Understanding the codified cinematography of mainstream porn

Swapnil Dhruv Bose exposes the hidden language of pornography.

 

Source > Far Out Magazine

In a 1964 lecture titled ‘On Classical Pornography’, Susan Sontag defined pornography as “works of art which embody the idea that lascivious or lustful acts or thoughts are inherently immoral”. While our views on the ethics of pornography or the acts depicted in pornographic material might differ, it’s no secret that mainstream porn studios have built their business models around the marketability of the “immoral”.

The history of eroticism in art can be traced back to the prehistoric period, but modern mainstream porn is a different form altogether. Dominated by major studios who capitalise on search trends as well as meme culture, mainstream porn has become a self-referential, self-parodying domain where humour and horniness combine in uniquely embarrassing ways.

While the philosophical and political foundations of mainstream porn have been discussed and dissected by many eminent scholars (especially Andrea Dworkin, whose book Pornography: Men Possessing Women is a seminal examination of the subject), there’s another interesting aspect that often gets overlooked. That’s the highly codified pornographic cinematography, a visual language that is widely accepted across studios.

The word “hardcore” is invariably associated with pornography to indicate that it’s a transgressive art form. However, the formulaic nature of pornographic cinematography actually means that porn is more science than art, devoid of the spontaneity of the creative process. Not just that, the transgressive elements of pornography are effortlessly neutralised by the rigid cinematographic framework.

While talking about the subject, prominent cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek called mainstream hardcore porn “the most paradoxical genre that you can imagine”. According to Žižek, porn studios design deliberately ludicrous narratives because genuine emotional intimacy is incompatible with the vision of mainstream porn.

Žižek notes: “The price you pay for seeing all is that it must be sabotaged at the psychological level. It’s as if to have both of it – authentic investment and direct hardcore sex, it wouldn’t work.” This psychological manipulation of the audience is reflected in the cinematography as well, especially because websites like PornHub collect statistics on what part of the screen viewers are specifically looking at during their sessions.

Pornography and voyeurism are undeniably linked, but in many ways, they are also antithetical. The voyeuristic impulse that is fundamental to cinema is coldly deconstructed and laid bare by pornographers who know the deepest desires of the people watching their work. Despite the fact that most of mainstream porn is transparently artificial, the carefully calculated cinematography makes sure that audiences don’t spend a lot of time thinking.

Of course, nobody’s watching MILF videos for intellectual stimulation, but the visual grammar definitely merits analysis because of something far more sinister – simulation. The simulated barrage of images, ranging from the close-ups of simulated facial expressions to the popular POV (point of view) mode, are specifically designed to hijack our epistemological pathways. So much so that they even lead to addictive cycles for people whose fantasies are slowly dominated by the pernicious formulae of mainstream porn.


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