Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Ain't That Like Shame. Thoughts on Pornography and "Shame"
I never understood the concept of a sex tape. I consider it a step down from pornography. The idea of people watching others have sex is already an odd one to me. The idea of people watching themselves having sex is just narcissistic, if not idiotic. I don't consider myself repulsive, but somehow watching myself doing a little bump and grind does not turn me on.
I also never bought the idea that sex tapes are "accidentally" uncovered (so to speak). I may not be the shrewdest man on the block, but if for some strange reason I decided to videotape myself having sex, having a recording of my naked body thrusting left right and center, I would not leave it just lying around. I would lock that thing up in the best vault I could find. Therefore, all these people who find themselves on these "sex tapes" for all the world to see meant for the world to see them.
That being the case, how is Kim Kardashian different from all those Traci Lords wannabes? Both built their entire fame and career out of letting other people watch them get screwed by someone not their husband. I would probably say the popularity of Miss Kardashian, built on her ass and her vagina, is a Sign of The End of Western Civilization, but you already know that, don't you?
I think watching people have actual sex is counterproductive to the pleasure principle. Allow me to explain.
When I had Cinemax, they would show soft-core porn films late at night (hence the nickname Skin-emax). I would catch a couple of these flicks and frankly, be puzzled. My mind is trained such that when I watch the various sexual encounters, I do ask myself, "how is this relevant to the plot"? I would watch one of their Cinemax After Dark features and be amazed that in fifteen minutes I would see three sex acts.
It isn't so much the sex itself that bothers me. I know this is how I was created. I deviate from some of my Christian brethren in that I don't think sex is wrong, "doing the nasty" being a sad turn of phrase. I think sex is wonderful, and that God wants us to derive pleasure from this most intimate act. Otherwise, He would have found another way to have us come up with more humans.
However, when I see the people having sex, I am saddened. We're suppose to imagine that they are getting a great deal of pleasure from the act of sex, but I don't see it. I guess my mind is such that I can focus on their faces. Everything about graphic/explicit sex on film appears to be so mechanical, so unenthusiastic, that it doesn't appeal to me. The people on screen don't appear to be having any fun, let alone actual pleasure, in their sex. It's all so hollow, a shadow of what true intimacy in sex is suppose to be.
When I see the couple (or at least it's usually two people) having sex on camera, I notice that the person may be making her/his face appear to be in the throes of ecstasy, but I can tell when they are faking. I see two people who look almost bored by what they are doing. It is for a simple reason: the sex isn't there for their own pleasure, but for the "pleasure" of others, people whom they will probably never meet.
True sex, true good sex, is an unselfish act. The best sex isn't the one where you are GETTING pleasure, it's the one where you are GIVING pleasure (or at least doing your best to give the other person pleasure). As I've long argued, there is nothing wrong with getting physical thrills from the act of sex. However, I believe that it is when you are not concentrating on yourself but on your partner, on the person with whom your body and soul yearns for, who fulfills both a physical and emotional (perhaps even spiritual) role in your life, that is the one with whom you will have mind-blowing sex.
I think this is why prostitution isn't big for me. I've never been to a prostitute and never will be with one (minus the fact that I'm frankly too cheap). Yes, one can get sex from it, and you may have some satisfaction from it, but the high will be temporary because it does not fulfill what I consider one of the important aspects of sex: a physical and emotional connection from which comes a mutual sense of pleasure and joy.
Which brings us to Shame. Much was made of Michael Fassbender's penis being thrust at us. I'm sure Fassbender is very proud of it (his performance I mean...whatever were YOU thinking). The big thing about Shame (I keep thinking I won't be able to avoid puns) is the fact that it was a man that bared his penis before the camera. We've long gotten used to women going topless or fully nude for film (just ask Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia). The sight of Fassbender's member, to me, wasn't shocking.
Truth be told, I was more shocked by seeing Anne "Princess Diaries" Hathaway rip her top off just before all but raping Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain. I was saying out loud while watching, "Oh my God, Oh my God...Princess Diaries...". I found her Julie Andrews moment more shocking than the gay scenes between Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.
My shock has nothing to do with Cinemax After Dark. In those films, we never see a man's penis. I suppose this is because men don't like seeing other men's penises and what women watch porn films aren't as visually stimulated as men (the primary consumers of porn) are. Shame was quite different: it was ART. It wasn't meant to be erotically stimulating. In the same way Dunst lying luxuriously nude near the water in Melancholia was meant to be 'artistic', Fassbender walking about with his pendulum going all around was also 'relevant to the plot'.
I never bought that line. I never accepted the premise that in order to play a sex addict Fassbender HAD to show us his private parts (I guess that term is out of date, isn't it). I saw the film, thought it was well-made, but still think the nude scenes with Fassbender (though not a large part of the film...sorry, couldn't be helped), were gratuitous. I could have gotten the same message of Shame (how the addiction to sex is no different than the high someone gets off of drugs or alcohol) without seeing all of Michael Fassbender.
However, I think it is a disservice to say that Shame is like a porn film. The sex in Shame is suppose to be depressing. There is no uplift (sorry) from Fassbender's sexual encounters. Instead, we see a thoroughly broken man, almost soulless, one for whom women are disposable because the act of sex has taken the place of the act of love. On the whole, I find the sex scenes (even the nudity) in Shame to be less graphic than something on Cinemax. The only real difference is that in Shame we see the male nude as well as the female.
On the whole, the depressing aspects of sex in Shame were closer to the reality of sex sans love than the fantasy of sex being the same as pleasure in those films one sees after dark. In short, pornography, whether be on film, in magazines, or the Internet, may give the viewer a momentary satisfaction in a release of a desire, but the pleasure one gets from it is remarkably short and empty (which is why people keep going back to it). Sex without love is hollow. I think this is what makes Shame an anti-pornographic film (I believe, unintentionally so): it is clear that there is no pleasure in the sex if it without love.
It's mechanical and devoid of joy...not unlike pornographic films or those 'sex tapes' people keep coming across. In that way, despite the nudity in it (in particular that of Michael Fassbender), porn films and 'sex tapes' are not like Shame.
I still, however, could have gone through life without seeing Michael Fassbender's penis, and I hope never to encounter it again. No offense, Mike.