Cyberswept away

by Yule Heibel on June 7, 2003

On Friday I listened to a CBC Radio report about a cyberporn conference in Montreal (June 5-7), featuring Mark Prince of 2Much, two women named Fay Sharpe and Kathee Brewer, and several others. None of the people interviewed stressed the porn aspect of the business. All of the people interviewed instead stressed the business aspect of the cyberporn. They talked with great enthusiasm about the fact that, aside from being a huge booming industry, cyberporn is the incubator for many web technologies that show up on “straight” websites months or years later. This made the participants proud; it proved their value. The conference attendees were a mixed lot: some had been laid off when the dot-com bubble burst and had found financial revival in cyberporn. Philip Brandes is probably the best example here: I think our market [cyberporn entrepreneurs, not consumers of porn] is the former people, who know this business, who know the potential of the Internet to make money. Another woman interviewed had worked as a waitress and was now earning steady money as a porn webmistress. Others breathlessly extolled the virtues of the business model that internet porn has pioneered, claiming that it’s a model for all of us. When I went online to find out more about this conference, however, I couldn’t find much. Googling “cybernet porn” and “Montreal” turned up the usual suspects focussed on penetrating eliminatory orifices, but not much else. When I typed in “Mark Prince” and “2Much” I did get a link to an older page that hyped the upcoming Montreal conference. From there, I had a name for the conference — Cybernet Expo — and could find more news releases. But they all appeared on “adult” pages. Big business model that it promotes notwithstanding, it is not front page news in mainstream business sections. I learned that Montreal is considered a premiere North American porn hotspot. All the usual trite cliches were trotted out to make it seem “natural” that this is so: Montreal women are more beautiful than women elsewhere; Montrealers’ Gallic mentality predisposes them to embrace erotica; they’re so laissez-faire. Well well, suddenly no business model, just tired old canards to shore up flimsy explanations. (Aside: When I was 17 I ran away to Europe for 3 months, and since it didn’t work that year, I next ran away to Montreal just after my 18th birthday. I lived through blizzards in April and heatwaves in August; slaved at a subsistence-pay job at a photographic ad agency — and was groped in the darkroom by the owner, who, fat & balding & liver-spotted everywhere, reached just up to my chest; rode the subway daily, and hitchhiked during the inevitable transit strikes; lived with actors & directors who were part of Montreal’s thriving theatre scene; and rented my own roach-infested flat from a guy whose Quebecois accent was so thick I couldn’t understand a word. As far as I could tell, the Greek, Russian, and Eastern (non-Anglo) immigrants easily outnumbered the “Gauls” in most neighbourhoods that I frequented, the women weren’t any more beautiful than elsewhere (they generally just dressed better and used lots of make-up), and the supposed Gallic indifference to sexual taboo seemed to me to be simple distraction in the face of the relentless grime & noise & hassle of a city in which making ends meet was no easy task.) Victoria has a seamy-nasty child prostitution thing happening, but no one is romanticizing that with misty-saucy cliches. But the cyberporn stuff seemingly involves so many billions that it begins to pass for glamorous and rational. That’s what the economic model does: it rationalizes things, even things that attract customers on the basis of desires so irrational as to defy explanation. Perhaps we’ve already overstepped some kind of limit, enslaving irrationality to a market model and making it become rational. Thinking about this yesterday I was reminded of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974-75 film, Swept Away which I understand has been remade with Madonna (urgh…). The reviewers all focussed on what they called Gennarino’s “bitch-slapping” of Raffaella. But the key event is really the scene where Raffaella asks Gennarino to perform a taboo sex act. She has to point to her bum since he doesn’t understand her when she names the act. The naming in itself sparks arousal and debasement in her, while it does nothing for him. He is a peasant, a fisherman, and has no truck with her jaded-decadent sexual ways. When he understands at last, he seems slightly disgusted-quizzical and lifts his eyebrows, but he complies because he is falling in love with her. It’s clear that this isn’t something that his sort of people typically do, even if the confused crypto-fascist privileged female he’s falling for needs the extra fillip of humiliation to get off. Wertmuller uses the breach of the taboo to illustrate class relations, and she got soundly drubbed for it by the critics, men, who didn’t “get it.” Yet who would have thought that 20 years later, the peasant Gennarino is well and truly dead: he’s a quaint little stuffed museum piece now, for guys today simply aren’t peasants anymore. Capitalism has made sure of that: well-schooled in the glamourization of the taboo, they hardly lift an eyebrow at any act. That’s pornography: making the irrational taboo compliant with economic rationality, regularizing it, making it normal. Wertmuller’s film is all about master-slave relations, and about how those relations psychically shift, about how we debase ourselves to construct illusions of control and mastery, and how economic status figures into it (when Raffaella & Gennarino are finally rescued, she instantly reverts to her economic status, denies him, and reclaims her place in the hierarchy: he’s still a peasant, she’s got the power). That was Wertmuller’s take in the early 70s. Since then our technologies have changed so much — it’s taboo-on-demand now. I wonder how we’re re-describing ourselves to each other through the glamourization and rationalization of the taboo, and if the yoking of the taboo to economic rationality will sweep us away.

{ 1 comment }

Robin August 24, 2003 at 3:03 pm

Iwas wondering what it takes to get into the montreal porn scene. Im average with a great “smile” if you can help i was wondering if you could get back to me. I just moved here from British Columbia.

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