Nothing like a little innuendo to start a blog that is both serious and comic in nature, but if you’re waiting to read about best porn sites on the internet, you’ll be greatly disappointed, for this entry is about as anti-porn as it gets, ironically. This entry is all about the written word and the long narrative—things porn dispensed with almost from the get-go of its existence.
Reviews are available of my porn-on-the-periphery novel, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole: mostly lukewarm responses from the likes of Kirkus and Clarion, who seem to regard my writing as competent, if unremarkable, but take issue with my central character, thinking him unlikeable, a drag upon a worthy cause. The only thing that’s surprising is their reticence. You’d think reviewers would spend a bit less time/print giving synopsis; a bit more time reviewing prose, plot or character development. Daniel Pierce, my protagonist, is indeed an unhappy guy, as the Clarion reviewer points out. He is perhaps arrogant as Kirkus observes. But I’d expected to read more about why reviewers think this, and beyond that, to wonder. It’s strange to me that while people in my profession are used to seeing beyond defenses into what’s inside another (in other words, observing that which is not expressed explicitly), readers expect conscious endeavor, and reject characters who won’t say what readers want them to. In writing Venus, I knew I’d annoy progressives with my teasing of feminist cliches, what I think are tired attacks upon porn. I’d expect disapproval from 12-step adherents, who may not care for my lampooning of drug treatment, or the casual misuse of recovery principles. Both these factions, plus old school paternalists—everyone—might resent my implied sympathy towards sex offenders. As Daniel observes towards the beginning, you the reader might not like what he’s about to share.
Of all these contentious themes, porn gets the spotlight today. It’s in your face, as Daniel comments. Here’s a sample from the text:
“You see, in sex, real sex, not porn sex, eyes are the thing; the personal center. I know because I don’t have great eyes or facial symmetry, which hasn’t helped my pursuit of sex—well, except when light flatters me, when no one is around to look. I wish it were different, not that I want more sex these days. I just wish I knew what makes a pair of eyes great. When I hear people say, “so and so has pretty eyes”, I always wonder what they’re referring to, because compliments tend to be unspecific. Is it the color, the shade, or size, or what my mom, my first gal, used to call “the shine” that dots the pupils? The women of porn stare into cameras seducing viewers with their eyes, big pupils and all, plus their dirtied personalities, looking undignified, yet ambiguously powerful; ambiguously not, I guess. They say—some say—that the women of porn are in it for the power, the sexual power, not the money. Are they? I don’t know, though if you ask me, no one’s coming out of porn looking or feeling their best. The real issue—the real offense to the egalitarian way—is the air of servitude, for what porn really does is arrest women into roles of pleasing. Don’t agree? Go watch some porn”
Actually, eyes are secondary. The penis is the star—the object, if you will—of porn, Daniel remarks, adding that they are in our faces, and “literally in women’s”. These are examples of his flippant, crude armchair views, and a portent of more earnest commentary later on in the story. Venus echoes an argument I first read in Martin Amis’ Money, written thirty five years ago when porn existed only in magazines or in seedy, downtown theaters—maybe videotapes. Money is a masterpiece of gritty, maverick literature. In it, a character (Amis himself, actually) says to John Self, the protagonist, that pornography objectifies women and men equally. Self, a debauched porn addict himself, jovially disagrees, saying that men don’t or wouldn’t mind being so objectified, especially for money (his stand-by argument about everything). Amis rebukes this assumption, claiming he and most men wouldn’t have sex for money, thus pointing out that all involved in porn are exploited. Lira, my women’s advocate/former prostitute in Venus, argues that whatever exploitation of men exists in porn is irrelevant, as men are the dominant consumers. Daniel retorts that if the consumer is the oppressor, then we are all oppressors in our consumer society, and that scapegoating sex for the problem of exploitation merely exposes western prurience.
This is not to say that he’s a fan of porn. In fact, he finds it cold, cynical and narcissistic, though he shamefacedly indulges on occasion when feeling disconnected. But like myself, he’s wary of the righteous; distrustful of zeitgeist opinion, well-marketed, sound-bitten ideas, and therefore has a soft spot for the demonized consumer. This leads him to work with sex addicts in his practice, and with some sex offenders, though he demurs on most cases mired in a legal process. Meanwhile, serendipity places him the company of Rick, ostensibly a chef whom Daniel meets when working shifts at a restaurant during his practice-shedding hiatus. Later, it turns out that Rick is a budding porn actor who goes by the name Kane Able, a typical double entendre slapped on for parody’s sake. So, too, are some scenarios that are common to porn’s semi-theater: the fireman or policeman skit-gimmicks, enacted with thin, tongue-in-cheek pretense, which play upon themes of heroism, damsels in distress and the pull for male sacrifice; abuse of authority, plus the chance to fashion dialogue replete with daft innuendo, silly plays upon words. As a result, Venus is filled with plays upon words, at times mimicking the artifices of porn; otherwise providing a kind of parallel script alongside the action.
Amidst all of this, Venus drops down into a serious contemplation of sex and gender politics. In its subtext it observes a shift in mores, from the castigation of female sexuality, to a back-handed latter-day quest for more freedom, but to what end? For men, the freedom train is heading in the opposite direction. Former license(s) is being revoked, yielding more punishments, weaker performance, and more anxiety, even as advertising media goads them to take the same old risks. Porn offers a kind of refuge to those who are not sure that sex, as in regular intimacy-enhancing, not-paid-for sex, is worth the effort or the risks. With respect to this problem, Daniel Pierce is an outsider: he’s too old to have known the ubiquity of porn prior to his marriage or to have experienced dating as the online shopping exercise it currently is. In a sense, he is safe from contaminated society, but still he is adrift, a closet romantic largely suppressing comment but now seizing a moment with an unlikely listener. Lira listens well enough, but like my reviewers, I think, doesn’t really connect with him. I realize that’s what Daniel Pierce’s story is about: a lament for what is missed.