Another week, another Filthy pre-view. Last Friday I spent a bit of time thinking out loud about the different approaches I might take with the cover for the print edition of this book.  This week I mostly find myself thinking that I’m going to need to tweak this piece a little to account for the current debate about these (stupid) anti-porn laws.

I don’t have enough time to re-write the relevant parts of this post today, but rest assured that it’s on my mind and that it will be on the page come April.

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I should note at this stage, possibly far too late, that I do not write any of this in a state of horrified tabloid panic.  With regards to real world pornography, I am attempting to stay cognisant of Andrea Dworkin’s description of porn as “technologized prostitution” and I have written about pornography in the context of Michael Bay movies in an attempting to take onboard Dworkin’s comment that “The dirty little secret of the left-wing pornography industry is not sex but commerce”.  I do not propose here to make moral judgements about those who star in adult movies any more than I wish to tell any sex worker what their life and profession is all about – those who labour in both fields can give  undoubtedly give a better account of the varied and complex circumstances in and around their work than I could hope to.  Instead, I wish to focus on the conditions in which hardcore movies are created, and the effects of their reception.

I find myself entranced by an unfinished series of essays written  by UK politics blogger Tom Gann in which he proposed a left wing critique of pornography that re-framed the legal debate not in terms of the (laudable) liberal defence of whatever activities grown adults chose to take part in, but in terms of the means of production: 

Max Hardcore boasts of his innovations, “Positions like pile driver, where I would gape the girls asses wide open, and provide a clear view for the camera… I also created the technique of cumming in a girl’s ass, having her squeeze it out into a glass, and then chuck the load down…  A little later, I started pissing down their throats several times during a scene, often causing them to vomit uncontrollably while still reaming their throats.” It seems unclear whether the current legislation would necessarily cover any of this…

Against capitalism’s inversion, the point cannot made enough, all these things are being done to a real woman. Capital’s inversions and bashful concealments of production underpin the argument that the thing (the pornographic image, speech) must be protected even, or rather especially, against the existence destroyed to produce it…

These conditions did not exist as part of the production of The Filth, so their importance here is as a point of reference.  Tex Porneau does not exist as an unfathomable phantom that Morrison and Weston have dredged from the void.  His actions are an extrapolation of the processes by which entertainment is produced for our consumption, and the style in which it is processed for delivery.  If the ridiculousness of Porneau’s schemes strikes us as being over the top, perhaps we should reflect on the way that Michael Bay’s movies use real world violence and technology as a starting point for their own otherworldly fantasies.  

As such, I write here in line with Susan Sontag’s claim that for its spectators, art “is the creation of an imaginary décor for the will”.  If we take this particularly style of aestheticism onboard, it nevertheless seems pertinent to ask what it is about this tapestry of violation and destruction – of gaping, void-like asses and piss-stained throats – that so many of us find appealing.  What mechanisms are at work in our finding enjoyment in this harshly formalised version of reality?

As we have already seen, The Filth makes use of these conventions itself alongside strategies designed to curdle the pleasure we take from them, so while we might not be happy with its answers the comic definitely has these questions on its mind.  In an interview for the website Barbelith, Grant Morrison revealed one of the sources for the series’ queasy tone:

Grant Morrison: There was a terrible…It was Brass Eye (British satirical show devised and presented by Chris Morris), this one that made me feel so bad. Do you remember the one, where they’re sitting in an office and they’re all using drugs. The lights were really shocking.

Brother Yawn: Was that Jam? The one he (Chris Morris) did after Brass Eye? The really twisted dark stuff that wasn’t even funny?

Grant Morrison: No. I’m sure it was in Brass Eye. The Crime one in Brass Eye and everyone was just shooting up and this woman was sick into a pale and the light was so unforgiving and the sick was so perfectly focused and I always thought, ‘I’ve got to capture this feeling’; the feeling of bad porn.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Chris Morris started his career as a radio presenter and his went on to work in TV and film, burlesquing the form of every medium he works with.  My first encounter with Morris’ work came via The Day Today, a fake news show which ran a documentary excerpt about how people had resorted to eating bricks to survive during the blitz.  As an amiable old lady narrated this baffling history of World War II, which was of a  piece with the tatters of information my childish brain held on this subject while still being flagrantly unbelievable, I found myself struggling to reconcile the unfathomable information with the ostensibly trustworthy delivery mechanism.

Flash forward to 1997, the year in which I bumbled through my second encounter with Chris Morris while watching TV with my parents. The show was called Brass Eye this time, and the gaudy graphics of the transition from advert to program should probably have clued us all into what was really going on – after all, it’s only in the past decade or so that news shows normalised this level of visual excess, and the preposterous musical stings still provide a strong clue that you’re staring through the looking glass today.

Back in 1997 we watched on, not really sure why or how we were doing so.  Again, something about the tone was convincing – the opening arm-wrestling competition between Chris Morris’ presenter and Mark Heap’s guest radiates an artifice that seems too tacky to be fake, but this innocuous beginning only made the sudden lurch into group-hatred seem all the more distressing.  You can almost smell the burning crosses when Morris chastises Heap for having “bad aids” (i.e. the kind you catch from your boyfriend rather than from an “innocent” blood transfusion), and as the panic in the audience becomes more apparent, you realise that you’re watching a demonstration of how much pressure a tall, well-spoken gentleman can apply without seeming to apply much pressure at all.  Of course, this technique is more aptly displayed in the scenes in which Chris Morris manipulates real people into doing and saying idiotic things, but I didn’t know that at the time.  All I knew was that I was watching something terrible that had been naturalised, made to seem easy – once the realisation of what was really going on dawned on me, it became obvious these this smoothness concealed several cruel barbs:

 Like everyone else in this audience, I’m thinking ‘What about us? What about me, now?’

Ah yes, never mind you(/them) – what about us?  If only this were the first and last time I’d watched that dynamic play out!  Morris’ subject in these sketches could be said to be the pornographic nature of modern news programming: the ways in which the search for an audience lead to a sensationalisation of reality that threatened to eclipse its subject and replace it with a leering, bizarrely formulated, easily understandable caricature.  A form of reportage that works to eliminate its ostensible subjects.

Morrison and Weston’s adoption and extension of the tropes of hardcore pornography and violent entertainment owes a lot to Morris’ approach.  Sometimes this debt is overt, with the introduction of amnesiac porn star Anders Klimakks providing a performance of Euro-porn cliches that has much in common with the porn star in Morris’ Jam/Blue Jam era-sketch ‘The Gush’, about an affliction affecting male porn stars – once they’ve “got the gush” the are unable to stop ejaculating, and are jetted around from scene to scene until their spunk turns black (which is to say, until they waste away). At other points this influence is more general, existing not just in the satirical inflation of the conventions of pornography that exist in both works but in the pervading tone of “wrongness” in the words and visuals – that sense that you’re experiencing something that’s almost but not quite as it should be.

When Chris Morris adapted his Blue Jam radio sketches for TV he made the choice to swathe them in queasy, soft-focus lighting and to slow down and de-synchronize the actor’s voices so that they wouldn’t quite match what was happening on screen; the tricks Morrison and Weston use to de-familiarise the tropes of adventure fiction follow on from this approach, right down to the uneasy overlaps of time and action that we have already examined and the gaudy, unnatural colour schemes.  Still, while such effects might go some way towards curdling the appeal of toxic fantasy for readers of The Filth, there are crucial differences between the mechanics of these works.  An adventure comic like The Filth relies on the very mechanics it attempts to deconstruct; the bent media broadcasts of Chris Morris’ early work aren’t trying to match the news-giving function of their targets, and his later works are only notionally “comedy”, dedicated as they are to creating a sense of unease rather than amusement or excitement.

The fact of the matter is that as exorcisms go, The Filth is a poor one.  In order to banish the spirit of pornographic violence from your home, Morrison and Weston must first invite the cast of a porn parody version of Casper into your house in order to perform the appropriate rituals.  When the stench of ghosts and incense clears, you’ll be forgiven for not feeling good about yourself for taking part in the ceremony,regardless of whether or not it proves effective in the end…

6 Responses to “The Function of The Filth – Preview #4”

  1. Filthy Friday #4 | The Function of the Filth Says:

    [...] week’s Filthy Friday ended up being rather more topical than I’d intended, between its counter-resonances with [...]

  2. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » The Function of The Filth – Preview #5 Says:

    [...] previous excerpt dealt with the methods of production of pornography and ended up questioning The Filth‘s [...]

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