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.  

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We’ve already had one frankly astounding post on scary parents as part of Notes From the Borderland, but this clip from Chris Morris’ Jam depicts a very different sort of parental horror, one in which the child’s viewpoint is removed along with the child, and which instead of a tidal wave of bloody emotion you’ve got the drifting currents of casual alienation:

“He’s made a great spaceship… Incidentally, did he come home from school today?”

And yet, from the first few lines onwards, it’s obvious that these parents aren’t completely disinterested in their missing son. They do eventually realise that he hasn’t come home from school, and while they might not want to go to all the bother of identifying his body, they’re still annoyed enough to want to “have a word” with his murderer.

In other words, they’re dimly proud enough of his existence to be cross that he’s gone, but beyond that their level of attention is mimicked by the drifting camera-work, which passes by the parents in a 4am haze, vaguely curious as to what they’re doing, but not enough to stop itself from floating off every few seconds to look at something else…

Flashback to 1997: the year in which I bumbled through this clip on Channel 4 while watching TV with my parents.

The gaudy graphics of the transition should probably have clued us all in to 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 those OTT musical stings still provide a strong clue that you’re staring through the looking glass even today.

Back in 1997 though, we watched on, not really sure what we were watching.  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 taste the nastiness as Morris chastises Heap for having “bad aids” (i.e. the kind you catch off of your boyfriend), 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.

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

I’m pretty sure that my parents didn’t know what was going on at first either. Oh, sure, by the time we got to the stuff about how everyone in the audience who was yawning could catch aids if someone machine-gunned Heap’s “aids guy” to bits, I think we’d all figured it out. But the few moments before that, where I wasn’t sure if what I was watching was real or fake, made for properly queasy telly.  I think the fact that my parents seemed uncertain too only made it more terrifying – it opened up a little door to the Borderland, right in the middle of our living room…

Flashbackforward to a few paragraphs ago: By the time Chris Morris got round to adapting skits from his Blue Jam radio series to TV, I was pretty confident that he’d never catch me out again, at least not without making a prank phone call directly to my house.

That doesn’t mean that his work had lost its power though, far from it. Even without parental confusion factored in, the sketches in Jam still have a sort of terrifying blankness to them, and this blankness makes an unusual amount of sense in this particular scene.  While the child in question has already been “buggered quite a lot and then strangled” before the action starts, it’s still all-too-easy to put the kid’s viewpoint back in there, to imagine the distanced viewpoint of the piece to be the viewpoint of the dead child, realising that what he always suspected was true, that adults only care about their progeny out of a sort of withered sense of duty, and what’s worse, that he’s unable to pretend that he cares about anything anymore either.

Fuck me, and I thought it was scary when my parents couldn’t tell me what was going on for thirty seconds, eh?

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Other posts in the Notes From the Borderland series:

The Overlook Hotel – Kubrick’s The Shining

Telly Terror: Elephant

Telly Terror: Threads