Academic journal article Liminalities

The ÉLan Vital of DIY Porn

Academic journal article Liminalities

The ÉLan Vital of DIY Porn

Article excerpt

It's Alive

I jump between sites.

I watch a racially ambiguous young man with thick, muscular legs standing in front of a nondescript bathtub. He whispers, "I'm so horny right now," rubbing his cock beneath red Diesel boxer briefs. He turns and pulls his underwear down, arching his back to reveal a hairy butt. Turning to the camera again he shows offhis modestly equipped, but very hard, dick. After only a few strokes, thick cum oozes from the tip of his penis. He pauses, trembles. And then he jerks offquickly: semen arcs towards the camera.

I switch to another tab on my browser and scan the screenshots of the men broadcasting on Cam4, a live pornographic webcam broadcasting site. I click on "Mister Chris." When the image resolves, two muscular young white men, one with a dark mop of hair and the other in a blue baseball cap are performing for a bossy audience: "chris kiss your hub," "start the action!" When the camera goes offline, I switch to "26blkmuscle." He's been online a while and doesn't seem to be in a hurry to cum, or maybe he's waiting on "tips," donations from the voyeurs watching him.

Impatient, I open another tab. I watch a Creative Commons licensed submission in the 2007 Do-It-Yourself porn festival, CUM2CUT. Created according to a lottery-assigned rubric-"Christian Porn"-the video features a pierced male punk in wedding drag who enters a church, ecstatically announces his desire for Jesus to a tattooed minister, who then pisses on the sub supplicant. The minister sends the young apostle to eat the body of Christ, a bearded dyke suspended on a cross, who appears to suffer very little during an eager session of cunnilingus.

What do these scenes have in common? Each represents a small part of a vast queer pornographic archive that depends on the active engagement of everyday people. Each represents a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to pornographic self-representation, and marks pornography's transformation under Web 2.0: user-generated content is produced and flows among and through diverse networks of users who collectively shape meaning and value.

These expanding ecologies of DIY porn are simultaneously explosive and ordinary. That is, DIY porn shows how porn has become an "open" practice not limited to commercial or corporate interests. The widespread and relatively inexpensive availability of a range of image capture technologies (from digital cameras to webcams and cellphones) has democratized porn production, and in turn challenged the images and commercialism of "industrial porn," the multibillion dollar interests that shape our shared pornographic imaginations. This is not to say that DIY porn necessarily upends the established pornographic order. In fact much of it, as in the first two examples above, is altogether more banal. Putting aside the preponderance of grainy or boring videos, even those videos that achieve the pornographic effects their authors intended, that is, arousal, do not necessarily break new political or aesthetic ground. Put crudely, very few of the many, many DIY cumshots or a viewer's accompanying masturbatory success necessarily approaches the explosive promise of Lacanian jouissance. Nonetheless, I contend here that gay DIY porn offers important ways for thinking about the liveliness of sexual representations and exchanges in the digital age in which an array of technologies, especially the Internet, have proliferated opportunities for creating and sharing homemade sexually explicit material.

Each of the above scenes therefore evinces what I call "the élan vital of DIY porn." In what follows I appropriate philosopher Henri Bergson's élan vital to express the creative and generative capacities and effects of gay DIY porn (Bergson). I thereby suggest that rather than function as evidence of "pornified" (Paul) cultural values that reflect the deadening of our existing or future interpersonal, broadly social, and self-same intimacies, gay DIY porn represents a generative aliveness, an active contribution to and elaboration of networked bodies and desires. …

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