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Lecture 10:
L.A.’s Other Film Industry
Boogie Nights (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Professor Michael Green
This Lesson
L.A.’s Other Film
How to Look at
Boogie Nights and
Hollywood’s New
Porn Aesthetic
L.A.’s Other Film Industry
Lesson 10: Part I
Why Should we Study Porn?
• The porn industry is centered in L.A – this is
an L.A film class.
• Porn is hugely profitable/popular.
• Porn is culturally important.
• Porn is ever more public and accessible.
• Porn is inextricably linked with media
Huge Popularity
• Pornography grosses about $13 billion a
year in the U.S.
• Produces about 20 times the content of
mainstream Hollywood studios – 12000
titles in 2006.
• 400 million porn websites (about 12%) of
total usage.
• At least 40 million U.S adults regularly visit
porn websites.
Cultural Importance
• Pornography is a lightening rod for debates
about values.
• Porn usage yields insights into what we
“really” care – and don’t care – about.
• Porn is a prime text for the study of the
representation of race, class, gender and
sexuality – partially because it means to be
transgressive and provocative.
Technology and Public Access
In the 1970s, porn was available only in
certain movie theaters, which limited its
audience and availability.
The 1980s home video revolution changed
and hugely expanded the porn audience.
The Internet has expanded it even further,
opening it up to all audiences.
The porn “aesthetic” has crossed over into
mainstream entertainment.
• Go to the Frontline documentary on the PBS
website linked to the syllabus and the lesson.
• Watch a few of the short segments from the
program, “American Porn.”
How to Look at Pornography
Lesson 10: Part II
Porn is about Us
• According to Laura Kipnis, author of “How to
Look at Pornography,” porn should interest us
because it is intensely and relentlessly about
• She argues that pornography is central to our
culture, that it “exposes the culture to itself.”
• “Audiences constitute themselves around
things that matter to them, and stay away in
droves when no nerve is struck.”
Porn as Political Philosophy
• Kipnis argues that pornography has less to
do with sex than political philosophy.
• Writes Kipnis, “When writing about the
pornography of the past, whether visual or
literary, scholars and art historians routinely
uncover allegorical meanings within it, and
even political significance.”
• Historians have made the case that modern
pornography operated against authority as a
form of social criticism.
Porn is Defined by its Opponents
• Porn was defined less by its content than by
the efforts of those in power to eliminate it
and whatever social agendas it transported.
• Writes Kipnis, “Those who take porn
seriously are its opponents, who have little
interesting to say on the subject.”
• She wonders if they understand porn as
metaphor, irony, symbolism or even fantasy.
– Marquis de Sade
– Lenny Bruce
Justine (1787)
Written by Marquis de Sade
Pornographic Transgression
• Pornography holds us in thrall to the theatrics
of transgression, its dedication to crossing
boundaries and violating social strictures.
• It’s greatest pleasure is to locate society’s
taboos, prohibitions and proprieties, and
transgress them. This means knowing
culture inside and out.
• A culture’s pornography becomes a map of
that culture’s borders – which, whether
geographical or psychological, are political.
Aesthetic Transgressions
• Kipnis writes, “Like the avant-garde’s,
pornography’s transgressions are first of all
aesthetic. It confronts us with bodies that
repulse us – like fat ones – or defies us with
genders we find noxious. It induces us to look
at what is conventionally banished from view.”
The Edges of Culture
• Writes Kipnis, “The edges of culture are
exquisitely threatening places. Straddling
them gives you a very different vantage point
on things. Crossing that edge is an intense
border experience of pleasure and danger,
arousal and outrage.”
• “We don’t choose the social codes we live by,
they choose us. Porn’s very calculated
violations of these strict codes make it the
exciting and nerve-wracking thing it is.”
The Public/Private Divide
• Kipnis says that porn’s most flagrant border
transgression is the complete disregard for
the public/private divide.
• She writes, “Flaunting its contempt for all
proprieties, it’s this transgression in particular
that triggers so much hand wringing about the
deleterious effects on society of naked private
parts in public view.”
• Standards of privacy are a modern invention,
tied to the rise of the middle class and the
equating of sex with shame and disgust.
Porn and Class
• Kipnis says that pornography dedicates itself
to offending all the bodily and sexual
proprieties intrinsic to upholding class
distinctions: good manners, privacy, and the
absence of vulgarity.
• “Questions of social class seem to lurk
somewhere quite near all this distress over
pornography, [which] . . . takes on all the
associations of a low-class thing.”
Class Discrimination
• However, writes Kipnis, “The arguments
about the “effects” of culture seem to be
applied exclusively to lower cultural forms,
that is, to pornography, cartoons, or
subcultural forms like gangsta rap.”
• Kipnis says that the researchers don’t bother
to measure the effects of the misogyny or
violence in Shakespeare.
Class Stereotypes
• Kipnis argues that if porn is complex and
meaningful, then the presumption that only
low culture causes “effects” is a stereotype
about its imagined viewers and their
intelligence or self-control or values.
• She believes pornography isn’t viewed as
having complexity because it audience isn’t
viewed as having complexity.
• Porn is never far from any political argument
about culture.
Boogie Nights and Hollywood’s
New Porn Aesthetic
Boogie Nights (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Lesson 10: Part III
The Movie
• Written/directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
– Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will be Blood
It’s cast and subject gave it “indie” appeal.
Movie was critically well-received.
Three Oscar nominations
A major example of the 1990s crossover of
porn into the mainstream.
• Explores aspects of the Los Angeles film
industry not normally seen in feature films.
“Disco Daze”
• According to Robert Sickels, Americans tend
to romanticize eras in ways that don’t
necessarily agree with the historical facts of
the time period in question.
• Sickels argues that the 1970s are enjoying a
public re-evaluation that often overlooks
things such as Vietnam, Watergate and the
failure of the E.R.A. He says we instead revel
in the clothes and the joy of Disco, and revere
the “freedoms” of the sexual revolution.
1970s vs. 1980s
• Sickels argues that Boogie Nights primarily
emphasizes the corporate decay of the 1980s
• He writes, “[Boogie Nights] is an insightful
and scathing fable of corporate decay in the
1980s. Anderson’s film depicts the price of
the 1980s cutthroat financial mentality as far
more costly than that of 1970s moral laxity.”
• Sickels argues that Boogie Nights is not a
realistic portrayal of the porn industry.
• Pause the lecture and watch clips #1 and 2.
Porno Chic
• According to Sickels, the success of Boogie
Nights is an example of the rebirth of what in
the 1970s was known as “porno chic,” which
had to do with a brief moment in history
during which people discussed some porn
films as if they were art films.
Crossover to the Mainstream
• Given porn’s enormous profitability it’s not
surprising that porn-related subjects are
slowly but surely beginning to appear in more
mainstream venues.
• Over the last ten years or so, porn-related
subjects have appeared more often in the
mainstream, in documentaries, fictional films
and television shows, among other venues.
• Of course this is predominately manifested in
terms of the representation of women.
Zach and Miri Make a Porno
The Girl Next Door
How to Make Love like a Porn Star (Jameson)
Brittany Spears
Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian sex tapes
Soderberg’s The Girlfriend Experience
Megan Fox in Transformers
Pause and watch clip #3
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
“Directed” by Michael Bay
End of Lecture 10
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