David Foster Wallace On Porn

I found this DFW footnote really interesting. Dug up by Susannah Breslin.

“Mr. Harold Hecuba, whose magazine job entails reviewing dozens of adult releases every month, has an interesting vignette about a Los Angeles Police Dept. detective he met once when H.H.’s car got broken into and a whole box of Elegant Angel Inc. videotapes was stolen (a box with H.H.’s name and work address right on it) and subsequently recovered by the LAPD. A detective brought the box back to Hecuba personally, a gesture that H.H. remembered thinking was unusually thoughtful and conscientious until it emerged that the detective had really just used the box’s return as an excuse to meet Hecuba, whose critical work he appeared to know, and to discuss the ins and outs of the adult-video industry. It turned out that this detective — 60, happily married, a grandpa, shy, polite, clearly a decent guy — was a hard-core fan. He and Hecuba ended up over coffee, and when H.H. finally cleared his throat and asked the cop why such an obviously decent fellow squarely on the side of the law and civic virtue was a porn fan, the detective confessed that what drew him to the films was ‘the faces,’ i.e. the actresses’ faces, i.e. those rare moments in orgasm or accidental tenderness when the starlets dropped their stylized ‘fuck-me-I’m-a-nasty-girl’ sneer and became, suddenly, real people. ‘Sometimes — and you never know when, is the thing — sometimes all of a sudden they’ll kind of reveal themselves’ was the detective’s way of putting it. ‘Their what-do-you-call…humanness.’ It turned out the LAPD detective found adult films moving, in fact far more so than most mainstream Hollywood movies, in which latter films actors — sometimes very gifted actors — go about feigning genuine humanity, i.e.: ‘In real movies, it’s all on purpose. I suppose what I like in porno is the accident of it.’

Hecuba’s detective’s explanation is intriguing, at least to yr. corresps., because it helps explain part of the deep appeal of hard-core films, films that are supposed to be ‘naked’ and ‘explicit’ but in truth are some of the most aloof, unrevealing footage for sale anywhere. Much of the cold, dead, mechanical quality of adult films is attributable, really, to the performers’ faces. These are the faces that usually appear bored or blank or workmanlike but are in fact simply hidden, the self locked away someplace far behind the eyes. Surely this hiddenness is the way a human being who’s giving away the very most private parts of himself preserves some sense of dignity and autonomy — he denies us true expression. (You can see this very particular bored, hard, dead look in strippers, prostitutes, and porn performers of all locales and genders.)

But it’s also true that occasionally, in a hard-core scene, the hidden self appears. It’s sort of the opposite of acting. You can see the porn performer’s whole face change as self-consciousness (in most females) or crazed blankness (in most males) yields to some genuinely felt erotic joy in what’s going on; the sighs and moans change from automatic to expressive. It happens only once in a while, but the detective is right: The effect on the viewer is electric.” — a footnote from “Big Red Son,” Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace

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