Porn as community
Today, porn on the internet is a well that never dries out. Although much of ”commercial”, mainstream pornography is produced in California, porn can also be seen as a growing do-it-yourself movement. Some search-engine-youtube-like sites, such as Pornhub, also has a division of what they are doing called Pornhub Community. The Community in this case consists of users sharing what they make themselves in the bedroom (or on the kitchen table or in the shower), together or alone. Although it’s hard to control and verify under what circumstances these short sex tapes were made, it’s interesting that they are shared with the world, for no apparent reason other than to let others watch and share (remotely) in one’s pleasure.
Josef Gustafsson forwards the idea of Gonzo Theology, as an approach that may be yielding, and leading to novel theological encounters. Gonzo in this sense is attributed to the ’school’ of journalism, propelled in Hunter S Thompson’s style of writing where ”there is no objective journalism” and thus the journalist cannot be placed outside the event, but is a part of it. This is, as Gustafsson points out, a refusal of the binary of outside and inside; of the journalist and the story.
The definition offered by Wikipedia for gonzo pornography is a style of film that attempts to place the viewer directly in the scene. The allusion to ’gonzo’ is not accidental. Rather, we are invited into, to speak with Deleuze and Guattari, ”flowing hair; a flow of spittle, a flow of sperm” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983, pp 5). Typically, however, the conflation of the event and the self, is both underdetermined and overdetermined. The ’point of view’ in gonzo porn is for starters a male gaze, there is no point of view where a women gets fucked from behind by someone she doesn’t see. That would make for a wholly different scene, one where we would have to be able to access the inner sensations of a participant that cannot see her partner, but can feel him, inside her, and with his hands on her. Technically it would be difficult to imagine how one were to construct such a gonzo porn, where we were invited into that role. But that shouldn’t stop those up for it from trying.
An aspect that perhaps also separates gonzo porn from gonzo journalism, is that there needn’t be any argument of why we are partaking in the scene. We don’t need to start with a negotiation, campaign or convincing argument as to why sex would be interesting, while we may want to know and have explained to us why we should care to partake in the event-ual portrayal of a bank teller’s afternoon drug use or why this particular sad story about abandonment is more important than the rest of the countless such stories out there. Thus, in the gonzo porn we are primed to enter the scene male, but other than that (highly subjective) stance, we expect the visual depiction of sex.
Gonzo Porn Theology
Today, a young generation raised on smartphones are snapchatting, kik:ing, sexting and HD-filming a significant portion of their sex lives. The amount of home-made shared, sold and quite possibly leaked videos and pictures of people boning, is enough to keep the internet saturated with the images we ’need’. Professional porn is currently superfluous. Although not scripted-to-be-unscripted, this type of porn could also be construed as gonzo. The young adults involved are not trying to enact any scene, they are not making claims about universality, and their lighting is poorer than Dogma. They are simply providing a case of ”Here am I, here is my body, here is what I find meaningful. And you’re welcome to share it”.
The stance that ”I find this meaningful” is of course a subjective interpretation of mine. Not least because the meaningful component can be singular or multiple and there is no way of accessing it. Much like the discussion above about the ’objective meaning of blowjobs’, the best we can do is map out various forms of desire — sexual and others — for such instances.
For one, sex captured on tape can heighten the feeling of the sex, or the capturing can in fact be about something wholly other. The capturing and consequently the act of sharing, can be about the personal, the inner, the outer, the bodily, the forbidden.
Although it may be difficult for someone with an 80ies pentecostalist upbringing (myself) to recognise the life choices of those sharing this intimacy with the rest of us, maybe we should be thankful. Maybe they are doing what Deleuze wanted us to, but that the academics haven’t touched yet? By all accounts, the part of the secularisation thesis that still holds (which isn’t much, mind you) is that organised religion in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland is losing its foothold. Religious expressions are changing. Feminist scholar Rosi Braidotti also notes that while the interest for ’politics’ in an organised, traditional fashion seems at an all time low in the same region, the interest for values and ethics is massive. The young adults who flood the internet with themselves, undressed, refuses slut- shaming, and are instead priding themselves on sucking cock and readily administering access to their orifices. Seen as a matter of values and ethics, the following messages to organised traditional religion and politics alike can be perceived:
We cannot be told to be proud of our bodies, and at the same time hide them.
We wont view sex as something other than the rest of our lives.
You are putting all your crappy cupcakes on instagram, but they are pointless. Sex is not. You should try it.
Again, what the point is, is not known to us. Are we witnessing a sexual machine, a confirmation (’like’) machine, a moral machine, a disciplining machine, a capitalist machine? All or none are possible. However, in this case, I side with the phenomenologically adventurous, the porn-producers (or perhaps prosumers), who doesn’t care to reiterate the world through a filter of objectivity, but as a enregistrement of ”flowing hair [and] a flow of sperm”, my hair, my sperm. To someone with an 80ies pentecostalist (again, myself) upbringing, this approach to life is beyond bold, even upstanding in a way.
So the first order of Gonzo Porn Theology may be to recognise that there may in fact be a vast number of people across the world, who are connected by values and morals — or a rebellious streak against sets of values and morals; and that this ’ummah’ is discursively disregarded by both religion and politics, as neither aptly manages to empower it. Even feminism has two prongs, both which advocate sex positivity, but where merely one actually abstains from providing a kneejerk-reaction analysis where all porn is degrading to women, failing to recognise the novel characteristics of both production and its context. But not only that, the practitioners of sexual enregistrement are not in need of sustenance from any such bodies, political or religious. That no theology can even entertain the thought of how such a sustenance may look, however, It is saddening, however, that no theology can even entertain the thought of how such a sustenance would look for long enough.
The theological query in this, for me, it seems is:
To what extent can we accept immanent endeavours as truly meaningful and fulfilling pursuits?
Must everything we do ’that counts’ be directed towards the Lord, King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, awesome Ruler (or some other watery praise-analogy)?
When did we start thinking that sex and communing with god was competing interests, at odds with each other? And why?
Granted. I have operated under the assumption that it’s predominantly young adults who partake in this phenomenon. But that’s not the case. Pregnant women, senior citizens, and fat middle aged blokes all participate. So scientists — those who should boldly go where no one has gone before — are getting their ’safe Deleuze’ bitchslapped by people who are affirming a community of bodies primarily, not of world views, organised religions or political aspirations. It’s not an irreligious phenomenon — Saudis and Pakistanis do it too. Csaba Bene Perlenberg has written a worth the read op-ed in Swedish called ”More porn to the Middle East”) discussing both religious and political ramifications.
What then are we missing? What is theology missing? How can we not ask questions to/ with this global community, which is evidently relishing its shared (albeit separately recorded) activities? How can we not approach such desiring-machines in an age of machines? The desiring machines have come online. They are desiring machines in the cloud, if you will. This is the schizophrenic, out for a walk, that Deleuze and Guattari speaks of. The one in need of the fresh air, not the one on our theological couch, psychoanalysed to death, slut-shamed by fathers and gods. The schizophrenic doesn’t care for the fact that they pray and masturbate with the same hands. The schizophrenic doesn’t need an edict on how to praise the lord with orifices other than the mouth. And it likely found out that ’losing’ its virginity at a christian festival, didn’t make it one bit better. Or worse. Nothing was, as it seems, really lost. ’
Back to gonzo
So in a concrete manner, and reverting to the deleuzian edict of producing new concepts that adds opportunities on how to view the world, what could gonzo porn theology offer us? As Gustafsson and Kuhlin hav already noted, gonzo theology abstain from the universal or the attempt to objectify. Nor would it talk about big words such as Happy, Love, Honest, Strong, or God. But in the situated setting, in the porn, looking through his eyes, down on the amazing, warm, heaving machine of a woman, we can sense how being happy and honest, and if not strong then at least capable, are feelings that can for a brief moment come into play. Minoritarian versions, one may say, with Deleuze. In the situation of mutual desire all these can rise and owerwhelm, and reside, in a situatedness much like ebb and flow. Equally, we can envision the experience through her eyes, and through the rest of her body, we can become aware of a someone being there for us, inside and outside. It is a partial connection, and for her, not seeing her partner, she can pair it with any visions she likes — much like the possibility of imagining god in addition to the elements happening in the Eucharist. She is under no obligation to either project a surplus onto the situation or abstain from such projections. She can make her ecstasy her own, and can choose how much to share with her counterpart. And mind you, here we have only pursued one sexual position — doggystyle — of gonzo porn theology. If we want to be truly productive, we can take seriously the mystical elements, the un-seen, that which we only feel, but is profoundly felt. We can develop phenomenology from behind.
The event, also, in a deleuzian sense, being the object of enregistrement can also unfold differently every time. There is no correct way to view it, either for ’at-home-performers’ or professionals (although the professionals is a category wholly left out of this piece, knowing that it would get us into a completely different discursive realm). They can view their work as a reminder of an encounter, they can let it double with a similar live encounter (watching porn while having sex), sharing it as a standpoint of honesty — that word that Thompson so struggled with.
And trying to engage in honesty ourselves, we have to affirm that the snippets of pleasure shared is something we know very little about. We don’t know much about what happened before, in Frank Ocean’s words, ”little red light on”, or after the camera is turned off. But such are also the encounters of humans. We meet with others in select spaces and times. We enter the mass, explicitly to make room for something other than what was went on in our lives just moments ago. The mass can function as an escape, a window, an opportunity. But it can also serve as a moment of control or direction in a life otherwise lacking control and direction. The moment of sexual enregistrement can both show acts of control and direction, or the opposite, the uncontrolled and the undirected. All have their merits. Enactment and exploration. Trajectory and abandon. With deleuzian spectacles we should also abstain from finding out ”the true situation” behind the scene. What was just prior to the scene, may or may not enter into the scene. This impetus is perhaps best articulated by the unprofessional, the badly lit, the improvised, the mundane sexual positions or the attempt to for once be slightly more creative than ”we” usually are together. The undirected is balancing the razor’s edge where the invevitability of being informed by ’how sex ought to look’ and the abandonment of such norms are at play, where honesty in the act, is recorded in an act of honesty, or recorded as looking as an act of honesty. All are possible.
The Deleuzian move here is the acknowledgment of not-knowing, the acceptance that we are offered the possibility of seeing two fratboys go at it, but with no possibility of knowing anything more than that they are in fact at it. What is the meaning? Deleuze and Guatarri use the phrase ”a thousand tiny sexes”. Never before has the opportunity to see bite size glimpses of such tiny sexes. There is always no way of knowing to what extent (if any) the sharers and the sharee’s intentions or desires line up. But that we are invited to share in this consummation, produces yet another bundle of desire, yet another variety amongst the thousand tiny sexes.
The fact that theology needs to pass through Hildegard of Bingen, muslim medieval erotica, Deleuze & Guattari, schizoanalysis, and connect it to the springtime for arab porn as a means of fighting internet censorship, is depressing. It shows exactly how sex negative theology as a discipline feels the need to be. At the very least, as soon as it has anything to do with the contemporary. We want to be inclusive, but rarely linger on what we are to include. We delude ourselves by thinking that not addressing certain issues means that we are open to their inclusion. Au contraire. We leave them to the wolves. We need to realise how deeply entrenched in the non-guttery side of things we are; in doctrines of respectability, and successfully inherited victorianism.