It's great to connect with other thoughtful people who believe, as I do, that pornographic materials deserve sustained attention through all manner of lenses: as art, as literature, as cultural artifacts, as evidence of human sexuality, as a medium of communication and (hopefully) cultural change. Which is the story that After Pornified tries -- in part -- to document: How female directors are creating a new kind of pornographic film and how these new films explicitly and implicitly disrupt the conventions of inequality in much of mainstream moving picture porn. In Sabo's own words,
"I have found that porn is not inherently bad; there has just been a lot of badly made porn. ... I am interested in the authentic porn made by women who show a sincere commitment to radically change porn, featuring female and male sexuality with respect and realism. Where porn becomes a vehicle for women to explore their own sexuality and define it for themselves" (6).
Focusing on specific film-makers, with extensive discussion of the scripts, visual technique, musical choices, and sexual expression and messages of each film, as well as directorial intent, Sabo takes us on a verbal tour of this "new porn by women" and seeks to persuade us that their innovations are worth paying attention to for what they say about both the possibilities of porn and the possibilities of sexual intimacy between human beings. Candida Royalle, Anna Span, Jamye Waxman, Tristan Taormino, Petra Joy, and Erika Lust among others are artists whose work and words are extensively featured in After Pornified's pages (a list of films discussed and an appendix of resources for further exploration are really useful aspects of the book).
In assessing the porn she reviewed, Sabo employed a formal set of criteria which she includes in chapter one. The two axes along which she critiques the films are "high cinematic production value" and "progressive sexual-political commitment," including the values of gender equality and active subversion of received notions of sexual shame and guilt. These two criteria blur together in many cases, as when Sabo considers the way in which camera angle (the gaze of the viewer) reinforces power-over or emphasizes power-with dynamics within the sexual encounter. I really appreciated the way in which film qua film was brought to bear on the sexual messages being sent -- particularly in Sabo's discussion of the sexual gaze. The notion of sexual "objectification" as an inherent and universally-degrading aspect of (visual) pornography is a widely repeated truism within feminist circles, one which Sabo insists on complicating by pointing out instances of the "non-objectifying gaze":
"What I find striking about the way the two [characters in the sex scene she has just described] look at each other is the exchange of a desiring gaze while the camera for its part refuses to objectify either [male or female partner]. Instead, 'objectification' here becomes an affirming, adoring act" (27).
For the most part, I am not the audience who -- hopefully! -- may be encouraged by After Pornified to think about pornography in new and less totalizing ways. I am already eager to explore the realm of sexually-explicit materials for new sexual scripts, and to participate in remaking what we think we know about what porn is and the ways it can be used in our society. Still, I was pleased, as a reader, to be introduced to a new type of material I have had little opportunity (time and money being the barriers that they are) to explore. While Sabo hasn't necessarily sent me running up the street to our local Good Vibrations to purchase a DVD collection of Erica Lust or Candida Royalle productions, it has given me a sense of what's out there should I decide it's something I want to delve into more intentionally.