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The Price of Pleasure

Director: Chyng Sun and Miguel Picker

(US theatrical: 30 Nov 2010; 2010)

Pornography is an unbelievably big industry. It’s a monster, and as a result, it is wildly diverse in both its approaches and its results. According to the first few minutes worth of statistics in this brisk documentary, porno is bigger business (in terms of revenue and reach) than Hollywood, professional sports, and the music industry put together. It’s the driving force of money-making on the internet; big corporations make secret big bucks through pay-per-view porno and other such schemes. It has gone mainstream, referenced openly now in popular culture and in newsmedia. So, this film asks us, what exactly is happening in porn these days, and what are we tacitly approving the mainstreaming of, exactly?

Well, the evidence presented here would suggest that what pornography is up to these days is violent, racist, aggressive, anti-woman, borderline snuff-film-type garbage. It’s about supporting the idea of male domination over women through graphic representations of powerful male figures penetrating and degrading powerless female objects. It’s all terrible and vile and hateful and disgusting, and anyone who likes it is either involved in it (and thus either a man who is making money or a woman who doesn’t know any better) or fundamentally gross.

To back this argument up, filmmakers Chyng Sun and Miguel Picker interview about four academics who see porn as a dangerous thing in our society (which is certainly possible), a few ex-porn stars who argue that they were in terribly exploitative situations while in the industry (highly probable), and then a few simply awful fringe figures from the industry who say hellacious anti-woman pro-profit type things. 

Anyone else tired of this kind of brainless approach to the subject?

How can something that the documentary itself has established as a massive, multifarious, and diverse industry also be a zero sum game? Can we have a little nuance here, please? Aren’t there thousands of academics out there (not to mention feminists and queer rights activists) who have taken a contrary (or, at least, a less totalizingly anti-) position on this issue? What do these really intelligent people have to say in support of aspects and types of pornography?

This disappointing documentary feigns an objective perspective while basically composing a broken, one-sided and unhelpful version of a very important discussion. Though many of the interviewees say highly intelligent and interesting things, they are talking in a kind of vacuum—no one who is anywhere near their level of intelligence gets to respond. Indeed, refusing to engage at all with credible pro-porn witnesses causes the film to come off as absurdly preachy, and hopelessly underinformed. Though the stuff they discuss, and the brief hardcore scenes they show us, are all horrifying, disturbing, and (to me) deeply unsexy, to pretend that these are stand-ins for the entire industry is as preposterous as if I showed a few clips from the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Twilight series’ and argued that all movies in Hollywood are racist because they don’t show many black or brown people. It’s a question of genre, a kernel of truth, and a whole lot of speculation based on a knee-jerk revulsion.

At 52-minutes, at least The Price of Pleasure is mercifully short.

There are numerous extras on this DVD, all of which play with similar one-sided and undercooked ideas about the industry, and none of which were all that illuminating.


Extras rating:

Stuart Henderson is a culture critic and historian. He is the author of Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s (University of Toronto Press, 2011). All of this is fun, but he'd rather be camping. Twitter: @henderstu

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