Uroskin's blog

Cranky television viewer pining for something worth watching.

BBC Knowledge is re-running a 1998 series by Louis Theroux in which he
goes Gonzo-style into ‘weird’ subcultures. It makes a worthwhile change
from the standard fly on the wall stuff. He’s filming openly, to the
point of even participating in the main activity reported on. There is
no subterfuge or undercover try-to-catch-them-out but he leaves it,
thankfully, up to the viewer to ponder the lifestyles of the strange and
unknown
The episode
that caught my attention was about the Los Angeles porn industry, then
(1998) in the midst of an HIV scare (several performers had been
recently diagnosed and caused shock waves through the industry with many
reconsidering their careers) but not yet fully affected by the online
free-for-all (performing and downloading) which has made the current
business model basically untenable.
But what we learn from the film is that it’s an excellent short term
money spinner for performers despite the risks to your physical and
mental health. The glaring difference with the real world – speaking in
terms of male and female pay rates in doing the same job – is that men
earn far less than women and actually have a much harder (to excuse a
pun) job than their female co-stars: keeping wood and delivering the
money shot after a long day filming on a set with many staff around and
when many of your co-performers may not be of your sexual taste is
admirable. The attrition rate mentioned by the producers and casting
agents, who, of course, make the most money out of your talent, is not
surprising.
A few vignettes stuck in my mind: the English girl who preferred to work
in American porn instead of Europe because “she doesn’t get bruised or
injured here”; the male former Airforce performer who looked genuinely
puzzled when asked what he was going to do if porn didn’t work out in
the future (there is never a plan B in America, it seems); the sheer
stress on all the males to perform – and you got to feel sorry for those
gay-for-pay straight dudes who have their minds and genitals messed
with.

Trying to portray ancient, non-Christian cultures on screen in this far more tight-laced (despite all the rantings
about too much sex and violence) cultural environment of contemporary
television is fraught with difficulties for producers aiming for
accuracy rather than pandering towards modern prejudices. Let’s look at
two offerings currently on a TV screen near you.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
is the prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which screened last year.
Much has been made – nay, it is even the crux of its marketing appeal –
about the amount of blood-soaked violence and sweaty sex featured. And
it is true that the portrayal of blood, in all that slow motioned
slicing, stabbing, carving and flaying of the unfortunate humans on the
receiving end, is high on the fetish scale. To defend yourself or kill
your opponent in Roman times you needed to be prepared to get your hands
bloody (and it teaches all those modern gun-nuts how real men used to
do it without access to 2nd Amendment firearms), have enough strength,
moral inclination and willpower to drive that steel into another human
body, and be ready to deal with the splattering and gurgling
consequences. And that’s what we viewers have to deal with too: the
sight and sounds of an arc of blood flying slo-mo through the air, a
standard image sequence in each episode, has all the qualities of a
moneyshot. And that is my main criticism with Spartacus: I wish there be
as much attention paid to visual and aural detail in the sex scenes as
there is in the gore. The sex is portrayed as coy: genitals are barely
glimpsed (certainly no hard-ons), the writhing only worthy of a standard
soft porn movie, the throes of passion look choreographed and
determined by lighting directors and makeup artists – you need to almost
put it on fast forward to get some earthy grunt and sweaty action.
In all, if you’re going to make a bodily fluid film can we please have less blood and more semen?

Even in a non-fictional portrayal of classical culture, like the documentary series The Ancient Greek Olympics,
currently on The History Channel, the narrator had to ‘apologise’ the
production was unable to actually show historical reality (i.e. male
athletes always exercised and competed nude) due to our ‘Christian’
(un-modern) sensibilities about the naked body on screen. Even in our
so-called secular times it is still not permitted to show the ancient
(and irrepressible) glorification of the nude male body on television
and it proves that we are still living in a form of dark ages and have a
long road ahead toward enlightenment. It was no surprise the church
fathers banned the Olympics – still, it took them four centuries into
the Christian era before they succeeded – but we will never be a true
post-religious society unless the ancient Olympics can be restored, and,
in the meantime, portrayed accurately on TV.

Sky TV has dropped Fashion TV from its basic package (well, from their whole lineup!). What were they thinking? It was their best music channel – and with better visuals than any of their other music channels.

The basic package price dropped $5 – with the loss of ESPN to the sports channels but it almost makes sense to invest in a Freeview satellite decoder instead and get SBS for free too.

UKTV has started screening a terrific cop series here in New Zealand. Inspector George Gently
has the appearance of a run-of-the-mill detective series but its
setting in 1960s rural England makes it interesting. The death penalty
was still in force and enforced, which makes a conviction for murder a
risky affair for your own life. The lack of modern gadgetry in crime
solving such as DNA testing, cellphones and computer databases are still
decades away. It makes for so much better drama when it is all about
the relationships of the protagonists, the criminal motives and the
psychological games played between the ‘cops and robbers’. Hence the
popularity of series like Cracker, Inspector Morse and (even) Waking The
Dead.

Male homosexuality was verboten at the time but that didn’t make it
invisible or unknown and it featured as a crucial subplot in the first
episode. The hotel lobby scene, gay “Brief Encouter”-esque in feel if
not linked to the reality of the scene, turned the frisson between the
closet and the contemporary illegality into a marvellously subtle
criticism of the law’s nonsense. The waiter, in the briefest of
appearances, gave a brilliant performance on how to skirt the
sensitivity of the subject professionally. And Martin Shaw’s face was
priceless at the hapless Bacchus. “I’m not like that, I’m married!”
still echoes down the ages as the truth that dares not speak out.

What I also liked (in episode zero at least) was that despite the
psychotic revenge binge the Philip Davis character embarked on, the
actual violence or gore was barely shown and the horror was implied
off-screen, which makes it a very classical Greek-style drama.

I have been sitting through this locally (New Zealand) made TV series, “The Almighty Johnsons”,
for a few weeks now and I wish I could get that time of my life back. I
can’t remember laughing with any of the scenes, caring for any of the
characters or wondering and bothering what will happen next. It has more
excruciable acting and mangled vowels than a Viking battle. The story
line is so thin it barely progresses episode by episode, no multiple
layer stories or surprising grand arcs. Not even a memorable quote or
joke – just that cringeing one the writers must have liked so much they
put it in twice (comparing the rune alphabet with dancing trees).
I can but dream how the series would have been completely hilarious had,
say, Rick Mayall and Ade Edmondson in their “Bottom” incarnations,
found themselves as Norse gods who lost their mojo unless they can score
with a saucy lady down the pub (after lock-in).

It’s not only the western economy that is in a funk these days, please
spare a thought for the creative, poor, but good-looking young men who,
in their ephebic years, could always rely on making much more money by
getting their clothes off and getting it on than working in a dead-end
job, but now, thanks to the creative destructive forces of the internet,
file sharing and sheer ease of satisfying customer demand for fresh
faces, the economics of the porn industry have collapsed under the
weight of over-supply of films, easy DIY marketing and zero distribution
costs.
A Finnish documentary, Poikien Bisnes (All Boys),
seen on NZ’s Documentary Channel the other night, was a worthwhile
attempt to trace the gay porn business in Central Europe, especially its
move eastwards by producers searching for ever cheaper models. If you
have been fed up with all that relentless Czech and Hungarian twink for
the past decade, you are not alone! But the expose of the sheer
exploitation by mostly foreign (German, American) porn producers –
inevitably always sleazy old men – of any hairless, white, uncut,
well-hung young man with a swimmer’s physique, is the film’s major
strength. One of them proudly told us that his was the first full length
bareback movie which heralded the condom-less trend in porn production,
and which has led to a general disregard for the health and safety of
his ’employees’. And then he had the hypocritical gall to tell us that
his favourite model ‘didn’t love him’ or ‘only thought of himself’, so
he had to get rid of the boy after his cherubic years were over, back to
the homelessness of the Prague streets, while bemoaning the fact that
his films were available all over the internet for free and he’s not
able to make money anymore from trawling the Eastern European back
alleys for fresh meat. Forgive me for not feeling sorry for him. But the
health havoc he caused is unforgivable.

The Documentary Channel screened this BBC Horizon programme called
“What’s the problem with Nudity” the other night. It tried to figure
out why nudity is such a social problem for our species by asking 8
total strangers who have never stripped or been nude in front of other
people (and a battery of TV cameras) to do exactly that. Coupled with a
potted history of homo sapiens and more ancient forebears, it tried to
figure out at what stage in our genetic and cultural history we decided
that it was not OK to be around others without “clothes” on.

As this
kind of cod TV science goes, it was rather un-illuminating on
practically all questions it set out to answer. On the contrary, it
left me with a great deal of other queries about aspects that never got
touched on.

The obvious clanger was asking 21st Century males and
females to rate male chests’ sexual attractiveness based on hirsuteness
or baldness of said chests. This was supposed to give a clue that
evolutionary we have lost our body hair because females preferred to
mate with hairless men. But what this really showed was the scientific
incompetence of the sex researchers setting up such a thoughtless,
biased and uncontrolled experiment: even intuitively (if I may) I would
have shown the subjects a range of hairy and hairless women to rate,
and I bet the outcome would have been far more pronounced in favour of
hairless-ness than the male-only version. Hairy females did far worse
evolutionary speaking than hairy males, just look at the number of
hairy men still with us compared to the amount of hairy females (ladies
with moustaches notwithstanding) and the relentless marketing of
lady-shaves, depilatory products and the opprobrium heaped on unshaven
continental women. And we all know that when woman are at their most
fertile era in their cycle, they prefer hairy bad boys as bed mates
over plucked metrosexuals – and this has a long history too:
interbreeding with hairy Neanderthal men apparently was far more common
than many of us would like to remember.

What happens when youth cultures grow old? That was the interesting context of a rather gruesome episode of “Waking the Dead”, the crime series which specialises in digging out old murder cases (but not necessarily cold ones).

Police crime series seem to always try to incorporate contemporary concerns subtly and/or brutally into their story lines and this episode had a massive overload of hot buttons: far right British racist skinheads turn politicians, Muslim intolerance and its threats, wife abuse, Aids (and how you get it), Nigerian homophobia, snuff movies, cross-cultural love and its pitfalls. It all made watching it rather heavy going and resulted in some inelegant, anachronistic and convoluted story lines.

But the subcultural references were enjoyable in a perverse kind of way: the superannuated skinheads looked like a bunch of gay men who refuse to grow a combover, and their SM antics wouldn’t look out of place in the more adventurous underground nightspots.

And I did marvel at how we should believe that a 17 year old video recording which was hidden in a not too sheltered space all that time could produce such clear vivid pictures. Analogue tape never looked or could be made to look that good, not even my Betamax.

I wasn’t sure whether you can actually easily get HIV from a tattooing instrument where the tattooist mixed the ink with his own blood. I thought HIV was a rather fragile thing that doesn’t survive well outside its warm blood medium. But perhaps an epidemiologist can work that one out for me?

Rialto Channel featured a quite graphic sex film in July last year called “9 Songs”. Ostensibly it was a concert film of some trendy (in 2004 at least) British bands playing live in a few London venues, attended by the film protagonists: a skinny waif (Margo Stilley) and hunk (Kieran O’Brien). Between songs, they f*** in all sorts of scenarios to make it look less boring. The dialogue is rather inane as befits a sex film (“Do I look like a boy”, she purrs while she arches her body into even greater skinniness and titless-ness. “Yes” he says, but we groan: “Oh no she doesn’t, she looks like a tranny who forgot to take her hormone pills.”)
Lest any feminists berate this film as sick porno, au contraire, she treats him mostly like a piece of meat – and what a succulent piece of meat Kieran’s was too. Instead, imagine or remember, if you will, one of the sex scenes: he’s cooking dinner and she is pleasuring herself with a whirring vibrator. He goes into the bedroom and looks at her doing her thing. She orgasms noisily and lengthily, and he just goes back to his cooking. If the roles had been reversed there would be howls of outrage, screams of objectification, calls for bans on the film.

In all, not a great riveting story, more constructed like what you would remember after a nine bonk affair. It’s fun to construct your own story in the film because there is very little explicit going on story-wise. My theory is that the film is actually about the revelation of the phallus. Kieran’s dick is the hero of the film and gradually has a more and more explicit presence in the film. Unlike a real porn movie, his dick is playing hide and seek in chiaroscuro lighting early on and only comes to prominence in the final fuck scenes. With a spectacular ejaculation in the finale round. There the film ended because there was literally no more to reveal or for us to discover (I’d have had a go at his a***hole too if I had been the director, because that is the final frontier of manhood).
Kieran O’Brien has a great future in porno if he wants to avoid being an unemployed actor. He leaves those Hollywood badboy dicks like Colin Farrell for dead.

Now the NZ Broadcast Standards Authority has upheld a viewer complaint against the film – for not having sufficient warnings about its content beforehand. Not because it had bad sex, bad tits or bad music in it, mind you!
Read the decision here: http://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/2007/2007-092.htm
It was interesting to read that the complaint was upheld against TelstraClear, the platform, not Rialto Channel, the broadcaster.

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Sex BC

The History Channel is finally broadcasting the “Sex BC” mini-series in prime time. Last year, on its first outing, it was buried in the wee hours, probably due to its subject matter, but there’s really nothing that would frighten the horses.
It has only three parts dealing respectively with prehistory, Egypt and the Classical period. It’s actually quite informative and well presented but throughout you feel this frisson when archaeologists start to speculate what all that material they have found (large-breasted figurines, wooden dildos by the box full, graphical and hyroglyphic pornography in scrolls and on the walls everywhere, threesome burials with ritualistic mutilations etc) actually means to an audience steeped in 2000 years of Christianity or 1300 years of Islamism. A delicious irony is that Egyptology was a favourite pastime of some Victorians who couldn’t get all that salacious material fast enough to the vaults of the British Museum to be locked away forever, if it was up to them. And what a contrast too between the sex-everywhere ancient Egyptians and the contemporary repressed Islamic society that inhabits the Nile Delta today. Monotheism has a lot to answer for, and you can’t but think that a lot of world trouble would be helped by relieving all that sexual frustration by and repressive submission to religious regimes.

Anyway, next Wednesday is the final installment on the subject of the Classics, from which we libertines and secularists can still learn a great deal sexually.
Channel 4, which commissioned the series, has a great background article on the issue of sex in history: http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/n-s/sex.html