INTERVIEW WITH BRUCE LABRUCE
POST-PORN, CAPITALISM, ACTIVISM, TABOOS…
Though it’s been around for decades, Barcelonians and Catalans seem to have just discovered post-porn. Could you explain, from your own perspective, what post-porn is?
Post-porn started out as a movement by pro-porn feminists to make porn that was more equalitarian, more spiritual, and more enlightened in terms of sexual politics. Now it seems to be a broader term to encompass any kind of porn that challenges the status quo, both aesthetically and politically, of the porn industry.
Many people consider it as a unique feminist expression and, somehow, they miss the point because they only focus on women’s body. Isn’t that machism? Queer postporn may be even more revolutionary, but it’s not taken into consideration by ‘heterominds’. What’s your opinion on that?
Post-porn started out as a radical feminist movement, so it made sense for the women behind it to concentrate in the beginning on how the female body is used in pornography, how the porn industry is dominated by men controlling the female image, and how expanding the definition of porn can make it more about sexual liberation as opposed to sexual exploitation. Queer post-porn has taken it a step further by questioning the heteronormativity of porn (or homonormativity, in terms of gay porn), and opening it up to all kind of sexual expression and exploration — transgendered bodies, polyamory, new types of fetishism, aesthetically unusual or unexpected sexual iconography, etc.
In The Raspberry Reich one chyron says: gay marriage is counterrevolutionary. Now, are you happy with the decision of SCOTUS legalizing same sex marriage in the USA?
Of course this is a complex question. I’ve always been critical of the institution of marriage in general, particularly because it has been used historically to control women and to use them as chattel. As Gudrun also says in The Raspberry Reich, “bourgeois marriage is nothing more than licensed prostitution!” I’ve always advocated for equal rights under the law for everyone, whether married or single, gay, bi or straight, transgendered, transexual, etc. But rather than reform laws to make everything more inclusive, the gay assimilationist movement has bought into the existing institution of marriage wholesale, which for many includes religious sanctioning and governmental control of relationships, monogamy, economically advantaged and materialistic values, etc. The gay marriage movement has essentially become a conservative movement, mostly spearheaded by gay white males, that has taken away the emphasis on other more crucial issues, such as HIV discrimination, homeless queer youths, marginalized transexuals, etc.
It’s naive to think that the porn industry will somehow become revolutionized, that there will no longer be sexism or sexual exploitation or an overabundance of boring, conventional, and unchallenging pornography.
One would think that post-porn is a great way to deliver political messages but do you think that audience is entitled to enjoy it sexually? Isn’t it a contradiction of its essence?
Not at all. Most post-porn is designed to be sexually stimulating, even though some of it is directed toward very specific fetishes or sexual preoccupations. There is also post-porn that insists on being messy or awkward — because that’s what “real-life” sex often is— or which adamantly questions the conventions of porn. or what is supposed to be considered sexy or stimulating in a heteronormative world. There isn’t any conflict necessarily between political content or form and sexual enjoyment, although there’s nothing wrong with porn that challenges spectatorship and the various ways that pornography is conventionally consumed.
Porn will always be here. Would you like that post-porn was no longer needed?
It’s naive to think that the porn industry will somehow become revolutionized, that there will no longer be sexism or sexual exploitation or an overabundance of boring, conventional, and unchallenging pornography. Post-porn is its own thing, quite often independently produced or made my people with little or no connection to the larger industry. It’s like an underground, or a protest movement that will always be necessary.
Usually it’s considered as a mere hollow provocation, but it’s got a long tradition and been influenced by great artists. Could you tell us some of your artistic references as seen in your movies and photos? Billy Wilder, Maya Deren, Romero, Jarman?…
WEll yes, so many! I’ve been strongly influenced by gay avant-garde filmmakers like Genet, Warhol and Morrissey, Jack Smith, and Kenneth Anger, amongst many others. I’ve been inspired by European art directors like Agnes Varda, Godard, Fassbinder, and Passolini, amongst many others. I’ve been inspired by classic Hollywood directors, from Wilder to Jerry Lewis to Robert Aldrich and on and on, and by seventies maverick directors like Cassavetes, Altman, Frank Perry and Jerry Schatzberg. I would also have to mention surrealists like Bunuel and Cocteau and DuChamp. So many!
From your first films to Gerontophilia, besides your will to provoke and shake consciences, your main topic has been lost men looking for love or care. Are you a romantic? What is more revolutionary: love or sex?
I have always mixed romance with pornography in my films, which is perhaps the most revolutionary gesture you can make! Love and romance, however, can be very conventional, and the tropes and iconography associated with them tend to be very played out and cliche and stale. I try to use romantic themes in completely unexpected ways and to express the desires and fetishes of very unusual and marginalized characters. For example, in my film No Skin Off My Ass, a hairdresser has a sexual fixation on skinheads, but when he falls in love with one of them, his impulses are very romantic and tender, even though the object of his love is perhaps brutal and dangerous. Or in my film Gerontophilia, a young boy has a sexual fetish for the elderly, but his impulses toward one particular old man he meets are very romantic and affectionate. For me, fetishes and fetishists can be very romantic. Fetishes are often about the deep appreciation of and reverence for the sexual object. An amputee fetishist or a gerontophile have a deep and abiding love and respect for their love object, which I find very romantic.
Right-winged postporn: is that possible?
Now that the international spokesperson for the transexual community is a privileged white Christian conservative Republican, anything is possible!
In Gerontophilia there’s no explicit sex and it’s got good reviews all around. Maybe a milder way to depict taboos in western society would be better to override them in order to reach a wider audience?
I think you have to be willing to try new and different strategies and struggle against the temptation to always preach to the converted — or to the perverted, as the case may be. If you get boxed into one type of expression — like the pornographic, for example — then you may never reach beyond a limited audience. My strategy now is to continue to make more underground films that challenge taboos and the limits of representation, but also to make more mainstream work which still expresses my contrarian and nonconformist tendencies, but which may reach wider audiences.
Do you follow any other post-porn artists or activists? Can you suggest us some?
Oh dear, there are so many. My producer, Jurgen Bruning, does a porn film festival every year in October in Berlin, and there you can find many, many people making unusual, challenging, shocking, and provocative porn and post-porn. I suggest you check out the artists who participate in it!
You are very reluctant with capitalism, but couldn’t we say that sexual revolution came with capitalism?
As I say in The Raspberry Reich, sexual exploitation is not sexual liberation, and sexual liberation is not sexual exploitation! In other words, capitalism may present an illusion of sexually liberated attitudes, permissiveness, sexual frankness, etc., but it’s always in service of patriarchal and corporate interests that are only interested in generating capital from sexually- charged images. The sexual revolution that sprung out of the late sixties and early seventies was part of a countercultural movement. It was more Marxist-based, and more about personal liberation and sexual experimentation. The first gay bar- rag in Toronto, called The Body Politic, was a pro-sex, pro-gay liberation magazine that was feminist and Marxist! Capitalist and corporate interests will commoditize and exploit anything that makes its way into the zeitgeist. They are amoral, equal- opportunity exploiters!
Should post-porn art or activism have any limits? Is there any taboo left to break?
There should be no limit to the imagination! However, there are certain cultural taboos that are in place, having to do with consensuality, self-autonomy, and free will, that always have to be respected, especially in terms of how porn is made and making sure that no one is being exploited or doing anything against their will. In terms of pure representation, taboos are and should always be challenged, but if you take something too far, or contravene the existing laws, you have to be able to deal with the consequences!