Ex-Director Tells Why He Quit Making Gonzo Porn

Making pornI’m a few days late with this but really want to blog about it. Sam Benjamin, ex porn director and author of Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer, has written an article for AlterNet entitled Why I Had To Stop Making Hardcore Porn. In it he describes how he spent 5 years making heterosexual gonzo porn for a living and how, eventually, he decided to stop because he found the whole experience too cruel.

I came to learn that within the context of the heterosexual L.A. industry, while my overt task at hand was to make sure that the girls got naked, my true responsibility as director was to make sure the girls got punished. Scenes that stuck out, and hence made more money, were those in which the female “targets” were verbally degraded and sometimes physically humiliated.

None of it was written in my contract, of course; it was more of a contextual thing. Like: Everyone’s doing it . . . thus, so shall we. My various superiors across the years saw the issue from a businessman’s perspective, reminding me quite openly of the need to keep up with our competition…

What surprised me most though, was the fact that I found within myself a happy willingness to be violent, a willingness to degrade. Though my bosses may have ordered me to organize and record the scenes of degradation, I followed their orders, and not without pleasure. Something cowardly within me, an internal space, suffused with a weak kind of anger, felt satisfied when I saw a woman “take her punishment.” I clung to the sense of temporary empowerment I found through the bullying. Lust-colored aggression and the satisfaction of making “good money” guided me through scene after scene.

Sam is talking about exactly the kind of porn I find offensive and have spoken out against regularly on this blog. I too have seen the slow creep towards “harder” porn online, “harder” meaning crueler and more degrading. I’ve long deplored the various “reality” sites that showed women laughed at and abused for having sex, sites that show women being slapped, made to vomit and cry during blowjobs, called whores and bitches and sluts… To me this type of porn has always been more about hate and revenge rather than actual sex and I despise it.

Sam then goes on to say that, after a break, he took up directing gay porn and found the attitude behind it to be far different:

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Gay porn, in fact, was so goddamn simple that it approached a type of Zen beauty. I mean, this was guys taking on guys, in every shape and form imaginable, for the most part in good humor and absent-minded lust. They may have stuck to roles of “tops” and “bottoms,” but in the dressing room, we all seemed equals, on the same team.

Thankfully he uses the experience of gay porn to point out that not all pornography need be exploitative or cruel. He also mentions female-directed and alt porn as examples or more positive erotica. He then goes on to say:

At its worst, though, porn can represent with shocking clarity the inability of a modern society to empathize. We are living in an increasingly individualistic, over-privatized, fragmented society, and it’s not going to get any better any time soon. Perhaps the character of our generation will be judged in how we react to the images that run before us on our screens: do we wish for the objects of our desire to be punished, humiliated? Or treated with respect? The answer is in our collective consciousness. It is up to us.

While I think Sam’s juxtaposition of “us and them” is a bit too simplistic (exploitation happens in gay porn too), I’m glad he wrote the article. This is a conversation we really need to be having and questions need to be asked:

* Why have some genres of porn become so horrible?
* Who is driving it? The consumers or the producers?
* What is the motivation behind wanting to see/create this type of porn?
* What effect does it have on young men who may see porn as a type of sex education?
* How can we change things so that degrading gonzo porn is no longer so dominant?
* How do we make porn better?

In the fight against censorship I find myself standing up for all porn, even though I dislike so much of it. Unfortunately freedom of speech means I have to defend their position in order to maintain mine – even though what I do is so vastly different, ethically and philosophically. And yet defending freedom of speech doesn’t mean I can’t speak out and say there’s a problem here. Because there is and I’m glad someone like Sam Benjamin has acknowledged it. The trick now is to keep discussing this without the inevitable calls for it to be banned.

Once again, Annie Sprinkle’s quote applies: The solution to bad porn isn’t no porn, it’s better porn.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for ten years now. Carving out my own little dirty corner of the internet and creating a space for women that’s positive, respectful, intelligent and fun, one that embraces sexuality as an act of love and pleasure, not hatred. I want to make a difference to porn, to provide something that’s good and well made and beautiful. To depict sex as something worthy of honour and respect.

At this stage I’ll direct you to an excellent piece written by Charlie Glickman from Good Releasing called The Ethics Of Making Sex Positive Porn. It’s his response to Sam’s article and details his ideas about improving the porn landscape. It becomes a plug for Good Releasing but that’s OK because they’re a distribution and production company that IS trying to make a difference.

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4 Replies to “Ex-Director Tells Why He Quit Making Gonzo Porn”

  1. I agree that a lot of porn today is formulaic. The facial can be particularly boring to watch if it’s just the dude jerking off. I have seen it done well, when the actress is the one finishing the actor, and really seems keen. On the hole though, it seems pretty pointless.

    I tend to not enjoy too much story. A little bit of set up at the beginning can be okay, but too much for a video scene can get dull. It usually isn’t interesting or shot well, and far too overloaded with innuendo. This is different in erotic literature, where the back story is key to the pay off.

    The best video pornography I’ve seen is when everyone involved is clearly enjoying themselves. That can mean more specialised acts, or more vanilla sex. It’s usually obvious when someone is in over their head.

    Personally, I tend to follow the careers of particular actresses. It can be hard to know if the scene in question is going to be enjoyable from the cover or screen shots on a scene site. Once you’ve given your money over, you can’t really take it back after not enjoying the product. I get the impression that it is the actress’ presence that sell a lot of product, regardless of the kind of film their in.

    I think that the popularity of bad pornography is symptom of underlying social problems rather than the cause. So, my position on the censorship debate is the same as yours. It’s better to cure the underlying problems rather than leaving them to fester with no outlet.

  2. I read Sam Benjamine’s article a while ago and was pleased to hear someone from the industry doing some soul searching. It takes guts to admit your errors.

    A few days ago I saw a trailer for a hetro porn movie on the website of a female porn star/director. The movie was a “punishment fantasy” involving the female star being punished by her “husband” for making a mess in the kitchen, including face slapping.

    It was about the most anti-sexy thing I have ever seen, and I only saw the first couple of minutes.

    The director asked the question of viewers if they thought that it was “too much”

    I was very pleased to see that both of the men who commented said “Yes! Too much”. What astounded me was that two women who commented said that it was great.

    I am a big fan on BDSM, because on the whole it is a society with rules that people follow and respect. It has boundaries.

    The movie mentioned above takes the actions of BDSM but removes the rules and boundaries. This is (to my mind) a dangerous thing to do.

    I grew up being told never to hit girls (or guys, unless it was self defence), and I never have, or would. I have however applied (and received) a riding crop and other forms of discipline in a safe consensual environment.

    Anything that doesn’t reinforce the rights of individuals to respect and physical safety in porn is, bad. End of story, in my opinion.

    So, bring on the positive porn. Lets stop feeding the desires of the “cowardly”.

    1. I also find those kinds of scenarios in porn to be rather disturbing. The only one I haven’t objected to is Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex. In that film it was clearly stated that the scenes were a fantasy and interviews with the models made their consent clear. I honestly think this is something that should happen more in “edgy” porn; context is everything.

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