Pat Rocco is a figure that doesn’t fit easily into pornography’s history. Pat started making films featuring nude male characters in soft core situations just before 1971’s Boys in the Sand, and he continued to purposefully occupy a unique middle ground where his work showcasing tame, but explicit, gay nudity coexisted alongside other films documenting the emerging gay rights movement, wholesome gay romance, and queer sexual politics. Pat used his camera as a form of activism highlighting gay men's varied sexual interests as well as their passions surrounding society’s changing attitudes about homosexuality. In this episode, we explore the legacy of Pat Rocco and try to figure out where he belongs within pornography’s history. This show features Matthew Hipps, who’s a PhD student in Film Studies at the University of Iowa, and Bryan Wuest, who is a graduate of UCLA’s PhD program in Cinema and Media Studies. Each of them presented papers about Rocco's films at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference in 2018, so I thought it would be great to have them on to talk about the different ways in which they approach his work. This episode has special resonance considering that Rocco would die just seven months after this recording. Matt considers Rocco's travelogue films where he travels to Brazil and Western Europe with a group of gay men to find out what gay life is like outside of the U.S. And Bryan considers how Rocco’s work should be thought of within the history of gay film production. This episode is intended to both spark interest in a figure that isn’t too well known because of the limited exposure his work as received, and to help us expand our ideas about what pornographic culture can be, and how it can help us delve into modes of political activism that we didn’t know were possible.
More info about Bryan.
UCLA’s articles about:
“Hey Look Me Over: The Films of Pat Rocco” by Whitney Strub
Pat Rocco’s films:
Pat Rocco Dared trailer
Sign of Protest (1970) (a short documentary about the protests surrounding Barney’s Beanery and their “FAGOTS—STAY OUT” sign hanging in their bar.)
We Were There (1976)
Harvey Milk’s “Hope” Speech (1978)
Obituary from ONE Archives
Help Support the Podcast!
More info about Brandon Arroyo
In this episode, we’re joined one of the most prolific and accomplished scholars in the field of pornography studies, Susanna Paasonen. She is a professor of media studies at the University of Turku in Finland and has written and edited over eight books covering pornography, sex, internet studies, feminism, and affect. Her newest book is Many Splendored Things: Thinking Sex and Play (MIT Press, 2018), where she explores sex, bodily capacities, appetites, orientations, and connections in terms of play and playfulness. Like many people in the U.S., I discovered her work in 2011 with the publication of Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography (MIT Press). It has since become a landmark book within pornography studies due to the way it reorients the conversation around pornography from one centered on censorship, feminism, and the quality of sexual representation, to one trying to account for the various—and hard to quantify ways in which—pornography moves us, not only physically (with feelings of both revulsion and extasy), but affectively (where we find ourselves relating to our own bodies, and other’s bodies in new and different ways). While traditional academic methods of reading moving image texts revolve around notions of sexual, gender, or racial identity, affect theory helps to account for the ways in which social identity isn’t just centered within our race or sexuality, but is, in fact, a part of a wider social assemblage, where our various affective interactions with actors within our social networks dramatically influence the ways we relate to, and understand, ourselves. Affect theory accounts for the ways in which our subjectivity is formed not from our inner-selves, but is a relational force interacting with the body from the outside. Of course, the reason why approaching pornography studies from this perspective is so different from traditional methods is because this perspective frees the genre from needing to affirm or legitimate racial or gender uplift. An affective reading of pornography accounts for the politically incorrect ways in which we interact with the genre. Pleasure, disgust, joy, humiliation, and shame are all affective registers that we tap into when engaging with pornography. The accumulation of these feelings are part of the overall resonance that Susanna is trying to account for in her work. In this interview we talk about her first experience finding porn magazines in a damp Finland forest; the difference between the pornography in Finland and the surrounding Nordic countries; why she thinks Silvan Tomkins and Gilles Deleuze actually work well together, and she explains how she became an expert on bareback gay sex!
More about the phenomenon of “woods porn.”
Susanna’s interview with pornographer Paul Morris.
More about the films of Jan Soldat.
More info about Brandon Arroyo
Believe it or not, Canada might be the most important country determining what porn you’re watching today! I say that because the most popular porn sites in the world were created, and continue to operate, in Canada. PornHub, YouPorn, RedTube, and Brazzers just to name a few. While Canada has an extensive porn history and shapes the ways in which we consume and distribute porn today, oftentimes it’s overlooked in favor of its flashier cousin in the south known as the San Fernando Valley. This episode looks to change all of that with a panel that was recorded at the 2018 Society for Cinema & Media Studies in Toronto. This panel features a friend of the show, Professor Peter Alilunas talking about the pornographic history of Toronto’s most famous street, Yonge st. He specifically details the history of a theater on that street known as Cinema 2000. It was a screening room showing pornography on VHS starting in 1969! The second presenter is Cait McKinney. She’s a professor in the department of communication studies at California State University at Northridge. And in her talk, she details the history of a long-lost 1984 film titled Slumber Party. The film was made by a group of radical feminist lesbians. Cait also considers the role that lesbian porn played in the feminist porn wars in the 1980s. A topic that is rarely considered. The third paper is presented by Nikola Stepić. He’s a PhD student in Concordia University’s Humanities Department. And his paper covers how gay pornography shot in Montreal’s Gay Village acted as a type of visual tourism for the neighborhood, attracting people from all over the world, helping make Montreal the gay destination is it today. The final paper is by Patrick Keilty. He’s a Professor at the University of Toronto and his presentation covers the short history of Montreal’s emergence as a global porn capital, followed by a theoretical consideration of the digital interface we as viewers are presented with as we’re surfing these various sites emanating from this city. Here is a link for the pictures from each PowerPoint. Be sure to follow along!
Peter Alilunas: “‘Closed Due to Pressure from the Morality Squad’: The Cinema 2000 and Pornography Regulation in Toronto”
Cait McKinny: “Digitizing Controversies in Toronto’s Lesbian Porn Archives”
Nikola Stepic: “Quebec Exposed: Gay Male Pornography as Virtual Tourism”
Patrick Keilty: “Silicon(e) Valley: Montreal’s Porn Industry”
New York magazine article about the rapid rise of the porn industry in Montreal: “The Geek-Kings of Smut.”
More info about Jon Ronson’s podcast series titled The Butterfly Effect, which details Fabian Thylmann’s role in creating a porn empire in Montreal and more!
More info about Peter’s book Smutty Little Movies: The Creation and Regulation of Adult Video.
Cait’s work with the LGBTQ History Digital Collaboratory
Cait’s No More Pot Lucks article: “Out of the Basement and on to the Internet: Digitizing Oral History Tapes at the Lesbian Herstory Archives.”
Cait’s Drain Mag article: “Can a Computer Remember AIDS?”
Nikola’s HuffPost article on the porntastic movie The Canyons: “Stuck in the Canyons.”
More info about the host
In this episode we’re trying something different! This is our first “roundtable” episode featuring four guests. And instead of talking with established scholars in the field, we’re actually talking with four up-and-coming graduate students who will soon be making their mark within pornography studies. As pornography studies grows within academe, it is becoming increasingly possible to build a support network of fellow students that share your interests. And considering how much resistance there still is toward studying pornography, these networks can be a crucial part of one’s survival throughout graduate school. This episode is our small attempt at fostering more supportive networks. In this episode you’ll hear stories about professors urging students not to pursue the study of pornography, and even hear about professors that are openly hostile to students working on this topic. Also, studying pornography within different cultural contexts means that students often have to utilize alternative methodologies, which typical film departments are sometimes ill-equipped to accommodate. Like when your research leads you to branch off into urban history and city-planning, or when you have to use anthropology methods to find out how pornography is thought about within different transnational contexts. These are the type of issues we’ll be talking about with our guests in this episode: John Paul Stadler of Duke University, Darshana Sreedhar Mini of the University of Southern California, Ben Strassfeld from the University of Michigan, and Madita Oeming of Paderborn University in Germany. Each of them has their own compelling story about how they found themselves studying this topic, and harrowing tales about how they’ve endured through the suspicion and anger that is aimed at pornography scholars both within America and outside it. Be sure to keep listening after the interview is over because there’s a little bonus where Madita gives all of us a lesson in German dirty talk. Believe me, you’re not going to want to miss that!
More info about John’s book PREHISTORIC
Darshana talking about her SCMS Student Writing Award for the essay “The Rise of Soft Porn in Malayalam Cinema and the Precarious Stardom of Shakeela.”
Professor Lynn Comella joins us to talk about her books New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law (co-edited with Shira Tarrant, 2015) and Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure (2017). The reach of Vibrator Nation’s readership has extended beyond the typical academic circles and has resonated with a mainstream audience due to its easy reading style, and because it details a history of feminist sex shops that the public was obviously eager to read about. The history of these shops is a fascinating one and one that has literally changed the ways in which we think about the female orgasm within our post-sexual revolution era. The story of these stores isn’t one of capitalist opportunism, it’s actually a story about revolutionary feminist sexual educators who wanted to spread their sexual knowledge to a starving female public looking for ways to expand their sexual pleasure. In short, our understanding of sexual history would be incomplete without the information contained in this book. Pornography also has a role to play in this history. We talk about how pornography worked its way into these sex shops after owners long resisted their inclusion. And we also talk about the movies produced by the legendary San Francisco sex shop Good Vibrations. This is a history that you’re not going to want to miss!
Learn more about Lynn on her website.
Vibrator Nation book review in the New York Times.
Lynn’s interview with The Atlantic.
Sex Out Loud episode where Tristan Taormino interviews Joani Blank.
Vibrator Nation Instagram.
While porn studies delve into history and theory books in order to legitimize its position within academia, scholars can often times lose track of the most essential voices that offer us an important perspective on the industry, those of the porn performers themselves! In this episode, I talk with gay porn performer Chris Harder. Harder’s journey through the industry is an interesting one mostly due to the fact that he comes from a theater background. He studied theater and queer theory while going to school in North Dakota, so his porn performances reflect a journey of a young man coming to the big city who documents his sexual awakening via his onscreen performances. However, theatrical ambitions were not stifled by his porn career. In this interview, we talk about his one-man show that he wrote and stars in titled: Porn to be a Star. The show is a hilarious romp where he plays various fictional characters that reflect on his journey growing up in the Dakota plains, moving to the big city, and discovering a new side of himself by performing in porn. Harder is also one of the world’s leading boylesque performers. He teaches classes teaching people how to perform for burlesque theater and has traveled the world performing his act. In this interview we talk about how his burlesque work is intertwined with is porn performance, how is sexual inspirations influence his work, and how the queer theory that he learned in school still influences his work to this day. Harder is one of the kindest and funniest personalities in the industry, and I think that comes across well in this interview.
More info about Harder’s tour dates can be found here
Zachary Sire is the editor of the essential gay porn blog Str8UpGayPorn. Str8UpGayPorn is the primary news and gossip site of the gay porn industry. If you’re a porn star and you’ve done something naughty, it’s likely to become a headline on the site sooner rather than later. Zachary started out as a features writer for magazines like Unzipped, Men and Freshmen before becoming a blogger for TheSword in 2010. It’s during his tenure at TheSword where he made a name for himself and became perhaps became the industry’s most notable personality who has never taken off his clothing in front of a camera! His humorous wit, coupled with is biting sarcasm, make his takedowns of hypocritical politicians, racist performers, and reckless studio bosses equally funny and informative. In 2013 he left TheSword to start his own blog about the industry, Str8UpGayPorn. Str8UpGayPorn’s layout intentionally mimics (and mocks) one of the internet’s most well-known sites, TheDrudgeReport. And just like Drudge, Str8UpGayPorn emphasizes how the gossip around gay pornography interacts with our wider pop-cultural world by providing links to news stories related to the pornographic focus of the site. By doing this, Zachary makes the intersection of porn and pop culture evident. In this interview we talk about his rise through the industry, he explains how one of his blog posts was taken down as a result of business pressure, the state of racial diversity within the industry, and we recap highlights from the first-ever Str8UpGayPorn Awards, which took place in June of 2017 in New York City.
Ashley West is the host of the most successful porn podcast of them all, The Rialto Report. The Rialto Report explores the history of the “golden age” of porn in the 1960s, 70s & 80s by interviewing the actors, directors, producers, and distributors from that era. The most remarkable aspect of the show is his amazing ability to find these long-lost people, some of whom haven’t spoken publicly in over 40 years! He gets them to not only talk about their time in the industry, but their childhood, their love life, their adventures and their passions outside of porn. In this way, Ashley paints a broad picture of these people’s lives and reveals their human complexity that shows them as typical people rather than as criminal or sadistic smut-peddlers that anti-porn activists make them out to be. In this interview we talk about his childhood growing up in Italy, and how sexploitation and pornographic movies were shown and written about in the same theaters and magazines as mainstream movies. We talk about his first porn crush, his interview style, why he keeps his identity a secret, and his work as a consultant on the HBO show The Duce. We also get into this concerns about the academic work being done on pornography and his worries that academia is being too insulated in terms of not making enough of an effort to get its work out to the public. Ashely has only done two interviews to celebrate The Rialto Report’s 5-year anniversary, so you’re not going to want to miss this rare opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes peek into how the podcast comes together.
Professor Rebecca Sullivan joins us to talk about her role as the chair of the steering committee for the Sexuality Studies Association of Canada, and her book on the infamous second-wave feminist anti-porn documentary Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (1982). The film is directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein, a feminist filmmaker who was an important part of the National Film Board’s Studio D, a project focused on providing female directors the chance to make their own documentaries. The film is co-directed by stripper/activist Lindalee Tracey. And while the film seemed to have started out with the intention of being a progressive analysis of feminist sexual exploration, it eventually turned into the iconic anti-porn landmark that we know it as today. Over the last couple of decades, the film has been lambasted within porn studies circles due to its uncritical adoption of the views of anti-porn feminists like Susan Griffin and Robin Morgan. Interestingly, pornography/feminist scholar Rebecca Sullivan’s book: Bonnie Sherr Klein’s “Not a Love Story” (2014) is a reparative reading of the film that argues that in fact, the documentary’s importance is in offering a platform for sex workers to speak in their own voice throughout the film. While the film is best remembered for its anti-porn second half, Sullivan’s extensive interviews with Klein herself reveal an original intention to give voice and respect to the marginalized sex worker. And ultimately, Sullivan’s book is a cautionary tale of how a director’s intentions can radically change once the footage is turned over to an editor. This is a bold argument to make considering how much bad will the film has garnered over the years from sex-positive feminists. And in this interview, Professor Sullivan answers all the tough questions we ask regarding her alternative reading of the film. It’s a very enlightening conversation!
Professor David Church joins us to talk about his newest book Disposable Passions: Vintage Pornography and the Material Legacies of Adult Cinema (2016). His approach to pornography produced in the age when moving image technology was just emerging to the beginning of the “porno chic” era, is unique in the sense that he writes about how these older texts are consumed, admired, and fetishized within our contemporary mediascape. He does this by analyzing the affective resonance that these texts take on as they circulate via digital platforms today. This is a compelling way to think about porn’s history, and I think it could become a model for the way future historians go about formulating media histories as they are experienced today. In this interview, David talks to us about the role nostalgia plays in our erotic imagination, how our understanding of pornography changes when it transforms from being an object of erotic stimulation to a historical text, and explains cinephilia’s connection to necrophilia.
More information about Disposable Passions can be found here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/disposable-passions-9781501307539/
More of Professor Church’s writing can be found here: https://nau.academia.edu/DavidChurch
Some online sites where you can find vintage texts: