XXX: 30 Porn Star Portraits

XXX 30 Porn-Star Portraits by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders Bulfinch, 2004 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. April 21, 2005 http://mentalhelp.net/books/books.php?type=de&id=2621 XXX features pictures of porn stars taken by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders interspersed with writings on pornography by a number of noted writers and performers, including Karen Finley, A.M. Homes, John Malkovich, Lou Reed and Salman Rushdie. The photographs, unsurprisingly, are far more interesting than the writing. They show thirty of the major "stars" of the porn video industry, such as Christy Canyon, Nina Hartley, Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy, Ginger Lynn, Peter North, and Lexington Steele, with two photographs each. In one, the subject is dressed in regular clothes, looking like people you might see at the supermarket. In the accompanying photograph, he or she is nude in pretty much the same pose as the first picture. The fascinating part of it is comparing the two pictures, so see how one's perception of the person differs from on to the other. Belladonna wears a jean jacket and denim jeans, crouching down on one knee, with no noticeable make-up. She has closely cropped hair, and in the nude picture, we see her several tattoos on her body. Nude, she wears much more make-up, and has more presence. Clothed, she looks warm and friendly, while naked she is proud and glowing. The porn stars are photographed against a blank background, showing all or most of their bodies from the front or side. They nearly all look directly into the lens, appearing relaxed and confident. They are not aroused and do not pose in sexual ways, except for being naked in half the pictures. Most of the women have large breasts, although some are small. All the men look to have above-average sized penises, as you would expect. The ages of the subjects range from twenties to forties. All look fit and healthy. There's enough variation in body types so that most readers will probably find several of the stars sexually attractive and others quite repellant. Of course, some people might just be interested in seeing the porn stars, but it is as if it is difficult to find images of them naked just by doing an Internet search on their names. What is special about this book, if anything, is the fact that a well-known portrait photographer has taken the trouble to picture them. But what is there to learn from his work? It can't be something as mundane as porn stars are people too. We don't really learn anything new about these individuals from their pictures. There are some short biographies of them at the end of the book, but they contain mostly banal phrases and they don't do much to change they way we see the stars. So if there anything to learn from these pictures, it must be about our culture and about how we view porn stars. Obviously a book like this helps to add respectability to porn, in a culture where attitudes towards the explicit depiction of sex is increasingly divided. The porn star Ron Jeremy was a member of the star cast on the reality TV show The Surreal Life and was depicted as being a normal person with real feelings -- or at least as normal and real as any other of the celebrities on the show. Now Playboy seems respectable and Hugh Hefner gets interviewed as if he were someone whose views are worth listening to. On the other hand, the American public gets very concerned when they are accidentally shown a glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast and conservative groups complain that there is too much sexually suggestive material on prime time TV. (Many Americans would be quite shocked if they saw much European TV, where profanity and nudity are much more commonly accepted.) Obviously XXX does not take a critical stance towards pornography: if anything, it admires these porn stars. In viewing the pictures, we may be struck by seeing these people out of context, not just set aside from the cheesy porn film set, but without any identifying points apart their tattoos, jewelry and clothes. It is a very different effect from what we experience seeing them watching TV at home, eating food, or asleep in their beds. The pictures don't desexualize their subjects, because they couldn't. Once a porn star, always a porn star. Knowing we are seeing a porn star strongly affects our perception: it is impossible to look at the images without being acutely aware that these people have all sorts of sex in front of a camera, to be viewed by thousands and possibly millions of people, for quite a lot of money. Viewing the images at least provides us with an opportunity to reflect on feelings, whether they be jealousy, pity, revulsion, or amazement. The pictures may also provoke some reflection on the meaning of such sexualized naked bodies. A book like this is very different from one with a naturist agenda promoting the admiration of the natural unclothed body and the artificial restriction of garments. The bodies we see here are often enhanced, and they are certainly atypical. These people are chosen precisely because they are stars, not because they reflect ordinary beauty. How successful is the project? There's not much here that really provokes. The images are nicely done, and it is interesting to browse through the book, but that is about it. It does not provide any answers and indeed the approach of Greenfield-Sanders seems almost poker-faced in its blankness. The pieces of writing are even more negligible and self-indulgent. Most not only fail to say anything interesting, but also fail to even be entertaining. It is difficult to go beyond the battles between porn as objectification of humans vs. sex-positive approaches, which is what Greenfield-Sanders and the writers seem to be trying to do here, but they don't really have much to say. Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology. © 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Author: 
Perring, Christian
Publication
Publication: 
Metapsychology Review
Publication Date: 
April 21, 2005
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