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.