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The Power of Porn Stars: Why We Love, Hate, Fear and Want Them

Girls involved with paid sex, who gain benefit from their position as females while remaining independent, are feverishly desired, yet punished for their "transgressions."

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from King Kong Theory, by Virginie Despentes, published by The Feminist Press. 

Porn is too often expected to mirror the Real. As if it weren’t cinema. For example, actresses are criticized for faking orgasms. That’s what they are here for, and paid for, and have learned how to do. We don’t expect Britney Spears to feel like dancing every time she performs. That’s what she is on stage for and we have paid to watch her, so each of us is doing our job, without anyone grumbling “I reckon she was faking it” on the way out. Porn is somehow supposed to be real—something we never expect of film, by its very nature a technique of illusion.

We expect porn to show us exactly what we dread about it: the truth of our desire. I personally have no idea why I find it so exciting to watch other people fucking and talking dirty. The fact is that it works. It’s automatic. Porn crudely reveals this other aspect of human nature: sexual desire is mechanical, and hardly complex to set in motion. And yet, my libido is complex—what it says about me isn’t necessarily what I want to hear, and doesn’t always fit with who I would like to be. But I can choose to know this, rather than to turn away and say the opposite of what I know to be true about myself in order to maintain a respectable social image.

Pornography’s detractors complain about the poor quality of X-rated films and claim that all porn is the same thing. They like to imply that the genre is not creative. This is false. The genre is divided into distinct sub-genres: 35 mm films from the 1970s are different from the amateur films made possible by video, which differ again from shorts shot on mobile phones or webcam, not to mention the various live internet performances. High-class porn, alt-porn, post-porn, gang bang, gonzo, S&M, fetish, bondage, scat, films with a distinct focus—older women, big-breasted women, women with pretty feet, sensational asses, tranny flicks, gay flicks, lesbian flicks: each type of porn has its own terms of reference, its own history, and its own aesthetics. In the same way, X-rated German films have different obsessions from Japanese, Italian or American porn—each part of the world has its pornographic specificities.

It is actually censorship that has shaped, created, and defined the history of X-rated films. Whatever is forbidden to be shown will soon turn up in the porn cinemas, which makes for an interesting exercise in transgression.

With the more or less absurd consequences one might expect: in France, the cable TV networks define what can and cannot be shown. Violent or submissive scenes are banned, for example. Making porn that doesn’t feature duress is a little like ice-skating without blades under your boots. Good luck . . . The use of objects is also prohibited: no dildos or harnesses. No real dyke porn, or scenes of men being fucked. All this ostensibly to protect female dignity.

It’s hard to see why female dignity should be particularly threatened by the use of a harness. Surely we can assume that women are smart enough to understand that watching a bit of S&M doesn’t mean they want to be whipped when they get to work, or gagged while doing the washing-up. In any case, you only have to turn on the TV to see women in humiliating positions. The prohibitions are what they are, justified politically (S&M must remain an elite sport—the masses wouldn’t be able to understand its complexity, and would hurt themselves). So “women’s dignity” is trundled out every time the state wants to limit sexual expression . . .

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