Saturday, November 4, 2000

Heather Mallick

Pornography helps me sleep. Germaine Greer woke me up

As I gathered the last newspapers delivered before leaving on vacation, my heart went splat. The oracle had spoken.

I didn't mind the headline: "Gluttons for porn." I didn't mind the subhead: "The spread of pornography into the mainstream is not, as liberal voices argue, a victory for freedom of expression but a poison in our culture." Maybe, baby.

What I did mind was the byline: Germaine Greer.

When Greer speaks, I listen. My brain raced: Am feminist. Greer thinks porn bad. Therefore porn bad. Insomnia bad too. Cannot now fall asleep to hotel-room porn. Shout to husband: "Darling, do we have room to pack surf-sound soother machine? Kootenay waterfall tape? Will it work on European current? Adapter? Plug? Do we have pills? What mean, already in taxi?"

My feminism is stalwart, but for years now, I have indulged in the habit of falling asleep to the adult movies that even the nicest hotels now provide. If I listen to TV news, stray Peter Mansbridge phrases like "Milosevic billions" and "Day prays for his critics" keep me alert and annoyed.

Porn, on the other hand, with its sexified saxophone mood music, its moans and murmurs, its heavy breathing, its stylized "do this, this, this and end with a good that," I find soporific. My husband doesn't like porn (which is lucky, since I am repelled by men who do) and he can sleep through anything as long as it isn't my Brazilian rain forest tape.

The Inter-Continental and the CP Hotels people (who now call themselves Fairmont) have a good selection of what I call "sopornifics." In English hotels, the films have too much giggling, tickling and women taking showers in their London bobby uniforms for me to pass out. (At the Four Seasons, I eschew porn in favour of their intriguing instructional fire-safety tape loop.)

Up to this point, I have been ambivalent about porn. Greer makes it clear that I am therefore a moral embarrassment. Mere boredom isn't enough; I should feel outraged. But the sufferings of porn stars are, I'm afraid, not entirely real to me, not even as real as those of dolphins. Greer laments the horrible death of the French porn performer Lolo Ferrari who had her ribcage surgically outfitted with gigantesque breasts and she ended up functioning on one-quarter of her lung capacity. When Greer says the purpose of porn is to arouse desire in the absence of desire, it occurs to me that the fact that I listen to porn to discourage wakefulness rather than watch it to arouse desire makes me doubly perverse. Asinine, actually.

My change of heart began with something called The Houston 500, which I saw last fall at a hotel in Quebec City. She was a bottle blonde named Houston; the scene was a sex convention and you can guess the plot. Houston entertained 500 males who were such saps that they were actually interviewed on film boasting that they were in line for the lady's favours. The deflating fact that 499 other obese, unkempt inadequates had been granted the same privilege for cash had not occurred to them. Or that Houston did her best to be a good sport, but even she was rolling her eyes and practically falling asleep on her little padded table.

It was an appalling thing to watch, about as erotic as winning a perogie-eating contest, and it set the stage for Greer's argument.

"Pornography is simply the advertising of prostitution," Greer says. That's unarguable. She also says enjoyment and rarity are connected in the human psyche. True. So what does that make me, so jaded by the omnipresence of pornography that I fall asleep to its faked rhythms? It makes me the intellectual equivalent of a dung beetle. It's there, so I'll roll in it.

Pornography's proliferation, she says, is like the rise of the potato chip. Decades ago, they were rarities. Now they fill entire aisles of supermarkets in various sprayed-on flavour simulations, textures, shapes and sizes. They come in bags, in tubes, with dips. We eat them by rote and without pleasure, and we hate ourselves for it. It's not food, it's the criminal misuse of a tuber.

It's the same with sex, except that sex is, call me old-fashioned, better than a starchy veg. Brilliant sex is the toughest thing in the world to get, and the most-wanted. So why would I have taken the edge off my appetite by developing the pathetic habit of listening to sopornifics?

Because I talked myself into it, Greer says, and I ignored the fact that I was financing an industry quickly being decriminalized to feed a "fantasy-ridden sub-potent public, mostly male." (I'm proud of Greer; no one slips the knife in better than she.)

We said no to child factory workers, we said no to executions, but we let our guard down when it came to "gross and brutal" sex spectacles. There I'd be in the 15th century, falling asleep to bear-baitings. Here I am in the 21st, carried into my nightly bad dreams by sexual approximation, simultaneously ingesting porn and potato chips.

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Created: November 9, 2000
Last modified: January 19, 2001
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