Yesterday I was trying to make a point about information search costs, and I don’t think I ever succeeded in making it clear. I’m hoping the ideas in this Boston Review article by Evgeny Morozov will help. Morozov argues that cyber-optimists who think of the internet as a medium inherently spreads freedom because it creates a public sphere that’s harder to control and because it lowers the costs of disseminating information are being somewhat myopic. “Cyber-utopians’ biggest conceptual mistake is treating cyberspace as some kind of anarchist zone, which the authorities dare not enter except to shut things down. Media reports encourage this view of authoritarian governments as technophobic Internet censors.” But as he points out, authoritarian regimes (and the media interests that collude with them, perhaps) don’t maintain power and oppress people merely through censorship, through the stifling of the information flow. Rather than also maintain control by (1) flooding the public sphere with disinformation or trivia, drowning out or diluting subversive communication and (2) by encouraging egocentric apathy in the population so that they don’t develop an interest in political protest or collective action.
Latest Blog Posts
The Beats: A Graphic History
Edited by Paul Buhle
(Hill and Wang)
Continuing their smart series of alternative cultural historical graphic novels, Hill & Wang has come up with one of the best of the bunch. This quick-take introduction to the beatnik generation is about three-fourths excellent short-take biography and one-quarter well-meaning addendums of varying quality. The book starts with a lengthy take on the (like it or not) king of the beats, Jack Kerouac, and gives his sad tale—always running after the cool kids, forever trying to please mama—all due respect.
The Paper Chase release their new album Someday This Could All Be Yours (Part 1) on May 26 and have just offered up the first MP3 from the effort to the Tripwire.
The Paper Chase
“What Should We Do With Your Body? (The Lightning)” [MP3]
Jun 18 2009 Walter’s on Washington Houston, Texas
Jun 19 2009 Thirsty Hippo Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Jun 20 2009 Drunken Unicorn Atlanta, Georgia
Jun 21 2009 Local 506 Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Jun 22 2009 DC9 Washington DC, Washington DC
Jun 23 2009 Brillobox Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Jun 24 2009 M Room Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jun 25 2009 Mercury Lounge New York, New York
Jun 26 2009 Maxwell’s Hoboken, New Jersey
Jun 27 2009 AS220 Providence, Rhode Island
Jun 28 2009 II Motore Montreal, Quebec
Jun 29 2009 The Drake Toronto, Ontario
Jul 1 2009 Mac’s Bar Lansing, Michigan
Jul 2 2009 Cactus Club Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Jul 3 2009 Empty Bottle Chicago, Illinois
Jul 4 2009 The Busted Lift Dubuque, Iowa
Jul 5 2009 Firebird St. Louis, Missouri
Along with the controversy about gay-themed books losing their ranking, Amazon has dropped some of their prices for music. Not because they love consumers but for another reason. iTunes finally caved to major label demands and added variable pricing to their songs, which means that some of the newer and hotter items are now costing over a dollar. Now there’s some early evidence that the higher priced songs have dropped on the charts, according to Billboard. The big labels had been pushing for variable pricing for a while now with Apple. Careful what you wish for, eh?
This may sound cold, and perhaps a little callous, but does the death of a porn star really merit mention in a motion picture film blog? Granted, sex and exploitation are suspect traditions in cinema, and the rise of the grindhouse in the ‘50s and ‘60s laid the foundation for both modern moviemaking and adult entertainment in the decades to come. Still, what did Marilyn Chambers bring to the artform except her random attempts at Establishment acceptance, a tireless notoriety, and a reputation more potent than her onscreen presence? The answer, oddly enough, is something more important than the mere mainstreaming of hardcore.
You see, when the late actress (who died suddenly on 12 April at only 56) first made her name as the star of Behind the Green Door, she became one of three instantly recognizable faces of post-modern pornography. She was part of the smut chic, a clique which included Linda Lovelace and her Deep Throat co-star Harry Reams. As couples looking to extend the sexual revolution went from suburban roulette to 42nd Street theaters, a whole new notion of self-styled liberation was born, a sense of decadent freedom which would later define the entire decade. Sitting at the top among the disco divas, investigative journalists, failed politicians, and new age filmmakers were the now accepted stars of adult entertainment - and prime among their royalty was Chambers.
She was the daughter of a nurse and an advertising man. As a young woman, she modeled, even earning the then proud distinction of being the Ivory Soap girl (who portentous slogan was “99 & 44/100% pure”). She continued to pursue similar opportunities while in her teens, even though her father was convinced she was never going to make it. After a small part in Barbra Streisand’s racy The Owl and the Pussycat, Chambers found that the only way she could get jobs was by posing nude. A misunderstanding at a casting call landed the young lady in front on XXX industry moguls the Mitchell Brothers. Instantly taking to her blond babe beauty, they hired her for their next project - the soon to be infamous and taboo-busting Behind the Green Door.
Seen today, this standard story-oriented ‘70s porno is not all that groundbreaking. Chambers is a decent actress and her co-star Johnny Keyes made for a perfect meat puppet. No, the real earth shattering element in Door was the blatant onscreen illustration of the still then scandalous concept of interracial love. Keyes, a well endowed black man, has a prolonged 45 minute sex scene with Chambers that many modern lovers of the genre consider one of the best (the spritely blond, so worn from the sequence, supposedly fainted right afterward). Because of the socially controversial pairing, along with the still fresh novelty of widely available pornography, Chambers became an overnight sensation. She hoped to parlay said success into a straight career in films. Sadly, aside from a single significant offer, she was blacklisted because of her hardcore status.
The job came from Canadian provocateur David Cronenberg, whose biological horror films needed a face (and form) like Chambers to accent and amplify his themes. Though he originally wanted recent Academy Award nominee Sissy Spacek for the part, the Carrie actress was rejected by producer Ivan Reitman for lacking “sex appeal” They offered Chambers the lead in Rabid, hoping her reputation would bring out the press. It certainly worked. Newspapers and radios were inundated with stories and ads, all featuring the actress and her ‘provocative’ past. Imagine the surprise on the faces of audiences familiar with her Green Door work when they wandered into a splatter-ific gorefest about a young girl, some experimental plastic surgery, and the penis-like appendage issuing from her armpit that turned an entire population into ravenous, repellent zombies.
Of course, like porn, horror has its detractors, and many found Cronenberg’s decision to hire Chambers to be as reprehensible as the vile, craven images he offered. For her part, a lack of legitimate success meant a return to hardcore, and for the most part, that’s where Chamber’s stayed. Battling drug and alcohol addiction most of her adult life, she balanced her legend between personal appearances, stripping, titillating titles, and the occasional forays into sensual softcore. When cable television took off, and with it, the need for late night programming at places like Cinemax and Showtime, Chambers stepped in and starred in lighter fair like Angel of H.E.A.T. and My Therapist. Still, the lure of adult’s easy money made it hard to quit cold turkey. Even in her 50s, she was making appearances in films, trading on her name (and surgically enhanced figure) to remain relevant.
Yet the most important thing to remember about Marilyn Chambers is that, while making pornography profitable and culturally relevant, she also gave it a game, girl next door façade. She just didn’t look like the standard adult star. Chambers had scrubbed suburban beauty, a Cover Girl quality that transcended the trashy vibe coming off of most smoker reels. She wasn’t some barmaid looking to make a buck or a hippy runaway trading her hygiene for a quick fix and an even quick pile of cash. In fact, it’s safe to say that without Chambers, format jumping actresses like Jenna Jameson, Katie Morgan, and Traci Lords wouldn’t have been able to enter the straight scene. While she hadn’t been in a regular motion picture since the ‘80s, her attempted high wire walk between legitimacy and lewdness marked the future of home video oriented adult entertainment.
So the next time you turn on your favorite pay channel and see one of Fred Olen Ray’s resplendent porn start spoofs (films with titles like Ghost in the Teeny Bikini, Super Ninja Bikini Babes, and Bikini Royale), or read a story about how A-list Hollywood filmmakers are hiring adult actors for their high profile projects (Kevin Smith, Stephen Soderbergh), you can thank the often maligned Marilyn Chambers. She probably deserved better than her lasting myth, and it’s hard for anyone to fully champion all her choices. Yet when one reviews the evidence and examines the impact she had, this is one hardcore performer whose place in motion picture history is more or less secured. Marilyn Chambers may not have been the most fiery or fancy of the XXX stars, but she’s probably one of the most important - and that’s a legacy that anyone can live with.