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Chuck Kleinhans
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VIDEO PORN

Posted By Chuck Kleinhans, Sunday, March 10, 2013

VIDEO PORN PANEL

"Porn Comes Home: Sex Media and the Creation of Home Entertainment” was a great panel in which original historical research illuminated the emergence of video porn in the past 40 years. The temporally overlapping papers gave a sense of rich density to the subject at hand. Joshua Kitching discussed the legacy of the "video underground” in the 1969-76 period where the existence of the Sony Portapak allowed the counterculture vanguard to document and exploit sexual themes and representations in the new technology. Combining carnal images with McLuhanesque notions about the medium, the work ranged from obsessive autobiographical diaristic work (put your life on tape as with Carel & Ferd), to artist video manipulation of naked bodies (Sex Machine by Wood and Steina Vasulka).

Next, Peter Alilunas discussed the "prehistory” of home video using the underground economy of about 30 Los Angeles motels which suddenly started offering room rentals with hard core porn (delivered via internal cable from the main office using Sony U-matic format, before Beta and VHS cassettes) that you could see privately, as opposed to the usual theatrical exhibition. This immediately raised issues of the law in terms of porn, and also copyright, and (just discovered) possibilities of a rental market for films. But it also lays out an alternative to the usual history of home video in which the "illicit” history has been repressed or overlooked in the "official” or above-ground telling of the story. [Full disclosure: I’m an outside member of his dissertation committee, and just gave him comments on three terrific chapters of the project.]

Then Andrew Owen discussed "Gay, Straight, and Everything In-Between: Fluid Porn Desire in Playgirl,” looking at the nude presence of men as centerfolds in the ostensibly female-readership magazine. As was widely known and discussed from its own time on, the magazine also attracted a gay male readership. Owen was able to place this in several useful institutional contexts: the opening up of sexual discussion and imagery in a variety of women-oriented publications of the time, the careful star/celebrity management of closeted and coming our narratives, and the production of gay-for-pay stardom later in video porn history. (FD: I’m also on Andy’s dissertation committee.)

Eric Schaefer was the respondent, and provided a welcome and longer frame for the issues by discussing his own view of the problem of doing historiographical research in an area of "distasteful history.” He discussed the difficulty of doing primary research (or even secondary research) in this area and how assembling a critical mass of scholarship out of the erratic and available documents lets us then see connections or traces which allows for a more thorough analysis.

This panel was another case of something I was seeing repeatedly at the conference. The remarkable assemblage of new archival materials over the past two or three decades has allowed young scholars to do vital new research. But their approach, by necessity, begins with texts and fragments that don’t always or yet reveal other networks, backgrounds, connections (sometimes personal, sometimes institutional), and so forth. For example, Josh showed an ad for "Carel and Ferd,” an early 70s shot-on-portapak diary video of the personal life (including sex life) of a man and a woman who had been involved in the San Francisco porn business at the time. What he didn’t (yet) know [I’m revealing it now] is that Carel Rowe went on (shortly) to grad school and her dissertation (at Northwestern, 1977) was published as a key book on early New American Cinema, The Baudelairean cinema : a trend within the American avant-garde (1982), covering Kenneth Anger and others. (She also produced, wrote, and directed videos including: Paradise denied: a covert report on Turkish North Cyprus (2003). Again FD: I discuss her career in a different direction here: http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc53.2011/kleinhans-creatIndus/index.html

But often in the whole SCMS conference, I witnessed direct encounters, across and within generations, of productive and fluid connections. Witness the P6 panel with Dorit Naaman commenting on Sarah Barkin’s essay on Israeli and Palestinian First Person Documentaries. As some of the conference tweets attested: people were meeting their footnotes, encountering the actual bodies of their comp and qual exams, and managing "celebrity sightings.” Yes indeed: academic celebrities: "They’re just like US!”

Tags:  Andrew Owen  Carel Rowe  celerity sightings  Dorit Naaman  eric Schaefer  Josh kitching  Peter Alilunas  Sarah Barkin  they're just like us!  video porn panel 

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