Reviewing The Price of Pleasure

by | Jul 8, 2017 | Reviews | 0 comments

this "documentary" comes with an agenda

sex on netflix?

Note: A partial draft of this post has been kicking around for some time unpublished, ever since this documentary was first produced.  While The Price of Pleasure is no longer available on Netflix, a quick Google search found a copy for viewing within moments.  I watched The Price of Pleasure again yesterday, and used that viewing to confirm my previous thoughts on the film.

Not long ago, I began surveying “sex” on Netflix.

Not exactly an inspired avocation, I will admit.  But, I cut the “cable cord” and have been using Netflix as the sole paid provider of television here at the Chateau Samadhi.

And, I have to tell you. there aren’t a great number of movies on Netflix that are significantly sexual in content.  Amazon Prime, while still limited, offers significantly more in terms of erotic content, albeit of admittedly low quality.

The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships

The strongest sexual content on Netflix has been in an old Radley Metzger film, The Lickerish Quartet.  I was already familiar with another of Metzger’s films, The Image, which seems to be as serious a treatment of BDSM as I’ve ever seen in film.

Since Netflix isn’t streaming much in terms adult content in movies, I thought perhaps it might be different when we move to non-fiction?

Yes, Netflix can provide a great selection for individuals who enjoy documentaries.  But, here again, there are only a small handful of documentaries available directly dealing with sex and sexuality.  The selection available, now that Netflix sees itself as a producer of entertainment rather than a distributor, is rather limited.

This explains, at least in part, why I’m reviewing a documentary I didn’t enjoy and wouldn’t recommend.

During the “porn war” in the 1980s and early 1990s, the radical feminists focused on the harm that pornography has perpetuated on women through its producers and consumers. Although some of the interviewees did experience or witness such horrendous sexual violence done to women that was connected to pornography, I think for the majority of men and women the effects of pornography were less overt and dramatic but still no less profound on their sexual imaginations and relationships. That is why the focus of the film is on sexuality and relationships. But when I explored deeper and deeper into the issues, what concerned me the most was beyond how pornography affects, but what it revealed about the world we live in, and the mechanisms that shape and maintain it.

Chyng Sun

Co-Director and Co-Producer, The Price of Pleasure

fisting day vs. the Price of Pleasure

Life is full of ironies.  That certainly wasn’t lost on me the first time I watched The Price of Pleasure.

I was watching a documentary complaining that portrayals of women in porn are far too strongly violent and degrading.

At the same time, adult movie workers Jiz Lee and Courtney Trouble were celebrating Fisting Day. Their “holiday” was created, at least in part, to protest restrictive policies by production companies who prohibit safe and consensual activities (like fisting) in their films.

The Price of Pleasure by Miguel Picker and Chyng Sun bills itself as:

A nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate aspects of human relationships.

Unfortunately, to my eyes, it seems neither nuanced nor complex.

no pleasure – too much at any price

It seems as though a single sex-negative viewpoint has been chosen by the filmmakers.  They are certainly entitled to their viewpoint.  I really am trying to give The Price of Pleasure it’s due.

With that in mind, here’s the synopsis from the film’s promotional website:

The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships
Directed and Produced by Miguel Picker and Chyng Sun
Co-Writer and Associate Producer: Robert Wosnitzer

Once relegated to the margins of society, pornography has become one of the most visible and profitable sectors of the cultural industries in the United States. It is estimated that the pornography industry’s annual revenue has reached $13 billion. At the same time, the content of pornography has become more aggressive, more overtly sexist and racist.

The film features the voices of consumers, critics, and pornography producers and performers. It is particularly revealing when male pornographers openly discuss their views about women and how men should relate to them, and when male and female porn users candidly discuss the role pornography has played in shaping their sexual imaginations and relationships. The film paints both a nuanced and complex portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, and liberty and responsibility are intertwined in the most intimate aspects of human relations.

At the same time, the film examines the unprecedented role that commercial pornography now occupies in U.S. popular culture. Going beyond the debate of liberal versus conservative so common in the culture, The Price of Pleasure provides a holistic understanding of pornography as it debunks common myths about the genre.

The film features interviews with scholars of mass media (Gail Dines and Robert Jensen), economics (Richard Wolff), and psychology (Dr. Ana Bridges); writers on pornography and popular culture (Ariel Levy and Pamela Paul); producers and performers from the pornography industry (John Stagliano, Joanna Angel and Ernest Greene); and a former stripper/porn performer-turned-author (Sarah Katherine Lewis).

Like I said before, the producers claim to be nuanced and complex is more than a little bit overblown.  Sex positivity is entirely overlooked.  It never seems to be considered that adult entertainment could be just that, entertainment.

No, it seems that by the standards of Sun and Picker, pornography must be inherently harmful.

the Price of Pleasure is not Michael’s way

My first, and biggest, bone to pick with the Price of Pleasure is that there are no interviews with adult film stars like Nina Hartley.

There are no examples (like Nina) of anyone who has spent their life in the porn industry and are positive about the experience.  A few neutral reactions towards the adult industry are allowed into the film, but positive examples are very obviously excluded.

Sex positivity of any manner is in very short supply.  Customers are described as being disgusting.  Anyone desiring adult entertainment is painted as some sort of deviant.  Most any possible negative complaint against the adult industry seems to be in play, especially that pornography is ruining men.  To my ears, that complaint is as old as the first erotic cave painting.

The movie seems to be, more than anything else, an indictment of the entire adult film industry.  Adult entertainment today is too violent, too exploitative, too misogynistic, too much of anything but soft-focus and softcore.

When we discuss pornography in my classes, we always begin with what seem to be the wrong conversations -the actress’s choices, no harm, no foul, being pro-porn is being pro-sex, men not being rapists and still liking it -always defensive and dishonest. I’ve been waiting for a film that was neither sanctimoniously scolding nor callously celebratory. And finally, there is The Price of Pleasure -a film to help us really see what we have been looking at, and to enable us, finally, to talk about how pornography informs our actual lives. It’s powerful.

Dr. Michael Kimmel

Professor of Sociology, SUNY-Stony Brook

price of propaganda

This is far from being any sort of balanced documentary.

The script of the movie reads like propaganda. The Price of Pleasure’s promotional literature does too.

To my eyes, it looks like propaganda.  (What does propaganda look like you ask? Propaganda is like pornography, I know what it looks like when I see it.)

For fuck’s sake, to my ears, The Price of Pleasure even sounds like propaganda.

The movie’s narrator reads his script like it’s a political polemic, and he’s a true believer.  The subtext is simple – Pornography is bad.  He seems a bit annoyed that everyone doesn’t already know this, and that he has had to take the time to read the narration.

Yes, the whole thing has the reek of propaganda.  (One again, I know the smell of propaganda when I sniff it, ok?)

The Price of Pleasure is really nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to fire an opening salvo in a new porn war.  Disgusted that a previous generation of radical feminists failed in the ’80’s and early ’90’s, this movie is back to try a different line of attack.

By their way of thinking, it’s not enough that a woman’s husband not watch pornography himself, his friends can not watch it as well.  After all, they might infect his attitudes with stories of facials and back-door action.

This stuff is now being taught in our schools.  With some sort of twisted logic, this puritanical line of thinking is being taught as modern, liberal, theory.  Instead, it really harkens back to an imagined Victorian past, where sex was only for procreation (hopefully infrequently) and women never enjoyed it, and thought of France when happened.

That agenda’s not going to fly here.  Not in my house, you won’t!

The porn wars are over, you lost.  Didn’t you get the memo?  Society rejected your radical anti-porn agenda.  A host of personal heroes of mine, Patrick Califia-Rice is just the first that comes to mind, fought and won that war.  Trust me that if the porn wars need to be fought anew, we will fight (and win) yet again.

And also trust me that if your documentary propaganda was distributed on DVD, my review copy would be outside in the garbage.  Nestled there along with some rotted fruit, spoiled meat, and dog feces.  Right. Where. It. Belongs.

The anti-pornography movement espouses a traditional view of woman’s sexuality, including the belief that woman do not enjoy pornography, casual sex, genital sex, or sex outside the context of romantic relationship …This Victorian image … is one of the feminine stereotypes the woman’s movement should be working against.

Pat Califia

Public Sex

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