Saturday, April 7, 2007


Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
-- H. L. Mencken.

Mika Tan bills herself as “The Nice Girl with the Naughty Job.” I ran across her MySpace page a few weeks ago, and I was struck by her self –description:

I am a Taiwanese/Okinawan (mom) and Japanese/Samoan (dad) mutt who grew up in Oahu, Daly City, San Diego, and Guam, in that order. My dad was in the military, so went to 14 schools by the time I graduated high school. I have been described as a free-spirit, goofy and down-to-earth. I have only a few good friends and I treat them like gold; I am one of those kind of friends who will actually show up on moving day with a U-Haul.

The “only a few good friends and I treat them like gold” might have been copied out of Jung’s Psychological Types. It’s one of the descriptors of an introverted thinking type.

It might seem strange to consider that a performer, any performer, much less a performer in erotic films, aka “porn star,” might be introverted. The “thinking type” goes just as strongly against stereotype, doesn’t it? In fact, it easily, almost inevitably, fits into Jungian theory. The performing persona becomes an expression of “the shadow self,” and why do you think actors love playing villains, madmen, and the outlandish?

My wife Amy used to be a librarian. She’s always been bookish, shy, and ill-at-ease in social situation—as herself, at any rate. But she has a performing persona, “Madame Ovary, The Lady with the Flaubert-ghasting Name,” and when she in character, she is extroversion personified. She is outgoing, magnetic, flamboyant, and, above all, she takes energy from the audience. After a show she practically vibrates and it sometimes takes days for her to come down. A bit bi-polar? Only in the theatrical sense, not the clinical.

I am jolly and effervescent most of the time (whoa…but when I am tired, I totally crash). – Mika Tan

The stereotype of the porn star is a sexually abused, drug addicted, exploited prostitute. I’m sure there is some exploitation involved; this is show business we’re talking about here. But a friend of mine once observed that the adult film industry is the only area of show business where the actresses routinely make more money than the actors. They also form their own production companies and move on to themselves direct films at a rate that I daresay exceeds that in “regular Hollywood.”

I once read an interview of Georgina Spelvin, the star of The Devil in Miss Jones where she said that she’d encountered “the casting couch” (the exchange of sex for a stage or motion picture role) much less often in adult films than in the theater or regular motion picures. Again, exploitation is a relative term.

One of the chasms in “The Great Divide,” the gap between both sides of The Culture War, is the attitude toward pornography and those who make it, especially the performers. Realize that it’s not the actual consumption of pornography where the differences lie. One of the exquisite ironies of the “community standards” court interpretations came when those accused of possessing or manufacturing pornography could point to the internet traffic to porn sites from the communities where they lived. It turned out that porn consumption in those small towns in Utah, Iowa, and Georgia was as high as anywhere.

But the puritanical smut hounds hate themselves for it, and they hate those who provide it to them. In practice, that comes down to hating women. It finds expression in all sorts of ways, from the demeaning stereotypes to outright stalking.


On the other side of the Culture Divide there is respect, even admiration for the performers. I remember an article describing how the Saturday Night Live cast treated Seka, another adult film star, when she appeared briefly on the show hosted by Sam Kinison. The word “reverence” was used.

In many respects, the profession resembles that of the professional athlete. The performers in porn do things that the average person simply cannot do, both physically and mentally. Star baseball, basketball, and football players are sometimes spoken of in the language of the superhuman. Mainstream actors and actresses are praised for “digging deep,” or “exposing raw emotion.” Action stars are lauded for performing their own stunts.

In mainstream discourse “hard core” is a superlative and a compliment, except when it’s hard core pornography, which, of course, was the origin of the term. But to those who have actually colonized the other side of the cultural divide, the hard core performers are heroic. They’ve broken chains that the rest of us lack the strength to break.


The Constructivist said...

I would love to see what Catharine MacKinnon or Twisty would say in response to this, just to read your comeback. Are porn actors unionized? If not, should they be?

James Killus said...

The only unionization that I've heard of for the sex industry generally was when a strip club in San Francisco, "Lusty Lady" had its employees form a union under the auspices of IWW, then later became a worker-owned cooperative, with some turbulent results:

I had some dealings with the IWW when I was working with a non-profit in the Bay Area a few years ago, and one of their notable characteristics is that they will try to unionize organizations that other unions won't touch, and it's my understanding that this was the case with the Lusty Lady.

In truth, I think that Sharon Mitchell has single handedly done more to improve the lot of SF based sex workers than any union has ever tried to:

So my position on unionizing sex workers looks to be uncomfortably close to my opinion of nuclear power: it seems like a good idea except that our current society makes a mess of it.

Of course there are a lot of things where this argument applies, and there is such a thing as being too pure for this world.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

excuse me, "an"

James Killus said...

Sorry anonymous, (it that is your real name), as far as I'm concerned, you're just another kind of spam.

Anonymous said...

I think this was a very well thought out piece. Much respect. There is much truth to it and we have discussed very similar ideas at my company (porn).

James Killus said...

Thank you, Brother Aten. May you and yours prosper.

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