Friday, February 26, 2010

Channeling Desire

To be level headed about the matter of pornography is not easy. It is a subject that seems to spark fierce debate particularly when it comes to the possible introduction of a 24 hour porn channel on a local TV station.

I recently got involved in an online discussion about this and I must say that it seems that everybody thinks they have valid reasons for and against this introduction. One thing they all seemed to glance over was the ultimate effect it has on a society. I am not talking about whether men in general have begun to respect the ladies less or more since pornography has been introduced, or for that matter - whether violent TV shows have upped the violence on our streets. What I have a problem with is that normal, healthy appetite is being used as a device against people to create a consumer culture around explicit sexual material.

I won't venture a guess as to why women would enjoy porn, but I think we men need porn as surrogate lovers. We become captivated in our hormonally charged youth by a procession of all these seemingly available, perfect women who stare out of the pages at us in endless wanton heat. They become our comforters in the turbulent teens and translate into our steady companions throughout the rest of our lives if we need them. But this happy, uncomplicated arrangement with the immaculate image has a dark side too. It also can create false expectations and behavior. If men want to please their ladies they have to learn that in real life women are imperfect flesh and blood too. They are same fallible person every day with hearts and minds who want their men present in the bed with them, fully alive and committed to the pleasure and fulfillment of their women, not some glassy-eyed beast who is holding an artificially-enhanced image in his head whilst he hammers away on the road to release. If a couple shares and enjoys porn as a form of foreplay it somehow loses it's mystique as a hidden pleasure and becomes a useful tool in their armory of amour, and that I believe is an immensely healthy and productive thing to do. I am all for that as long as it doesn't impinge on the well-being of others.

But what of the effect the porn industry has on it's participants. The actors, crew and staff of the industry seem to adopt a brazen we're-so-together-and-all-is-well facade, but the stuff that oozes out the cracks into the media seems to suggest a different story. Google "porn star deaths" and you'll discover that drug overdose, suicide and AIDS are the most common form of death amongst them. I also remember watching an interview with a movie director (I stand under correction on this, not sure of the facts) - who was telling of how desperate he was to get into the movie business. He accepted a job as a runner on a porn set where they shot something like 3 porn movies in 5 days. The effect on his sexuality was profound. He said he was unable to get an erection for months after that. Whatever that really means is for the clever people in universities to discover, but from a lay persons perspective - it was simply too much at once. Porn is overkill. I think it should be taken hold of very lightly and held with deep respect, it has the power to destroy and hurt because it involves our natural appetites.

Something I hear a lot nowadays is that society as a whole is being dumbed down. It occurred to me that porn is a form of dumbing down as well. The overstimulation not only desensitizes our own sexual triggers - it desensitizes us to our lovers and their needs too. Pornography may make us more superficially sexual, but it also can make us less concerned about the fulfillment of the other and more focussed on our own pleasure, which reduces lovemaking to simply having it off on someone else's body. I might as well be a dog clasping a startled ladies leg in a tea garden for all the dignity that it evokes.

As a student of art, one does not have to go far to discover that erotic artistic content is common in pieces that go back to ancient times. Whether this kind of art is of the same intent as the cave paintings hoping to attract good fortune in the hunt, or simply for the naughty pleasures of having an alabaster jug with endlessly copulating figures engraved on it I can't say, but all this artwork pales into insignificance when placed next to the images currently available in the media. The term pornographic comes from greek and means literally: "Writing about prostitutes". It also has become synonymous with the idea of an overstatement and to to see today's porn is to understand why. I think the reason for this is because as time goes by people become bored with what they have already seen hundreds of times before and so want material of a more explicit or unusual nature to continue being aroused by it.

I have no idea how big the porn industry is but all indications are that it is huge. It's not too difficult to logically assume that the bottom line is the driving force behind it, and so they will pander to all and any of our needs in order to achieve the financial rewards. It is driven by shareholders and vested interests who like any big business will stop at nothing to increase profitability. What makes the debate a moral one is because of the toll it takes in people's lives. One can see advertising and decide if you want to buy a product or not, but porn seems to devour and discard it's participants and consumers alike because of it's link to our most base instinct. I suggest we act with the utmost caution when we venture into this labyrinth. It has dark twists and turns, and in there lurks an ancient, primal beast that must be fed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the vanities

On two occasions in the last few months I have come across jobs that I have been unable to do. Both were caricatures and both had to be OK'ed by the party I was caricaturing. I'm currently busy with lots of caricatures and normally I have no problem getting a passable likeness, but with these two no matter how I tried I couldn't please the subject. Both are captains of industry and leaders in their fields, which should not be surprising now that I come to think of it.

When it comes to caricatures in South Africa, what most people expect is to have their head drawn and plonked onto a small cute body. I usually try to avoid this, so I exercise my drawing and caricaturing skills by playfully drawing the subject in free hand. That usually does the trick for the initial rough sketch, but on occasions such as this the person didn't think it looked like them. Now I realize they are looking for a photographic representation of themselves rather than an artistic endeavor, so to avoid untimely delays I will simply print out the reference they have given me and trace the face on a light-box. Nine times out of ten the subject is delighted and off we go. But then there is the tenth instance. "It still looks wrong" they will complain and then ask for the chin to be made more prominent, the boobs bigger, the figure slimmer, the eyes further apart and the neck made longer and slimmer (without the double chin) and so on...

I then know I'm dealing with an ego of note. I am really the most accommodating person as a whole but if there is one thing I really can't stand is delusional self-worship. These are the insatiable maniacs that deem themselves far more beautiful, sexy and downright gorgeous than they really are. There is a saying: "You don't see things as they are, you see things as you are." If they consider themselves so subjectively beautiful it becomes a matter of trying to read their minds to capture their distorted self-image in a pleasing and engaging way. Talk about mission impossible.
Situations like this either end in a compromise when the party concerned realizes their attitude is showing or I have to give up and walk away from the project. I only wish I had some early-warning system to pick up those clots at fifty paces so I could price myself right of the job and save myself some time.

But the gem to be found in this puddle of misery is the realization that no matter how important they are, they are obviously still very vulnerable to other's opinions of themselves, and the higher they go the more their positive self-image seems to matter to them. Happily they are few and far between. I have had the pleasure of meeting people who have risen to the top and still retained their humility, and what a pleasure it is to know these people. I suspect they are the true Nobility of my generation and I relish their contributions to life. It would be fantastic if those people were politicians too. Sadly not.