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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: August ::
Re: Porn
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0746  Saturday, 8 August 1998.

[1]     From:   Ethan Wells <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Aug 1998 12:18:07 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Porn

[2]     From:   Bradley Berens <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Aug 1998 12:40:22 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0743  Porn

[3]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Aug 1998 19:05:02 +0100 (BST)
        Subj:   Re: Porn RJ


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ethan Wells <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Aug 1998 12:18:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Porn

Paul Rhodes writes:

>I would urge our editor to exercise better discretion

While I have no desire to come to the defense of pornography, let me say
a word or two in favor of our editor.  While I know very little about
Mr. Cook, I suspect that he is hardly a great fan of pornography.  Not
being a fan, it follows, I suppose, that he knows very little about
pornography.  In particular, it seems quite likely he knows even less
about individual films.  And certainly he knows nothing at all about the
trade magazines!  Confronted with such ignorance both of the genre,
examples of the genre, and the "criticism" of the genre, perhaps Mr.
Cook felt that it is better for an editor to err on the side of
vulgarity if the alternative is to err on the side of ignorance.

As an academically-oriented list, I think no other decision could be
made in good conscious.

On a slightly different note, there is a touch of irony in the fact that
the man who threw the first stone at out kind editor has for an e-mail
address: 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 ; that is, it celebrates two French
literary figures, the Marquis de Sade, and Albert Camus.  Camus, I have
no quarrel with.  Sade, on the other hand, mastered a type of fiction
whose progeny is none other than the pornography Mr. Rhodes finds so
objectionable.  A brief sample, taken from <<Justine . . . and Other
Writings>> (tr. Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse) serves to
illustrate (quite graphically, I'm afraid) my point:

"Goddam! I've got an erection! . . . Get Augustin [the valet] to come
back here, if you please. Tis amazing how this fine lad's superb ass
does preoccupy my mind while I talk!  All my ideas seem involuntarily to
relate themselves to it. . . . Show my eyes that masterpiece, Augustin
.  . . let me kiss it and caress it, oh! for a quarter of an hour.
Hither, my love, come, that I may, in your lovely ass, render myself
worthy of the flames with which Sodom sets me aglow.  Ah, he has the
most beautiful buttocks . . . the whitest!  I'd like to have Eugenie on
her knees; she will suck his prick while I advance; in this manner, she
will expose her ass to the Chevalier, who'll plunge into it, and Madame
de Saint-Ange astride Augustin's back, will present her buttocks to me:
I'll kiss them.  Armed with the cat-o'-nine-tails, she might surely, it
would seem to me, by bending a little, be able to flog the Chevalier . .
."

The Marquis de Sade's work was so explicit, as is here evident, that not
only did it give us the word "sadism," for years it was banned.  In
fact, it has only been relatively recently that the Marquis has come
into academic favor.  No doubt modern critics consider the censorship of
Sade in the past as the product of mass ignorance . . .

Ethan Wells

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bradley Berens <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 07 Aug 1998 12:40:22 -0700
Subject: 9.0743  Porn
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0743  Porn

Dear Friends,

Lo!  How the pious have risen!  I refer, of course, to Paul S. Rhodes'
recent email in which he sniffs haughtily around Richard Burt's quiet
announcement of a new pornographic revision of Romeo and Juliet.

Mr. Rhodes, who describes Professor Burt's post as "meritricious and
pandering," writes:

>Posts like the above make me wonder if I should not reconsider Gabriel
>Egan's academic elitism.  At least that would exclude discussion of
>something as mindless and crass as a porn version of R&J.  Then again, I
>may be giving academic elitism much too much credit.  I sure hope not.
>I would urge our editor to exercise better discretion

Paul, BY ALL MEANS run off with Gabriel Egan and enjoy your elitism to
your hearts' content, so long as you do it quietly and no longer infest
this list with such silliness.

If you reread Professor Burt's post carefully you will find that he does
nothing but let a community of scholars-many of whom share an interest
in how Shakespeare gets appropriated in the late 20th Century-that a new
example has arrived on our cultural doorstep.  That's all he does.  If
he had described in enthusiastic detail the video's explicit sexual
acts, or commented on the pulchritudinous potential of the various
actors, then he might be guilty at worst of bad taste, or perhaps of
misjudging the interests of his audience.  He did not, and your response
is overblown.

More importantly, when you characterize his interest in Shakespearean
porn as "mindless" you are mistaken.  There is, believe it or not,
potentially a lot to learn from pornographic interpretations of
Shakespeare, for they can show how people go about using the plays in
venues other than the classroom, library, or highbrow summer festival .
One X-rated Romeo and Juliet shows a collection of college students
attempting to put on a production of the play; the young actress playing
Juliet winds up having a passionate liason with the stagehand instead of
Romeo.  Not great cinema, I admit, but it is particularly interesting
given that the tragic end of the play is completely rewritten at the end
of the video (it turns into an orgy that encompasses actors and
playgoers alike).  This change has cultural links with the way that
Romeo and Juliet is comedically appropriated in Huckleberry Finn, the
Little Rascals, the Brady Bunch, countless other sitcoms, and a
wonderful children's book by Avi called ROMEO AND JULIET, TOGETHER AGAIN
AND ALIVE AT LAST.  The tragedy consistently appears to solicit comic
appropriation, in which comic characters perform the play to popular
success but theatrical ineptitude.  Why is this?  Why does it happen so
often?  Does it have anything to do with the much commented upon generic
instability of Romeo and Juliet?  (See Susan Snyder's The Comic Matrix
of Shakespearean Tragedy for a full discussion.)  I've been noodling
around with this topic for years now, and originally thought to write a
book about it before getting distracted by other things.  My discovery
of that old blue R&J led me to think more seriously about the play's
genre, and how tragedy and comedy each relate to eroticism: is porn
always comical?  Nope, so why is the porn R&J played for laughs?  Who
knows, but it's an interesting intellectual question.

Moreover,  if you look back to the original geographical context of the
Globe itself, it was surrounded by brothels and pubs and bear-baitings
(oh my!).  Pornography and Shakespeare share a pop culture cradle, both
to the manner born.

The major point, however, is that as both pornography and Shakespeare
are big parts of our present day culture, there is no reason to avoid
discussions of Shakespearean porn.  If you are offended by these videos,
then don't watch them.  If you are offended by vague discussion of these
videos on this list, then skip those posts.  But DON'T presume to speak
for the rest of the list by suggesting that Hardy Cook-ever the soul of
discretion and decorum as an editor-censor Richard Burt.

Sincerely,
Brad Berens
Dept. of English
U.C. Berkeley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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 >
Date:           Saturday, 8 Aug 1998 19:05:02 +0100 (BST)
Subject:        Re: Porn RJ

Paul S. Rhodes writes about an alleged porn spin-off of RJ:

> Posts like the above make me wonder if I should
> not reconsider Gabriel Egan's academic elitism.
> At least that would exclude discussion of
> something as mindless and crass as a porn version of R&J.

I've no objection to serious discussion of pornography as an social,
political, and especially a feminist issue.

I'd bet that the porn spinoff doesn't 'queer' the play by casting a boy
a Juliet. Don't these things usually just satisfy puerile male
heterosexist fantasies? To really get into this discussion we'd have to
watch the damned thing, and I'm much more inclined to stand behind a
blanket condemnation of all pornography and then let someone try to make
a case that a particular work doesn't degrade women, demean the
audience, and generally make the world more unpleasant.

Leaving aside discussions of artistic merit in porn, the systematic
abuse of sex workers is reason enough to take a stand against this
particularly nasty industry.  Does that sound like academic elitism, or
practical politics?

Gabriel Egan
 

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