Porn, the Conversation, Part I: Liberty and the Body

Dec 3, 2018

TAA 0048 – C. Travis Webb, Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood begin an ongoing conversation about pornography. James Joyce said that the difference between pornography and art was desire. Pornography, in short, is the provocation of desire. What do our desires say about us as a nation and as a species? How do pornography and religion interact? What does pornography say about our relationship to our bodies? Join us for the first of many conversations on the topic.
C.T. WEBB 00:18 [music] Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening, and welcome to The American Age Podcast. I am C. Travis Webb, editor of The American Age, and I’m talking to Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood from Orange, California.
S. RODNEY 00:30 Right. And good afternoon gentlemen. This is Seph. I am speaking to you from the South Bronx, where it’s actually sunny and kind of bright today from my window. I am an editor at Hyperallergic, one of the best art magazines, blogazines, in the world, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
S. FULLWOOD 00:56 And my name is Steven G. Fullwood, and I am speaking to you from Harlem. It is very cold here, but it’s nice. It’s nice out. And I am the co-founder of The Nomadic Archivists Project, which is an organization that focuses on helping people of African descent arrest, develop, and create their archives as well as find homes for them in institutions around the world.
C.T. WEBB 01:26 Arrest, develop, and create. I like that series of adjectives, or actually, verbs, I guess. So today we’re talking about porn. Pornography. And we did not really give ourselves a lot of guardrails on the topic because obviously, it’s a huge topic. We could talk about the industry. We could give personal anecdotes. We could talk about its social function. We could talk about its consequences. We could talk about a variety of things. We haven’t predetermined that, which I think is actually a good call, so we can kind of just see where the conversation takes us. Steven or Seph, do either one of you want to lead us into it, or–?
S. RODNEY 02:09 Yeah, I kind of do because–
S. FULLWOOD 02:12 Nice.
S. RODNEY 02:13 –there are two pressing things. One is–
S. FULLWOOD 02:15 Bow, bow, bow [laughter].
S. RODNEY 02:18 This conversation really dovetails with the sort of overall aims of the podcast, anyway, right? Which is getting at some kind of intellectual intimacy. Making a space for that. I think that pornography is a particularly kind of, what’s the word? [Keekent?], I guess, way to get at that kind of intimacy. Because porn, for better or for worse, involves intimacy at the very least. If we’re on the same page about what porn means, which is, a sort of staging and playing out of sexual acts for someone who is watching, for a presumed watcher, then– there may not be emotional intimacy, but there certainly is physical intimacy. And I think one of the things that I kind of came– well, actually, no. I want to go back to the conversation that we had at the end of the last podcast where we thought about talking about this subject. One of the things that Travis said, which stuck with me, was that he thinks that in some ways porn undoes sort of all of our highfalutin stories about what we’re doing with art and narrative. I think, and Travis you’re going to actually say this much better than I could–
S. FULLWOOD 03:48 I wouldn’t bet on that.
S. RODNEY 03:49 –because you said it [laughter]. But in some ways the gist of it was, for me, that in some ways porn does away with the notion that we need narrative because we really just want the sex. We just want the pleasure. Is that right, Travis?
C.T. WEBB 04:11 Well, you’re conflating productively to something that I said and then something that Steven said. We were kind of going back and forth about. And I was inside of that thought at the time, and so I’m not outside of it– I’m not inside of it. I’m sorry. I was inside of that thought at the time. The thread of that piece of the conversation with Steven isn’t immediately coming to mind. Though, what you are observing, I do think is a line of inquiry for us and I’m happy to pursue it. So I do think that in many ways the sort of titillation that we look for from entertainment, and I would probably draw a broad distinction very carefully and very on a spectrum, and lots of gray, mostly gray, between art and entertainment in pornography. And I would probably draw on Joyce for that and say that there’s a kind of excitement, titillation, acquisitiveness, that goes along with– there’s a type of voyeurism in entertainment and pornography that I don’t think is necessarily there at the same mixture in art. Clearly, it’s part of it, right? But it’s not the main ingredient, I don’t think. And so pornography is disregard for this sort of thin fiction of the narrative. Very thin fiction, the kind of double meaning of that that is appended to the pornography, I think calls into question the variety of entertainments that we engage ourselves with whether they be intellectual or more popular based. I’ll expand– [laughter].
S. RODNEY 06:14 No, no, no, no. I wanted to really give Steven a space to speak here. I don’t know that this is blowing up your spot, Steven, if I mention the group that you meet with every year or so. What is it, Pornocom? Is that–?
S. FULLWOOD 06:30 Pornocon, yes. Like in conference, yeah.
S. RODNEY 06:33 Yeah, yeah. Right. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s about and what you do there if that’s all right?
S. FULLWOOD 06:40 Okay. Oh, sure. So it was the brainchild of a friend of mine, Lawrence Harding, who was interested, kind of like a lot of us were. We had all this sort of unregulated and disrespected knowledge about pornography from different points of view. And so Pornocon was a way to kind of bring those conversations together and to talk about the different kinds of pornography that existed. So we haven’t met every year. We actually have met, I think, three times. Possibly three times. Maybe even twice. And what I learned was that there were people doing things like cataloging their pornography. Other people who were into watching other people watch pornography. And the space–
C.T. WEBB 07:31 Which is pornography, I would say.
S. FULLWOOD 07:33 Absolutely. Yeah. So what Lawrence did in his first sort of outreach to various people in our circle, he wrote a little bit about his experiences with pornography, which inspired me to write about my thoughts and experiences with pornography. So I’ll do the personal very quickly and then kind of circle back to Pornocon very briefly. I remember seeing pornography very early in my life. Seeing the magazines. I remember seeing the bondage magazines that were both in black and white and color. I remember seeing the nudist magazines. And I was maybe five or six. Very young.
S. RODNEY 08:16 Wow.
S. FULLWOOD 08:18 And I just remember getting erections at that early age and not understanding why. So there was that. And then there was just these moments where, I grew up in a neighborhood in the South Side of Toledo, where occasionally somebody’s father or somebody’s brother or maybe some woman was like, “I’m done with this pornography,” and they would put it out on the street. And the boys would go crazy, but the girls weren’t interested. They just found it disgusting and, “Why are we doing this?” And so that was the middle school years. And I’ll spare you the rest of the essay, but I remember thinking as I got older– I was starting to do research on the origins of pornography. It was something I was considering going to school for in terms of a PhD to sort of study pornography in libraries because libraries were supposed to be collecting our culture and that’s a significant part of our culture. The New York Public Library does collect erotica and pornography and likes to say it as a way to talk about its sensibilities and that it’s trying to do it, but it’s not something that they promote – do you know what I mean? – sort of at the same time.
S. RODNEY 09:25 I did not know that.
S. FULLWOOD 09:27 Yeah. And there are institutions that do collect it, but largely that falls on institutions that are either queer or have been marked by their sexuality, right?
S. RODNEY 09:38 Right.
C.T. WEBB 09:40 And do you know if in the institutions that are collecting it, that are orientated towards questions of queer culture, are they collecting a broad spectrum of pornography? Sort of heteronormative pornography all the way to the more extreme fetishes, or is it localized to whatever their interests might be?
S. FULLWOOD 10:00 I would say that it has a lot to do with the archivist or librarian who, sometimes their tastes get in the way of– and what I mean by taste, I’m talking about their politics. Their politics, what they find or deem worthy of saving or worthy of keeping.
S. RODNEY 10:19 Interesting.
S. FULLWOOD 10:20 So I think it varies from institution to institution.
S. RODNEY 10:23 Interesting.
S. FULLWOOD 10:24 I’m sure that somebody’s not going to be collected child pornography. I’m sure of that because I think the ways in which the US–
C.T. WEBB 10:31 Well, no institution is collecting it.
S. FULLWOOD 10:34 Exactly. No, they’re people, but the institutions themselves who– I mean, what I thought was a good PhD sort of perspective or dissertation topic would be to investigate over the years how libraries did or didn’t do it and why and then also to talk to the librarians and archivists who did. But also the statutes– I mean, excuse me. God, I don’t really recall it, but I knew that libraries had to install on their public computers filters for kids so that they wouldn’t see any pornography. [crosstalk], right.
S. FULLWOOD 11:09 And there were other theorists who were saying things like, “Well, if you pay taxes, why can’t you go to the library, look at a computer, and look at pornography?” And I’ve always had that in my head. I was like, “This is a very interesting thing because you are paying taxes, but you’re sharing public space with people, so you constantly have to make sure that just because your tastes are this, it doesn’t impact on a kid or someone else’s different way of looking at it,” so.
S. RODNEY 11:39 But I really want to get at this question. I’m glad you raised it. Because I wonder what this means. When we say that we shouldn’t be looking at, watching pornography in public with other people around, essentially what we’re saying is, we shouldn’t be engaging in sex acts in public with other people around. There is some kind of, and this seems to be across cultures, right? There’s a taboo about that. Sort of like the incest taboo in that it is something that cuts across cultures and nations. That there’s something uniquely private about the sex act that it feels wrong in some profound way to engage in it in public or even to watch images of that in public, right?
C.T. WEBB 12:40 Yeah, the only qualification I would like to add is I don’t know if it’s a cultural universal. I feel like it’s not, but I do feel that it is certainly widespread.
S. RODNEY 12:53 It’s widespread? Fair enough.
C.T. WEBB 12:54 Yeah. And prevalent certainly in the modern era. I don’t know in the distant past. For example, something that would be considered not only illegal, I mean, not only illicit, but illicit is illegal. Not only sexually provocative, but also illegal currently is in China, I forget during which dynasty, it was not uncommon, it was accepted practice for– if we had enough listeners, I’m sure I’d get some kind of outrageous social media response to this, but mothers would suck off their infant boys to make them hard, but it was absolutely verboten to kiss them in public.
S. RODNEY 13:48 Wow.
C.T. WEBB 13:49 Maybe when we put the transcript up I can get the citation for that. It’s in an anthology on the history of cynics cross-culturally. I mean, cynics in the Diogenes sense. People that are sort of existing outside of the public sphere and doing things to intentionally provoke and undermine social norms.
S. FULLWOOD 14:15 Wow.
C.T. WEBB 14:17 I mean, that is at a base gut level. Let’s assume the citation is correct. And even if it’s not it serves as a useful anecdote because, of course, there are cultural practices that for us at a gut level just undoes everything we think we know about human nature and sexuality. We all have those soft spots, right? Or most of us, maybe not all, but certainly most of us. And so that’s the only– I agree Seph that I think that there’s probably something worth exploring in this sort of privacy of the act in the modern era, but it’s productive because I think it says something very much about what it means to be a human in the modern era. And that the range of the human is far broader than it’s currently construed.
S. FULLWOOD 15:16 It’s always been always broader. Always. I mean, you guys made me think of Carnival. You put me in the mind of what type of approximated pornography are we witnessing and at what time in public? And I was thinking about Carnival and the different kinds of sort of acts that are being acted out. Without penetration, obviously. In some cases, with penetration [laughter]. Or what’s going on San Francisco. What is it, the name of the street–
C.T. WEBB 15:42 Burning Man. Oh, no. Well, there’s the Burning Man.
S. FULLWOOD 15:44 No, Folsom. Folsom Street. It’s an activity that happens all the time. You can watch online. And you’re like, “These people are actually–?” there’s fellatio. There’s penetration. What are the laws here? And this is just in the US. And I suspect that we– given now that we have the internet and we have all this unprecedented access to each other, we’re going to learn more. And I think the idea of a public citizen is constantly in flux when it comes to what it is we’re supposed to be up to vs what we’re not supposed to be up to. But how desire makes us kind of crazed.
S. RODNEY 16:25 Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 16:27 Super quick. Just as another example, the documentary that Steven turned us on to about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Wild West, in that commune, they were just having sex in public. It was just very common for people to just get it on on a bridge or, I don’t know, under a frosty or something. Whatever.
S. FULLWOOD 16:52 Wild Wild Country.
C.T. WEBB 16:54 Wild Wild Country. Thank you.
S. FULLWOOD 16:56 No worries. Six episodes on Netflix. That sounded like an ad. What are you thinking, Seph?
S. RODNEY 17:03 Well, I’m thinking a lot of things. One of them is that is the significance of penetration. I mean, because it just occurred to me that that’s the thing, right? That’s the borderline. Because you can kiss in public in most modern–
C.T. WEBB 17:25 It depends on where you’re at, sure.
S. FULLWOOD 17:25 It depends on where you’re at.
S. RODNEY 17:26 Yeah but let’s say in the US, at least, you can kiss someone in public. Not a big deal. You can even kind of get into making out, tonguing someone down, it’s kind of okay. But once you get into the genitalia, penetrating of the genitalia or penetrating an anus, it’s then there’s some line. There’s some line that that defines. And once you cross that, then you’re into the territory–
C.T. WEBB 17:56 Going to jail, depending on where you are [laughter].
S. RODNEY 17:57 Right, right, right, right, right. But it’s the orifice. And I think what that means on some base level is there’s some kind of bodily– I don’t know. I’m struggling for the word. It’s no coherence. But there’s some sort of threshold there that penetrating the body, going into the body, with a part of another person’s body, that’s the crux of the matter. That if we’re seeing that, if we’re witnessing that, that that’s the thing that modern societies are policing against.
C.T. WEBB 18:38 So I would go pleasure over penetration.
S. RODNEY 18:43 Really?
C.T. WEBB 18:44 Yeah. I would say that the– because yeah whatever. Macking on someone is not the same as someone sucking you off or giving you a hand job or something like that.
S. RODNEY 18:53 Right. But the only–
C.T. WEBB 18:53 I think it would be– my contention is this, that if you had someone that was polymorphously perverse and could get off by having their earlobes stroked, that that would be basically as uncomfortable for people to see in public as it would be to see an actual penetration. Maybe not exactly, but that it’s actually the depth of the pleasure and the abandon with which our social selves are discarded is at the heart of that disgust.
S. RODNEY 19:38 I’m actually totally in agreement with you. I think that’s actually right. And I think that there is something about– but it’s the pleasure that– what’s the character from a Neil Gaiman graphic novel? It’s one of the eternals–
C.T. WEBB 19:56 The Sandman?
S. RODNEY 19:57 Yeah, no. Sandman, but–
C.T. WEBB 19:59 Delight or Delirium.
S. RODNEY 20:00 Right, right. That’s the one. The characters name is Delight, but her sort of– a sort of Janus-faced God. The other side of her is Delirium. And I think that’s precisely what happens in sex is that we go from delight right over into delirium. And I think you’re absolutely right in saying abandonment. There’s a way in which we– where’s a way in which we abandon our social selves in sex? You don’t say the things that you say to your sexual partner to any other human being ever. That space of sex is– I mean, this is one of the things that has always just befuddled me about American culture. No, I should say American Christian, Evangelical in particular, culture, is how can you be against something that is so freeing? I mean, sex is so amazing in that way.
C.T. WEBB 20:56 That is why. You just said it.
S. FULLWOOD 20:58 Because virginity. Yeah, you just said it. Yeah [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 21:01 They are against it because it’s freeing.
S. FULLWOOD 21:02 But doesn’t that strike you as really fucked up?
C.T. WEBB 21:04 Yeah. Deeply.
S. RODNEY 21:04 I mean, the one place where you can be truly powerful, truly full of Grace, truly explore [crosstalk]–
S. FULLWOOD 21:11 But you don’t see it as powerful.
S. RODNEY 21:13 But explorative and just curious and loving and finely attuned to another human being. Why wouldn’t you want to do more of that?
S. FULLWOOD 21:23 Because the body doesn’t exist in the ways or it’s discarded or it’s minimalized–
C.T. WEBB 21:30 Disavowed.
S. FULLWOOD 21:30 –put aside. Right. Disavowed, essentially. And so earlier on I was thinking about how pornography both makes your body disappear and appear at the same time as you’re watching it. Because you’re watching other people’s bodies and you’re deriving pleasure from it and your body’s there but at the same time it’s not separate in a way from the thing that you’re viewing. Do you know?
S. RODNEY 21:51 Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 21:52 Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 21:52 And so I think that what you said earlier about the Evangelical Christians or other folks like them, they’re not trying to have that free – that kind of free [laughter]. And that’s why a lot of people go– I apologize. I was just thinking about how many ministers and you find out that they’re gay or that they’re cheating on their wives.
S. RODNEY 22:10 Yes.
S. FULLWOOD 22:10 It’s like, it’s clearly a battle [laughter].
S. RODNEY 22:12 Yes.
S. FULLWOOD 22:13 Clearly.
S. RODNEY 22:14 They’re constantly losing–
C.T. WEBB 22:15 Most of them lose.
S. FULLWOOD 22:17 I must hold onto this. I was like, “Really?”
C.T. WEBB 22:20 So the other thing that I would throw into this though is I don’t think it’s just Evangelicals. I think it is American culture. American culture, in general. There are all kinds of subcultures that absolutely throw that off to great productive genius as well. But I think it’s there in the #MeToo Movement to be perfectly honest. I do. I think there is a strong–
S. FULLWOOD 22:42 Oh, no, I agree with that.
C.T. WEBB 22:45 There is a strong discomfort with the unruliness of the body and our sexuality that the #MeToo Movement is reacting against.
S. RODNEY 22:55 Well, let’s talk about the story that came out about Master of None. Aziz Ansari.
C.T. WEBB 23:02 Aziz Ansari.
S. RODNEY 23:03 That story, you guys both read that, right?
C.T. WEBB 23:06 Yeah.
S. RODNEY 23:06 The story written by the woman that appeared in the magazine that basically undid Aziz Ansari’s career. I don’t want to say it like her story didn’t have merit or doesn’t have merit. It does.
C.T. WEBB 23:23 I’ll say it didn’t have merit.
S. RODNEY 23:24 Okay. Well [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 23:26 I’ll say it was terrible sex. It was terrible sex.
S. RODNEY 23:30 The way that Ansari was unruly in his desire, the way that he chased her, I mean, yes, I’ve completely–
S. FULLWOOD 23:42 No, she chased him, right? And then–
C.T. WEBB 23:43 She chased him.
S. RODNEY 23:44 Initially, yes. But she got to the point where she felt uncomfortable. She didn’t know how to say, “Well, I just want to get out of here, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to get it together to get out.” But now what I’m struck with is how much– and I’ve been there where I’ve had, been in a situation in a room with someone and the desire I felt for her was so palpable, so powerful, I really– in that moment it was hard for me to imagine anything else. Imagine a world existing outside of that room. And luckily for me in most of those instances that person, the woman I was desiring in that moment, was in it with me. At least, it felt like she had that kind of desire for me as well. That’s precisely what makes sex so amazing. And I do think that this is precisely what makes pornography, in some ways, sad for me in that it always feels when I’m watching it like, “Oh, man. I’m not there. I’m not there.”
C.T. WEBB 25:03 I wish I was the post man [laughter].
S. RODNEY 25:05 Right. Exactly. I wish I–
C.T. WEBB 25:07 I wish was delivering a pizza [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 25:10 Toss in all of them [laughter].
S. RODNEY 25:12 Exactly. I wish I was in that sleepover. But here’s the thing, and I want to wrap this into the part of the conversation that’s about a sort of denial of the body, which may show very much in the #MeToo Movement and certainly shows up in Christian communities. I grew up that way. My parents took me and my sister not only to church at least once, or– well, at least once a week but often twice or three times a week. We went to Christian School. We went to Christian Summer Camp. I mean, it was over-determined that I would be a Christian. The moment that I had a physical confrontation with my father– my father was a– well, we talked about my father, and you know that he just was not a good father. But the moment that we had a physical confrontation was when, and it was around pornography, when he crossed the line for me, was I had some magazines when I was a 17-year-old because I was curious and I liked women’s bodies. I liked seeing women’s bodies naked. I liked seeing pussy. And that hasn’t changed. I came home one day, and this is when I’d come back from college and I’d dropped out and I wasn’t sure I was going back, but I was trying to figure it out. And I came home and I had this small room in my father’s apartment. And we were at loggerheads at that point. But I came home and he had found my porno mags. I don’t remember where I’d hid them, but he found them, and he spread them out all on the bed. And I was like, “Why did you do that for?” And he’s like, blah, blah, blah, blah. Not in my house. And I got so angry I hit him.
S. FULLWOOD 27:05 Wow.
C.T. WEBB 27:06 Wow. Wow.
S. RODNEY 27:07 Yeah. I got so angry because what he said was– but here’s the thing that pushed me over the edge was that he said, essentially, that he was not going to respect my boundaries. He didn’t care whether or not I felt like he was invading my privacy. Basically, he was saying to me, “I don’t care about your privacy. I’ll cross that threshold any time I want.” And that set me off. And we had a fight and he went to the kitchen to get a hammer and I just ran out. And I called Lawrence, Lawrence Harding who we mentioned earlier in the podcast, who’s one of my oldest friends, and Lawrence came and got me and that was the last time that I lived in my father’s house. So pornography figures into that story prominently mostly as a kind of– I’m not sure what to call it. A narrative element that kind of putting greater relief my relationship with my father. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 28:22 At the risk of– we’re coming up on the 30 minute mark, but there are a couple of things I would actually like to ask both of you so if we go over a little bit, I beg a little leeway with that. So one, Seph that must have been incredibly difficult. And was there a sense of guilt associated with that as well? So not only were you casting off your father and had this intense confrontation you would also be dealing with kind of the baseline shame of pornography in general, because of how society treats that. It must have been really, really difficult.
S. RODNEY 28:59 Exactly. It was. And I think that I’ve ping-ponged back and forth around feelings of shame for a long time. In fact, one of the things that has helped me deal with that has been in my 40s having the kind of relationships– I mean, romantic relationships that I’ve had, the last one with Caroline was really loving and beautiful and generous and kind and it was also hot. It was also really sexual. And I think in that relationship it was made more clear to me that being generous and kind doesn’t have to exist at odds with being a really sexual human being who wants to fuck. Who really likes that. Who likes playing with desire and with power. And I think also what’s helped me is having conversations with you guys because you both are so sort of attuned to the ways in which my own internalized mechanisms shape my behaviours that in talking to you about what happens in my life I get to step back and say, “Oh, yeah. There’s that mechanism operating again. Oh, yeah. Of course that’s why I felt this way about that.” Conversations with you and my other really intelligent friends really helps me just get at those internal mechanisms that sometimes escape my notice.
S. FULLWOOD 30:53 Wow.
C.T. WEBB 30:55 Thank you for that. I want to make a slight comment and then I wanted to ask Steven something. Earlier, I had made the reference to in ancient China mothers sucking– I wanted to make super clear that I think you would find just a strange behavior in the European past. I mean, sort of anti-Chinese sentiment is so much in the air now that I want to make it super clear that under no circumstance am I singling that culture out.
S. FULLWOOD 31:25 [crosstalk]. Disclaimer. Put it out.
C.T. WEBB 31:27 That’s right. There is lots of weirdness in every single culture in the world. And then Steven, I wanted to ask, when you were coming to grips with your sexuality as you were maturing, was pornography an outlet for you to come to grips with your own sexual desire? Or did it come to the game late? Did you sort of work through that internally and then discover that afterwards as kind of a more mature gay man?
S. FULLWOOD 32:12 Great question. Very good question. It was two trains running. [laughter] They were developing together. The boxes of pornography that were being tossed out on the street or put in the bag to be thrown away were heterosexual–
S. RODNEY 32:29 Were all heterosexual.
C.T. WEBB 32:30 Sure. Sure.
S. FULLWOOD 32:31 And for some people who talk about their sexuality they knew from when they were very young or they discovered it at 18 that this is what their preference is. However, that cognitive dissonance or whatever was happening, for me, I was always aware that I was a sexual human being but I was always struggling with, “What is this? I don’t understand this. I still like girls. I don’t really fully get what’s going on here.” And then when puberty hit, it was almost like a red light [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 33:03 Like the phone.
S. FULLWOOD 33:04 Like, “Oh, this is what it is, I think.” Oh, no. Oh, no. [crosstalk].
C.T. WEBB 33:09 This is not a drill. This is not a drill [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 33:10 This is not a drill. We’re going to have to develop some secrets and some secret places and all of that. So I think that for me, pornography– earlier when you were asking the question, I wrote down, it was the teacher. It was sex ed that I didn’t get in school. And sure it was, what do you call it? What is the word for it? It was slick, and it was posed, and there were certain bodies, and there were elements that in some way didn’t really figure into my sexual life and my sexual practice, but they were representatives of, this is what the neighborhood looks like, and you’ll probably move in here into this house over here. But it made me think a lot about, “Okay. The imagination figures greatly into my life as a sexual person in that– I wouldn’t call it intellectualizing. I just think about it. I think about when I was maybe 18 or 19 when I started having sex with men, it was very different from the interactions I had with girls up until that point. And so watching porn didn’t really do that. Porn, as we mentioned earlier, you just go straight to the act. Or, there’s this sort of, “We’re just waiting for the sex to happen.” And there’s a narrative of people walking around and, “Are these two going to do it?” No, no, no. [laughter] These two people are going to do it. These are the people that are going to do it. Okay. Okay. Thank goodness of a remote control or the speed up on the computer. But it was very– I don’t know. So I remember early on I didn’t– I started to, I don’t know, sort of embrace pornography and in some ways that were problematic actually because everyone in pornography, and it’s a bit different now. It’s really interesting as a billion dollar industry that’s really– the internet kind of came in and said, “You can have all the free porn you want, so you never have to buy it ever again.” So problematizing it has figured into some of my work, my writing, and some of my visual practices. Because I’m very interested in the body sort of rescued from a sort of having to do porn to live kind of thing vs more in an artistic way where people actually choosing to do that. It’s a different game altogether. But the one last thing I will say is that in my research of pornography, it appears that every single– pornography’s been around forever, whether it’s been in statues or in books or drawings or whatever. But that some of the early pornographic images kind of pushed, according to this one theorist, that every single media form has been pushed by pornography, whether it was photography, film, video and now the internet. And so most people are still using that for pornography.
C.T. WEBB 36:22 Oh, yeah. By billions and billions of dollars. Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 36:28 So that says something about desire. And at the root of it all I’m very excited about learning about not just my own desires but how my desires have been shaped by other people’s and vice versa. Because, I said this before, and I think we were off the air or maybe we weren’t but that I like to go to different pornography shops when I’m travelling internationally because I think they don’t– it’s not a scientific method, but they speak about something about the desire. What’s kind of of magazines and videos and apparatuses exist here. Is it just for men or is it just for women? Are there trans folks involved? That kind of thing. I think pornography’s one of the few places that people can actually tell the truth or express some kind of truth.
S. RODNEY 37:13 And I know that we’ve just kind of blown past our typical time for this to do a segment. But I think we just should keep going. Here’s what that makes me think of Steven is back in the days, and this is when I was a teenager and you used to be able to go to magazine kiosks and shops and they would have the porno in the back and up above and out of reach of children. They’d have those plastic covers that would gray out or black out the lower lets say three quarters of the magazine cover. So you see Hustler and then it’d just be black. But what those magazines when you could see what was on those covers– every neighborhood had a few magazine shops where you could see more. You would see a blonde, white women generally. That’s a real key about American culture, I think, in that if you go to other places I am pretty sure that what you see in those magazine kiosks or could have seen at that time would have been other kinds of bodies. There’s something in America that really is– and I mean, we say this all the time, but you can see it precisely through the bodies that generally grace the covers of porno magazines was centredness of whiteness. The degree to which white women’s bodies were fetishized, but only certain kind of white women, right?
C.T. WEBB 39:00 The Pamela Andersons. [crosstalk]. I would say commercialized. I think women’s bodies are fetishized. I think you’d find plenty of fetish material for non-white bodies. It was effectively commercialized for a long time in the United States. Probably, I don’t know, but I would suspect you’re probably right that it was primarily white, female bodies.
S. RODNEY 39:29 Right. But the bodies of color, right, exactly get situated as being the sort of dirty little secrets, right?
C.T. WEBB 39:35 Sure, absolutely, yes. [crosstalk].
S. RODNEY 39:36 Right, right. “Yeah, yeah, we know. Commercialized body–” [crosstalk]
S. FULLWOOD 39:40 Why should your pornography look any different [laughter]?
S. RODNEY 39:43 Right. Right. [crosstalk] exactly.
C.T. WEBB 39:49 So to try and keep us under 40, I would suggest we wrap up. However, I would like to do one thing, so we keep this from being too antiseptic. I’d like each of us to say our favorite genre of pornography.
S. RODNEY 40:02 Oh, wow [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 40:03 I’ll go first. BDSM.
S. RODNEY 40:07 Wow. Did not see that coming [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 40:12 Well, you know [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 40:16 I do. I’ll stop. I’ll stop. I’ll stop.
S. RODNEY 40:19 Oh, man. Oh, man.
S. FULLWOOD 40:22 Oh, mine is public. Public sex.
S. RODNEY 40:24 Oh, really?
C.T. WEBB 40:25 Public sex?
S. FULLWOOD 40:25 Oh, yeah. Public sex. All right. Seph, you’re up.
S. RODNEY 40:29 That’s tough.
C.T. WEBB 40:32 It’s tough because there’s so many [laughter]?
S. RODNEY 40:34 Well, I kind of–
S. FULLWOOD 40:36 It’s divulging.
S. RODNEY 40:37 I kind of go from genre to genre depending on my mood.
C.T. WEBB 40:44 All right. What’s on your recently added list then [laughter]?
S. RODNEY 40:50 Oh, man. Oh my God. Recently added?
C.T. WEBB 40:58 Chris is going to edit out this long pause.
S. RODNEY 41:01 Yeah, yeah. I think it would be, yeah, probably the whole Catholic school girl, student thing.
C.T. WEBB 41:16 Okay, all right. All right. Okay. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 41:18 The skirt. The Catholic skirt.
C.T. WEBB 41:16 Okay. So, Seph, Steven, thanks very much for the conversation as always. And I’ll speak to you next week.
S. FULLWOOD 41:31 Okay.
C.T. WEBB 41:32 Great. Goodbye.
S. RODNEY 41:32 Take care.
C.T. WEBB 41:33 Bye [laughter]. [music].

References

First referenced at 12:54

Before Sexuality

A dream in which a man has sex with his mother may promise him political or commercial success–according to dream interpreters of late antiquity, who, unlike modern Western analysts, would not necessarily have drawn conclusions from the dream about the dreamer’s sexual psychology.

First referenced at 16:27

Wild Wild County

When a controversial guru builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, it causes a massive conflict with local ranchers. This docuseries chronicles the conflict, which leads to the first bioterror attack in the United States and a massive case of illegal wiretapping.

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