I presented this at the 2013 English Honours Symposium. It went well!
It seems somehow appropriate to end this symposium with a discussion of the money shot.
This iconic pornographic trope, the cum shot onto a face or body that often signals the end of the sexual act or scene, has been subverted and reimagined, and finally excluded, in Courtney Trouble’s queer feminist pornographic film, “Nostalgia.”
It is relevant to this discussion that Trouble’s feminist pornography is queer. There are no biologically male performers in “Nostalgia” and this necessarily shifts the focus away from male ejaculatory orgasm, onto alternative ejaculatory imagery, active participation of all the sexual players, and ultimately the decentering of orgasm as the end-goal of pornographic sexual scenes. It is critical to recognize that Trouble’s queer feminist pornography is not the only iteration of feminist pornography, and that not all feminist pornography is queer and not all queer pornography is feminist. Alison Butler has said that “women produce feminist work in a wide variety of forms and styles,” and this applies to feminist pornography as much as to any other feminist cultural practice. It is important that we not look for all the answers in Trouble’s film – she cannot represent the heterosexual feminist in this film, or answer the question of where the biologically male penis fits within feminist pornography. These are important questions regarding the role of ejaculation and ejaculatory imagery in feminist pornography, but they won’t be addressed here. In fact, I believe that the issues of the heterosexual feminist and the biologically male performer within feminist porn are areas that are chronically under-theorized. Within an academic discipline that is itself full of gaps and areas that demand further thought and critique, feminist academic writing needs to someday wrestle with the acceptance of heterosexuality into a pro-porn canon that often conflates queerness with feminism and problematically excludes heterosexuality.
But for now, an examination of Trouble’s queer feminist pornography.
Nostalgia reimages four scenes from iconic, “Golden Age” pornography. Her film is framed by transitional shots of Trouble and her girlfriend watching porn together. This is an important insertion of Trouble and her girlfriend as viewers into the pornographic scenes, and implicates us, as viewers, as active participants in the same pornographic scenes. Active participation is a theme throughout Nostalgia, and is important because of how it subverts the ejaculation trope of the active male penis ejaculating onto the passive female body. A trope that is pervasive in the scenes that Trouble reimagines.
When I watched the original porn films that Nostalgia is based on, Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat, Babylon Pink and The Devil in Miss Jones, I thought two things. First, I was incredibly grateful to be studying feminist pornography instead of this type of mainstream porn. It was necessary to watch these films in order to understand Trouble’s reimagining of them, but if my only material was this racist, misogynist and heteronormative… I would be studying something else. Second, I thought wow. That is a lot of semen flying through the air! Behind the Green Door features a 7-minute, slow motion, psychedelic money shot montage that I found both surreal and disturbing to watch.
It was the narrow fixation of the original porn films on the money shot – to the extent that the scene in Babylon Pink actually does not include any female orgasm or even attempt to reach orgasm, and centres solely around two men ejaculating onto a passive woman’s face – and the complete lack of this fixation in “Nostalgia” that lead me to the topic for this presentation.
I wanted to know what Trouble was attempting to say about ejaculation, and about its place within queer feminist pornography. She chose four films that explicitly centre around male ejaculation, and she called her film “Nostalgia”! In fact, Deep Throat is cited by Linda Williams as the first significant instance of the money shot, the first time that ejaculation onto a woman’s face or body was given pride of place in the scene, and it along with Behind the Green Door and The Devil in Miss Jones make up the 70s porno-chic triumvirate. What is Trouble nostalgic for? The original scenes are horrifying in their representation of passive feminine sexuality as little more than a receptacle for male sexual pleasure. But, Deep Throat redefined the focus of pornographic depictions of sexuality. And that ability to redefine is what Trouble is nostalgic for and what she attempts to accomplish in Nostalgia.
The first scene that Trouble reimagines is from Behind the Green Door. In the original, the main character is abducted and “ravished” for the enjoyment of an audience that is commanded to be silent and still while they watch. She is restrained through much of the scene, passively but without any indication of active consent, and in the context of having been abducted, and the scene climaxes with 7 minutes of cum.
Nostalgia’s reimagining of this scene, more than any of the other three, closely mirrors the format and structure of the original. However, in Trouble’s remake, there are significant differences. The audience claps and participates – the viewer again brought into the scene. There is no abduction, and the main character is submissive, but she is not passive. She is actively engaged with the sex acts throughout the scene, actively participates in her own pleasure and orgasm, and when two female characters ejaculate onto her torso she makes eye contact with them, she is not restrained, and non-consensual passivity is replaced with consensual submissiveness.
This scene centres around ejaculation, echoing the original. Female ejaculation, yes, but still fully embodied – still a body ejaculating bodily fluid onto another body. And still the climax of the sexual scene.
The second scene in Nostalgia is the reimagining of Deep Throat. Deep Throat is the infamous “clitoris in the back of her throat” film. It was, and is, a controversial film and one that exemplifies the abuses we often associate with the porn industry. Linda Lovelace, who stars in the original, suffered incredible abuse on the set. Trouble’s choice to include Deep Throat in her nostalgia gave me pause. It is a ridiculous and cheesy film, and I found it disturbing to watch. Linda Lovelace is “fixed” when the doctor discovers her clitoris deep in her throat, and she experiences an orgasm that is marked by bells ringing and rockets literally taking off when she deep throats him and he ejaculates on her face. This language of being “fixed” implies that the inorgasmic woman is broken and requires a penis to fix her. She goes on to fall in love with a man whose fantasy is to be a rapist, and who complains that she’s not afraid enough. Her response is that he’s just so manly, and she’s so turned on by him that she can’t fake the fear.
In Trouble’s reimagining of the scene, the casting is important. Madison Young, who not only performs but also directs her own feminist pornography, plays the role of Linda Lovelace. Young is vocal about her enjoyment of fellatio – not just in this scene where she plays the part convincingly, but also in her life, where she gives workshops and presents talks on the topic. Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich, the two other performers in this scene, are also known for their work as performance artists and activists, as well as porn performers. This casting of three highly recognizable performers who do work on and off-screen mitigates the potential for the implication that Trouble is mirroring not only the film but also the production practices. These three, perhaps more than any other three performers could, make it clear through their acting and their identities, that this is a fully consensual performance.
The doctor finds Young’s clitoris in her throat, just like in the original. And just like in the original, this causes her to orgasm. Rather than rockets launching, however, this orgasm involves glitter. A lot of glitter. Earlier in the scene Young says that she wants to squirt glitter, and the orgasm features glitter fireworks on the screen, and ends with glitter all over the doctor’s condom-covered, silicon cock and Young’s face. It is unclear where the glitter ejaculate comes from. Clearly, throats do not ejaculate. Neither do silicon cocks. Certainly not when they’re wrapped in a condom. This ejaculatory scene, then, shifts the focus away from the fully embodied, supposedly “natural”, ejaculatory orgasm, to an ambiguous, winking, sort-of embodied ejaculation.
Trouble then takes the scene in a direction that does not in any way mirror the original. Both the doctor and the nurse are wearing strap-ons and, critically, Madison Young is active in asking for what she wants and directing the action to achieve her own orgasm. This orgasm, entirely glitter-free, is the result of penetration and clitoral stimulation – inserting the biological female body into a scene that fantasizes about the misplaced clitoris. This is important, because the misplaced clitoris fantasy allowed the original Deep Throat to completely elide actual female pleasure and to place male ejaculation as the primary focus of the scene.
By placing the two orgasms in the Nostalgia reimagining side by side, the one clearly fake, with ambiguously originating glitter ejaculate and dramatically acted porn-orgasm screams, and the other involving no ejaculate and a much more seemingly authentic orgasm, Deep Throat’s original act of placing ejaculation as the focus and the point of the pornographic scene is undone. Trouble pulls the rug out from under this trope by contrasting the two orgasms, highlighting the ridiculousness of the money shot, particularly when it does not include any efforts at mutual pleasure and active participation by all sexual players. This scene also moves away from closely following the original, as the first scene did, and towards more radical revisioning of the original texts.
The final two scenes barely even resemble the original texts.
Babylon Pink, the third scene in Nostalgia, originally featured a short scene of a woman fantasizing about being placed on a table at a dinner party and having two men ejaculate onto her face, with two women also present. In the re-imagining of this scene, the woman having the fantasy is an active participant in the sex acts with her two female companions. The sex acts are widely varied, with elements of dominance and submission and each character playing both dominant and submissive roles. The scene ends with the woman whose fantasy we are watching smearing cake onto the faces of her companions. This is fully disembodied ejaculatory imagery – moving further and further from the phallocentric focus of the porn films being reimagined. Most interestingly in this scene, none of the performers in this scene appear to orgasm, or at least their orgasms are not the focus of the scene. Rather, the focus is on power exchange and the interactions between the three women.
This shift in focus from orgasm as an end-goal to sexual pleasure as an on-going process allows Trouble to interrogate the purpose of pornographic sex. The ejaculatory moment in this scene, with cake being smeared across two women’s faces but nobody experiencing or performing orgasm, challenges the idea of ejaculation as proof of pleasure. The cake-ejaculate is constructed, manufactured, and fully disembodied. In fact, it is vegan cake, which takes it entirely out of the realm of bodies and their products. It is the moments of sexual interaction – the active participation of all performers in the sexual act – that are given the weight of authenticity.
Finally, Nostalgia ends with The Devil in Miss Jones. Both the original and the reimagining begin with Miss Jones’ suicide and her arrival in limbo. These are the only things that they have in common, and it is relevant because unlike the abduction that is removed from the reimagining of Behind the Green Door, Miss Jones’ suicide is an act of personal agency. It is a choice that she makes. In the original, she is given the opportunity to experience lust before going to Hell for her sin of suicide. In Nostalgia, she is also given the opportunity to experience lust. She and the angel that meets her in limbo are transported into the room with Trouble and her girlfriend. This is important because it highlights the point made by Trouble in her framing of the film as interactive, that the viewer is part of the pornographic process. That we shape the porn that we watch through our choices in what we watch, and how we respond to it.
There are no similarities between the pornographic scene in Trouble’s bedroom and any scene in the original film. There is no sadistic teacher, there is no ejaculation of any kind, and there is no punishment. The four women engage in a variety of sex acts, experience or perform orgasms that do not appear to be the focus of the camera or the scene, and end the scene and the film tangled together asleep on the bed.
There have been moments in porn that shape cultural ideas about what sex is and how we do what we do when we get in bed together. Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and The Devil in Miss Jones are considered the three most influential films of 70s porno chic, they changed how we film sex. They situated male ejaculation onto female bodies as the critical, defining moment in the pornographic scene. And we still see the money shot as the most common ending to scenes in heterosexual mainstream pornography. This focus on the money shot, and on the active male sexuality that it evokes, is about power.
A fundamental argument underpinning the anti-porn feminist critiques that were sparked by films such as the Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat, Babylon Pink and The Devil in Miss Jones is that pornography is about power, and that it is about male power over women. The image of the passive female recipient of the explosive male ejaculate isexactly what feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon were enraged by. And yet, thankfully, not all pornography is about the passive female and the active male.
Not all pornography is straight, for one thing. And some feminists responded to the appalling state of mainstream heterosexual pornography by creating their own pornography. Annie Sprinkle said that the answer to bad porn is not no porn, it is more porn. I would add, better porn. Feminist porn.
If it was true in the pornography of the time, as Catherine MacKinnon said, that “women/men is a distinction not just of difference, but of power and powerlessness . . . power/powerlessness is the sex difference,” then feminist pornographers such as Courtney Trouble and others like her – Nina Hartley, Jiz Lee, Madison Young, Erika Lust, Tony Comstock, Buck Angel, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Shine Louise Houston, Ned and Maggie Mayhem… These pornographers are smashing that binary. Imperfectly, incompletely, but resolutely.
There is power in pornography; this power is obvious when we look at the long legacy left by Deep Throat and the introduction of the money shot.
Courtney Trouble was nostalgic for that power, for the ability to redefine how we think about and perform sex in pornographic scenes. She took four films that shaped pornography and reimagined them through her own queer feminist lens. This is what feminist porn does, and why I am happy to study it and support it. To be the active participant that Trouble imagines.