Is It Uncool to Respond to Reviews of My Show?

…I don’t really care if it’s cool or not. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not a big stickler for cool. I’m more of a stickler for the sound of my own voice. …in type… Whatever. You get the idea.

So the fantastic news is that Consent, my show at apexart, is in the news! It’s been listed and reviewed on all kinds of websites, from NY Daily News to Pussy le Queer (best review evar!) to to DNAinfo.com to L Magazine to ArteFuse. (Sorry for the long list, I just couldn’t help myself. And that’s not even ALL of them! I rule!) Tomorrow’s event, a double screening (sort of) of The Graduate and The Graduate XXX featuring maybe-witty banter between myself and producer Dan Reilly, is getting lots of play in the NY media and will hopefully draw a crowd. (I mean, free popcorn and booze, porn, and classic film? Does it get any better? Really?)

And yet… And yet. I just can’t help being a little “gr” about some of the reviews. I mean, not really. Any press is good press, especially for something like this. If it captures any attention at all, that’s what I want. I really want people to think and talk about this. I think it’s important. But, just like with any creative anything, it’s open to interpretation and misinterpretation. Really, I guess I shouldn’t complain about reviews that take the wrong spin from the show and spin it further. I mean, shit, it’s a show about smut. It could be worse. But I’d kind of rather it be horrible, mean-spirited jabs at my whole idea than what I’ve seen in a few places, which is more like, “Meh.”

“Meh” is not what I want to hear. And see, the reason it’s “meh” and not “HOLY SHIT THAT’S AWESOME” or “WHAT THE FUCK?! THAT’S AWFUL!” in the reviews I’m talking about is because, well, I don’t think the reviewers really listened. Or maybe I didn’t really say what I wanted to say. I hope it’s the former. Could very easily be the latter.

See, I’m getting headlines like “Sexy TriBeCa Show Offers Peek Inside the Porn Industry,” which is cute and helpful for getting people in to see the show. But as far as getting the idea… it’s off by just enough to irk. And this review in Cultural Capitol is similarly off by just-enough that I feel either I didn’t get my message across, or the people writing didn’t really pay attention. They both focus on the porn insiders, the performers and directors that I interviewed for the show, as the big event. The idea that talking to people involved in making porn is a Big Deal seems to be what they’re coming away with. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think that’s true. I do think it’s true that the interviews I got with industry insiders were fucking incredible and I wish there were a way to show them all in their entirety in the art space. But they’re not the whole point.

I guess I get the impression that people walk in and go, “Porn stars! It’s an attention-grabber, but is it really novel to talk to porn stars about porn? Obviously not. Well, now I’m bored. This isn’t arty. This is blasé.” But that’s not all there is to the show. Personally, I think the whole point of the show, and one of the most un-blasé things about it, is that I didn’t just talk to a bunch of porn stars about porn. I talked to porn stars, directors, thinkers, writers, entrepreneurs, and consumers about porn. I didn’t say, “Tell me what it’s like to be a porn star! Do you feel ashamed of yourself? Do you like shocking people? Tell me about dicks!” Instead, I talked with everyone about their personal relationships to a form of entertainment that is incredibly personal and yet almost entirely overlooked in its intimately influential capacity. I think that’s the point and strength of the show. Not, “Ooooh, porn and art together in one place!” or “Ooooh I talked to porn stars and they’re SMART!” I know that’s been done, and that’s why I didn’t aim for that. I’m trying to get at something deeper, something more sociological and psychological and interesting. Something that’s so often denied in discussions of pornography in which the subject matter is sublimated, overlooked, dealt with as if it’s a hot coal taken off a fire. In art circles it’s turned into “art porn” or “porn art.” In social circles it’s discussed as a window to our greater sexuality. In psychology circles it’s all about addiction versus pleasure versus fetish and so on. But rarely does anyone just sit and talk about pornography on their own terms. Talk about it as it is, with no desire to sublimate it, dumb it down, smart it up, dress it up, make it ok. Rarely do we get the chance to talk about the realities of our intimate moments with it, our vulnerable secrets, our shameful concerns, our excitement, our questions… This is where it gets interesting, raw, and not-blasé but very, very real. Perhaps I didn’t make it as “real” as it could have been, but my goal was never to shock anyone with this show, or to impress anyone. It’s to take a moment to show what this subject matter is, to honestly look at it, and to honestly ask interviewees and visitors to the show to be a little more  honest. To consent to thinking about it, not as art per se, not as something it’s not but we wish it could be, but as it is. Human bodies having sex and us getting off to it. That’s what I want to talk about.

Perhaps I didn’t do a good job of that. And really, I can’t bitch too much about reviews that are in no way negative, but rather nonplussed. After all, the reviewers still showed up and gave it a few minutes of their time. And that’s fucking fabulous. And yeah, maybe when you walk in and see pictures of porn stars and clips from porn movies, it’s easy to walk away with: “Porn stars talking about porn. Meh. It’s been done.” The performers do stand out. Their images are everywhere. They are the faces of this industry. A bunch of the consumers don’t WANT their faces everywhere. So it’s easy, if you’re not invested, to walk out feeling “meh.”

And, as I’ve come to learn during this whole process, there are plenty of people out there who really don’t think that porn is worth this kind of examination. That it really is “meh.” Lots of brains I don’t understand out there, convinced that porn is just porn is just porn, and what more is there to say? It has been done, it’s been talked about, it’s been morphed and stretched and examined and denigrated and celebrated already. For years. So, “meh,” right? But most things, I find, are only as “meh” as you allow yourself to imagine they are. Personally, I think porn will continue to be as fascinating as the people who interact with it, in whatever capacity.

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