Portraits of Prostitution (The Swank & The Spurious)

Intellectual, artistic men do many things I would greatly prefer them not to do. One of these is deeming themselves “filmmakers” and making harassingly self-important movies with which they propose to capture the deepest-buried bleakest yet dazzling, gem-like truths of the human experience. Another diversion of the intellectual artistic male elite is buying access to women’s and girls’ (and less often boys’, even less often poorer men’s) bodies for use as masturbation equipment. It is not a pursuit unique to artistic men: the upper crust shares with less cultivated members of the master class a steadfast fascination with prostitution. Obviously men’s commodification of women into consumable goods is a passion more malignant than their production of pompous movies, since while one can ignore the movies – sorry, I mean: films – if one is disturbed by men’s domination, exploitation, cooption and comprehensive hijacking of female bodies and female lives, the devaluation of women into fuck-dolls for male amusement demands attention. Yet it is difficult to disentangle men’s cultural production (e.g. “filmmaking”) from men’s upkeep of the cultural institutions of male dominance (e.g. purchasing women). Because people make art about what interests them and as agents of patriarchy men are extremely interested in the reduction of women into sex-things to own & use, male filmmakers have gifted society with heaps of films about prostitution. The concept, I believe, is that the intrepid minds behind these films plunge fearlessly into the sordid morass, transgressing taboo to unearth the deepest truths of prostitution, or prostituted womanhood, or human sexuality. Actually, the lone “deep truth” revealed by these male-authored portrayals of prostitution is the profundity of self-serving delusion that permeates men’s view of prostitution, prostituted women, women generally, and sexuality itself.

Prostitution as it exists in male fantasy bears scarce resemblance to prostitution as it functions in the lived experience of prostituted women. Men’s films realize in flesh then light, color, sound male fantasy, not female reality. Why would we ever expect them to show us the truth?

It is a sacred misconception among MFA types that the more intellectual and formally experimental and outwardly radical an artist is, the more trustworthy he is as an authority on the nature of earth-lived existence. This strain of moviegoers would likely recognize the unreliability of Pretty Woman as a representation of prostitution—so commercial, so cliché, so sentimental! But what if it had been directed by Derek Jarman? Or Pasolini? Wouldn’t it then be bound to contain within some elusive interior vesicle a kernel of raw truth? The filmmaker is such an original, after all. We can assume he has an enlightened and progressive perspective on prostitution. Except, putrid as it may be, the male radical party line “enlightened and progressive perspective” is that there’s nothing wrong with buying women as sex objects, that in fact it’s enriching for both buyer and bought, and promotes a freer society, which suggests to me that fancy highbrow men’s fancy highbrow films are unlikely to prove a region of the arts populated by accurate fact-based depictions of the sex trade. However, I could be mistaken; maybe the great auteurs of modern cinema have not been egoistic chauvinist assholes spoonfeeding misogynist mythologies to upscale audiences. To find out, I subjected myself to a selection of the finer prostitution-themed films to ever flicker visions of whoredom across patriarchy’s arthouse screens, virtuosic offerings served up by some of cinema’s most venerated darling boys. Continue reading “Portraits of Prostitution (The Swank & The Spurious)”