The Porn Report


Carrie Miller Daniel Mudie Cunningham

Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Size Does Matter 1994/2015, VHS single channel video with found sound, 1:00 min. Performer: Daniel Mudie Cunningham. Camera: Tim Hilton. Music: Coke-a-Cola commercial, 1971. Performed at the University of Western Sydney, 1994. Re-edited by Daniel Mudie Cunningham, 2015.

 

Carrie Miller: I remember being really anxious about the fact that, when I was younger, my sexual fantasies often revolved around much older men – sometimes me and a group of drunk businessmen, gang bang style.

I felt better when I shared my shame with a girl I’d met at an AA meeting. She had exactly the same fantasies! I was really relieved that maybe those dirty thoughts weren’t symbolically about older male relatives. But then she told me she was a prostitute with major Daddy issues and so I began to worry again.

Then recently I had a look at online porn and what the trending topics were, like ‘Young and Old’ and ‘Dirty Stepdads’ and I realised I was normal.

Daniel Mudie Cunningham: I’m curious that you begin by couching sexual fantasy in anxiety. For me porn has a curious relationship to anxiety. Porn simultaneously alleviates and accelerates sexual anxiety, which is probably why it’s so highly addictive.

Truman Capote said to Andy Warhol that ‘certain kinds of sex are complete manifestations of nostalgia’.1 In porn this is true because it’s like we are always trying to ‘return to the garden’ – or at least some idyllic fuck farm of the past.

For instance, I still occasionally obsess over early nineties gay porn actors like Mike Branson. In his all-too-brief three-year porn career (fans speculate that today he is ‘a straight, married lawyer who single-handedly brought evangelical Christianity to a village in Burundi’) he was the pinnacle of the milky all-American hung stud whose hard-on was symbolic of VHS style US nationalism. I eat that shit up with a spoon.

CM: I’m also really interested in porn’s capacity to both alleviate and accelerate anxiety. It’s interesting you recognise this feedback loop as symptomatic of addiction. I know it’s cool to say there’s no evidence of this thing called ‘porn addiction’ but there’s so much anecdotal evidence of it.

Relating it to my own drug and alcohol addictions, I have definitely gone into classically addictive cycles of porn use and abuse. It’s definitely hitting the same reward systems in my brain and after temporary relief it’s shame and remorse that has paradoxically led me back to it to find more relief.

I once had a boyfriend who was addicted to porn. One day when he was out I was using his computer to write an article and, with no suspicion, clicked open a folder titled ‘Quara’ because I was curious about the name. There were literally hundreds of hardcore videos. Maybe thousands.

Despite knowing I didn’t want to know, I had to know. So I start playing the individual clips. It was their specificity and uniformity that sickened me, more than the content. Because these girls were the antithesis of me.

In terms of broad categories of porn, it was ‘Barely Legal’ stuff. But it was more precise than this. They were teenage girls in the confected context of virgins who were being paid to be with a man sexually for the first time. More than that, they were all blow job videos and all from the point of view of the man looking down at the kneeling girl’s face. And they would culminate in a cum shot right there. Some of the girls had braces on their teeth.

My reaction was insecurity. They all looked like typical all-American high school cheerleaders – blonde, tanned, submissive, tentative. I was a pale brunette in my mid-thirties doing a PhD, loud and opinionated.

So I went out and got a spray tan and dyed my hair this weird beige. I would stand in our lounge room, drunk and bright orange, yelling at him for being such a pervert. Sometimes when he went out I would sneak a peak at one of the videos and get aroused. I liked how pushy the men were.

We broke up. Afterwards I realised ‘Quara’ was short for ‘Quarantine’.

DMC: Sure, I think people who carry on that porn isn’t addictive are fooling themselves. Not that all addictions should be pathologised or moralised. That said, my porn addiction gets in the way of my sex life.

One of my earliest encounters with porn was when I worked as a butcher’s assistant when I was a 15-year old closeted teen. The toilet was an outhouse stocked with a tall pile of hetero porn mags. The first time I went in there to piss I came instead. What turned me on more than anything was the idea that the guys who worked there had wank breaks. It is strangely homosocial when straight men consume porn together.

A few years later I discovered gay porn via video tapes, particularly porn with relatively high production values made by Falcon Studios in the United States. A classic of the period was Flashpoint: Hot as Hell (1994). This desert road movie was gay porn’s answer to Thelma and Louise (1991), the key difference being the roadhouse rape scene occurs towards the end of the film as ‘narrative resolution’. A happy ending?

In nineties Falcon porn, the guys were clean cut jocks who fucked with rubbers even during a rape scene. It’s like porn preceding this time was retroactively doused in a filter of AIDS. Looking at such films now is to revisit a roll call of dead porn stars. Safe sex practices were unsubtly embedded in porn in the nineties as AIDS panic was abating. Porn went into a necessary ‘quarantine’ mode to borrow from your ex-boyfriend’s lexicon. The worst was when porn filmmakers felt the need to tutor a viewer by artlessly lingering on condom application. What an erection killer that is.

CM: I like your anecdote about the butchers – it’s like a scene from Head On (1998). The first time I saw a porno was at my friend Debbie’s house. Her brother kind of bullied me into it. A guy was fucking a pig which was staying still because it was eating out of a trough. It blew my mind. It turned out her father who was a prominent Sydney businessman was doing a sideline in hardcore Euro porn – distributing on a low level to mates.

The point being my introduction to porn was straight to the hardcore. It made it very difficult to ever have any patience for the soft stuff. I wanted porn that went all the way.

I’m also interested in the way you grasp porn on a meta-level (recognising the safe-sex themes in a broader cultural context, for example). It sets up an internal struggle in me – the fact that I can break the fourth wall so to speak. I want to fall for the fantasy completely but then I find myself thinking, ‘Boy, she’s probably really freezing. I hope she’s brought a jumper for later.’

DMC: I’m probably too ‘meta’ for my own good. The one time I fell for the fantasy completely but also where it seemed to bust the fourth wall was when I had fucked someone who’d previously had sex with a porn star I admired. In 2012 when my work was being exhibited at MONA in Hobart, weirdly I received intermittent fan mail from Internet randoms.

One such ‘fan’ – a guy from Brisbane I’ll refer to as ‘Adam’ – contacted me on Facebook and complimented my work in a particularly flirtatious manner. Adam had one common interest on Facebook – he subscribed to Tim Kruger, a hung red-head German porn star who founded a lucrative website called Tim Tales. I told Adam I was also a Tim fan. He then blew my mind by informing me how he’d had the ‘pleasure’ of ‘meeting’ Tim in Berlin a few years earlier when the porn actor was doing escort work. Following my effusive reaction, Adam messaged me a low-res video file – homemade porn that proved he’d been with Tim. Of course I was impressed.

Some months later I was in Brisbane where I (feeling very much like a ‘Tim’) had the ‘pleasure’ of ‘meeting’ Adam. That was probably my most metasexual experience. Fandom really brings people together.

CM: That reminds me of the time I had sex with a famous person in the toilet of Barron’s – a Sydney nightclub around in the eighties. He was staying at a hotel where I was a receptionist.

Just after these manic shenanigans, a sex tape of his was leaked. I think it was one of the first celebrity sex tapes. So you and I both had weird brushes with porn fame – professional and amateur.

During another manic episode a friend who had decided to become a local porn producer convinced me to ‘audition’ the potential male talent for his first production in a tiny bedsit in Darlinghurst. I was in a blackout so the memories are hazy. Needless to say it was literally a cluster fuck. I still can’t really talk about it – I sometimes obsessively worry they secretly filmed it.

DMC: I auditioned for gay phone sex when I was an undergrad in the mid-nineties. I’m still mortified when I recall the experience. For the audition I had to call a landline number and leave a ‘sexy message’. At the time I was really into Rosanne Barr and Sandra Bernhard, so my monologue was too infused with bossy pomo-pop-culture irony to warrant a call-back.

I remember also replying to a call-out for amateur porn actors that had been advertised in the Sydney Star Observer at this time. I was doing an Honours thesis on queer theory so it seemed a natural fit to try out ‘performativity’ IRL (as it would be called now). Thank god that went nowhere. This was before the Internet was the place where porn would go to live and die. Can you imagine?

CM: I felt spilling this stuff would seem so hardcore but I feel a twinge of nostalgia now for those pre-Internet times when we could do what we wanted without leaving digital footprints. I’m also nostalgic for that time when I could still be confused about why I got off on certain types of images and whether it was normal. Now we know what’s in everyone’s heads just by virtue of what categories make the top ten most popular on all those free porn sites. It seems everyone has Daddy issues and no-one cares if ‘Actual Second Cousins’ or ‘Filthy Stepdads’ (to name two recent examples on PornTube) are doing it as long as it turns us on.

Speaking of Daddy issues, I was reading an extract from Holly Madison’s Down the Rabbit Hole (2015). Holly was Hugh Heffner’s girlfriend for seven years. In her book she spilled the beans on life inside the Mansion. I was sad to read that Hugh’s sex routine was to have a gaggle of bunnies in his room but to get aroused he watched porn and after some perfunctory sex he would finish himself off. So he had real life porn stars on tap and still preferred their representations. The copy has replaced the original for him just like how you were saying that porn gets in the way of your sex life.

DMC: Hugh had a sex routine? It seems to me that sex-as-routine is what porn is all about. Clearly our nostalgia for porn culture of the eighties and nineties speaks volumes about routine, about not letting go!

The ‘Hugh’ I had a crush on in the nineties was Hugh Grant. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) vintage. Weirder still, when I was in my early twenties people always told me I looked like Hugh Grant. You can imagine how offended I was when he was busted with a prostitute called Divine Brown. Pity there wasn’t a sex tape.

CM: The days of sex scandals are nearly over. Hugh Heffner’s dirty secret is he’s not really doing it. According to Foucault’s ‘repressive hypothesis’, cultures where it appears sex is repressed are the places where sex is everywhere – like Victorian England. Are we living in a time and place where (because it’s everywhere) sex is actually nowhere?

 


 

1. Andy Warhol, From A to B and Back Again, London: Picador, 1975, 54.

Carrie Miller has been an independent writer, researcher and occasional curator for twenty years. She lives in Wollongong and she likes it. In addition to...

Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham is a Melbourne-born curator, artist and writer based in Sydney. On Instagram he calls himself a 'picture and performance maker with...


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