I promised back in November that I was going to blog about "The Price of Pleasure," and I don't think I ever did. While I appreciated the film's critique on some levels, I was left disturbed by several elements of the film itself.
The main issue I have with this film is that it is manipulative. I use that word very intentionally: it is a film with a particular political argument to make, and yet it presents itself as a neutral exploration of the porn industry. When porn performers are included, their words and images are carefully shaped to make them appear either insincere (acknowledging some criticisms of the industry but continuing to work in it), unintelligent (not seeming to understand that they are exploiting / being exploited), and/or selfish (being concerned with personal success and not the political implications that the filmmakers want to present). Several of these performers, and notably, Ernest Greene, have protested the way they appear in the film and contrasted this to the "unbiased" presentation of the issue that they were promised by the filmmakers.
The film includes a few sensationalized dramatizations with voice-overs of women talking about their experiences with a partner who used pornography. These dramatizations are badly done; they reminded me a bit of the ads for products like the Snuggli or a specialized kitchen tool, in which actors are shown having tremendous difficulty talking on the phone while keeping a blanket on their shoulders, or trying and failing to peel a carrot without cutting themselves. The music employed throughout is discordant and unsettling, and it is used to make the viewer associate negative emotions (the music particularly evokes anxiety and fear) with the images that are being shown. Further, with the exception of the porn performers and clips from some porn films and magazines, there are no interviews with women who use porn or whose partners use porn and who feel empowered or at least NOT disempowered by it. This is not because such women do not exist or are hard to find. This is because the film has a particular message - porn exploits women and teaches men to abuse women - and these other perspectives do not fit into this message and would undermine it.
What all of this means to me as a feminist and educator is that the film is not going to be useful, generally, to me in the classroom, and that it would best be paired with additional perspectives to round out the experience for students.
What motivates me to write about it today is that I received a catalog from the Media Education Foundation, an organization that has distributed some excellent films (the "Killing Us Softly" series; "Wrestling with Manhood: Boys, Bullying & Battering") and some pretty mediocre ones ("What a Girl Wants"). MEF films do present pornography as exploitation, so it is not the affiliation that surprises me, but the fact that "The Price of Pleasure" continues to be presented as something that it is not. For example, Michael Kimmel, who I otherwise respect a great deal, is quoted in the MEF catalog as saying (taken from a review or cover blurb, I believe) : "I've been waiting for a film about pornography that was neither sanctimoniously scolding nor callously celebratory. And, finally, there is THE PRICE OF PLEASURE." The film's description reads: "the film moves beyond tired and often paralyzing liberal-versus-conservative debates to offer a nuanced take on the cultural implications of pornography."
Ladies and gentlemen, "The Price of Pleasure" is sanctimoniously scolding and fails to move beyond tired and often paralyzing debates of any kind. There is no nuance in this film. While it is true that it does "forc[e] us to consider how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, liberty and responsibility have become intertwined in the most intimate areas of our lives," it does so without giving us enough information to *fully* consider this information.
What I've been waiting for is a film that presents arguments from a variety of perspectives on this issue. I'd like to see a film that does not so obviously have a stake in the porn - anti-porn war, but rather one that presents arguments from sex workers who are working in the industry and allows them to share both the good and bad of their experiences; from people who use or have used porn and can share with the viewer a range of experiences from abuse and addiction to empowerment and sexual access; from people who have important cultural critiques of porn and sex work; from people who are working to legislate against sex trafficking and who see porn as inherently connected to this problem; from people who argue that trafficking is best approached inclusively and who advocate labelling sex work as "work"; from people who have experienced what unionization, or legalization, or decriminalization has meant for sex workers, whether it be good, bad, or in-between; from other people whose perspectives I am forgetting as I write this.
In the meantime - Renegade Evolution, Ernest Greene, folks who are working in this industry - if you are reading this, I hope that you will consider making your own film, specifically for use in the Women's Studies classroom...