Anal Acrobats 8
30 October 2013
“A censor stops things from going too far. We stop them from not going far enough.” Thus the chief objective of the fictional Sportsex Corporation is laid bare by one of its senior executives, in the mostly forgotten 1968 BBC teleplay The Year of the Sex Olympics. In the film, organisations like Sportsex thrive in a dystopian future where Britain’s downtrodden masses (or ‘low-drives’ as they’re officially classified) are pacified by a constant stream of X-rated broadcasts, culminating every four years in the staging of the Sex Olympics — a lengthy public spectacle in which couples strive to outdo one another in a parade of outlandish sexual acts. Those who emerge triumphant are elevated to celebrity status, bestowed with ostentatious vanity titles and ‘Kata Sutra awards’. Those who fail to impress fall quietly into obscurity, doomed to rejoin the low-drives in their collective carnal stupor.
Nigel Kneale, who was commissioned by the BCC to write The Year of the Sex Olympics following the huge success of his earlier serial Quatermass, was unimpressed by what he called the ‘let it all hang out’ mindset of the 1960s, and sought to ward off any further loosening of morals with a stark warning of what was, to his mind, the sexual revolution’s inevitable endgame: an Orwellian surveillance state of psychosexual mind control. His apparently paradoxical theory — that bringing sex into the open might ultimately lead to a bored, sexless populace — proved unconvincing in 1968, but has gained some off measure of credence in the years since. Just last year, New York Magazine’s ‘Drowning in Porn’ issue fretted that contemporary porn consumers are ‘just not that into anyone’, drawing on a shallow pool of anecdotal evidence to conclude that pornography is shaping our ‘physical and emotional interest in sex on a very fundamental neurological level’. In other words, we’re fast becoming a generation of low-drives.
Whether or not you agree with such a doomy diagnosis, there’s no denying Kneale’s prescience in visualising a porn industry governed by the pursuit of increasingly extreme physical feats. In the late 1960s, when Kneale first envisioned the grossly permissive world of The Year of the Sex Olympics, pornography was still at the mercy of the censors. Envelopes were pushed millimetres at a time, for fear that overstepping the mark could result in an obscenity trial, or a theatre raid (for all the publicity such controversies might generate, the associated financial costs would often be overwhelming). Today, with the vast majority of pornographic content distributed over a censorless internet, the sky’s the limit for modern-day analogues of the Sportsex Corporation. Like it or not, we’re living in The Year of the Sex Olympics and just as Kneale predicted, the greatest peril facing the modern porn industry is not going far enough.
The Anal Acrobats franchise has thus far brought eight films into the world, most of which run about the same length as Gone With The Wind. The first edition, starring Sasha Grey and a host of stars who have yet to make the jump to Steven Soderbergh movies, was released in 2007, establishing a basic formula that’s changed little in the six years since. In each film, a band of performers take it in turns to insert ever larger spherical objects into their own — and one another’s — anuses. Each scene is loosely themed, though there’s no apparent through-line to tie the themes together. In the inaugural Anal Acrobats, Grey appears dressed as a rabbit (in the heavily anthropomorphised, Playboy sense) and proceeds to place within her body an assortment of black golf balls, seemingly intended to resemble droppings. In an adjacent scene, fellow performer Sophie Dee is depicted as a schoolgirl, the tools of her trade recast as gumballs.
To identify the franchise’s stars as ‘acrobats’, with all the co-ordination and agility that suggests, is perhaps misleading when the principal entry requirement is a high calibre of muscle control. Nonetheless, there’s an undeniable psychical prowess on display — one that’s not entirely dissimilar to more traditional forms of athleticism. The competitive environment of Anal Acrobats even has its own clearly defined measure of achievement, namely the diameter of each sphere successfully inserted within the alimentary canal. (N.B. Jay Sin, the auteur behind the series, has another franchise in which depth is prized over width: Deep Anal Abyss.)
While the format has changed little since 2007, the bar has been raised dramatically. Where Grey’s bunny rabbit could manage just two golf balls at any one time in the first Anal Acrobats, the stars of Anal Acrobats 8 — the franchise’s latest outing — can capably take on as many as four successive spheres, each one considerably larger than any known golf paraphernalia.
In one particularly memorable scene, purple-haired performer Proxy Paige is dressed as a kind of fetishistic flight attendant, wielding an array of miniature globes that — we’re told — will soon find themselves within the body of co-star Sandra Romain. “I just travelled all the way around the world, to come and put a globe in this first-class bitch’s ass,” explains Paige, quite literally promising Romain the earth. In little over half a decade, such astronomical accomplishments have become de rigueur for the franchise, and they’re no longer the only belief-defying sights the series has to offer. In the all-female threesome that concludes Anal Acrobats 8‘s first act, Eastern European star Alysa is penetrated by a colossal phallus affixed to co-star Holly Hanna’s anus by suction alone. My description really doesn’t do it justice.
Alysa made a name for herself as the star of a series of anal-fixated home videos shot in her native Russia. One so-called ‘gape video’ in particular proved an unlikely crossover success, reaching the front page of Reddit in .gif form and confounding commenters who refused to accept its veracity. Perhaps inevitably, she was soon lured Stateside by Californian porn studios whose homegrown talents found themselves unable to compete.
The borrowing of performers from countries that lack functioning porn industries has grown apace in the last few years, especially in stunt-based franchises like Anal Acrobats that require a very particular set of skills. It’s bad news for the American stars who once cornered the market, but a blessing for the transcontinental credentials of a series that seems determined to market itself as world-class. With Alysa representing Russia, and the aforementioned Sandra Romain originally hailing from Romania, Anal Acrobats 8 is only 201 nations short of a bona fide Olympic competition in rectal capacity.
The British anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines begins her book ‘Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’ with an assessment of the current state of the industry. Like so many outraged commentators before her, she begins by tediously detailing the process by which one can locate porn on the internet (‘I was directed to hundreds of sites that offered a whole range of sex acts’) before listing some of the more extreme acts she’s uncovered in the familiarly disapproving terms of any self-appointed moral safeguard. For Dines, perhaps the vilest act imaginable is double penetration, a disgraceful activity that was never enacted — much less depicted — prior to the invention of the internet, unless you count the erotic carvings of the 10th Century Khajuraho Temples, or various other ancient works of eroticism that Dines ignores in order to validate her point.
Dines uses clinical descriptions of such acts to shock her readers — an easy feat when the acts in question fall outside of contemporary sexual norms. Sex is rarely rational, so little can seem more irrational than the sex that other people have. Take this entry, dated May 5th 1974, from the diary of renowned British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan:
I read in Alan Watt’s autobiography, In My Own Way, that alcohol is best taken rectally instead of orally. Since I know this to be true of sleeping pills (suppositories are much healthier than the oral kind), I madly determine to try it. So Nicole and I return from eating a peppery Indian dinner to Emma Gordon’s flat, where we are spending the weekend, with a half-bottle of vodka with which to make the experiment. Nicole injects a large wine-glass of vodka into my anus via an enema tube. Within ten minutes the agony is indescribable. I am squirming as if Prussic acid had been squirted into my colon. The astringent vodka tightens the rectal passage and inflames the mucous membranes: so that I spend a sleepless night, followed by a tormented day, interspersed with visits to the loo every ten minutes — most of them abortive, since the diarrhoea is denied its natural outlets by the tightly compressed anus. In addition to the pain, I am bleeding copiously from the rectum. Poetic justice is thus visited upon me, anal fixatee that I am, and translated into farce. It takes forty-eight hours for the after-effects to subside (N.B. three days later I am still seeping blood). Oh, the perils of hedonism!
For many, Tynan’s entry will evoke the kind of horror that Dines is looking for with her affronted descriptions of modern porn trends, but unlike Dines, he also hints at the subversive power of these extremities. It’s hard to read his account without feeling some modicum of jealousy — if not for the experience itself (which sounds pretty unpleasant) then for the sheer inquisitive audacity of actually trying it out. There’s an enviable absence of doubt in Tynan’s decision, having heard tell of some unknown pleasure, to put theory into practice.
(Alan Watts, incidentally, wasn’t half so adventurous. The autobiography Tynan mentions, In My Own Way, refers only to a conversation Watts had with the psychiatrist Oscar Janiger, in which they jokingly postulated ‘a new kind of cocktail bar based on the fact that alcohol is more easily assimilated through the rectum than by the mouth’. Neither Watts nor Janifer claimed to have tested the notion.)
In The Year of the Sex Olympics, only the top tier of Sportsex’s contract performers share Tynan’s sexual ambitiousness, while the hushed low-drives are — precisely according to plan — content simply to imagine such matters, like Watts and Janiger imagining their rectal watering hole. “They found that if they screened everything,” explains a veteran Sportsex producer to a new recruit, “that basically the audience would make do with that, in place of the real thing. Take all experiences second hand. Just sit watching, calmly and quietly”.
It’s a bleak picture, but not one that’s necessarily reflective of reality. On a recent edition of his ‘Savage Love’ podcast, outspoken American sex columnist Dan Savage inadvertently reiterated The Year of the Sex Olympics’ conflation of pornography and professional athleticism, when asked by a listener how best to explain porn to her teenage son. Savage’s outlook, however, was decidedly less apocalyptic. In describing porn as an ‘olympic’ parallel to everyday sex, Savage suggested that pornography might in fact serve as a source of inspiration to the common-or-garden fornicator, as long as they understood the lofty heights to which the anal acrobats of this world aspire, and the potential limitations of their own bedrooms.
Figures from Sport England revealed that 750,000 Britons took up sporting activities in the wake of the 2012 London Olympics. For every low-drive beaten into submission, it’s safe to assume there’s an acrobat somewhere, warming up for action.
The Panty Burglar
27 November 2013
Wolf Hudson is Bad
Tucked away in the pages of last week’s Heat Magazine was a 14-word story about Scarlett Johansson. Confined to a narrow, skim-and-you’d-miss-it sidebar, it spoke louder than any number of feminist TED talks possibly could on the marginalisation of female sexuality. Given its brevity, you’ll forgive me for republishing the piece here in its entirety:
Don Jon actress Scarlett Johansson has confessed that she enjoys watching porn. Ew, grubby.
Johansson’s ‘confession’ was originally published a week earlier, within the body of a Marie Claire profile (‘Scarlett on love, mistakes and getting engaged’) — though in actuality, she didn’t express an affinity for pornography so much as a cautious indifference on the subject. When probed, she told the magazine, ‘I think porn, like anything else, can be enjoyed. It can be productive for both men and women’, before adding in mitigation, ‘if I found out my boyfriend [watched porn every day] I would be totally flabbergasted for sure.’
As revelations go, it’s not exactly Frost/Nixon. Only in a world where women are uniformly assumed to be strident opponents of pornography could Johansson’s guarded, equivocal non-statement be considered ‘grubby’. And yet, while it’s possible that the Heat staffer responsible for the article was in the throws of some judgement-clouding feud with Scarlett Johansson, it seems far more likely that he or she thought nothing of passing down such a judgement, so widespread is the belief that women and porn do not mix. It’s an assumption that flows through almost every area of discussion on the subject, from lurid tabloid articles endlessly rehashing the image of a basement-dwelling, degenerate male porn viewer, to the overwhelmingly masculine domain of contemporary porn criticism, where sites like XCritic think nothing of employing fifteen male critics and writing off the female viewpoint entirely. Ironically, the idea that women and pornography are inherently incompatible is the very notion that Don Jon — the film that landed Johansson in this conversational mess in the first place — attempts to scrutinise.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt serves as writer, director and star of the film, in which his cocky, sex-obssessed protagonist Jon is characterised as a fanatical consumer of pornography. Jon’s girlfriend Barbara (Johansson) takes a puritanical line on his porn habit, assigning it a moral value just short of infidelity. No wonder then, that the sudden appearance of Esther (Julianne Moore) — an earthy older woman who claims to share Jon’s fondness for ‘dirty movies’ — proves a disruptive event. The very concept of a female porn viewer seems to deeply unnerve Jon. The first time Esther attempts to broach the subject, he literally flees the scene, unwilling to allow a female participant into a conversation he’s previously reserved for male company. Undaunted, Esther continues to press Jon on his viewing habits, even furnishing him with a copy of her favourite blue movie in an attempt to broaden his pornographic horizons. The movie in question: a work of 1970s Danish erotica entitled Forar for Søde Brigitte (roughly translated: Spring for Sweet Brigitte).
The stereotype that women are only interested in pornography that’s classy, well-lit and Scandinavian is a misconception ranking somewhere alongside ‘women don’t defecate’ in the catalogue of absurd male fantasies about the female gender. The fact that Gordon-Levitt uses Forar for Søde Brigitte to exemplify Esther’s porn tastes speaks to a lack of imagination on his part, and a gender bias in Don Jon‘s supposedly progressive take on pornography. Or at least it would, were Forar for Søde Brigitte a real film to begin with.
It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that all of the porn watched by male characters in Don Jon is entirely genuine. Keep an eye out during the film’s many fast-cut porn montages and you’ll spot appearances from Alexis Texas, Jenna Haze, Tori Black and countless other real-world performers. Were you so inclined, you could probably load up Jon’s beloved PornHub and retrace his masturbatory steps in real-time as you watched the film. In fact, maybe that’s a marketing angle Warner Brothers would like to utilise once the film’s DVD release rolls around: Wank Along With Don Jon.
Still, when it comes to Esther’s porn, the film breaks with convention. After bombarding the audience with bona fide smut for the best part of an hour, Don Jon goes off-road and conjures Forar for Søde Brigitte — a work of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s own creation. Against a tidal wave of authentic male-oriented material, this single fictional title must stand as an emblem of everything women want from pornography — a distillation of female sexuality that Don Jon can hold up for approval from an audience presumed to foster the same assumptions. And so, rather than asking a female crewmember (or perhaps self-professed porn tolerator Scarlett Johansson) for advice on the kind of porn that Esther might be interested in, Gordon-Levitt dreamt up a porn movie fit for the female gender with a little help from his equally male cinematographer Thomas Kloss:
In the script, I had written that [Esther] gives [Jon] a vintage porn movie on DVD. My cinematographer — he’s from Austria — told me that there was a progressive movement in porn in Denmark in the 70s. And so I said, “Really? What if it was a Danish film? That could be fun.” I have a friend who has Danish parents, and they helped me think of a title and work out how to spell it.
— Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in an interview with Danish news agency Newspaq
In recent years, as the ratio of female porn viewers to male ones has slowly begun to even out, many of the largest porn sites have introduced sub-sections specifically aimed at women — PornHub has a ‘Female Friendly’ category while xHamster offers a ‘Female Choice’ tab. There’s no question that these categories are popular (for the most part, they’re user-curated) but they also ghettoise an entire gender’s sexual interests into oblivion. While men are free to browse the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet in search of sexual stimulation, women have their porn firmly mandated by gender. Madeleine Holden sums up the problem eloquently in her excellent article on the history of cunnilingus in rap, Eat It Up and Lay Wit It:
Sex is a gendered issue, Y/y? In spite of near-universal agreement that sex is fun and feels nice, the backseating of women’s sexual pleasure is still a stubborn stain on our cultural fabric, and we can’t seem to get past the idea that sex is really for men. Take the world of porn, for instance, which is a steadfastly dude-centric affair for no good reason at all. On a mainstream aggregator site like PornHub.com you can find 60+ categories of porn. Fifty-nine of those are aimed at men, who can choose between bukkake and creampie, POV and BBW, or any of the other colourful and creative tabs tailored to their every whim. Women, on the other hand, get one catch-all category: “female friendly”. It’s a yawnfest full of pristine white people wearing pristine white underwear humping on pristine white sheets and gazing into each other’s pristine white eyeballs (zzzzzzzz). The condescension is palpable.
Into this sorry state of affairs wades feminist porn, a relatively new invention that boldly sets its sights beyond the Y chromosome in the pursuit of a more enlightened form of pornography. There’s a common misconception that the phrase ‘feminist porn’ denotes the kind of sanitised erotic void that Holden describes above, in which women are treated with nothing but deference and the focus is as soft as the hands that delicately stroke each performer to a serene climax. Against this backdrop, female sexuality becomes a kind of puzzle, waiting to be solved by one particularly canny pornographer, who might — like Gordon-Levitt and his sweet, non-existent Brigitte — finally work out what women want, and how to give it to them in the most insipid form possible. It’s a marginally less patronising idea than the one that Susan Anderson puts forward in ‘Porn For Women’, her impossibly grim series of at-the-till books in which female desire is epitomised by a shirtless man doing the ironing, but still it seems to strive towards the day when PornHub’s Female Friendly section can finally be replaced by a single ten-minute video of light cascading onto a very clean bed — female sexuality incarnate.
Alison Lee, director of the annual Feminist Porn Awards, defines feminist porn somewhat differently — not as an aesthetic, but as a loose set of guidelines that shouldn’t be especially difficult for any pornographer with even a vague interest in women to meet:
Feminist porn is not necessarily directed by women or only aimed at women. But what feminist porn does do is take women into account as viewers. So even if they’re not the sole audience, I think that one of the things that is considered is whether it’s something they think that women might enjoy.
At this year’s Feminist Porn Awards ceremony, held at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto back in April, the award for ‘Hottest Website’ was bestowed upon Wolf Hudson Is Bad, the online home of self-proclaimed ‘sexualist’ Wolf Hudson and his business partner / occasional co-star Aiden Starr. Wolf is a fascinating figure in the contemporary porn scene — a sort of avant-garde James Deen, with a rabid fan following of both men and women, and a range of sexual modes as broad as his Herculean shoulders. In a pair of recent updates to Wolf Hudson Is Bad, he presents himself as dominant enough to be one of two givers in a double anal penetration (Proxy’s First Vegas Double Penetration) while also submissive enough to be fucked by a female performer with a strap-on (Nikki Darling Attacks Wolf’s Ass).
Perhaps even more remarkably, his celebrity extends beyond his ability to stick his penis in a variety of different orifices. His kooky Tumblr is littered with gawking selfies, thoughts on the fluid nature of identity, and scans of recent HIV tests (all negative). Fans reblog and favourite and thoroughly reject the received wisdom that porn — and especially porn for women — is something to be ashamed of.
One of Wolf’s latest releases, The Panty Dropper, effortlessly dispels the image of female porn consumers as delicate flowers in search of the mildest porn experience imaginable, by reversing a perennially familiar trope from male-oriented pornography: the solo masturbation scene. At just 9 minutes in length, it’s a frank, functional piece of work that makes no apologies for its own prurience. Things begin innocently enough, as director and supporting performer Aiden Starr enters her bedroom to deposit a handful of underwear into her chest of drawers, presumably after completing the world’s lightest ever load of laundry. As she exits the room, an ominous piano chord strikes and the closet door slides back to reveal Wolf, the lower portion of his face disguised by a bandana. With a zip-up hoodie stationed at half-mast to reveal his bare chest, Wolf retrieves a pair of Starr’s underwear and begins to rub the fabric against his temporarily flaccid penis, pulling the material back and forth until he’s hard enough to operate.
Wolf’s penis has an almost hypnotic elasticity to it. As he tugs away with a frantic vigour befitting his burglar persona, it seems to stretch and compress to almost cartoon proportions — a mouse relaxing its skeletal structure to slip seamlessly beneath a door frame. His masturbation soon grows almost feverish with excitement, each stroke a firm rebuke to the assumption that only the tenderest of erotic displays can satisfy the female gaze. It’s an illicit, exhilarating, borderline creepy scene, the denouement of which sees Wolf ejaculate across the ill-gotten underwear before slinking back into the closet, where we can only presume he lives out some kind of perverted Borrowers-style existence, sustaining himself on misplaced crumbs and covert onanism.
The theme of secrecy that runs through The Panty Dropper hardly feels like a coincidence. In fact, if there’s one thing that links Wolf’s markedly diverse offerings, it’s an air of the clandestine. His exploits take place in hotel rooms, showers and back alleys, only rarely venturing into the familiar light-drenched lounges of mainstream porn. And really, is it any wonder? When even the supposedly liberal Guardian newspaper is following up the headline ‘Why more and more women are using pornography’ with 20 paragraphs on ‘addiction’, ‘depression’ and ‘desensitisation’, it’s hard to imagine female-focused porn having anything other than furtive connotations.
Still, with a date now set for the Feminist Porn Awards’ ninth edition next spring, and a full day of screenings planned in a cinema that’s currently busy showing Blackfish and The Act of Killing, the veil of secrecy may finally be starting to lift.
11 November 2013
Tony de Sergio
In the spring of last year, as the twin titans of Gangnam Style and Kony 2012 proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that mainstream culture is now defined exclusively by those with a half-decent understanding of online cultural mores, one of the world’s largest porn studios had its servers compromised by a small hacker collective known as The Consortium. That studio’s name — Digital Playground — took on a cruelly ironic new significance as hackers romped freely through their files, gaining access to the usernames, passwords and credit card details of 72,000 DP customers, as well as the internal e-mails and conference calls of the company’s employees. The Consortium even replaced Digital Playground’s landing page with a lengthy screed detailing their triumph over the studio’s antiquated security system in playful but unrepentant terms: after reproducing an e-mail from DP’s I.T. guy, suggesting that the company upgrade its servers to a new Adobe interface, the hackers furnished the studio with a list of 21 bootleg license keys.
And then came the porn. The Consortium leaked more than fifty files, some of them trailers for forthcoming Digital Playground releases, some of them the movies themselves. In many ways, this was the greatest insult. In an age of globally dominant Porn 2.0 sites like RedTube and PornHub, the studio has positioned itself, somewhat uniquely, against the tide. DP releases are uniformly upmarket, defined by high-end production values and more importantly, total exclusivity. Access is limited to online subscribers (who pay a hefty £29.99/month subscription fee) and a dwindling crowd of physical media porn consumers, who can expect to pay roughly the same amount for a single disc. So for The Consortium to throw even a handful of Digital Playground titles online for free was more than embarrassing — it was a dilution of the company’s primary selling point.
Like all great artists, Digital Playground have channeled this misfortune into their work, and will this week release Hacked, a feature-length cautionary tale on the perils of lackluster internet security, starring Kayden Kross and the Village Voice’s ‘Prettiest Girl in New York’, Stoya. In the film, Kross plays a go-getting young office worker — also named Kayden — at an identikit Californian workplace. With a promotion in the offing from the company’s demanding chief executive Giovanni, tensions rise between Kayden and her colleague Stoya, with both eager to earn the boss’s favour. In a reflection of today’s harsh corporate environment, Stoya is quick to resort to underhand tactics to secure the promotion, hacking into Kayden’s social networking accounts to send a barrage of salacious messages to co-workers and friends, thereby sabotaging her prospects at the company.
If the premise seems torn from some doomy tabloid article on the evils of the internet, the film itself has similar preoccupations. Kayden’s suffering at the hands of her more tech-savvy colleagues (both Stoya and a skeezy I.T. guy who colludes in her diabolical scheme in exchange for sexual favours) soon sends her spiraling into a Polanski-esque psychological breakdown, as she loses the promotion, her boyfriend and her job all in the space of an afternoon. In the world of Hacked, the internet isn’t just a dangerous place, it’s a sinister, abstract villain that knows where you live and isn’t afraid to hit you there.
The Digital Playground brand hasn’t always been so technophobic. Its vocal support of Blu-ray technology in 2006 (at a time when most mainstream movie studios were still declaring HD-DVD to be the superior home entertainment format) was a key factor in deciding the HD format war. They also moved faster than their competitors into developing streaming, 3D and tablet-based porn technologies. In fact, technical trailblazing has long been company policy — as far back as 1998, Digital Playground released the first ever interactive porn film: the pixel-tastic Virtual Sex with Jenna Jameson, available only on CD-ROM.
One aspect of Digital Playground that isn’t so future-proof, however, is their mode of production. The studio specialises in what’s loosely known as “couples’ porn” — classy, vanilla, reasonably gender-neutral erotica, featuring a story you can follow along with if that’s your pornographic cup of tea. In Hacked, each sex scene lasts around fifteen minutes, and follows a fairly strict set menu of carnal pleasures. Once the characters are introduced (tenuously, it must be said, for a movie so concerned with narrative) the camera pulls back to a tasteful wide shot, which is then maintained for the remainder of the scene. Cunnilingus begets fellatio, fellatio begets spooning, spooning begets doggy-style, and doggy-style finally begets cumshot, all of which plays out in deathly silence as the performers strive to stay in character at the expense of passion, spontaneity and general plausibility. In fairness, one of the more proficient couples does deviate briefly from the routine with an attempt at standing sex, but only after it’s been tediously established that they’re doing so within a safe, loving, and most importantly, committed relationship.
This easily palatable brand of pornography hasn’t changed much since the so-called Golden Age of Porn in the 1970s, when movies like Deep Throat had theatrical runs in mainstream cinemas and racked up box office receipts in the tens of millions. But while Digital Playground’s movies might be indistinguishable from those made forty years ago, mainstream porn tastes are not. Where once such films could pack out 1000-seat venues and garner reviews in the New Yorker, now they’re relegated to specialist DVD stores, and hidden away behind online paywalls. In 1972, Linda Lovelace was a pop cultural icon. In 2013, most people don’t even know the names of the people they masturbate to. (Of RedTube’s ten most viewed videos of all time, only one contains a named star.)
That might not be a problem if Digital Playground was willing to reposition itself as a rarefied niche in the porn industry, there to satisfy consumers disillusioned with modern pornographic trends, but instead the company clings to the kind of USPs that only a large, mainstream audience can support — namely a raft of contract performers (what is this, 1930s Hollywood?) and a tendency to put huge budgets behind its films. DP’s 2008 high seas epic Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge remains the highest budgeted porn film of all time, at $8 million. Hacked, while a considerably more modest proposition, must also have outstripped the average porn budget by a factor of ten. Even the film’s fleeting exterior shots look more like cutaways from House of Cards than images from a 21st Century porn film.
In the words of porn star du jour James Deen, ‘as far as making visually stimulating erotic cinema, Digital Playground’s pretty much the best.’ Also in the words of Deen, ‘personally, I hate it.’
Of course, I wouldn’t wish to malign the sexual appetites of an avid Digital Playground customer any more than I would those of an insatiable patron of scat porn, or a foot fetish enthusiast. If anything, I’m just concerned about their ability to access such material five or ten years down the line. Because while most specialist pornographers have embraced the changing tide of technology — working with small budgets and low production values to suit the climate of the internet — Digital Playground continues to treat its films like blockbusters, without making any efforts to prepare its business model for the future. The company only has 31,000 followers on Twitter, while some of its fellow studios have close to half a million. ‘Retweet if you have great sex’, they recently instructed their audience. Seven users and a spambot obliged.
In the final scene of Hacked, a newly-promoted Stoya wreaks one final act of cruelty upon Kayden, sending her a break-up text under the guise of Kayden’s boyfriend Bill. In keeping with the film’s laughably inauthentic depiction of modern technology, the message bounces energetically across the screen as though to sarcastically underline its malicious content. Dejected, Kayden sits alone in a San Fernando Valley parking lot, the hopeless victim of a modern world that’s finally left her behind.