Wednesday, October 8, 2008

They're Selling Postcards Of The Hanging: Max Hardcore & The Business Of Abuse

Yesterday, I tried to write a post about this incident, in which a girl (on my street) was raped in a subway station while the man working the token booth watched. I tried to talk about this incident in the context of my own rape, and the prevalence of rape, and the context of our culture, in which rape is persistently either trivialized and eroticized or swept under the rug. I tried to argue that watching a woman get raped in front of you and trivializing or ignoring the widespread presence of rape in our society are not ultimately that different, in that both reactions essentially give rapists a free pass.

Unfortunately, as often happens, I got mad, and the writing got messy. I also got pretty messy, by the end, and I learned that the "save" button is dangerously close to the "publish" button, and that the "dear God, get this off Google Reader" button does not exist. I'd really rather not tell you guys about my experience of sexual assault, right now or ever, because I am not a precious little flower, and my personal experience is not the point. The point is that it happens to many women, and it is considered acceptable to dismiss or make fun of that fact.

So, let's not talk about me. Let's talk about Max Hardcore. He's a porn director, producer, and "actor" (that last word is HIGHLY iffy, in his case) who was recently sentenced to 46 months in prison for "obscenity." Unfortunately, this means that some folks - including folks at Gawker and Salon - are referring to him as a "first-amendment martyr."

Now, I've done some time in proximity to the porn industry. I know about Max Hardcore. I know the men who like Max Hardcore. I've heard those men talk about why they like him. And before we start talking about the terrible things that have been done to Max Hardcore - before we start talking about his fucking martyrdom - I think it behooves us to talk about what Max Hardcore has done.

Susannah Breslin, in her excellent post on the subject, points to a Hardcore fan's list (not linking here, because I can't visit it right now) of "extreme scenes" he's done. I encourage you to read it. See how far you can make it down the list. Here, I'll give you some highlights, which I copied last night:

* Pamela Dee; In 1992, Little sent performer Pamela Dee to the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank "after she suffered vaginal hemmhoraging during a taping," writes Nick Ravo in the 2/98 ICON magazine. Dee, a writer in Reno, Nevada told Ravo that Paul came up behind her and, without warning, rammed his fist into her vagina. "I never heard of anything like that being done to anyone before. I felt ripped open... He could kill someone - he should be behind bars... he really screwed me up."

* Ryan: She is pissed on and anally raped in her scene. Matt wrote in his review for the film. "severely mouth rapes her. Man what a segment that was. She begs for him to slow up or stop and is definitely crying in agony! That only infuriates him more along with her wiping away/spitting saliva in disgust and he pounds harder into her mouth leaning backwards on his chair." I've watched this scene and the girl is in no way faking it, she is crying and begging Max to stop. "Can't you take your prick out." She cries to Max, he keeps saying, "A little bit longer," while continuing to pump away.

* Melody Love pisses onto ground for Max. "after the normal start suddenly the music wells up and overlays the human voices and at this point Max tries to anal her. She's pushing him away and obviously saying no with her face contorted in apparent agony (facially she's not too attractive anyway but this makes her look really ugly). He holds her down and continues anyway, at one stage choking her. She seems to appeal to the cameraguy but of course he just continues videotaping. Then Max goes back to vaginal sex and the music dies down and is replaced by normal human noises." - Patrick Riley.

* Olivia; Actress Olivia claimed that she was coerced into sex during this shoot. All copies of this film were pulled. "After a while he tries to get her to do an ass to mouth and she won't do it. She says "no no no no no". Max sort of pushes her mouth towards his cock, but she resists. She then looks up at him and at the camera man, then gives in and does the ass to mouth. It's pretty compelling to watch. I wouldn't say they forced her to do it, but I think they made it clear that she should. I would think she would have known beforehand that ass to mouth was part of the deal but who knows. There's more to the story here. Later in the scene, Max has her upside down and he's forcing his cock down her throat. After a few minutes of this, she tries to get up and says "that's it, I've had enough." But Max just keeps going. I have to admit, that was a bit distrubing. Actually, quite distrubing. Max ignored her when she said she wanted the scene to stop. That's just wrong. The only other notable part of the scene is when she says something like "god, I'm such a whore" and looks off the set at the camera people as if she's shocked at what she's doing." - bofnyc. Max also pissed on Olivia's face during the scene. Some of which goes up her nose.

Let us be clear here: Max Hardcore is a rapist. He rapes sex workers, who are notably less protected from rape than other women, but that does not in any way lessen the seriousness of his crime. In fact, since those women have less access to legal recourse - remember, we are operating within a justice system where proving a woman is a "slut" can get you off the hook, and monetary exchange or contractual agreement stands in for consent, regardless of whether the sex worker consented to the specific acts which took place in the transaction - it makes his crime greater. He is a rapist, and he is in jail, and it is acceptable to be happy about that.

It is also acceptable to advocate banning Max Hardcore's work on the basis that he is selling authentic footage of rape and abuse, and must commit acts of rape and abuse in order to produce the footage. This is the same argument that we've used to ban child porn and snuff films, and it is not incompatible with a pro-sex or pro-porn viewpoint. To argue that Max is a victim of prejudice against sex work is to ignore the fact that, in his films, he aims to degrade the actresses (not their "characters," but the actresses themselves) specifically because they are sex workers - "whores," in his preferred language, who are "stupid" for agreeing to do the scenes and are therefore "get[ting] what they deserve." Max Hardcore is not a victim of anti-sex-worker prejudice; he actively perpetuates it. Women have the right to have sex when they choose, and in the ways that they choose, and that freedom does not end once a woman enters the sex industry. People have been working for decades to make porn safe and fun and sexy for women - those who consume it and those who make it - and getting people like Max Hardcore out of the business is essential to the success of that project.

It is not acceptable to make like Glenn Greenwald and get all OMG WTF WHAT ABOUT TEH ABU GHRAIBS. As if people who object to Max Hardcore don't care about Abu Ghraib. We do. We care precisely because we believe that torture and forced sexual humiliation are unacceptable. We do not believe that it is any MORE acceptable to torture an American female sex worker than it is to torture a Middle Eastern man.

It is not acceptable to refer to Max Hardcore's films as merely "distasteful," without addressing the fact that Max Hardcore's work rests on the infliction of severe and unfaked pain, and sometimes on rape. It is unconscionable to say, as Greenwald does, that "there was no suggestion that any serious violence was ever inflicted or that the adult actors in the film were anything other than completely consensual." Olivia's rape is on record. The tapes were pulled, which is as close to a public admission of guilt as one can get. Pamela Dee's vaginal hemorrhage is, likewise, a matter of public knowledge. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence from within the industry to support the fact that, with Hardcore, the pain is real and there is no safeword. Any journalist who makes Greenwald's argument, or one like it, is either bending the facts to make a point, or else publishing his work without checking to make sure that his article is factually correct. In either case, such a journalist is unprofessional, if not downright dishonest.

Yes, obscenity laws are bad. They use definitions which are broad and subjective, they criminalize sex no matter what level of consent is involved, they are selectively enforced, and they can very easily be used to punish folks who are already marginalized, such as sex workers and queers. Andrea Fucking DWORKIN didn't support obscenity laws. So we can talk about obscenity laws, and we can talk about freedom of speech, but one thing we cannot do, if we want to be honest and accurate, is to argue that Max Hardcore is anything other than a dangerous criminal. Max Hardcore went to jail for obscenity; Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion. Neither one was convicted for his most severe crime, but both were bad men who got caught.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic breakdown. Of course, reading this made me feel sick and want to cry... Which is kind of the point, I guess.

    I run a feminist newsletter on my campus, and I've previously asked bloggers whose pieces I've liked if they'd let me run a post of theirs. I wanted to ask you if I could use this one, but then I realized that in the atmosphere of my campus, I don't honestly know if it would just send all of our assholes to google to become fans and defenders of MH. Ugh.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this. I don't think I could have had the stomach to find and read those descriptions.

    (got here via shakesville blogaround)