All things to men

Submitted by on 23 October, 2003 - 12:00

Pornography: The Musical, Channel 4

Stealing and gratifying other people's sexual desires in return for money have only ever appealed to me, and then not much, when I've been really broke. Both strike me as being dangerous, uncomfortable and one of them - stealing - possibly immoral. To judge from Pornography: The Musical the "money factor" is the biggest reason people work in porn.

But it's not the only one. "Everyone's got a vocation in life... this is what I was meant to do. I love the career, I love the industry," says one woman. Of course, that could be bravado.

A handful of women - and one bloke - star in the programme. It would be interesting to know why the director Brian Hill picked the ones he picked. Did he try to be representative? Some of the women seem to be putting a brave face on things. One of them turns up to shoot a video not knowing what it will involve: "I hope I'm the dommie, I'm not in the mood to be a sub." Well, I hope she feels she has a choice! If she doesn't, that's where things are going badly wrong. It's the argument for supporting organisation of sex workers.

But one of the women, who hosts bukkake parties - a dozen blokes stand around a bed waiting their turn for a blow job then come on her - genuinely looks like she controls every aspect of her trade. The younger the women are, the more you worry about them. The older ones, by definition, have clearly come through whatever it is.

The programme follows the format of Hill's BAFTA award-winning programme, Feltham Sings, set in Feltham Young Offenders' Institute. Based on interviews with inmates, poet Simon Armitage wrote lyrics for them to sing; the programme interspersed songs with documentary style footage and straight interview. Some of the stars of Feltham wrote their own songs. It would be interesting to know whether the women in Pornography got some say in what they sang.

I didn't see Feltham Sings so I don't know whether the tunes were any good, but the programme was widely praised. Perhaps Hill has blotted his copybook with Pornography. The mainstream cultural reviews have been quite scathing, largely, I would say, uncomprehending. They criticise the music, Germaine Greer wondered why all the women - it's not true - were blonde, some questioned whether the treatment was trivialising and doubted whether it taught us anything we didn't know already. Some people thought it was salacious, some thought it tasteless.

Tasteless it might be, but a lot of people are working in the industry and a much bigger number consuming porn. So it deserves our attention. Tastes differ, but in my view, it was not salacious. Trivialising? Well, in an hour, how much can you explore? Were the participants empowered by the programme? Up to a point. I look forward to the documentary that is made entirely by the porn artists themselves. Look, I'm broad-minded.

The tunes are reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys. That must have been deliberate: I like the Pet Shop Boys but even when they are cheerful they sound like they are putting on a brave face. It seems like Hill and Armitage came to the programme with that assumption. Armitage has said: "Every so often, I got the feeling that there was a certain amount of denial going on, but that's for the viewer to decide. I'm quite moralistic; my background is counselling and social work, and I think of porn as a form of abuse. Working on this film hasn't really changed my mind, but I now recognise that there's a spectrum of experience and a spectrum of opinion."

I know next to nothing about the science of pornography. I assume like most people assume and statistics somewhere can prove or disprove, that you can't do it unless you are emotionally damaged. But in most countries in the world, there are plenty of people who do both or either, prostitution and pornography, because they are desperate for money. On viewing Pornography I feel stealing would be more empowering.

Score: 6/10
Reviewer: Joan Trevor

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