“Why I do it” — An Erotic Documentarian’s Viewpoint

May 21, 2009

by Tony Comstock
Special Guest to the Legal Satyricon

In a world that seems awash in sexualized imagery, why is it that so little of this imagery speaks to the common pleasurable reality of sex? We’ve been producing the “Real People, Real Life, Real Sex” erotic documentary series for some time now, and I’ve heard the same kinds of questions dozens, perhaps even hundreds of times from people who know and love our work, from therapists and counselors, from people in pain about their sexuality, and from people enjoying their sexuality as part of full and wholesome lives. Over and over, I am asked, “Why are films like ours, films that depict sex in a way that is joyous and cinematic, almost nonexistent?” “Why are art films that contain explicit sex always so downbeat?” “Why does pornography look and feel so different from the other sorts of visual images we see?” “How does what we do — and do not — see in cinema affect our understanding of our own sexuality?”

I’d like to say the answer is that I have a special insight into the human sexual condition as it relates to cinema, but it’s a little more complicated than that. To truly understand why sex on film looks the way it does, one needs to look at the history of sexual imagery in cinema, the history of obscenity laws, and the business and technology of image making. Once you have that background, you can explore how cinematic images actually work, and how that relates to cinematic depictions of sexuality. I have spent many years investigating that background, and the more I learn, the more I am driven to make the films that we produce.

I have been a photographer my entire adult life. I believe passionately in the power of the moving image to help us understand who we are as human beings. I’ve documented unspeakable suffering, violence, and death. For that, I’ve been called a courageous witness.

In bearing witness to sex, I sometimes get called other, less charitable names. Sometimes this hurts my feelings. Sometimes it makes me feel like quitting.

I bear witness to the sex act because I believe that depictions of truly joyous and wholesome sex — depictions that represent the overwhelmingly positive and important role that our sexuality plays in our humanity — are all but absent from the cinematic landscape. Moreover, in an age where it is easier than ever to see sexually explicit imagery, it is harder than ever to find imagery that reflects the common reality of sex: that sex is nice; that sex is normal; that sex is good.

I’d like to share a comment left on my blog about three years ago. As you might imagine, doing this work and demanding that it be taken seriously can sometimes be a struggle. But when I despair, I go back and read this:

I have issues with sex. I’m a sexual abuse survivor. Anyone who’s been sexually abused comes into sexuality with a handbag and two trunks of emotional baggage.

When we were trying to conceive there was a blatant point to having sex: having a baby. That made it okay. After all, society couldn’t look down it’s nose at a married couple — young, still facing fertility problems, trying to have a child.

And then when the child is born, you get the excuse of body recuperation. And if your child is sick, you get a bonus 6 month reprieve. However, there does come a point where sexuality, motherhood, couplehood, and life clash. I’m tired. Sex requires energy. So does doing the dishes. But sex requires an emotional investment, something I’m not ready to make, something I feel inferior making. So the dishes it is. And laundry for good character.

I feel conflicted by sexual imagery. I sometimes like what I see. I sometimes like it a lot. But sometimes it scares me. I’m not pretty like Eva Longoria. I’m not thin or have shiny hair. I don’t have nice breasts. Mine are saggy and droopy and currently nourish the body of a very rotund 9 month old. They serve a purpose, and purposeful breasts aren’t sexy — to me anyway. And besides, they don’t LOOK like the breasts I see on TV. Perfect, sculpted breasts. Breasts that boys like. And bodies. Don’t get me started on the bodies.

What we see isn’t real. It’s said over and over. I know there are 50 people off-set creating the magic. What they’re feeling isn’t real. What they’re doing isn’t real. And it makes me wonder if what I’m doing is okay. Emotionally un-investing myself in my relationship. Because really, I can’t ask family about sex. I can’t ring my mother-in-law up and ask her if she ever felt this way when looking at her naked body. Or ask her if she felt hung up on emotional issues when her husband’s hand touched her bottom.

Abuse survivors bring guilt into the game as well. Not only do we have more bodily hang-ups, failed relationships and mental problems, but we have guilt about sexuality. About wanting sex. About feeling GOOD about sex.

Today though, something struck me in just in the right spot. I had one of Oprah’s famed “a-ha” moments. A link took me to www.comstockfilms.com. Dubbed: “Real People, Real Life, Real Sex” the site explores sexuality for real. In a documentary style, we meet and enjoy the couple and then venture into the velvety movement of their bodies.

I must say. I was stunned. I’m not a fan of porn. I am disgusted by a lot of what is sold to men. The fairytale behind that isn’t charming, in my opinion. But watching these clips I thought, wow. Oh my goodness. So THIS is sex. For real. And I loved the charming banter of the couples. I feel grown up right now. Like a real adult. I’ve confronted one of my demons — enjoying a sexual experience — and I can actively admit that I enjoyed it. Which is probably a lot more information that you’ve wanted to hear from the mother of a child who doesn’t do a lot of sleeping. If you’ve got the time and the inclination I encourage you to take a step into the realm of Comstock films. It’s the first step I’ve taken to embracing that humans are allowed to be sexual beings. – Jen P.

Award-winning filmmaker Tony Comstock frequently lectures on the legal and business realities that shape and too often warp the sexual imagery we see. Drawing on examples from Hollywood’s history of self-censorship, landmark obscenity cases, and the collision of technology and image-making, Comstock offers an expanded framework for understanding of how what we do and do not see in cinema effects our understanding of our own sexuality.

Welcome a New Satyriconista – Matthew C. Sanchez

April 16, 2009

Matthew C. Sanchez

Matthew C. Sanchez

Matthew C. Sanchez is a budding First Amendment and media lawyer based in South Florida. A regular volunteer with the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard, Matt has logged more than 1600 hours of pro bono work dealing with free speech issues. His own (mostly) free speech consists of music journalism and children’s fiction.

He is a certified bad ass.

How Feminists Can Improve the Porn Industry

December 11, 2008

Special Guest Author<br />Tatiana Von Tauber

Special Guest Author
Tatiana Von Tauber

By Tatiana von Tauber

Feminism drives me crazy. Truthfully, the more feminist stuff I read the more I get stirred into falling for how women never seem to get treated right, how they’re always second class despite all of feminism’s efforts, objectified and “abused” and then I unconsciously start bashing men, which is usually when I realize I’ve fallen for feminist indoctrination again. Isn’t feminism mainly about choice?

One advantage – though sometimes maybe a disadvantage – is that I haven’t been schooled through academic feminism. My philosophy is self made through personal experience and education. As a female I’ve been mistreated, “used and abused”, fucked – both literally and figuratively – underpaid, discredited, viewed as under qualified and overrun by the whole mommyhood-work balance that causes havoc in my daily life. I know very well the realities of femalehood but pointing blame on the porn industry as an aid to the disadvantages women have is disempowering. And stupid.

I willingly gave up career to be a stay at home mom. I like sex. I photograph nude women. I write erotic fiction. I like being a girl and have little fear being looked at as a sexual “object” because to be objectified isn’t the same thing as being looked at. The general philosophy of feminism as I know it equals “fucked up female mentality” **yet I object to female disempowerment based on gender and there is no other word other than “feminist” to define my kind of view of female empowerment.

It seems to me that feminism is stuck on the idea that women can have their cake and eat it too. Feminists never seem to be happy. I’d be better to just say that women can have a sliver of that cake, or the whole thing at different times and offer women some realism. Feminism didn’t give me that sense when I was younger and just because men appear to have it all doesn’t mean they do. I think feminism disregards some the negative realities men deal with in their manhood; men are always bad to women yet we fail to see the ways in which women might be hurting men. That’s simply unfair both ways.

So it bothers me that feminists in general are so wound up about the sex thing and sometimes I fight for the adult industry more than I care to just to smack it to them because while feminists scream gender empowerment and choice, when it comes to sex there’s only judgment.

To quote a superb article from Jezebel dot com:

Feminists talk a lot about owning our bodies and making our own sexual choices, but when it comes to women who choose to work in the sex industry, we tend to get a lot more narrow-minded about it. Just ask Joy King, the Wicked Pictures exec – when she was featured talking about her company on the local news, her son’s best friend’s mother refused to let him come over to play anymore because King was one of “those” women.

Feminists claim patriarchy is the problem but, is it really? How much of it? Aren’t women a part of their own problem? Why do so few want to address that?

The few women who share my sexuality-as-empowerment views happen to be the women in the sex industry. I don’t know much about movie porn but I can offer a lot on porn/erotic photography. For me, when viewing erotic material, the only “threat” I see is that someone else got the job. I know what goes into making those sex pictures, what the girls really look like without Photoshop, the reality of the “dumb-blond” stereotype (which isn’t always true), the reality of the supposed “sexual stimulus” in creating such photos and I know that generally, it’s a job: sex is only the illusionary final product no different than any other regular mainstream entertainment created for money. That’s it. It’s about money and if there was no money in porn, there’d be no porn no matter many men suffered from blue balls.

Porn is entertainment which assumes to stimulate the sexual appetite but for me, it more stimulates my own sense of living a life in and around eroticism which fuels my artistic creativity more than my sex life. I am first and foremost, an artist and to assume I only get a sexual thrill from erotica/porn shows the narrow mindedness people have about it because that’s a subjective view become a mainstream norm simply because the majority jack off to it. Yet, if porn/erotica do stimulate the sexual appetite, why would that be so bad in the first place? Why is sex acceptable only under strict contexts? Clearly we can blame religion but in some ways, hasn’t feminism only continued such ridiculous views?

I think the root of changing some of the misconceptions and negative realities in the adult industry could easily be rectified if more women got into the adult industry: more female photographers, writers, producers, directors, agents, etc. If women want power over men – figuratively and literally – maybe they ought to hit the source and dominate what the men have access to sex wise while nurturing the young females who are impressionable and be sensative to their choices by creating better, healthier work environments in the adult industry. It seems like the most logical compromise between the sexes and a compromise is the only way to achieve a realistic degree of equality and relative satisfaction to all.

If new standards want to be set, can women really expect men to do it in the sex industry? If a woman wants a job to be done a differently way, then she ought to do it herself or at the very least, respect and encourage those who attempt to participate in change from positive, pro-active positions they’re too squimish to participate in themselves. However, to make change by attempting to bash, judge or ban porn only fuels further animosity between the sexes. It helps no one.

** update: my quote statement here, thinking of it now, seems harsher in meaning than I intend. Perhaps it needs a rewrite to “a selfish female mentality” rather than “fucked up female mentality”. Feminism generally isn’t fucked up and I don’t want to throw bad onto something that intends good and has, in many ways, created good. However, female egotism is a “fucked up” state of mind and upon original writing, that’s where my thought was headed.

New Satyriconista, Christopher Harbin

September 11, 2008

Christopher Harbin is a second-year law student at the University of Michigan. His interests include anonymous internet defamation, net neutrality, John Doe lawsuits, obscenity law, video game law, and corrupting the English language through the use of L33tSp34k.

Welcome to the revolution, Mr. Harbin!

Individual Rights? Forget Heller

August 14, 2008

By Jonathon Blevins,
Legal Satyricon Second Amendment Correspondent

As first reported here and here, the Second Amendment does not act (currently) as a restriction on the states’ power to regulate the right to keep and bear arms. The Heller decision simply laid the foundation for the eventual incorporation of the Second Amendment via the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, unless you live in D.C. or are currently under Federal jurisdiction, Heller is not a shield from government intrusion.

A current illustration of the lack of protection comes from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. See FN 2. The case demonstrates that while the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, it is not a restraint on the individual states. For an analysis on the available constitutional restrictions please see post. However, this post will exclusively concern the incorporation doctrine as it applies, or should apply to the Second Amendment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Heller in Wisconsin

August 7, 2008

By Jonathon Blevins,
Legal Satyricon Second Amendment Correspondent

Recently, the Eastern District of Wisconsin denied a felon’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Kenneth Robinson plead guilty to possession of a firearm as a felon. See Case. The motion stated that in light of District of Columbia v. Heller 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), the federal regulation of firearm possession by felons, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(1), is unconstitutional as applied. The statute states, “it shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . [to] possess in or affecting commerce any firearm or ammunition.”

The defendant, Mr. Robinson, argues that he can withdraw his guilty plea because his crime is no longer a crime. Mr. Robinson is incorrect. The statute remains valid on its face and as applied to Mr. Robinson.

Heller is parsimonious in application. The decision invalidated an absolute ban on handgun possession. The Supreme Court was careful to allow for reasonable regulation of the “new” individual right to keep and bear arms. Thus, the federal government lost the power to ban handgun possession but retained the power to regulate possession. The Eastern District of Wisconsin does a good job explaining the flaws in Mr. Robinson’s argument based on Heller. However, Mr. Robinson would be incorrect prior to Heller.

Even prior to Heller, Courts traditionally subjected laws regulating the right to keep and bear arms to a “reasonable regulation” standard of review. See Parker, 478 F.3d 370, 399 (D.C. Cir. 2007). Under this standard, courts should invalidate a gun law if it is arbitrary or so restrictive that it “eviscerates,” renders “nugatory,” or results in the effective “destruction of the right to bear arms.” See, e.g., State v. Hamdan, 665 N.W.2d 785 (Wis. 2003).

Such courts, applying a reasonableness standard, all recognized, “[t]he police power cannot [ ] be invoked in such a manner that it amounts to the destruction of the right to bear arms.” State v. McAdams, 714 P.2d 1236, 1237 (Wyo.1986). Under this standard, courts traditionally upheld gun control laws in limited situations banning only: 1) a limited class of persons from possessing firearms i.e. felons and intoxicated persons; 2) particular types of firearms; 3) the carrying of concealed firearms outside of one’s home or office; and 4) the transportation of loaded firearms. See, e.g., Johnson, 497 F.2d at 550 (upholding a statute restricting felon access to firearms). As Parker explained, states may impose such “time, place, and manner restrictions” on the right to keep and bear arms because they are “presumably reasonable.” 478 F.3d at 399. The restrictions on the Second Amendment right are parallel to those imposed on First Amendment rights. See What Does D.C. v. Heller mean for *First* Amendment Rights.

It appears that Mr. Robinson has little recourse based on court precedent pre and post Heller. While the Supreme Court ruled that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, it did not deem the right absolute. Certain restrictions are allowed including those levied on Mr. Robinson.

The New Marketplace of Ideas Remains Open for Business

June 30, 2008

by Sam Lea
Legal Satyricon Correspondent

Blogging, an often controversial area of the “marketplace of ideas,” has just won a victory over an overzealous attorney, who improperly sought to silence one of his clients critics.

In an Order handed down by the District of New Hampshire, Judge James R. Murihead levied sanctions against Clifford J. Shoemaker, Esq., for “an abuse of legal process, a waste of judicial resources and an unnecessary waste of time and expense to the purported deponent.”

The “purported deponent” is blogger Kathy Seidel of the weblog Neurodiversity.com, where she post articles by herself and others concerning the possible link between autism and exposure to mercury. After posting a particularly critical article of Mr. Shoemaker’s extensive litigation efforts in the area of Vaccine Injury Compensation Program claims, Ms. Seidel received a subpoena for Mr. Shoemaker’s most recent autism case involving Sykes v. Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corporation. The subpoena requested in the judge’s words “…every scrap of paper related to autism, her website, her tax returns, and her communications with the government.

Mr. Shoemaker defends by stating that Seidel is a co-conspirator with Bayer, “…or by some organization dedicated to harassing this Plaintiff and her witnesses.” The judge found this to be completely unsupported by any facts and recognized that Seidel was “openly and extensively exercising her First amendment right to speak on the issue.”

This is good news for bloggers in light of some of the recent litigation involving the blogosphere and free speech. Additional sanctions are may come from the Virginia State Bar, once they review the above Order from the court. Further and more extensive condemnation of the scare tactics used by Mr. Shoemaker will hopefully have a lasting effect and serve to caution future attorneys who may decide to use the government, via the court system to curtail or chill free speech adverse to the positions held by themselves and/or their clients.

Perhaps Mr. Shoemaker should be ordered to maintain his own blog for a while so that he may truly get a sense of how well his own ideas can withstand the test of the Market.

Sam Lea is a 3L at Barry University School of Law