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At [one] point, I felt there were people in the audience who had paid to come to see a conference about porn, who didn’t necessarily have any feminist concerns. I realize that I am approaching porn from the viewpoint that it is empowering to reclaim our sexualities, which I see as part of third-wave feminism. Still, I realized that not everyone in the room agreed on that point. I stayed because I realized that a little discomfort is good. I know that a lot of my work makes people uncomfortable, and I consider that valuable, challenging people’s accepted notions of gender, sexuality, and desire.

One thing definitely left unmentioned at the conference was any serious critique of the hosts of the conference, kink.com. It appeared that everyone was so grateful to have such a dungeonous space for the conference, or maybe so grateful to be in close proximity to the “real” porn industry, that there was no critique made of kink.com. Yet, even in Monochrom’s opening-night talk about their punch, there was a lot of critique made of capitalism and the bourgeoisie. Kink.com is a profit-oriented business, fully supporting and benefiting from capitalism. In addition, in the videos that I have seen from kink.com, their “talent scouts” seem to think that talent means fitting within the oppressive beauty standard doled out in mainstream media and mainstream porn. Anyone who is not very skinny, with perfect skin and a hairless body, will not be chosen by the kink.com talent scouts.

What I heard was Mark Dery’s conceptually in-depth keynote discussing commodification of sexuality and the more recent move toward gore porn and war porn and a critique of Pornotopia. Mark’s talk was one of the most conceptually rigorous and most critical of porn as a panacea, which was important as an opening keynote at this kind of event.

I heard Violet Blue’s talk. She said flatly that the LGBTQ(IA) community need their online privacy, and that women need their online privacy, because they are all targets of violence. Still, I don’t think I heard the word “feminism” or “feminist” all weekend, which seems strange to me. There are feminist porn awards, so it’s not like there’s some inherent conflict between gender liberation and porn. But there are no feminist technology awards that I know of. Could some of the latent misogyny at the conference be thanks to the high-tech community’s unaddressed gender inequality?

What I didn’t see was Violet Blue seriously challenging Eon McKai of Vivid Alt. Throughout the interview, he answered questions by rambling in every direction and name-dropping porn industry all-stars constantly. Eon showed a trailer for his film The Doll Underground, which purports to be radical. It shows a radical underground group of women who make the call, “Don’t buy anything! Don’t sell anything!” One of the “communiqués” in the film talks about how women have been duped by men into being wives and housekeepers and how this has to end. But I asked him, “Is this video going to be sold by Vivid Alt? Do you think it is radical or transgressive at all?” And yes, this video, with heavily made-up skinny white girls pulling up their skirts while making anticapitalist communiqués will be sold as a DVD by one of the biggest mainstream porn companies, and the profits will go to the old white men who own it. Eon’s answer to my question: “As an artist, if you can find an audience for your work in your lifetime, that’s a big thing,” which I can understand, but I don’t see why that necessitates totally violating the principles of your work in the process. As far as I’m concerned, The Doll Underground is an excellent example of industry co-optation of radical imagery and discourse for profit. It clearly shows the limits of radical porn production when the content is the only radical part, and the anticapitalist or the feminist values are not extended into production and distribution.

What I heard was Annalee Newitz’s talk about a history of sex and technology, which laid out the clearest question and challenge that I heard all weekend. She said that the vibrator had introduced a wholly new sensation into our sexual vocabulary and asked what sex toys of the future might do to similarly add an entirely new experience.

Another thing I didn’t hear was much in-depth discussion about transgender relationships to sexual technology, or much in-depth discussion of gender and how it affects sexual technology in general, or how more fluid conceptions of gender might spur new thinking about sex tech. Annalee Newitz did talk about having sex as an octopus, referring to conceptions of gender identity outside of male and female that are common in spaces like Second Life.

Overall, my impression was that Arse Electronica was mostly populated with geeks interested in studying and talking about sex. Newitz said in the conclusion of her talk that — I’m paraphrasing here — “We will take these technologies into our own hands and shape them to increase our own pleasure.” The statement was empowering, if also consciously ironic and sly, but my question is, who is the “we” that she is talking about and who will get to use these new technologies? Who gets to play in our new virtual-cyborg-sexual wonderland? Who gets invited? Who even knows it exists, and what are we challenging?

Title: Techno Tranny Slut | Address: technotrannyslut.com
Author: dj lotu5 | from: City Heights | Blogging since: October 2007
Post date: October 27, 2007 | Post title: What I Saw and Didn’t See at Arse Electronica

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