To Explore Strange New Worlds: 'Star Trek' and Its Pornographic Parodies
Pornographic productions created with mindful attention to the source material and fandom may well be considered as transformative works of fan art.
Sharing the Chair: Three Captains Aboard the Enterprise
Trapped in a fiercely escalating thunderstorm on an alien world, Captain James T. Kirk urges Chief Engineer of the USS Enterprise Montgomery Scott to "beam him up"; that is, to instantly transport him back to the warmth and comfort of the ship under his command. Captain Kirk, a weathered and physically imposing man in his 40s, is shocked and confused to be greeted by a 25-year-old version of himself, at the helm of a similarly aged crew. Neither willing to respect the authority of the other, a power struggle begins between the young and the elder Kirk, until a third and malevolent version of the Captain appears and both the 40 and 25-year-old Captain Kirk are forced to band together.
Those fans now scratching their heads, furiously flipping through their Star Trek episode guide in disbelief, need not worry. The scenario described above is not an unaired episode of the original series, nor the plot of an upcoming installment of the rebooted Star Trek film series. It is, in fact, the plot of This Ain't Star Trek XXX 3, the 2013 film directed by veteran pornographer Axel Braun. With an impressive and unexpected attention to details regarding costumes, sets, and characterization, this "porn parody" interacts with its source material on a much deeper level than simply suggesting a space ship as the set for many sexual encounters.
Pornographic parodies of famous media texts, often considered a silly "cousin" of the more serious mainstream hardcore pornography of the 21st century, haven't often been the subject of popular or scholarly study. Regardless, these parodies aren’t without merit, especially when considered as transformative products of fandom. In honor of Star Trek celebrating its 50th birthday, it would only be fair to consider all expressions of appreciation of this revered source text as equals, and approach Star Trek-themed pornographic parodies without any preconceived judgment.
Sights Set for the Stars: 50 Years of Unsurpassed Success
In 1964, former fighter pilot and Los Angeles police officer Gene Roddenberry developed a television series that would eventually capture the imaginations of millions of viewers across both the United States and the world. The first series, now referred to as Star Trek The Original Series (ST: TOS), debuted in 1966 on NBC, where it would run for three seasons. The series followed the galactic adventures of Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew during a five-year mission "to boldly go where no man has gone before" aboard the starship Enterprise.
Initially cancelled after the series' second season, and finally disappearing off the air in 1969, Star Trek, in its own time, could hardly be considered a success. However, those enchanted by the show's adventurous nature and well-developed characters were inspired to impressive feats of fan cooperation, significantly responsible for keeping the flame of the series burning during NBC's casting aside of ST: TOS' final season in a hopeless time slot.
After the series' cancellation in 1969, and during the decade-long drought that followed without a single professionally produced live-action story, the unwavering passion of the show’s many fans played an indisputably large part in greenlighting 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise), the film’s many sequels, and the production of five new Star Trek television series (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987-1994; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1993-1999; Star Trek: Voyager, 1995-2001; Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001-2005; and the soon to be released Star Trek: Discovery, 2017-).
A Scene Set by Star Trek: The Fledgling First Steps of Fandom
As Elizabeth Thomas states in her 2013 article "Live Long and Prosper: How Fans Made Star Trek a Cultural Phenomenon", Gene Roddenberry and a small band of creative souls "harnessed the world's newest telecommunications medium to attract both the geek and non-geek, and brought millions of individuals together in a decades-long movement that has forever changed the meaning of 'fandom'". Whilst Star Trek fans certainly didn't invent fandom, author Bruce Drushel attributes our contemporary knowledge of fandom -- "its antecedent conditions, its contexts, its practices, its attractions, and its seeming inexhaustibility" -- to the scholarly examination of the Star Trek phenomenon and "its legions of devotees" in Fan Phenomena: Star Trek (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Camille Bacon-Smith contends that media fandom as it's now practiced originated in Star Trek fandom in her seminal 1992 book Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth (University of Pennsylvania Press).
An increasingly prominent and important part of media fandom has become the creating and sharing of transformative products of fandom. Ever since the original run of ST: TOS on NBC, fans have been contributing to early fan magazines dedicated to the series and its community. Similarly, fans first began sharing their own stories with each other through the mail, and with the arrival of the World Wide Web and the consequent explosion of Internet use in the '90s, Star Trek fans took full advantage of this new globe-shrinking form of technology by creating increasingly elaborate webpages dedicated to chronicling and expanding the Star Trek universe.
As Henry Jenkins recognizes in his 1992 book Textual Poachers (Routledge, 2012), Star Trek's fan base is made up of large numbers of both men and women, contrary to the archetypal imagine of the nerdy young geek male. An important and recurring motif in fandom studies is the belief that more involved forms of fandom are often indicative of a lack in the fan's personal life. In her oft-quoted 2009 text on female fandom, "A Fannish Taxonomy of Hotness" (Journal of Transformative Works, 2008), Francesca Coppa describes transformative works of fandom as a way for women to safely explore their sexuality, and engage in relationships they lack (or find lacking) in their daily lives. As Coppa states: "One of the most provocative things about the woman who reads is how her gaze is turned away from her real husband, lover, or children".
Whilst not every account of fan fiction (or other forms of transformative works of fan production) is necessarily of a romantic or sexual nature, this motif is of particular importance in understanding the continuous popularity of pornographic parodies. The proliferation of "Kirk/Spock" erotic fan fiction and various other forms of slash-fiction writing, in which likely and unlikely media couples are imagined in situations of various explicitness ("slash" being named after the punctuation in the Kirk/Spock fan-fiction, as recognized by Paul Booth in 2013's Star Trek Fans as Parody), predate pornographic parodies by decades. Despite pornography's possibly tarnished reputation and bigger production budgets, the genre of pornographic parodies nonetheless deserves the same academic consideration reserved for (erotic) fan fiction.
No Such Thing as the Unknown: Studying Pornography and Media Appropriation
In his excellently curated collection of articles Pornography: Film and Culture (2006), Peter Lehman acknowledges the unusually defensive nature of scholars' studies of pornography, as "pornography is always a special case [of scholarship] -- frequently to the point of hilarity" (pg. 1). He argues, however, that pornography's global cultural and economic impact warrants serious scholarly investigation; "as with all forms of media and popular culture, we should understand how porn impacts the life of those users, whether positively, negatively, or neutrally" (pg. 1).
As a multifaceted form of media expression, pornography has historically changed over time. This particular quality has made it difficult to come to a unitary definition of "pornography", as this definition works within a context defined by several forces, which John Ellis describes as:
"The current form of the pornography industry and its particular attempts at legitimization; the particular form of the laws relating to obscenity and censorship; and the general mobilization of various moral and philosophical positions and themes that characterize a particular social moment." ("On Pornography", 1980: 27).
This difficulty in defining pornography, however, doesn't mean that the subject shouldn’t be studied. As Lehman rightfully argues, tracking which kinds of explicit forms of sexual representation arise at any given point in time "can tell us much about sexuality at that moment" (pg. 11). For the purpose of this article, all films and scenes in which some or all characters engage in non-simulated and explicitly shown sexual encounters will be considered as pornographic, focusing in particular on hardcore pornography from the '70s onwards.
Hardly Funny at All.: The Delicate Balance Between Sex and Humor
During the '70s, as Linda Williams describes in 1999's Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible", hardcore pornography became legal, and by adopting the narrative structures popularized by Hollywood film-making these feature-length productions joined the entertainment mainstream.
"No matter how much it might still be regarded as a pariah, the new 'porno' was now more a genre among other genres than it was a special case. As if to insist on this fact, hard-core narratives went about imitating other Hollywood genres with a vengeance, inflecting well-known titles and genres with an X-rated difference. Films with titles such as Sexorcist Devil (1974), Beach Blanket Bango (1975), Flesh Gordon (1978), Dracula Sucks (1979), Downstairs Upstairs (1980), and Urban Cowgirls (1981) were now exhibited in movie theaters that looked-almost-like other movie theaters." (In Pornography: Film and Culture, pg. 60).
Nonetheless, it's important to note that the truly inspired titles cited above don't retain a connection to their parodied text beyond their title, as Lehman recognizes in his 1996 article "Twin Cheeks, Twin Peaks and Twin Freaks: Porn's Transgressive Remake Humor". This trend of misleadingly titled pornographic films is indicative of the difficult relationship that exists between humor and the graphic representation of sex.
In "Never Laugh at a Man with His Pants Down: The Affective Dynamics of Comedy and Porn" (2006), Nina Martin explores "the mingling of humor and sex", which she deems "curiously unexplored". (In Pornography: Film and Culture, pg. 190). The main reason she finds for the often grave nature of pornographic representations, is the genre’s deep investment in seriousness, which she sees as an example of patriarchal power; "a power that is rigorously maintained by equating the sight/site of the penis with awe" (pg. 193). That isn't to say that pornography is free of humor. Indeed, the most stereotypical examples of pornographic scenarios, such as the housewife seducing the handyman or pizza delivery guy, are typified by hilariously poor dialogue and otherworldly happenstance. However, as Martin observes:
"Porn retains its serious tone by fiercely separating any comedy or funny bits from the actual performance of the sex numbers. […] No more jokes or wisecracks are present as the actors perform the sexual number with serious intensity; the comedy is distinct from the sex, maintaining the awe and drama surrounding the representation of the penis" (pg. 193).
This clear divide between humor and sexual performances may also be explained from the perspective of comedy. As Steve Neale and Frank Krutnick explain in Popular Film and Television Comedy (1990), "it is difficult to use [jokes and quips] as a springboard for narrative development. They are instead much more suited to constructing or marking a pause or digression in the ongoing flow of the story" (pg. 48). As sexual performances typically share this lack of narrative development, it's understandable why the two are often difficult to mix. As Martin sums it up, "despite comedy's easy melding with other genres such as horror or the Western, comedy would appear to undermine radically the conventions that sustain porn's emphasis on phallic superiority and control" (pg. 195).
Boldly Going Where Hollywood has Gone Before
After establishing the apparent incompatibility of comedy and pornography, Nina Martin turns her gaze to award-winning pornographic comedies produced in recent years, whose success she attributes to "their ability to parody not only Hollywood films and television but also the conventions of the porn genre themselves". These erotic parodies work within the constraints of pornographic convention, "and reify these conventions by highlighting their ubiquitous presence" (pg. 195). Put more succinctly, pornographic parodies expect their viewer base to be well-versed in the iconography and narrative structures of pornography; to "get it", you need to be familiar with porn.
Martin’s distinction between comedy and parody is an echo of a similar observation made by Neale and Krutnik, who considered parody as "a special case. In contrast to generic hybrids, which combine generic conventions, parodies work by drawing upon such conventions in order to make us laugh" (pg. 18). Again, more succinctly, parody isn't simply a comedic film in a familiar setting; its humor derives from a critical interaction with the norms and values of the original medium. The structure of parody, and its knowing play with generic conventions, thus allows for a mixing of comedic and pornographic elements, which diverge from the clear and apparent separation of humor and sex common to most porn films and porn comedies.
An excellent example of this play with porn convention would be director Jim Enright's Hung Wankenstein (2000), a parody of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974). Apart from jokes on a similar level of crudeness as suggested by the feature's title, Hung Wankenstein may be described best by a (non-pornographic) scene in Dr. Wankenstein's (Ron Jeremy) dining hall. After some lines of expositional dialogue, all characters are quickly reminded by the Doctor that they are wasting precious screen time, and that they must hurry along to get to the next (pornographic) scene.
As Nina Martin acknowledges, Hung Wankenstein indicates that porn films "can transgress the rigid rules and generic conventions required that separate sex and humor", as the films satirizes, while simultaneously acknowledging, its necessary conventions; that is, "no changes are made in the fundamental structure of porn" (pg. 198).
Other than engaging with mainstream television shows or feature films, pornography parody film has grown into a subgenre of the pornography film industry that can extend to parodying video games or literary works, as well as poking fun at historical or contemporary events, such as political scandals. The subgenre has an extensive history, as Porn Parody (a website dedicated to chronicling, reviewing, and popularizing pornographic parodies) cites the 1973 parody Bat Pussy based, of course, on the famous comic book character created by Bob Kane in 1939, and its equally famous adaptation as a 1966 television series (created by William Dozier, starring Adam West as the titular caped crusader), as the earliest known pornographic parody film. A film of such abhorrent ineptitude it becomes laughable, this masterpiece of bad film-making inspired a movement within pornography that, especially in the '90s, would gain mainstream popularity.
In the 2002 retrospective documentary Shaving Ryan's Privates, director Simon George documents pornographic parodies based on classic Hollywood films and similarly prominent pop culture phenomenon. Able to select his clips from a vast pool of parodies, George can’t help but express his admiration for the often wildly creative pornographic reimaginings of characters such as Edward Scissorhands (Burton, 1990) in Edward Penishands (Norman, 1991). It wasn't until the late 2000s and the 2010s that pornographic parodies would experience a popular resurgence.
Parodies have been produced of an impressively wide range of media source, from sitcoms such as Who's the Boss? (Hunter, 1984) to science fiction tent poles such as The Avengers (Whedon, 2012) and reality series such as Duck Dynasty (Robertson, 2012). Even event specific productions, such as the several parodies that feature a Sarah Palin-like character, have been released with much mainstream media coverage as 2008's Who's Nailin' Paylin?, the pornographic parody lampooning the aspiring vice president of the United States and other contemporary prominent political figures during the 2008 election. Spanning both heterosexual and homosexual orientations, pornographic parodies have never been more diverse than they are today.
A continuously recurring name in pornographic parodies is the aforementioned Axel Braun. Born as Alessandro Ferro, he is the son of Lasse Braun, who was among the first to successfully campaign for the legalization of pornography in Europe. Having directed more than 500 adult films since 1990, Braun struck gold in 2009 with This Ain't Star Trek XXX, his first pornographic film based on an existing intellectual property. In cooperation with Hustler Video, an American pornographic film studio owned by Larry Flynt, Axel Braun created the "This Ain't-" and the "Not The-" series of pornographic films, which parody various mainstream TV series and films. The series of pornography parody films were originally proposed as a joke by Braun, after which Hustler published a press release with a series of fake parody films. When the producers were met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from eager fans, Hustler and Braun began serious discussions, resulting in the aforementioned Star Trek XXX parody.
Apart from two direct sequels to Star Trek XXX, to which we’ll return later, the series would quickly branch out, with increasing ambition, to other intellectual properties. The film This Ain't Avatar XXX, a spoof of Avatar (Cameron, 2009), would become the most expensive film Hustler has ever produced. The film was shot, edited, written, and directed by Axel Braun in impressive 3D, a very unlikely feature in pornography. The pornographer would continue to push his boundaries with 2010's This Ain't Glee XXX, a pornographic musical comedy film based on the television series Glee (Murphy, 2009). With an original score of double entendre-filled songs written by director Braun, the film proved no genre is beyond the scope of his parodying lens.
Despite these not-inconsiderable successes, the very recent cultural prominence of pornographic parodies can in very large part be attributed to the success of one video: 2010's Batman XXX: A Porn Parody. This pornographic superhero parody, again directed by Axel Braun, is based on the aforementioned '60s-era Batman TV series, and reproduces many of the recurring characters, settings, and production elements of the series with an eerie accuracy. As a fan of the original television series, director Braun spent years developing the erotic feature film, believing the source material to be a perfect candidate for parody due to its campy and tongue-in-cheek nature.