A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Pornography But No More Oldsmobiles
Thursday, January 14, 2010

I had admired the writing of Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent (the First Gulf War) for the New York Times so when I saw a book of his at my local Vancouver Public Library (the Oakridge Branch) I grabbed it. It is a fast read which means that the book has just been published and when you take it out you get it for only a week. For every overdue day you pay $1.00.

Fast read, is one thing this book, Empire Of Illusion - The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle is not. It consists of five chapters which are essays on what is wrong with the United States, and by a most logical extension what is wrong with our Canada.

I finished the second chapter, Illusion of Love last night and it left me shocked and deadened. When the subject is pornography I am a naïve amateur.

My first foray into pornography happened in 1973 when my wife, two small daughters and I drove our VW beetle from Mexico City to San Francisco. While there I decided I needed to see a dirty movie. I had read about Deep Throat. I told Rosemary, “I am off to see a pornographic film called Deep Throat.” She said nothing.

I sat behind two black men who ate popcorn through the whole film. I left with the realization that if I saw too many of these films I would end up impotent. I simply was not into pornography. Deep Throat was the last and first porno movie I ever saw.

In the mid 80s my friend Les Wiseman was writing a rock column, In One Ear for Vancouver Magazine and he used this as a justification to interview ( I went along as the photographer) porn star Marilyn Chambers at the Four Seasons Hotel. The justification had all to do with the fact that Chambers was the lead singer of her own country and western band and it was playing the evening after at the Commodore.

When we left the interview I asked Les, “Do they really do it in the movie. Is it for real?” Les snickered and answered, “What do you think?”

About 10 years later I rang the bell at Les’s coach house pad near City Hall. I was there just for a visit. He let me in and told to sit down in front of a wooden cabinet. He opened the doors to a largish TV set. He pushed a few buttons and I was soon watching a detailed close-up of Marylyn Chambers having sex. He said, as if those 10 years had been only 10 minutes, “You see they really do it.” I did not ask for more details as it bored me and I left it at that.

A friend of mine, a very good local female photographer decided to try her fortune in Los Angeles. A couple of years later she had a really well paying job which consisted of finding good motels and locations for porn films. I was shocked and a bit disappointed in my friend.

Hedges’ chapter on pornography is so incredibly brutal that I could not believe what I was reading. His descriptions on what these more recent films include and how it affects the health and the well-being of the women involved are all shocking. The fact that after all kinds of multiple penetrations by dozens of men within a few hours, one of the men will grab the woman and drag her to a toilet. He will then plunge her head into the toilet bowl and flush it (it's called a swirlie) was, paradoxically the tamest of what I read and the only description I will put here.

Then I was hit by the statistics. Here they are:

There are 13,000 porn films made every year in the United States, most in the San Fernando Valley in California. According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the ever-expanding e-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That is more than the revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and EarthLink combined. Annual sales in the United States are estimated at $10 billion or higher. There is no precise monitoring of the porn industry. And porn is lucrative to some of the nation’s largest corporations. General Motors owns DIRECTV, which distributes more than 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T Broadband and Comcast Cable are currently the biggest American companies accommodating porn users with the Hot Network, Adult Pay Per View, and similarly themed services. AT& T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers.
Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges, 2009

I felt compelled to write about pornography when I had a phone conversation with a Vancouver colleague, Hans Sipma. I was telling him that the latest art craze at Emily Carr University of Art And Design is the Super 8 movie. Sipma sent me a YouTube link to a Super 8 movie he happened to take in 1982 when he was working in a studio for Eaton's on Robson and Granville (in the very building where I had my studio until this past September). It features a street demonstration headed by then city counselor and religious minister Bernice Gerard. The demonstration was protesting the screening of Caligula in a conventional (not a porn establishment) movie house on Granville.

I guess that had I seen Gerard then I would have thought her some sort of a fringe nut. Now as I listen to her talk to Sipma’s camera she seems to make sense.

My photographic grab shots, taken in the early 80s, of stripper and nude performance (streaking in baseball and football games) artist, Annie Ample, somehow promoting a non-smoking campaign and with the odd participation of the Penthouse’s Joe Philliponi seem to be quaint and innocent. The shots are almost laughable. Where those times (in comparison to the hell Hedges writes about) really that innocent?


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St Isidore's Bed

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