight in any case(by medical standards) trundle on to the hamster wheel of weight loss, fornicate with false and extreme remedies to the mythological disease that is ‘them’.

Not caring, despite everything, about what I look like and my scaled ‘fuck-ability’ (who wants to be fucked anyway?) — genuinely not caring — is probably the most radical thing I can do, vis-à-vis my own womanhood. I don’t wish to have myself decided upon by the metrics of those philistine, misogynistic authoritarians, whose love for ripping asunder the bodies of women derives from the political and social power they feel it gives them.

And for those who mean well — but who are utterly rigged in to the zeitgeist of beauty fascism that this promotes (and thus seek to help me out of my corrosive ugliness) — for them I wear an invisible sign. It says ‘just because you’re giving a fuck about Fat, please don’t ask me to’. Because I have other things I prefer to do, and other things I prefer to think about, than the fatness of my own arse. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

Why No Punter Movement?

 

How important are punters in informing the prostitution culture and ergo, the culture at large? Why are they so often silent in populist realms or debates? Bar of course, the occasional cycloptic fella with some ostensible measure of practised eccentricity – such as the guy who graced Rupert Everett’s flimsy shocku ‘Love for Sale’ – to tell of his shrugged belief that a prostitute shouldn’t enjoy the sex, if she is getting paid for it. Or George Mccoy, the man who tramps around brothels in search of freebies, in exchange for a section in his weather worn ‘guide books’. Lazy grey face, slicked with sleaze and topped off, like a rotten cherry, with a flat cap. These men are so beyond social expectations that they  have nothing to lose by being openly vile. They may even imagine themselves to be mavericks. Everett certainly does.

But silent of course, does not mean inactive. Punters, or Johns, are the sex industry’s largest component, its most thriving eco-culture, and in this respect most appropriately to be likened to pond life. Their punters’ forums – spilling what would embarrass even the most prolific of back room bar banterers and locker room fabulists – are their breeding ground, where they learn how to be good at renting women.

You’ll notice, if you have the requisite stomach to trawl through their darkened corridors, dripping, as it seems to me, with the viscous goo of thousands of women forensically dissected,  that they are seldom frequented by happy, sexy couples, or vibrant young women who enjoy renting vagina… just as much as the next middle aged, married, middle class man. Just another one of those fanciful Mills and Boon fantasies that keeps many a liberal ‘sex work supporter’ going until dinner.

Other than the odd woman, long entrenched in the prostitutional game and daily asking herself the questions, how low should I stoop? How many of these digital feet should I kiss to cream off enough business to stay afloat? Or: how long have I been so enmeshed in this wacky and unedifying imbroglio that I cannot see myself as anything other than in relation to it? I am what the punters want, I am what they don’t want… what else am I?

I can’t be a kind feminist and ignore these posturings so as to avoid infantilising or drawing attention to the rituals of humiliation that are required of prostitutes who use punter forums as a form of advertising, because it is an archetypal aspect of the industry. A salient example of what the punters want; slavish servitude. Often entailing ‘calling out’ other prostitutes for being ‘bad’ at service, and back patting the punters during their relentless and petulant tantrums, wailing that they didn’t get what they thought they deserved. The women that are not good enough for these man children are as equally enthusiastically torn to smither by their fellow ladies; “Look how on board I am fellas!”

Is it just for the money, or is it also the yucks? We are taught to see our value in terms of how men see us, and in relation to other women. Good old prostitution; providing a breeding ground for our most neurotic of gendered complaints.

Don’t be fooled by those who say at least prostitutes don’t barter with their minds, it is one of the reasons, I believe, they are often so convinced of the definite wrongness of the Nordic Model. Why, the dogmatic belief that to criminalise punters is to criminalise them. Punters, collectively, are their husbands, their patriarchs, their patrons. To them they owe not only an hours access to their internals, but their political and social loyalty.

But this  commitment? It is not reciprocated.

Where is the punter movement? Why does it not speak its name? Why does it one not arise and task itself with the battle against the Nordic Model (now increasingly gaining European ground)? Punter forums are extremely popular. The two most utilized in the UK average collectively over a million and half views per month, on average. One would think even some small subsection of these febrile webrats would develop a political identity.

But no. Even when the Nordic Model has been  suggested or implemented,  punters have not rallied around each other and defended, even under internet Avatar, in any kind of collective, their right to rent women. In France there was small murmur from so called ‘male intellectuals’ who penned their names to the letter entitled Keep Your Hands Off Our Whores. But the rule was proven by the exception.

Of course, it wasn’t quite the message the ‘sex workers’ movement’ had in mind; Selma James, former agitator for the so-called English Collective of Prostitutes*  wrote an op-ed for The Guardian, at once trying to criticise the Nordic Model itself, as well as this small, unusual display of punter will. She couldn’t quite fandango it. Writing, “The men, in the usual self-referential terms, defend their own rights as clients, not women’s rights as workers. Nevertheless it’s about time men admitted to being clients. But next time they should first check with the workers they are claiming to support, what they are proposing to say.”  Silly Selma, thinking punters give a hoot about the velvet pockets of the poor women they seek to plough. Thinking they cloven cries represented the slightest concern for the so called ‘sex worker’ cause. As one punter notes, gracefully, on a popular forum,

“(The Nordic Model) is perverse. And interesting that it’s mainly women who promote this idea. More evidence that the female brain doesn’t have much logic about it. Nor do they have much idea about the opposite gender – no surprise there.If paid sex wasn’t available, then there wouldn’t be any consumers. So the logical thing is to go for the source of availability. Especially because that is where the money is being made i.e. incentive. So why criminalise the consumers and not the suppliers?”

Or another, concerned about the calamitous workings of the (non)prostituted:

“Another unwelcome consequence of this legislation, if it is introduced, is that punters will suddenly become sitting ducks for blackmail. Of course, they are potentially vulnerable now – greedy prostitute discovers where punter lives and that he is married, and threatens disclosure to the wife. In practice this is pretty unlikely. Why would a prostitute want to kill the goose that is laying golden eggs? I suppose high profile celebrities are marginally more vulnerable to blackmail now, if they use prostitutes. But if this Nordic model is introduced where to punt is to break the law, many a prostitute and/or her pimp will be unable to resist the temptation to threaten disclosure to the police unless money is handed over. The consequences of being turned over to the law could be horrendous. If found guilty, a substantial fine, no doubt or even prison. The marriage destroyed. Possible loss of job. Many a punter, faced with this situation, will pay up rather than face the consequences of exposure.”

 

Poor punter. Indeed men’s right to rent women is so important, that women’s political emancipation should be taken very seriously lest it laces the debate, as another opines,

“I’m all for equality, but this does go to show that if you give women too much power they come up with some crackpot ideas. ”

You see Selma?  That punters don’t feel remotely as if they owe anything to prostitutes in terms of support for their rights or safety, shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with half a cent of sense… who is not entrenched in absolute denial or high faluting hokum. They have paid for what they have wanted and they have gotten it! You have already given away your chips! You have nothing more to bargain with!

Indeed, as most are so bloated with misogyny and whore hatred, if they did deign themselves to organise they would be nothing but an impediment to the happy hooker cause, as Selma herself discovered. But if they are lacking in cunning and politically inclined (or simply cannot help themselves) they might slink about betwixt the legs of the damsels of the Twitterati, proclaiming their unerring belief in women’s volition whilst fervently denying having ever paid for sex. Even these hapless Geres cannot bring themselves to a place of honesty, so they flounder about.

So how do we explain all this? Some ‘Sex workers’ unrequited loyalty to punters? Low expectations?

Prostitutes, and most certainly those women who, for whatever reason, have decided to support a cause that in no way furthers themselves other than in their own minds (superficial empowerment, intemperate volition, presumed social status) like many of us, often suffer from cognitive biases, such as anchoring. Anchoring occurs when humans develop a specific focus on one aspect of information with regards to a subject, that is often developed initially and is subsequently difficult to shift. We often decide that punters are Not Bad People, but we do this on shallow grounds. Even not especially decent, empathic, considerate, moral people have the capacity to be polite, even convivial. I recall a Louis Theroux documentary when an active, virulent leader of an acutely racist subculture of America, had a ‘pleasant’ domestic attitude to his Latino neighbour; a man who unfortunately regarded this deeply corrupted, evil – not to mention spineless man – as a good friend.Heck, even Ted Bundy could be amenable when he needed to be.

Indeed, though prostitutes can be victims of violent attacks, it is in the most case, the average married, middle aged, occupationally successful man’s interest to at least be passingly courteous to prostitutes, because they want to get what they want without too much bluster and fuss. Or risk. Even a wife beater or a bank robber will be occasionally soothing to their victims if they think it serves their purpose. And unlike these, punters already have prostitutes by the scrap of the neck; unless they have an overt desire for performative sadism, managing a smile and having passing conversations about the weather, or some such, is no great shakes.

And as is consistently demonstrated by punters forums, the guys are able to smile, and say hello and use base level manners when with prostitutes, but often revert to calling us fat, ugly, stupid whores who, being intellectually, morally and temperamentally faulty, are their rightful resource, as soon as they are amongst themselves.

Yes, just as the wife who clings to the memory of her husband back when he bought her gifts and sung her praises – before he began carpentering the shape of his fist in to her face – prostitutes often chose to see the vague friendliness over the unwanted pulling of the hair, the thwacks to the buttocks and the nasty reviews they receive when they are not ‘up to scratch’. Indeed, over the missing voices of punters, as they clamour for social respectability, or the very occasional outings from men who make it clear that their rights to fuck are what they really care about. Not their safety or the soundness of their security.

They go to bat for them because they have the capacity to be cordial. Are these the terms? Perhaps it is also the effect of mere exposure; they know these people, so, like loyalty to a cruel and selfish family member or a corrupt nation, they see them as their duty to defend. It is prostitute to punter Patriotism.

If someone attacks our nation, we are similarly attacked, even if our nation does not care for us at all.

 

 


* The ECP’s are, we are told a prostitute collective, but its policy is to not declare the backgrounds or occupations of its members, which ostensibly, is reasoned in order to protect those women in prostitution who do not want to be ‘out’. Their primary political campaign is for the decriminalisation of prostitution profiteering. I’ll just leave the two and two out there for whoever wants to make four.


 

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Sex and Social Media

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Sensuality is not easily reproducible.

You cannot take a sensual experience – in all its ready, unready, bluster and breach – and copy and paste it over and over again, ad infinitude.  Oh people try, in long drawn out couplings they slog through the motions of repeated patterns of coitus. Patterns they have  come to the conclusions of, not together, but individually, privately, working around each other like a pair of fishes swimming about a small pool. Their intimacy is based on the fact of their proximity in body, but their heads are half witted, and wandering elsewhere.

Sex is just another in a list of things to get done. In the evening, they flounce in from their grey labours, shoulder down in front of a wide screen, and hand grab their small screens, ready for a long old twiddle. It contains the endless entertainment needed for all the sitting down they are about to do. Sitting down with acid cheap wine, bought because of their acquaintance with the brand. The brand so often used to slice, in advert, between those buddycoms they are so fond of. Because you don’t need actual friends! You have Sit Friends! And industrial grade gut rot.  You can ride right up Jacob’s Bunch of Shit Creek, and you don’t ever have to feel alone.

They, literally of absent mind, flick their fingers along the cracked rim of each glass and glaze over the screen(s). They could sit there for hours, couldn’t they? Watching back runs of that buddycom or that panel show – programs designed to instigate a feeling of familiarity  that they don’t experience with each other. Or anyone else. Depictions of jovial and easy friendship and society repeated day in and out, week and month too, on some channel or media outpost, somewhere, always. These are our simulated fraternities. They half watch, half fiddle, always sit.

Ah but work calls them in the morro. This ‘living’ has to stop.

They trunk up the staircase to their bed (or across the room; its a studio, its all they could afford, we made houses an investment, remember?) and fall in to it and go about their fuck or rub or frottage routine, with all the build up of a tired corporate soldier stepping in to a lift. And they ‘do it’ to completion, wandering their fractured thinkings over whatever slice of pornography or predictable ‘bend over, fuck and cum’ fantasy they can muster, just to reach something like a peak. Enough to get them to sleep without a thwack over the head by an absconded boxer or a stick shoved up the back entrance by a sexual cynic, dressed in cheap PVC.

Oh how I go on. Sauced up? Your goings got? Boots filled? I can barely bang out a question mark, let alone an exclamation.

But I am asking a question, all the same. The question is, where is our sex?

The sanitary, work to just-but live, nature of our daily lives interspersed with an endless array of small-fry digital actions (flipping between screen and screen and screen and screen), lead us inexorably to experience being in entirely fragmented and, ultimately bland cognizance, a set of mind that does not have the scope for sensual exaltation.

No wonder we experience lust as wandering our eyes over pretty pictures of lentil pies. Not lust, we note the prettiness of the spectacle and  sink notionally into “Why are my own pies not as thus?” It is the width, breadth and stretch of our sensuality.

Besides the dearth of sensuality, our cognizance, even, is not raw, let alone analytic. It is not an enthusiastic  and curious engagement with our world, our lives, our bodies, and more importantly, with their world, their lives, their bodies. But for their pretty lentil pies. Yes we live in our heads, heads attached to our digital systems, heads not up to much. Bodies up to nothing. Yes we ‘do it’. And that is about it.

Back to another night, and our lovers, wedged into a sofa like a pair of stationary bikes tied to the roof of a stationary car. Back to those pretty pictures of lentil pies. All stacked up and herb trickled; cute nosh she can’t eat, she won’t make, she probably doesn’t even want. And while she zips through them – chastising herself for your own bland plates of re-hydrated pasta drenched in  heavily sugared sauce  –  the fella sat next to her is scanning through  synthetic depictions of oblate women, greased and buffed by front on lighting, until they score an uncanny resemblance to bratwursts. Not the rich oozing sausages of October Fests even! But the orange tinged pickled dogs of the American jar. Tinged, hard and just, just squidgy. Why do men insist upon gaining their sex from images of women designed to look like projections of their own, very much imagined, hard, throbbing cocks? Why do I even ask.

And he looks up from his small screen, only, to see some hard shouldered masculinite on his big screen. Blowing to smither some sucky, sucky mouthed lizard, with green scales and a pink gob, ripping up from the Deep. You will not be forgiven for that being lost on you. And yes, she is still looking at the pretty pictures of lentil pies.”We’ll make that one day…” she yawns. He isn’t listening. He’s mentally eating his own bratwurst and watching that wet mouthed lizard get blown to a thousand, sticky bits.

This is our sex. This is our foreplay. This is the run up. Are you not entertained?

Yes screens, digitization, provides us with hallucinated-form projections of our own fantasies, extracted from us and sold back to us, so we don’t even have to leave our seats.

Once, at a conference, a male academic rejoiced! in the very fact of the amount – the sheer amount (never has a cliched phrase been so appropriate) of what he called  the availability of free pornography. An academic be hell! I said to him…I said to myself, awkward and tired, in my plastic chair, listening to endless papers of sociological ‘interest’ without analysis…you are not getting it for free! You are participating in a process by which, for every thing you consume you permit yourself to be advertised to! Advertised to along the lines of your own consumption, solidifying you, forever in the process of being catered at, usually shuffled – slightly, slightly – in the direction of your crudest of oils. And when your cock stops working because it is in a lethargic state of over reaction, your free pornography will helpfully point you in the direction of a pharmacological cocktail, that can get it going again. And then you can see to your inter-acted sex rituals with your tired lentil pie obsessing girlfriend, whilst you stew your frazzled dreamscape around images of bent over bratwursts going through the motions of fucking labour.

You haven’t bought pornography with your money. You’ve bought it with your consciousness, your dependency, your obsession, your willingness to consume. Porn. Social Media. Advertisement Television. Billboards in the street.

And the academic, who should be a wit capable of abstracting himself, to some degree, is just another consumer, sucking on his litre box pop of porn. And the activist, the feminist, who should, with thinking bayonet, sharp stick in to the flanks of these consumptive demons, clap their fins like fish breathed seals putting on a  show. Suck, suck, suck, yup, yup, yup.

Warms your fragile heart, don’t it?

And why? Why are we so easily ridden?

Because the structure of payment – which is payment via our attachments and obsessions – render us in a constant state of processing repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated, messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, you get it? you get it? you get it? You do? Like.Like.Like.Like. Dislike!

All platforms work using boxes of messages or images or clips, which we have scanned over like crude algorithmicals, searching for the right ideas (diluted) to which our social, personal, political and sexual ‘identities’ have decided most appeal. Within these same same platforms that spit out an abundance of 140 character messages or clippings of grey eyed bratwursts withstanding vaginal tears, we persist in our search for the new, only in the details, the micro moments, the slight shifts in our digital mise-en-scene.  Gazillions of these shifts wandering like spots of water amalgamated into a thundering along-ness. We capitulate because bantam novelties are easier and more saccharine to swallow than the risks of heavy change. We are willing to sell our everythings for little bursts of novelty.

There Is No Such Thing as Conversation. It Is an Illusion. There Are Intersecting Monologues, That Is All.

Rebecca West

Is it no wonder such a dense political philosophy  as feminism – which ought to be out to flay the monsters of ‘extract from us and sell back to us’ –   can be so thoroughly eviscerated from the internals? Like a cadaver lost at sea – it is being chewed up by micro monsters and in the watery tumult, bloated beyond immediate recognition. Ready for the sharks to jettison it in to the watery nether. Oh it still bobs away, just. From our boats – those of us who are trying to escape – we point, we say, ‘There is Feminism! There it goes!” Its salted and thin skin you can just-but hear implore us to save ourselves. And all those other revolutionary political philosophies that seem to have been trammeled into students hive-minding language policing methods. The age of digital repetitions does not encourage us to think up or out, but in, in, in. Give vindication to ourselves, in our ever increasing shrinkage, in our pokey self obsessions.

The so-called sexual liberation of our time seemed to me then, and seems to me still, to be the intensification of the  focus on self -pleasuring, and is fundamentally masturbatory, hence its reliance on external stimuli which work on sexual fantasy. The appeal of self-gratification as the key to self-realization was and is its adaptability to marketing.

Germaine Greer, The Mad Woman’s Underclothes

Sensuality and critical engagement share a need for scope, patience, dedication (as opposed to obsession) in our choices about how we live as individuals (as much as we can) and as a society. Porn and social media require no such long term commitment to feeling and thinking good. Just as porn can take a tired, angst ridden person and flip them, like a switch, straight to orgasm, so too can social media ignite our political and personal danders in a beat.  Just as you can, in a Pavlovian fashion, become erect (whatever your genitals) – without any previous seduction or participation – when gawking at video of a  just eighteen year old being ripped to shreds by – not one – but several cocks of gargantuan proportions, so too can your frisson be got by the news of a celebrity of some distinction (or otherwise) saying something, like, the wrong words. Developing hunger and working towards the process of being filled, is not the same as salivating the minute someone or something rings a bell.

It really should not come as any surprise that pornography and social media are our most jealously guarded of enterprises. And, particularly in the case of pornography, we talk about it as though it has ever been thus. Just as a child guarding their packet of the same same sweets, tinged with chemicals to give them  saucily different colours, we guard the tedious repetitions of our sexual and thinking lives. Because what good is ecstasy and eureka, when you could have easy?


 

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Pornography

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Peggy Lee’s I’m a Woman was playing on the stereo. In neurotically declarative tones, she busted out about her supernatural powers as a woman. Starching shirts, cooking grits, kissing men and giving them the shivering fits…

And she – the woman-  for reasons now that cannot be solely attributed to red wine and whisky, took the last days of her young body and danced, naked, awkwardly, like a Fantasia broom, being lifted and shifted by something else.
A man sat with a double fistful of himself and watched her like a live news broadcast. Horrified, enthralled. Watched her fight like a bruiser against a landscape of internet pornography so dense, so prolific, so opportune, that furling through it was like falling, for years, through a rain-forest canopy.  How impotent of her to even try! “Look over here! Look over here!” With a waist too wide and breasts sinking quickly like finger tips shifting into sand. But then again, there is no waist too small or set of breasts too perky for the male voyeur…

Though I do worry in heterosexual relationships about ‘nudes’ replacing porn, and how women who do not want their partners to watch porn feel pressured to send nude photographs of themselves, and how we as anti-porn feminists should feel about that.

Sarah

How would she explain her complicity in being treated like a hyper sexed mule-cum-street performer? But then, how can we talk, think or deliberate on pornography at all  when we, former or current, girlfriends, wives, lovers (there is a word that requires some explanation) are either to be taken as objects that have everything to do with pornography, or nothing to do with it at all? And a masculinist assumption that the extent to which the health or hindrance of porn, as it relates to us mere women, is theirs to delineate?

We are either facets of the male, sexual playscape, within which we must polish ourselves ruggedly and thoroughly – disavowing any idea of our own pleasure or comfort – so that we fit it. Or indeed we are utterly distinct from it – and thus rendered asexual. These are our choices.

He said black women were the best (to watch in porn) because they’re lower than low and disgusting and he’d never shag one, they are disgusting.

Jemima

 

The propaganda sold to us, in the latter case, is that we are not bendy bitches fit for a quick jizz, but partners in true love. That our beloveds turn off their steamy screens plastered with endless gigs of sexual theatre – so carivelesque as to be, at best, a sick joke – and become Mr Darcys. Citizens of open, equitable sexual exchange.

And indeed almost all men (because almost all men use internet pornography) tell us that they are capable of this; even that it is an innate part of their being. To treat or enjoy the busting of ‘lesser’ women as fucking roughage, but to turn to their lady mates with respect and admiration. It is, I am afraid, a false deal, that too many women fall for.

I remember having intercourse and he started saying, “you like it rough, don’t you….huh?” and he grabbed my hair. I looked at him incredulously. No, please no. He let go of my hair, and continued saying, “you’re a woman you like to be called bitch.You are a slut” and he’s having intercourse. And, my heart is dying.

Cheryl

 

 

One boyfriend of mine, when I cried at feeling ugly compared to his internet playmates – webcam girls, porn stars –  said, “It is not that you are not good enough to be them, but you are too good to be them!” Of course, what he meant in the end, was that I did not fit the description of a perfectly toned body, matched with an obsessive interest in self manicuring, so I had to be found another use. Domesticity.

How do we get tricked in to this?

I knew he looked at porn and he spent a lot of time at the start of our relationship recounting previous sexual exploits to me and pointing out other women he fancied. I hated it but the general advice to women in this situation is its your low self esteem that is the problem.

Jo

Recently I spent some time talking with women about their experiences with porn addicted men. Of course, the notion of porn addiction itself is troubling, because it presumes to disentangle men who have a negative relationship with internet pornography away from those who have a neutral, or even positive one. A differentiation which cannot be cleanly made.

One of the salient things I encountered with the women I spoke to, was the comparable trajectory of their narratives; the dynamic of their relationships. The women, of different ages from different places, began their relationships by thrusting themselves full hearted into the fantasies of their boyfriends or husbands, acting out actions adopted from video pornography; actions designed to have a visual, not a sensual effect. Or, indeed, began self alteration after noticing the stark differences between their own bodies and physicality, with the women in porn films.

It made me think about how he must look at and talk about women when he was with his mates or not with me. What he was thinking when he was out with me and looking at other women which he did a lot. Pathetically I tried to change myself to try to be more like he seemed to want. He had lots of pictures of girls with tattoos so I got more tattoos. Against all my principles I shaved my pubes off. He told me that ” red is the horniest hair colour” so I briefly died my hair red which I hated and he didn’t even seem to notice. I did hold back from getting piercings which he was always trying to persuade me to get done . He had lots of pics of girls with piercings and an ex of his who had been 18 he’d been 40 had pierced nipples and labia which he loved. I said I’m me stop trying to turn me into her. He just didn’t get it. My self esteem about my looks never very good anyway was now fucked. No matter what I did I never felt good enough, attractive enough, sexy enough to compete with a deluge of porn and tales of stunning young exes.

Jo

I’ve suffered with bloody anorexia for years, he has sparked many anorexic episodes by making me feel that I can’t match up.

Jemima

Of course, men often wish to avoid being seen as unkind – despite their attitudes – and  attempt to soothe such anxieties. If for no other reason than to enable a maintenance of their cake’and’eat it; their sugar cave of porn and prostitution and their comforting usage of a female, domestic house pet. Whose purpose is to keep them from their own worst excesses.

But the lines are never clearly drawn; the sex act nonetheless becomes a site of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and eventual hostility. Despite his attempt to make you his mother he can forever cuddle and cleave to, as though he were still a boy, and his porn’gal his teenage kicks, your unwillingness to take ass-to-mouth, or swallow his cum, lead him to resent you all the same. Perhaps his haranguing you to play sexy circus monkey is all a part of his great swizz; his long term plan to forgive himself when he shuts you out of his attractions entirely, when he begins making lusty assaults on his work colleagues or indeed, shows up, fist full of dollars, at the brothel door.

Indeed women’s intelligence lead them to an ineluctable logic: if their male partners compare their unwillingness to act out the performances they enjoy consuming in porn films, then why  should we imagine they are blind to the bodies they consume in porn films?  Or indeed, the very fact that sexuality becomes itself a modus for consuming bodies in its entirety. And that you, therefore, become another such body, but one that has the raw cheek to be imperfect, questioning. Female, thus inherently problematic, but with the added puke of being a particularly underwhelming specimen. There is no cake and eat it in the end; there is no perfect whore or perfect wife.

Over 8000 pics of naked woman. He’d also set up a tumblr page to share these pics with others. I sat on it for a couple of days then asked him about it. The best I ever got from him was ” I got a bit carried away . ” I asked him to stop and he said he would and told me to delete the pictures. Oh course I deleted them. Then restored them. Then sat there for hours watching them on slideshow torturing myself trying to see what he wanted which basically appeared to be not me. I’m 48 for fucks sake.

Jo

So we give up the ghost. The drunken dances, the bad porn moves, the overpriced lace tat. Instead of traipsing through male sexual fantasy, only to be found wanting – as though we are all ladies of heft trying to keep up in a marathon wherein the male referees keep shifting the finishing line further away – we cave in. We asexualize. We submit to domesticity and shoulder shruggery.

When I hear men say their wives have just ‘given up’ on sex, as though it were  an inevitable outcome of being female, I wonder how many times his eyes have flickered over a screen at an 18 year old more-or-less girl being gangbanged, and how many times she has stared at her body in the mirror, and condemned herself.  I wonder how many times she has tried to model some lacy confection only to have him think – and bare it on his eyes –  “If only she were such and such a porn star, that trashy piece of cheap, factory lace would have been worth an outing.” How many times she has agonized over bowls of dressing-less salad only to have the scales sit stubbornly against her, or even if she does manage to starve herself back in the direction of his sexual affections, her skin stays too loose, her face too old, her pubis, even her vulva remains untrimmed.

Indeed, if one is to remain sexually active, one is encumbered with the images of women – fat, old, cheap poor – being utilized as some nasty joke in a  sexualised freak show.  Better to just zip up your own sexuality and put it to the back of the wardrobe, with the jeans that don’t fit you anymore, and the romantic, sexual aspirations you used to have, that now seem foolhardy and earnest.  Or, of course, there is escape. If it can be mustered.

I’ve been celibate ever since Ralph. I married myself. I am monogamous with myself, I’m always available. And, I have done self-pleasuring, a lot of masturbation.

Cheryl

Men will never adopt the mea culpa position, they will never let you know that they have not love for you (and certainly not respect as equals) but an ideal use for you as extensions of, or alternatives to, their sexual diet.

I feel like young feminists are often gaslit by their boyfriends into watching porn so they can be ‘the cool girl.’

Sarah

Hence the insistence on vagueness, obfuscation. Less around the actions they wish you to imitate, or their general unhappiness with their sexual ‘lot’, but on how those feelings relate to you, to us, as women. The dogged insistence that their ritualised objectifications and comparisons do not extend to you, or do not affect them.

Indeed, it is how some women are able to convince themselves that this bleak, sexual topography is OK, because either they have been convinced, or are convincing themselves, they are winning in it. If their sexual lives and porn lives are blurred, then they are as sexy or satiating as any other female operative within that world. Or if porn  is kept distinct, and they and their husbands tacitly accept a condition of asexuality, or worse, sexual perfunctoriness, then they have triumphed by being a higher variety of woman. Perhaps not worthy of the attentions of his cock, but at least his heart.

Porn has told me I am wrong and it is right. It’s drained all the desire out of me and replaced it with pure anger.

Jemima

How sharp and shoddy would it be to learn that in fact, you have neither. That no amount of dancing naked or turning your head in your prudish gown will elevate you to his status, as he imagines it, whether he wishes to own to it or not. He is making the rules, the game is dependent upon your inhumanity, and therefore, it is one that you cannot win.


If you would like to help Rae Story in her penwomanship, you can donate at this link here.

 

Poets & Prostitutes

“A society that pays its poets less than it pays its prostitutes, cannot claim to be civilised.”

Anon

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Veronica Franco, Poet & Prostitute

I was sat in a semi-chain café in Stokes Croft, Bristol, and a man with a prematurely weathered face came over to me, and offered me a side order of street poetry to go with my decaf cappuccino. I accepted his proposal and he delivered a beatnik style verse, which I struggled to follow as I was still mentally enmeshed in my copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Nonetheless, I could tell that his verse was eloquent and politically earnest, and I gave him a pound. Of course, a poetry performance is worth more than a pound, but it was more or less all I had.

Once finished, he didn’t pause much for any kind of affirmation, but simply left to seek further audiences, to expand on his wealth, more so, than to spread his message.

Was this his work?

Now a hyper capitalist might say no, because such exchanges have no wider financial economy and a discussion of work only relates to economic value. A bourgeois philistine might say no, because poetry itself has no specific value to them, and in their arrogance imagine that it therefore has no wider cultural value. An inpatient scrooge might say no, because they just want to get on with reading The Times and so conveniently conceive of this offering as impertinent begging, rather than an exchange of human currency.

I said yes, because I saw no harm in listening to a homeless man’s poem and I had that pound to spare. I would prefer, of course, to live in a country that had more time for cultural arts (rather than ready meals, asinine television and Ikea; one of the few things Sweden has done that I take major issue with) and poured more energy into art, literature and other poetic flights of fancy. That had jobs to offer Arts students, or more funding to aid in further scholarship, or more opportunities for penniless musicians, writers and agitators to earn a crust.

However, the fact of the unfortunateness of the situation that led to that laureate wandering amidst coffee table crowds in the hope that he might acquire enough money to put a hostel roof over his head, or obtain his narcotic anaesthetic to get him through the night, did not mean that I was causing him more harm or damage by the engagement. The engagement itself wasn’t at fault, only the context. Indeed, lets shift the context slightly. Perhaps that well to do semi-coffee chain could encourage its organic banana bread munching attendants, to lift their jaded hipster heads from their sleek, white mackerels, and mentally attend to some organised street poetry and in doing so, give that man a fucking wage slip.

It is often only the comfortably middle class who romanticise the sharp precipices of the Bohemian. The truly poor have no time for such featherbedded wankery. Every artist really wants work, and with it the stability of regular pay, just as anyone else. As Milan Kundera seems to demonstrate, happiness may actually be arrived at out of heaviness. “…life in Paradise was not like adventure. It moved in a circle among known objects. Its monotony bred happiness, not boredom.”

When we talk of work in the context of it bringing happiness, we often mean a sense of knowing how we are to plan our lives. Or indeed, this I believe, is the common motivation for finding happiness with work. For many people what they want is a job that pays enough, that gives them enough, that is promised for long enough and does not require of them a perversion of their dignity and personal space. In other words, that it is not unpleasant.

When I have spoken with a close  friend, and persistently remonstrated on why he should gun his artistic abilities through the prism of aspiration, he has said that he simply doesn’t want to. He just wants a comfortable living that would enable him the time and the movement to have pleasant weekends, and maybe a nice garden. When I sought the counsel of my sister during a moment of inebriation I asked her – and she is usually very privately lipped – what is it that you really want? She said, “A flat of my own. Privacy. And enough money to go on holiday now and again.”

I am pretty well versed in the signs of addiction and mental strain, and it is of course obvious that the poet was not someone who scraped by out of some desperate desire to be an artist, rather it was the case that his alienation from atypical society, due to personal damage, arrived at him utilising his abilities for scraps of change. Like a busker, a street magician or a Victorian girl selling bunches of lavender. And though it is often paid for in more than scraps of change, so too a prostitute.

So is prostitution work?

The discussion really has less to do with defining whether or not something is work, and more to do with understanding the different ways in which paid-for activities arise, what the dynamics of those activities look like when money is exchanged and what are the consequences. Added to which, the important question, how great is the necessity of this exchange in relation to these consequences?

But when radical – not liberal, Laurie Penny – feminists object to prostitution being reframed as work it is not because many don’t recognise that there is a necessitation for labour involved, but because this politicised reframing is designed to sublimate the material realities of prostitution into a vague mythology. Its proponents attempt to consistently privilege flimsy notions of choice, work, empowerment in place of specific analysis. They don’t ask what it is to be a prostitute, they ask what is means to be one. It isn’t about what prostitution is like,  rather, what prostitution should sound like, how we should feel about it, what are our interpretations of it should be.

The covert intention behind the suggestion, is really to eradicate, conjecturally, the differences between prostitution and the forms of work enacted by those who are financially and socially benefiting from pursuing this line of reasoning. Laurie Penny (as well as Brook Magnanti and Germaine Greer for that matter) can tacitly imply that prostitution is no more morally problematic than her own labours as a cosseted, pay rolled journalist. As can the punter, who despite his steady job and his mortgage, can presume himself to be in a similar social position as the 18 year old Polish girl who he uses for semen extraction, in a dingy part of town he would never normally visit. Because then, the lived differences do not need to be examined.

Aren’t we equally all the 99% in the end? Well no. For exited prostitutes struggling to cope with trauma, homelessness and addiction, being told by smug, comfortable journalists and punters that we are some how on the same oppression page, is a bit insulting. Yes we all worship at the feet of the same God, but some of us have to bow considerably lower than others.

You’ll note it isn’t actually in service of reframing prostitution in relation to other exploitations (which may also contain ‘work’) such a sweat shops, in a helpful fashion, in order to demonstrate how exploitation and oppression works in different ways and at different levels. In this respect, I don’t think prostitution is uniquely morally contentious.When Penny makes the case that it is not the sex that is the problem with prostitution, rather it is the work, she is labouring under the immaturity that it is feasible to ignore the fundamental constitution of prostitution, in its intersection between sex and work, especially in how that relates to gendered practices and ideas in society.

Which in its way, pertains to sweats shops, as they are practices that rely most often on female labour, whose oppression is often excused using the nebulous framework of ‘occupational choice’. One wonders why Penny considers herself a feminist at all (let alone a radical one) when the gendered nature of prostitution doesn’t concern her anywhere near as much the occupational nature of it. .

To be tawdry, you could pay me to take a shit in my mouth and even on its own, the fact that you are paying me is not solely of more interest than the fact that you want to take a shit in my mouth. But if we extend this – if it is nearly always middle class men wanting to shit in the mouths of poor women, immigrant women or women of colour – then the desire to shit in somebody’s mouth is as culturally significant, if not more so, than the desire to pay for an activity in and of itself. If middle class men want to pay to shit in poor women, irrespective of the political economics of the day (Capitalism, Feudalism, whatever), then how that activity is organised is tertiary in relevance to desire and its cultural functioning.

In any case, Penny’s thesis reads hopelessly like self indulgent University nihilism, wherein society itself is considered irredeemable and thus, we might just thrust any attempts at social democracy or progression or feminism to the rabid dogs of hyper libertarianism and hope they don’t tear them up too much; hope they are not insatiably hungry.