Landing : Athabascau University

"Public.Provocative.Porn" -- research trip, days 1 and 2 [NOT safe for work / kids]

The post is SFW if you don't play the videos, but the videos, trailers for and clips from the movies screened at the Feminist Porn Awards' film night, are a bit steamy. 

I kept meaning to blog yesterday and this afternoon, but didn't get around to it. Yesterday was a long day and was pretty much exhausting, but today, I had a plum for breakfast, and a glorious nap, and the film night for the Feminist Porn Awards was fucking fantastic! Since I owe rabble an article in exchange for them paying for this trip, I will have to be a bit careful about how much I review. I don't want to leave myself with nothing to write. But here's a few notes. 


Day 1 - Cheating cheaters

I thought I did great getting everything ready on Tuesday -- I had four days worth of clean clothes, anyway, which is something of a miracle these days -- but then, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I realized I still had to clean my rabbit hutch. So it turned into an early morning and a rushed day. I didn't get to check into my hostel before showing up at Random University to invigilate one of their exams.

So. Things I'm glad York never did to me. For their larger classes, Random U has the exams in a convention centre. The one I went to was a smaller one, which meant only 900 students, in a room that would seat 1500. There is a help desk at the front to help anyone who doesn't know where to sit. But it can't make for stress free exam-writing. Of course, the last exam I did for them was with 220 engineering students in a room that would seat 250, with the lights dimmed and the heat cranked. That's how I learned that one needs more than 40 minutes of sleep before showing up to do what is, quite possibly, the most boring thing you can do with three hours. It's like watching paint dry, except instead of paint, there's students, and they tend to sweat.

But this time, making it a bit more entertaining... what a bunch of cheating cheaters! One of the professors, at the beginning of the exam, pretty much just ran around yelling "NO NOTES, NO PHONES" and there were a few complaints after from students who said "some lady" to their cell phones. (They weren't allowed notes, even in their clear plastic security bags, because students had been putting notes in face-up and looking down under their seats to read them. For no good reason at all, apparently. The prof, despite having an impressively frightening persona, was actually very, very nice and gave me a lot of help figuring out what I was doing.

And the other thing I learned was that I need to cultivate a similarly scary persona. The first student I tried to give an exam to tried to argue with me that he didn't need to put his class notes and textbook, which he had spread out all over his desk, away. He did not get an exam. He got a very bubbly promise that as soon as I'd given out everyone else's exams, I'd get his professor over right away to help him find a safe place to put his notes. But the conversation was longer than I would have liked, and I noticed nobody argued with the yelling woman.

Next, there was the fellow who came in 45 minutes late and, while the person from the help desk got him his exam, his professor saw him sitting without one. Naturally, he asked what was up, and instead of "I was late," the kid tried to angle for more time. He pointed at me and said she didn't give me one. (That one got resolved pretty quick when the help desk person arrived with his exam, but he was one of the ones I had to pry the exam away from at the end.) And then, of course, I cheerfully cherry-picked exams away from the folks who just couldn't stop writing without a bit of help. 

I followed that up with a quick meeting with Alan, the librarian from the CLGA, who was very accommodating of the fact that I was 1) late, 2) exhausted, and 3) just a bit spun from running around all day with a pile of luggage. He brought me some of the indexing terms from LGBT Life, a database that indexes queer periodicals, and there's a lot to go over, but our intial thoughts were that even the terms dedicated to queer content aren't sensitive enough for pornography. We chatted a bit about how the databases work and made a date to tour the library he works at and the CLGA when I go back to Random U to invigilate another exam on the 25th. We also chatted a bit about shared queer politics, and anti-copyright sentiment. 

I skipped Sky's play because I was beat, so I'll have to try again to see it on the 25th. The hostel, once I found it, tucked away above a storefront, was a welcome sight. 


Day 2 - Public.Provocative.Porn

So first: I fucking love Toronto. All this time, I've been thinking that it's just that I hate Oshawa, and I do, but I love the busy-ness, and that I can walk places, and the food. OMG I fucking love cheap, readily available food that I don't have to cook myself. I was awoken much, much too early by the chatty women in my dorm, so I suffered through the cold shower (it's a very inexpensive hostel, so there is no hot water) and walked to a fruit market for breakfast. FYI, I had a plum. And I enjoyed it immensely. And while I ate my plum, a guy told me about how my inherent perfectness will protect me from demons. I think he was probably crazy, but in all honesty so am I, and it was a nice sentiment. Then he lit my cigarette because I forgot my lighter and I went back to the hostel for a nap. I had burritos for lunch with a woman from the hostel, thereby answering her important question: "what's a burrito?" 

But then! Oh, then the good part. Tonight was the film night for the Feminist Porn Awards. They screen movies from four directors that were nominated for this year's awards, and that was followed by a short discussion panel. 

First up was Feelmore Entertainment's Hella Brown: Real Sex in the City, directed by Nenna. The scene we saw, starring Brooklyn Sky and Chocolate Chippis the second scene pictured in this preview.



Next were clips from Buck Angel's Sexing the TransmanSexing the Transman comes in two parts, the XXX version and the documentary version. We watched the XXX version, in which Buck starts out asking them about their transitions, but quickly shifts to "do you like to get fucked in your ass?" and "would you take your shirt off for me?" The camera shows "Buck's" point-of-view, and his self-identified "perverted" inability to keep his mind on task and his eyes on the interviewee's faces. Cut to HOT scenes of transmen getting themselves and Buck off. 



Next, we watched a few shorts from N Maxwell Lander, a Toronto art/erotica photographer turned pornographer. Lander's films are pretty non-linear, but they're beautifully filmed. I can't find a trailer, but there's a few images from "Maybe He's Gifted" in a gallery here, and the entire (very much NSFW) video is available to registered users. (Registration is a pain in the ass, but it's free, and the video is worth it.) 


Finally, there was a clip of hetero porn, from Erika Lust's Cabaret Desire. Lust's goal is to create better erotic storytelling, while privileging women's visions and work in the production and distribution processes. The image of the woman in the pink dress and red heels walking into a bar is from the scene screened for us.



But here's the coolest thing. When you go places, you definitely want to go as the media. There's lines you don't have to wait in, reserved seats that you do get to sit in, porn stars who want to answer your questions. Everybody should try being the media. Seriously.

And now you have to wait for the article to hear all about the panel. It was less steamy, but I'm very glad I was there.


So that's what I did tonight. Now I'm back at the hostel having an ALL NIGHT MOLLY RINGWALD MARATHON with a strange blonde guy who keeps offering me a drink of milk. 


  • Mark A. McCutcheon April 20, 2012 - 8:54am

    Adventures in teaching and research! Here's a tip: maybe don't mention the invigilation experience in quite so much detail in your rabble review (they might yank yourmedia badge). Of course in this forum here, all three aspects of your adventure suggest much food for thought.

    1) Howis it that students sitting an exam persist in cheating like that? Is the penalty for doing so an insufficient deterrent?

    2) Is there a specific area of overlap between queer politics and copyfight politics (or are those things you discussed separately)?

    3) The films you describe suggest that porn is, intriguingly, more integrated with the "legitimate arts" (for lack of a better way to put this, just off the top of my head) than it might at first seem, popularly represented as its own peculiar informal cultural sector. On your description, though, porn seems to complement work being done in theatre, photography, literature...oh and also it has its own award show now: often a sign that a cultural practice is bidding for cultural legitimacy.

  • sarah beth April 20, 2012 - 10:44am

    Haha. Yeah, the detailed description of the exam is a Pandora's Box blog exclusive. You can watch the porn flicks, but first you have to hear about my day. Bwa ha ha! (Huh. Actually that's a really heteronormative format.) I probably won't tell rabble all about my breakfast fruit, either, even though it was awesome.

    Now. Questions.

    1) As far as I could tell, none of the students who were caught cheating suffered any penalty. It might have been because the cheating was limited to the very beginning and the end of the exam, but their phones and notes were removed when they were caught sneaking them in, and their exams were taken when they wouldn't stop writing (I heard a guy whining to his professor about not being allowed to finish his sentence and the professor mentioned he had to be asked three times to stop), but I didn't see anyone getting thrown out with a zero. It was a big exam, so I could have missed it, and maybe there were stiffer penalties for some of the egregious cheaters who had been caught midway during previous exams that the other invigilators told me about, but I didn't see anything, besides a firm word from a professor, that would actually deter anyone from trying whatever they thought they could get away with.

    2) We discussed them separately, but the specific overlap in this case is that the indexing terms, which Alan had collected and printed off for me (AU doesn't subscribe to the database -- and I think I noted in my last blog post that the "Q" is conspicuously missing from "LGBT Life"), aren't sensitive enough for either a pornographic index or an index designed for people who are looking for materials for copyright-critical or copyright-breaking reuse. The difference is in how much detail is used to describe the porn. There's indexing language like "WOMEN'S sexuality; LESBIAN sexuality" and then there's tags like "interracial, doggy-style, butch/femme, black femme, white butch, mature butch, strap-on, purple dildo, blue image," which would give a much clearer picture of the indexed content, suitable for a wider set of purposes. This also picks up on a difference between a cataloguing strategy designed for print books, and tagging conventions designed for the web. 

    3) On the panel, both N Maxwell Lander, whose film was most "artsy," and Erika Lust were asked about the "difference" between art and pornography. Lander's answer, which gets at a sentiment we've touched on a few times, that there's a poverty of language for describing sexuality, was that they (I didn't catch their gender, will have to double-check the program) can't really say what's pornographic, so would have a difficult time saying what's not pornographic. Lust's answer was about making films that "eroticize" porn; i.e., if porn is for showing sex, eroticizing porn is about making it about the characters who are having sex.

    Both of these answers express nice sentiments (I have a couple of well-spoken quotes from this part of the panel, but, while Angel's and Nenna's films were better suited to my angle for the article, I want to finish writing it and decide for sure what I'm not using before I put any direct quotes on the web), and they speak to things that are lacking in porn and how we 'read' porn, but I think I would have liked to hear them say "oh yeah, this is straight-up porn. Whatever technical skills I bring to the production process, my artfully edited gaze at such and such actor's breasts is exactly as 'perverted' as Buck's very open and 'unartistic' gaze at that dude's crotch." But nobody said that. Angel had some choice statements on the stigma of "porn" -- being related to the actual word, that is -- so maybe the potential for legitimation as "erotica" or "art" could be drawn on as a kind of survival tactic by the artists. Or maybe feminist porn wants into the art world. I don't know. But it's something they talked about. 

  • sarah beth April 20, 2012 - 12:41pm

    So Lander's film that I linked to was the one that won best short film last year. I found some stills from '98bit, which is this year's nominee. 

    Also, among what is quickly becoming a very strange set of thoughts and experiences as a graduate student: sitting in a theatre, watching porn with 200 or so other people, and thinking "oh! I bet my research supervisor would like this one!" (I was thinking of its late-90s rave nostalgia.)

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