[Marxism] Where are the Protests Against James Franco’s “Feel-Good” Torture Porn?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 30 10:26:01 MST 2013

Counterpunch January 30, 2013

Kink.com: the Abu Ghraib of Porn
Where are the Protests Against James Franco’s “Feel-Good” Torture Porn?

Celebrities have been speaking out against the movie Zero Dark Thirty 
because of its favorable portrayal of torture used in pursuit of Osama 
Bin Laden. Some have even risked their membership in the Academy of 
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I wish these celebrities were equally 
outraged by a documentary that just premiered at Sundance that 
celebrates the actual—not simulated—torture of women. Past experience 
tells me not to hold my breath.

When Acme Andersson wrote in XBIZ in 2009 (the porn business online 
website) that small porn companies need a lot of “good luck” to 
mainstream their products, he couldn’t have imagined just what good luck 
was coming the way of Kink.com, a somewhat niche company that 
specializes in the type of porn that would be right at home in Abu 
Ghraib. That good luck came in the form of A-list actor James Franco, a 
2010 Oscar nominee for the movie 127 Hours. It seems Franco has a 
somewhat robust interest in porn, because he is a producer of a new 
documentary called Kink that premiered at Sundance just last week. 
According to the promotional copy on the Sundance website, “Kink tells 
the true story of sex, submission, and big business as seen through the 
eyes of the unlikely pornographers whose nine-to-five workdays are spent 
within the confines of the San Francisco Armory building, home to the 
sprawling production facilities of Kink.com.” To reassure the 
potentially squeamish among us, the copy declares that this “feel good” 
documentary features a “charming band of outsiders full of humor and 
insight working in a fantasyland of graphic sexual imagery.”

A bit of fantasy never hurt anyone, because fantasy happens in the head, 
not the real world, right? Tell this to the women (and a few men) on the 
Kink.com website whose bodies are displayed in agonizing contortions 
that would not be out of place in the Spanish Inquisition: stretched out 
on racks, hogtied, urine squirting in their mouths, and suspended from 
the ceiling while attached to electrodes, including ones inserted into 
their vaginas. Finally, taking a cue from Dick Cheney’s playbook, women 
are submerged into a tank of water until they start to cough and choke. 
As I watched the scenes, the term “feel good” couldn’t have been further 
from my mind.

Kink.com is in violation of the United Nations Convention Against 
Torture. The International Council for Rehabilitation for Torture 
Victims states: “Some of the most common methods of physical torture 
include beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, 
burns, rape and sexual assault.” These are the very acts showcased on 
the Kink.com website. They are not mere simulations: the women are 
clearly bound and in contorted positions, and many are grimacing. This 
is not a fun, fantasy place run by a charming band of outsiders, but a 
group of savvy businessmen who missed their calling at Abu Ghraib.

The usual defense of Kink.com is that the women signed a contract and 
hence agreed to the acts. But as attorney Wendy Murphy of the New 
England School of Law argues, “torture doctrine is not hampered by 
concerns about consent because, as a matter of law and policy, one 
cannot consent to torture.” And anyway, what does meaningful and 
informed consent mean to the women subjected to these degrading and 
painful tortures, which are designed to break the body and the spirit? 
Even the intelligence services acknowledge that information gained from 
coercive methods is unreliable. The women, like others who enter porn, 
are young and often don’t know the full extent of what will happen on 
the set, and cannot anticipate the lasting psychological and emotional 
effects. The ultimate lie of Kink.com is that it claims to do candid 
interviews with the women at the end of the scene so they can show how 
much they enjoyed the “sex.” This is like asking sweatshop laborers to 
talk about how happy they are to be working for some multinational 
corporation as the CEO films the interview.

If Sundance were premiering a film about Iraqis, African Americans, 
Jews, or any group other than women being tortured, would they be able 
to call it a “feel good” documentary? If you want to understand how the 
pornographers, and in this case Sundance and James Franco, get away with 
this travesty, then you need to look no further than Andrew Edmond, 
himself a pornographer, but one who tells the truth. In a 2000 interview 
with Brandweek, Edmond, President and CEO of Flying Crocodile, a 
$20-million Internet pornography business, stated that those outside the 
industry don’t understand how porn works because “a lot of people get 
distracted … by [the sex]. To that he could add that they also get 
distracted from the pain and anguish on the women’s faces as they are 
being debased, abused, and dehumanized. Where are the celebrities 
speaking out against this?

GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock 
College in Boston. Her latest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked 
our Sexuality (Beacon Press). She a founding member of Stop Porn Culture 

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