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The appeal of proper language used to describe pornographic activities seems to lie somewhere at the intersection of social transgression, humor, and postmodern superiority. Such assumptions reveal two postmodern beliefs: that the Victorian period did not have the advanced technologies we enjoy today, and that pornographic films have low production values, scant background research, and are generally produced with a disdain for details.
There are only one or two anachronisms, such as the ladies wearing heels too high, an electric bedroom light and a modern telephone. The acting of Paul Thomas, R Bolla and Veronica Hart is exceptional, and the dialogue is a laughing, happily corny s version of Victorian conversation.
Furthermore, it is tempting to posit that if this were a big budget Hollywood production, these reviewers would have questioned their assumption prior to writ- ing the article, as opposed to assuming a superiority of knowledge to the bumbling pornographers. The Victorians and the origins of pornography While many tend to think of the Victorians as publicly proper, and privately per- verse Marcus, , Sigel argues that such distinctions of legitimate and under- ground, of private and public, in the 19th century are not as clear cut as popularly believed.
In this way, pornographic appropriations of the Victorian point toward a deconstruction of such binary thinking, even as they rely on such binaries for erotic transgression. These films can direct us toward viewing our recent history as a continuum; a paradoxical one, but a continuum and a cycle nonetheless. In this way, these films seem to simultaneously suggest both sexual repression and sexual liberation in both the Victorian and the post-Victorian. Likewise, an analysis of postmodern uses of this period of sexual formation can clarify our understanding of western culture, Marks sexuality, and the ways in which pornographic him operates.
The Victorian era may be synonymous with sexual repression, traditional gender roles, and the private nuclear family, but it is also an era associated with the creation and development of sexology and modern medicine. Misunderstandings, avoidances, and evasions were only possible, and only had their effects, against the background of this strange endeavor: to tell the truth of sex. Not only are pornographic films categorized accord- ing to sexual preference, perversion, and persuasion, but also neo-Victorian porno- graphic films utilize sexology discourse as a way of instigating illicit sexual activity.
In this way, the films demonstrate a postmodern, tongue-in-cheek awareness of the absurdity of Victorian hypocrisy; the characters and films use feigned innocence and medical objectivity as a way to initiate sex, suggesting that the Victorian era used serious medical inquiry as an alibi for salacious and perverse exploration. As Foucault suggests, as sexology blossomed, so too did a modern understand- ing of pornography. It is striking when reviewing stylistic shifts in pornography how cyclical both the trends and arguments are regarding this fluctuating genre. The common link between these different moments of crisis is new technology, whether it be the still camera, the motion picture camera, the video cassette recorder, or the internet.
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The fashions and technologies of neo-Victorian pornography While pornography is typically seen as a masculine genre, made by men for men, 3 period costume dramas and heritage film are typically seen as feminine genres; Marks genres that privilege and glorify the domestic, private sphere maintained by middle- class Victorian culture. In addition, such aesthetic productions are often seen as sexist as they maintain a stifling feminine domestic space, and reinforce nostalgia for gender hierarchy and class boundaries.
Fashion, lingerie in particular, has been critiqued as a site of the perpetuation of such gendered spheres Wilson, The reliance on class privilege for such rearticulations is connected to the palatable and clean female bodies depicted in the catalog. The films addressed here utilize Victorian aesthetics in a way that establishes and deconstructs boundaries, exploits and maintains class and gender divisions of public and private, and clothing is a major component of this gesture.
The written word is at an uneasy intersection between the visual, the aural, and the literary. Furthermore, the act of writing itself has been connected to sexuality through authors such as the Marquis de Sade , with his spools of obsessive sadistic pornographic novels, and the anonymous author of My Secret Life c. No wonder pornographic film attempts to harness some of the erotic power of the written word.
Nica Noelle, and Memoirs of a Chambermaid Dir. Eric Edwards, nostalgically eroticize writ- ing as a pre-modern communication technology by setting it in opposition to the postmodern technologies of tape recording, cell phones, and other modern com- munications, in turn highlighting and transgressing class and gender boundaries.
Sweetheart Video rewinds to simpler and more erotic times in this beautiful film about Victorian passions, repression, and undeniable lust. The scenes do not utilize the written word, nor ver- balization of the written word, beyond the initial premise. The erotics of each scene are in fact grounded firmly in Victorian aesthetics, particularly costuming, with an emphasis on excess material, bodies spilling out of tightly bound undergarments, and sexual contact made through the gaps and holes in the extra-material bloomers each woman wears.
In this way, gender and class implications of public and private spheres are complicated and leveled only to be re-established for further transgression. Victorian Love Letters eroticizes the writ- ten word, yet in visually articulating sexual activity the written word is usurped by the visual. In turn, the aesthetics of Victorian femininity become the focus of con- tained sexuality and its release. The erotics of each scene rely less on the premise of the written word, and more on the concept of the bound, private body and its imminent exposure. The use of corsets, with breasts spilling from the top, sights and sounds of sexual fluids, and the loud and often messy female orgasms, emphasize the way pornography relies on the concept of feminine, private, contained space for pornographic pleasure just as much as its deconstruction composes the scene.
Graphic, noisy depictions of cunnilingus, then, are emphasized by the framing of a tightly laced Victorian boot in shot. At the same time, these divisions are decon- structed by their unmediated documentation on film. The female performers used in the film vary in age and body type though not in race and each scene trades in the erotics of age and class, featuring two women who contrast in age, and by extension social position. Such scenarios utilize the public exposure and shame of a privately enacted, written sexual desire through a publicly represented medium in pursuit of erotic pleasure.
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The written word, then, serves to foreground a sense of feminine privacy and silent, contained sexuality in much the same way as corsets and boots. But costuming and aesthetics, as well as their removal, are privileged as the more material indicators of containment and exposure in the visual medium of video pornography.
Memoirs of a Chambermaid also utilizes the written word, yet trades in it more consistently for erotic effect. Again, the film uses gender and class hierarchy within domestic spaces as a platform from which to deconstruct these very same bound- aries. However, while Victorian Love Letters is more graphic, it does less to dis- mantle the concepts of class and domesticity in a traditional narrative sense. Memoirs of a Chambermaid is softer and less graphic, but narratively it goes further in breaking down the gender and class hierarchies that operate within the domestic Victorian home.
Romance novelist Amy Rogers Krista Lane rents an old Victorian house for the summer in the hopes of finding inspiration for her next book. The diary details her secret sexual relationship with Jason, the youngest son living in the house, whom she meets for trysts in their secret place, the attic. After considering that she may be going crazy, Amy also ponders that perhaps she is Molly. Meanwhile, the present-day narrative returns to its opening scene, where Molly is arriving at the same house, herself now the novelist, hoping to rent the place for the summer for inspiration.
Both women are smiling knowingly, with evident pleasure and satisfaction. The film functions from within a gendered sphere of romance, writing, and reading. Amy is a modern woman who writes erotica, and is privately reading Marks the erotica of another woman from a hundred years ago. Furthermore, the film is co-written by a woman, and has a feminine address in the traditional sense: lack of emphasis on money and meat shots, a visual focus on male bodies and female self-pleasure, and a consistent sexual attention to reading and writing that Victorian Love Letters lacks.
Williams argues in Hard Core that the privile- ging of the money shot and meat shot are characteristic of a presumed heterosex- ual, male gaze, while the pornography produced for women typically avoids such phallocentric representations of sex. In this way, Memoirs is not subversive simply in its lack of emphasis on money and meat shots. In fact, it could be argued that the lack of explicitness renders the male and female bodies more contained, smooth, and tidy, while the bodies on display in the other films discussed are bawdy, out of control, and vulgar, embodying a more serious transgression of corporeal propriety and cultural boundaries.
Nevertheless, Memoirs does transgress these boundaries, but through narrative and language rather than physical displays of bodies and bodily functions.
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While Victorian Love Letters simply utilizes the love letter as a means of transitioning into visual pornography, Memoirs commits to its premise of the written and spoken word. By utilizing a supernatural, time-shifting format, contrasting technologies of sexuality and feminine subject positions are engaged and addressed in eroticized ways. Furthermore, Amy subverts the traditional notion, present in both classical cinema and Gothic literature, that the actively inquisitive, desiring woman must either be a masochistic victim or be punished.
The manner in which Amy becomes consumed by Jason could be argued to replicate masochistic trends in Gothic literature and the romance novels that Amy herself writes. Second, the him ends in a way that suggests a cyclical, indefinite trading of places between working class, Victorian Molly and middle class, independent, modern Amy. The implication of a Twilight Zone-esque indefinite cycle suggests that Molly and Amy may enjoy the pleasures of multiple constructions of gender and class indefinitely.
Both films, however, main- tain and deconstruct boundaries in their pornographic use of gendered and classed domains of public and private Victorian sexuality. The cultural work pornography does is integral to individual and collective working out of postmodern crises relating to sexuality, gender, and desire, often in problematic ways. The Victorian proves a useful source for such work, and pornography as a genre can point us toward more general postmodern anxiety over corporeality, spatial relations, and authenticity in an age of heightened tech- nology and a perceived decline in individuality and intimacy.
In this sense, the enduring pornographic use of the Victorian can illuminate not only cultural perceptions of the past, but cultural attitudes toward our own sexual identities, as well as the pornographic medium itself. Notes 1.
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Shaun Costello, email interview 12 April Talbot Drummer, , Autobiography of a Flea Dir. Nica Noelle, It is important to note that since the s, women have been actively involved in the production of pornography for women. Eric Edwards, email interview 27 February, The Cinema Snob. New York: Chelsea. Eco U How to recognize a porn movie. In: Eco U ed. How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, pp. New York: Doubleday.
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