PRICE OF PLEASURE, THE: PORNOGRAPHY, SEXUALITY AND RELATIONSHIPS – DVD review

“The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships” is a direct-to-video film that was made in 2008 and intended, obviously, as a means of stimulating conversations in college classes on sociology, sex, and gender. And it isprovocative in the sense that it’s sure to provoke classroom debate, or even a bedroom debate if a husband and wife or significant others watch this together. But the questions raised during the course of the narrative seem to be answered rather quickly or superficially.

The price of pleasure? Watch one Diane Sawyer clip excerpted here and you get a quick answer: $13 billion a year. That’s how much money the porn industry generates, and money talks. The head of the Free Speech Coalition, the porn industry’s lobbyist group formed in 1991, says on camera that the lawmakers he approaches are usually apprehensive at first. But “when you explain to them the size and scope of the business” . . . .

Uh, yeah. We get it. Those who have money have power, and those who have power can exert influence on legislators, as the Free Speech Coalition has done so far. Their biggest “achievement” thus far? The defeat of a measure that would have made virtual child pornography (that is, CGI child porn) illegal. But there’s no discussion of child pornography or fetishism to speak of, so these factoids just float in the space of 57 minutes like spy satellites. And “The Price of Pleasure” has a curiously voyeuristic feel to it as a result.

There doesn’t seem to be enough research and revelation here to make it anything more, as when the would-be provocative voiceover asks, “How did this industry, once considered seedy, become part of the cultural and economic mainstream?” All you have to do is follow the money trail, and it leads to the Internet, where an estimated 420 million pages of porn are online, and where young people now get their first exposure to erotic images. In the old days it used to be topless indigenous women in the pages of National Geographic, where at least you got a little culture with your boobfest. Or else it was an illicitly purchased copy of Playboy, where you got some fascinating interviews with pop culture icons and political heavyweights along with pictures of the women who looked nothing at all like the ones you saw on the street, at church, or at school. The fact that they had staples in their navels made them even more exotic. But “The Price of Pleasure” really doesn’t go too deeply into the idea of pornography as something that might be traced to a base and basic instinct. We get two male teens talking about porn and three females talking about it, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. And what about the title? Substituting “pleasure” for “pornography” seems less euphemistic than it does a tacit acknowledgment that pornography is tied to pleasure. But Aristotle thought more about the concept of pleasure than the filmmakers did.

“How did this industry . . . become part of the cultural and economic mainstream?” It’s complicated, and I’m not sure that “The Price of Pleasure” suggests just how complicated or how gradual the shift has been . . . or even if there’s BEEN a shift. That in itself is subject to debate. What we get here is a round-up of straw men: People like Howard Stern, who talk about porn and interview porn stars on-air, and therefore helped to usher it into the mainstream; references to porn as a basic guy thing in such films as “Superbad” of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”; rap and hip-hop artists glorifying hos and bitches and porn-style sex in songs and videos; advertising that depicts images of suggested sex with women enjoying the role of objectified sex object; and the prevalence now of pole-dancing classes and articles on how women can use sex to spice up their marriages or please their men. In other words, the usual suspects. Here too, there’s not much in the way of original research and no consideration, really, for what’s been a gradual development of these porn “fronts.”

Nor, aside from the mention that Time Warner and CBS are just two of the media giants that make a huge profit off of pornography every year, is there much discussion of the role that corporations play in the porn industry. More data would have been nice. More interviewers with whistleblowers would have been nice. But this isn’t really the result of investigative reporting. It is, as I said, a sociological overview that seems intended as a conversation starter. It’ll do that. And the conversations will probably consider more angles and cover more ground in greater depth than this film does. Or maybe that’s the point.

Video:
“The Price of Pleasure” is clip-heavy, relieved by talking heads. We get TV clips, movie clips, Internet Web site clips, porn clips, and interviews with young people on camera. Curiously, the picture quality of a completely nude young woman auditioning for a porn role is almost as sharp as HD, while interviews with two young women talking about the effect that porn had on their development are grainy as can be. There’s quite a bit of variation here in quality. It’s presented in what appears to be 1.85.1 widescreen letterboxed for 1.33:1 screens.

Audio:
The audio is nothing special, a Dolby Digital 2.0 that sounds like mono most of the time and may well be.

Extras:
Quite a lot, actually. They’re no doubt outtakes from the film itself: Norm Chomsky on Pornography; Porn Performers on The Business; Generational Divide: 3 Generations of Porn Stars Speak Out; Donkey Punch featurette; Extended Interviews with Experts; Pornography as Sex Education; and Pornography’s Effects on the Male Psyche. The most interesting among them is the Generational Divide featurette, followed by Porn Performers on The Business. As for the experts? Gail Dines has published on gender and media, while Robert Jensen has published on pornography and masculinity.

Bottom Line:
As a conversation-starter “The Price of Pleasure” has merit, but it’s not really an exposé and it doesn’t cover nearly as much ground as you might have hoped. Click on their website (www.thepriceofpleasure.com) and you’ll see that Institutional Sales come up first on the drag-down menu, with Individual Sales second. So clearly, the film was created with sex and gender classes in mind.

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