June 16, 2011

Black Spark and the Clouds and some other things

The word ‘porn’ conjures images of meaty flesh pounding together under harsh, unsexy lighting, and latex breasts, and artificial moaning in awkward harmony with “fuck yeah”, or a tan, too-hairless man with a ten-inch cock, and if these images are instinctually repulsive to you—in that gut-wrenching mom just caught me masturbating way—you’re not alone.

Except but then why do we still watch it?

At Duke I think the standard discourse on porn involves denouncing its debasement of women and negative effects on hetero relationships, but I’ve never heard much about gay porn’s unique influence—interesting because the subliminal effects undoubtedly reach beyond just homosexuals to those who do not (or not yet) consider themselves gay. I wonder if more men watch gay porn than have gay sex.

For all the pleasure I derive from speaking candidly of taboo topics, I still get squeamish talking about the subjects/objects of porn—which is why this story is only now being posted, six months after its inception. I think I can safely trace the reason for that back to middle school, when I was caught by the parents watching some amateur sex video I’d found on YouPorn. The embarrassment sent me running into the bathroom, where I vomited from shame. After that, no more bedroom computer in the room for a few years, and I resorted to imagination.

Through Duke guys, I found out about Sean Cody, which as far as I can tell is the benchmark brand in the gay porn industry. In the 21st century, I think it’s fairly self-evident that pornography is bound to be one of the greatest forces in sex education for young people; perhaps this is especially true among budding young gays, who probably aren’t exposed even to the second-rate info disseminated among their peer groups.

Even as gay rights extends to adults, our nation will remain deeply disturbed by the idea of a youth homosexuality. And even the confident 13-year old boy from an open-minded family who accepts his homosexuality early in life seems more likely to learn about the relatively tricky dynamics of gay sex from porn instead of, like his parents/school/friends.

So, what lessons does Sean Cody teach? For one, that there is a huge secret gay obsession with fetishizing straight men, especially jocks with hard bodies and girlfriends. Given the right incentive, we’re told (cash, rewards from a coach or teacher or boss, the promise of fucking a hot chick afterward), straight men will indulge in their natural homocuriosity or, more comically, become “heteroflexible.” You might even convince one to, during his first ever gay sex experience, be the recipient of anal sex which, if you’re good enough, could lead to a mind-blowing, hands-free, prostate orgasm. Cool!

It is likely that our first gay crushes and fantasies involved straight men, such is the nature of the numbers game—but the near impossibility of reciprocity was never a component of that attraction, and on the contrary, causes lots of young boys a lot of heartache.

The stock response I get when I point this out is, “Wait, Eric, you're fucking dumb. Of course no one believes it’s true. It’s just that normal desire for the ‘unattainable.’” I guess I’m just not sure that this idea was born from natural desires, or implanted in our minds by whomever. For me, it doesn’t appeal because it strikes an internal chord of unease; some of these guys look a lot like my best friends, and even entertaining the idea of experiencing them sexually, let alone falling in love, is a path I’d like to steer clear of.

But porn is never about love, is it?

Before moving on, you should probably take a look here. There's a lot content. Start with this one (NSFW and FVIL—funnier viewed in libraries).

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“What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn't everyone's life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?”— Foucault

Early this year, a series of short, narrative film clips set to music, comprised of sexual montages of a small number of men obscured by creepy masks, LED lights, and arty camera work, caught my attention.

Now, I’ll admit I have a penchant for the unusual and tend to react with boredom/frustration/indifference at overly conventional music, films, art, etc, which is partly why this stuff appealed to me, by which I mean, it got me off.

Hopefully, I can speak about this without deflecting the raw unadulterated truth that sometimes I really really enjoy masturbating in the company of visual stimuli comprised of hard bodies, big dicks, and hot men sweating on each other, like to the point that I prefer it to sex with another person. But the “intellectualizing” is part of and beside the point: the fact is that thinking really really hard about some things gets me super-off. Obviously.

Which is why I thought it might be a good idea to interview Black Spark and see if he was a full-bodied artist cultivating the style of David Lynch, as he had had hinted at in the vague, frustrating few interviews he had done during his early hype-building phase.

Apparently a UCLA film student “on hiatus” in New York, the Spark has been producing a repertoire of short films to preface a more narrative-driven, full-length he’s preparing. The huge popularity of amateur DIY porn that’s proliferated through free ad-funded websites has already upset the boundaries of pornography, such that Justice Potter Stewart’s famous guideline seems even sillier. But I’m choosing to ignore a lot of the interview which I wasted having him defend his films as “not porn,” because I’ve realized these semantic issues are lazy alternatives for honest engagement with a topic.

But for the record, he considers his work more along the lines of "erotica verité," since it documents moments of genuine romance between lovers—supposedly the Spark (who directs and appears in the films) is only ever seen having sex with his “soul mate,” whom he refers to as the White Spark in this context.

The filmmaker and his team recently went on a bi-coastal tour of the U.S. to recruit supporting actors (aka “Sparks”) for cameos in the film shorts—and though potential volunteers were encouraged on the website to send photos, Black Spark said what he was really searching for for was “honesty,” and men “willing to face and confront their own personal demons…nothing physical.”

Which sounded like a lot of bullshit at the time. But afterward, a few more films emerged featuring unconventional beauties, with normal-sized penises, and then, the guy sort of even solicited my participation.

Obviously he enjoys this sort of power, of probably appealing to people like me who would laugh at the idea of appearing in a conventional porno, but seriously think about doing something this weird for free. And it also underscores his self-identified “sex addiction.”

“I wake up with a hard-on and I think about sex, and I typically go to bed right after I have sex. I think that addiction can consume you and prevent you from being productive.”

This is supposedly a vice, but he does seem to enjoy the ride, as his addiction is represented in pieces through various nameless Sparks that he meets across their country, cataloguing different objects of his desire ranging from talent to novelty.

It’s weird stuff, and its nods to dialectical oppositions—good and evil, love and lust—are indeed very Lynchian. It also strongly suggests of the Art School speak and excess romanticism you’d find in an Alexander McQueen exhibit, but all the arty static surrounding the project does serve his end of “transcending gay,” or perhaps overshadowing it; at the very least, the typical tropes and plot points that characterize popular gay porn (straight boy fantasies, locker room athlete/coach scenes, oversized dicks, the usual sequence of oral-anal-cumshot) are absent.

What’s probably more universally appealing, and what I heard Black Spark speak less guardedly about are the romantic components, the suggestions that real love might be captured on film—something usually absent from the porn equation.

Black Spark was soft spoken and sounded truly earnest when talking about a clip that he made as a love letter. In one of its scenes, he leans back to grasp the neck of his partner as his receives his penis—constituting the most romantic rendering of bottoming that I’ve seen on film. The text, “I trust him,” briefly flashes across the screen at one point, and at this moment I am reminded why anal sex used to seem so repulsive to me—it never looked sweet.

This depiction led us to further discuss issues of the popular portrayals of male homosexuality, and Black Spark spoke of his feeling essentially “masculine," taking pride in his ability to use his hands to build, and being intrepid and aggressive. I know some a lot of people are (rightfully) wary of associate with this characteristic, but I too have experienced the annoyance of being sometimes emasculated by the gay association. Even if this male identity is constucted and hollow, its denial still stings. This is ingrained in boys since childhood, when they learn the insults synonymous with a deficiency of maleness—“fudge packer” and “cock-sucker” are among them, long before boys truly contemplate the male homosexual act.

Some of these videos contain political messages like “support love,” and though Black Spark expressed the desire to “put us a little bit further than we were yesterday,” he admits to being confused by the intrusion of identity politics into what he considers a separate issue.

“I’m just learning this gay versus straight thing. I mean, I’ve been like this all my life, I’ve never known anything different. It’s just realizing that…I’m gay and, maybe lesbian as well.”

I can understand feeling a bit removed from an identity others embrace with such a passionate vigor—like me, it’s something he only entered into a few years ago.

12 comments:

  1. RandyBlue>Sean Cody. Just sayin'

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  2. This is an outstanding essay, one of the best I've read in seven years of writing about and for the Gay Adult Entertainment interesting.

    But I would add that SeanCody.com is the benchmark for white porn. Too often men of color are considered an afterthought or, worse, a "niche."

    But kudos just the same.

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  3. AMAZING stuff...where the hell has this been!!?!?

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  4. *Gay Adult Entertainment industry*

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  5. Very thoughtful and well-written. I wish this essay could get out to a wider audience -- have you considered publishing with a magazine?

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  6. At least watching Sean Cody films, gay youth learn about safe sex because they see condom use and that HIV is still a dangerous and easily caught disease. Black Spark can put on all the masks and blinky LEDs all he wants, but as long as he continues to cum dump and bareback with every guy in his "art" videos, he does nothing but teach gay men that it's is sexy to bareback and ingrains complacency to importance of condom use in prevention of deadly and nasty STDs that continue to plague gay communities around the world.

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  7. Ahh yes...the gay = AIDS argument. Getting old. Not everyone is a teacher and frankly not everyone cares to have their entire sex life seen through STD goggles.

    Perhaps soon we'll start guilting our straight friends to no longer have unprotected sex...that is how their children are created, right Or does that not apply here There is lots of evidence that straight people readily enjoy bareback sex and there aren't any angry mobs attacking that love-making

    In previous interviews Black Spark has said he has only been seen having sex with the same person. What they do is their business and neither you nor I need watch it. You actually have to go looking for it.

    This argument that he's teaching people shit they dont already know about is beyond lazy. All the self-loathing is palpable but not every gay person has appointed themselves czar of what is and isn't proper behavior.

    Self-righteous pricks do more harm to the world than anything Black Spark will ever do.

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  8. He recruited me a few months ago after I sent him a pic. Found him to be a little too douchey for my taste. Videos are hot, but if you're an asshole, why bother?

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  9. @Anonymous 11:38pm: I think your issue with condoms is a potentially valid objection, but you've interpreted some things wrongly.

    The first technical point to make is that in many instances you're seeing simulated penetration and not actual barebacking. And I could be wrong, but I don't think there are any videos that actually mean to give the illusion of "cum dumping."

    This point negates the possible threats to the health of the actors, but doesn't diminish the 'bad example' point, since many people might logically make the same assumptions as you.

    Except, here's where I think the bad example argument fails to hold water: the idea that condomless portrayals of gay sex are categorically irresponsible and dangerous, and that they teach gay men that "it's sexy to bareback and ingrains complacency to importance of condom use."

    My argument earlier about the implicit instructiveness should not be read to indicate that I think all representation = education. Context is crucial. The reason I think Sean Cody films and pornography in general is tacitly educational (to a wider breadth of audience than Black Spark, I might add) is precisely BECAUSE it concerns behavior that is not explicitly taught, like modes of desire and sexiness and personal conduct in a gay sex interaction; because of this, it exercises a great amount of influence in shaping our desires unconsciously, in ways that would evade apprehension even if we TRIED to teach them. Basically my point is that a lot of our fetishes and attractions and impulses more specific than gender-orientation probably have an environmental origin (e.g., watching porn) rather than being intrinsically our own.

    On the other hand, the frequent and vocal presentation of condom use in the context of 'public health' is a separate beast, because it is overt and explicit--sex education, fortunately, has made its way even into middle school classrooms, and the basics of condom use, although tailored to the heterosexual status quo, should resonate with gay men since because they are related to STIs more primarily than pregnancy (in an era where many teenage girls take birth control for to regulate their periods or fight acne.)

    The spaces in which condomless sex is actually encouraged in a way that could undermine these good conscience public efforts are usually pretty obvious: videos whose titles include the words "barebacking" or "cum dumping" come to mind. And these belong in a category of risky fetishes that the Black Spark videos do not.

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  10. Wonderful Essay, I have read some strong arguments and some weak ones. Overall it's well crafted and insightful.
    As a Sean Cody Model I have spoke with Black Spark and found he's a young man with his own priorities.
    I have interviewed him myself and seen a different more mistake ridden side of his persona.
    He has discredited me and tried repeatedly to oppress my expression with Sean Cody while toting that his is Superior. He is a friend in a weird sorta way but I await for him to mature some before I let him close again.
    pony.luke@gmail.com

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  11. Eric! Your observation about the yearning we find in the gay pornography (perhaps even gay machoism itself) for a penetration of heterosexuality is astute and compelling. Bersani would be proud. Thanks!

    Denver

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