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« Lab Notes | Main | Elsewhere »

July 14, 2006


Michael Blowhard writes:

Daer Blowhards --

For all the thigh, tummy, tattoo-ink, and buttcrack they put on display, today's mid-American girls are apparently as prim (or almost as prim) as ever. A fun recent article in the NYTimes (not online) reports that -- although many middle-class girls get a kick out of dressing "skanky" and calling each other "slut" -- they worry as much as ever about how far to go, and about their reputations.

But if the Anna K./Britney mall crowd is one thing, the bohemian set is another -- far more determined to explore possibilities, and much more eager to live their fantasies out. What with computers making porn well-nigh inescapable ... What with popular culture being as lewd as it has become ... What with everyone having grown tired of joyless, partyline feminism ... What with, in short, life having turned into one big sexual cornucopia, many of today's downtown arty kids are responding by pressing pedal to the metal.

A few examples: The neo-burlesque scene. (Here's the website of Nasty Canasta, one of my fave neo-burlesque performers.) Natacha Merritt's photo project "Digital Diaries," which chronicles her sex life. Burning Angel, an outfit that makes boho, alt-porn movies. The alt-porn outfit Suicide Girls showcases self-motivated naked girls sporting tattoos and attitude galore -- 2Blowhards' very own Confessions of a Naked Model correspondent Molly Crabapple was a Suicide Girl for a while. (Here's one of Molly's columns for us; here's another.) Molly also takes part in the burlesque scene as a performer, and she sponsors a series of life-drawing evenings where no one pretends that the model's nakedness isn't hot.

The main ideas behind a lot of this activity are 1) It's fun to be sexual, 2) Mainstream porn is borrrrrrrring, and 3) So long as I'm making my own choices, no one is being exploited.

Setting aside worries about whether this activity represents a good or a bad development, I've often found myself thinking that some of today's most provocative edgy art comes from these fields, perhaps especially the post-camp performance-art/reality-video webprojects. The trailblazing webcam girls -- JenniCam, Anna Voog, and (my own favorite) Isabella@Home -- created happenings that raised many interesting (and maybe unanswerable) Warholian questions.

The more recent Beautiful Agony is a fascinating project too: an ever-growing collection of videoclips of people (mostly young and pierced) masturbating to orgasm. Nothing is on explicit visual display -- the camera focuses on head and shoulders, no more. And -- since the self-pleasurers are videotaping themselves and there's no cigar-smoking smut-mogul around to make your skin crawl -- you watch the show feeling free to enjoy the eye-and-ear candy, and to let your brains play with arty questions. Can we call what these people are creating avant-garde art? God knows they're expressing themselves, and god knows they're creating something. But perhaps the "art" is more in the concept? ...

Here's an interview with Richard Lawrence, the brains behind Beautiful Agony and its (equally brilliant, IMHO) sister sites, I Shot Myself, and I Feel Myself. What to make of Lawrence? Perhaps he's an artist, or an impresario -- or perhaps he's just a new-style flesh peddler. Is it a problem that his projects are commercial and that he's hoping to make money? If so, why?

In any case, the photos and videos Lawrence puts on display are really something to watch; they couldn't be more unlike conventional porn. (Your humble and diligent blogger has done your research for you, and has turned up a few freebies on YouTube: here, here, and here. No bodily goodies on display, but you certainly don't want your officemates overhearing these videoclips.) If they're a turn-on, they're also sweet. I often find these clips beautiful, even exalting -- they give me feelings that remind me of the feelings that some religious art gives me. The girls and guys appearing in these shots and vids aren't complaining about being out there on the web. So why should we worry for them? Why not submit to the experience they're creating instead? Besides, perhaps we all -- in these "Broadcast Yourself" days -- dream of starring in our own porn movies ...

That's a lot of scene-setting for the sake of one link. But if you aren't hanging out in edgy-art neighborhoods yet are curious about what this scene is like, you could do worse than to read Jamie Peck's article about the artist Zak Smith. (There's nothing visually NSFW behind that link, but the article is definitely not advised for those who dislike raunchy language.) Smith is into comics, music, and drawing. He lives a neo-punk life in a dicey neighborhood in Brooklyn. And, oh yeah, he's had art in the Whitney Biennial and he has made explicit appearances in alt-porn movies. His attitude seems to be: Dude, why not? I have moments these days when I find that a hard question to answer.



posted by Michael at July 14, 2006


Re: "But is it art?", I'm inclined to say, "No", and float with an observation by Roger Ebert (who certainly isn't prudish about these things): he has said he always finds real sex a distraction in a film, because once things get slippery, the film is no longer about two characters, but about two actors having sex. Which leads me to wonder if pretense isn't a necessary element to art?

Posted by: Whisky Prajer on July 14, 2006 3:35 PM

Thanks to WP for an entry point to these remarks. I DO think that pretense is a necessary element to art, but I would call it "virtuality," a constructed world, a parallel universe, an enlightening what-if.

I hesitate to view these sites because their cookies swarm out like sperm: tiny, relentless, and insidious -- so that to get rid of the consequent SPAM (which is not about sex but about "ramming" and never about eweing) takes time and patience.

But I have been watching the stories on A recent one was quite relevant. A man who loves sex discovers his perfect partner via the Internet, but she's on another planet where people are huge. Somehow he gets to her and she obligingly spreads her legs, but standing there between her knees he's obviously very very underequipped. She doesn't hesitate but simply sucks all of him up the glory hole where he spends a marvelous time, though breathing is a little tough. When he falls out limp but exalted, this marvelous creature's mother is waiting on the football-field-sized bed and -- in turn and after asking -- sucks him up next. It's great -- well, maybe a little musty. He emerges onto the mattress, a little slimy but exalted. He never wants to leave.

Now, what does that tell you about the modern view of sex?

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on July 14, 2006 5:34 PM

Those of us who don't like film per se go only for the nudity and sex, of course.

Based on what I've seen online, commercial porn is going to be in serious trouble because of the abundant free stuff. Any more, you really do but Playboy for the articles.

Posted by: John Emerson on July 15, 2006 1:51 PM

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