Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Consolation of Pornography

As it happens, I was meant to read Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy in my Medieval Literature class in college. I'm pretty sure, though, that I skipped it. I liked the class just fine, and I read most of what I was supposed to read, but I wasn't the most diligent student in those days. Still, I would likely have read the Boethius if it weren't for the professor. After getting an A on my first paper, I was having some trouble getting the second paper done on time, and he made the mistake of telling the class that he didn't really care if any of the four papers were late so long as he had them all by 5:00 pm on Monday of finals week. As a result, I didn't actually start writing the papers until the Sunday evening before finals week (i.e., the night before they were due), and since I could write the remaining three papers without having to read Boethius, I did. I turned them in at 4:15, a full forty-five minutes earlier than necessary, which proves that even then I was not much of a drama queen. They weren't my best work, though, and I only got an A on one of them, but a life without regrets is a boring life, no? Anyway, if you want to see what I was missing, the e-text is here. Neither Boethius nor my poor collegiate work ethic is the topic of today's post, however.

Did you know that it's relatively difficult to find pictures of attractive man smiling in a natural way? I can find any number of pictures of guys engaging in activities that even I would hesitate to discuss (voting Republican, for example), but most of the pictures of smiling men look like the guy was either looking into the sun or had just been told to say "cheese." The best pictures are of men caught unawares, though clearly there are men who are not afraid of the camera and manage to smile as beautifully as if it were instead someone whom they're very fond of. But the scarcity of good pictures of cute guys smiling isn't today's topic, either.

Towards the end of last week, I came home to find a padded envelope in the mail. I thought that maybe it was the memory card for the smaller digital camera that I had just ordered, so I didn't bother to open it immediately. When I got to it, however, I found two porn DVDs (please note that I have not typed an apostrophe where one does not belong: the greengrocer's plural remains the bane of my existence), including Crossroads, the movie that I sought for a considerable period of time before finding and that I then had to wait for after ordering.

As I mentioned before, I was somewhat apprehensive that Crossroads wouldn't live up to my memory of it, so I didn't watch it right away. I first watched Roommates, another Danny Sommers' flick, which attempted to mix smoking hot mansex with an important message about gay bashing (hint: the director is pro-smoking hot mansex and anti-gay bashing). I was watching it late at night, and I fell asleep partway through. I believe that the sleeping was not so much a reflection on the quality of the acting (abysmal) as it was on the fact that I was exhausted before I started watching and even more exhausted after watching the first sex scene. Anyway, Roommates gets the job done as pornography, and, well, if its attempts at plot and social relevance fall short, we can at least applaud the effort, right?

After Roommates, I was even more doubtful that I'd still enjoy Crossroads, but I need not have worried. I don't know whether it was the attractiveness of the cast or my own sense of nostalgia or, perhaps, the efforts of the film itself towards relevance, but I liked it almost as much as I remembered. I say almost because you have to bear in mind that it was one of the very first porn videos I ever acquired, and I got it at a time when I was still married and still had not had any actual sex with actual men. So I spilled quite a number of loads to the original VHS. And now I've spilled a few loads to the DVD.

Crossroads is the story of a twenty-two-year-old high school auto shop teacher John (Chuck Barron: yummy). At the beginning of the film, you see him proposing to his girlfriend (the two female characters never appear on screen, but you hear their very annoying voices). Soon after their marriage, he meets his wife's former boyfriend, a twenty-eight-year-old gay Army officer named Colin (Danny Sommers: also yum -- looks grrreat in an olive tank, camo pants, and boots). The rest of the plot involves the two men becoming friends, having sex, and falling in love, as John comes to terms with his homosexuality. The acting is, well, weak, but the story is compelling. And the action in the story is pleasantly symmetrical. There are three joint sex scenes: in the first, the guys jerk each other off; in the second, they suck each other off; and in the third, they take turns fucking each other. Each guy also has a solo jerk-off scene, and all of the sex scenes are separated by dialog/plot advancement scenes. In the end, the film comes full circle. The narrative and sexual structure, really, reminds me of The Pearl, which was one of the Medieval Literature works that I actually did read. I don't recall jerking off to Pearl, but I think I was nineteen when I read it, so how could I not have?

Clearly, Crossroads is not a great work of art, except perhaps within the context of other pornography of its day. Still, seeing it ten or so years ago was a transformative experience for me. And it wasn't simply the plot of a married man figuring out that he was gay and finding another man to share his love with: it was also all that sex. Pornographic, yes, but presented in a much more personal and humanizing context than almost any other sex film I know.

It makes me long for better films with better sex. Lots of young men have gotten their first inkling of why they were different by seeing some artistic representation of homosexuality. I can't help thinking how much more quickly many of us would reach full sexual realization if we had cinematic representations of sex that were both dramatically and sexually compelling. I think there are situations where pornography can do great damage, but it also has the potential to educate and enlighten, as well as excite.


John said...

I (very pleasurably) associate the title "The Pearl" with a hefty paperback volume of graphic Victorian erotica I found under my dorm roommate's bed in college. It was pretty hot stuff. I've never encountered that title in a medieval context, however. Tell me more, please, TED.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

My bad, John. The poem is titled Pearl not The Pearl. I've made a correction. As for the poem itself, I wish I remembered more. I don't recall that it was at all erotic, but in those days I was fairly clueless, so I would have missed any subtextual (or even textual) eroticism. I remember enjoying reading it, and I remember its symmetry. And I recall that no one knows who wrote it (I think they call him the Pearl poet), but whoever he was also wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Both poems are of substantial length and usually appear together in a single volume. They're easy to come by because the translation is by J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a gifted but unknown medieval scholar before he became a dreary but celebrated author.