Stefano de Luigi and Martin Amis
Pornoland

By Bruno Matthews

Martin Amis and pornography go together like a hand inside a lubed-up, latex glove. Think of the succession of set-piece fantasies in his cocksure debut the Rachel Papers, after its narrator embarks on his quest to get laid. Think of Money, where stockings, garter belts, silks and straps festoon the naked body of the glamour girl Selina Street like bunting at a fair. Think of the 'murderee' Nicola Six in London Fields, the jezebel vamp who loves to take it up the 'black hole' from which babies don't emerge. 'Good sex seems to be something that writing can't manage,' says a character in his latest novel, Yellow Dog. Trashy sex, though: that's where Amis excels.

It's predictable, then, that he would contribute an essay to a book of photography entitled Pornoland. Not that this prevents the book being a fresh and funny parody of the glossy coffee-table publications Thames & Hudson more usually produce. Appropriately printed on crimson paper, Amis's essay forms the book's centrefold – titillating and titivated piece of prose over which his fans can whack off. It's an eccentric bit of entertaining flim-flam that was first published in the Observer in 2001. it examines that commercial zone of Hollywood nicknamed 'Pornoland' where scarred and damaged people churn out blue movies by the hour.

It will appeal to Amis aficionados primarily because it's research for Yellow Dog, in which 'Pornoland' plays a starring role. Yellow Dog depicts a world so tawdry even its planes spurt jism over the cosmos (their vapour trails look like 'incandescent spermatozoa, sent out to fertilise the universe'). It received some vicious reviews – unfairly I think – when it came out last year. One thing that narked people was the way amis had rehashed his previous work. The idea of the porno star as a 'contemporary gladiator', or the joke about porno identifying 'the near-infinite chaos of human desire' (and that you better hope this doesn't happen while you're watching a film about an 'undertaker' or a 'coprophagic pigfarmer'): they first appeared in the Observer and resurface word for word in Yellow Dog.

The only line Amis didn't recycle is my favourite – the following irresistible observation on the industry: 'Whatever porno is, whatever porno does, you may regret it, but you cannot reject it. To paraphrase Falstaff: banish porno, and you banish all the world.' Here's a ready-made defence to have to hand along with the Kleenex next time you're caught enjoying some dirty fun with an adult cable channel. Forget the pernicious objectification of women: porn is all part of life's lusty merriment. Shakespeare nearly said so. Right?

Surrounding Amis's essay are 54 colour photographs snapped by the Italian photojournalist Stefano de Luigi on the sets of porno flicks around the world, from Budapest and Prague to Tokyo and Los Angeles. Where Amis's essay is full of ironic riffs and punchy prose, though, Luigi's photographs have a different tone. None of them are hardcore, but they remain shocking because they've been composed to disturb.

Most of the pics are blurred, like the smeared lipstick and mangled mascara on the women they show. The effect is unsettling, off-kilter. some resemble pixelated images or downloaded jpegs – turning the reader into the kind of internet nerd whose hard drive collection gets him hard. Luigi challenges assumptions: one naked woman, perhaps resting in between takes of some complex scene of anal fisting, feeds a baby cradled in her arms – the contrast between her maternal and porno identities so vicious it almost makes you gasp. Other images make you queasy too, such as the Chinese girl in a dog collar who masturbates as red liquid – fake stage blood, we hope – pours out from between her legs.

The most potent image by far, though, was taken in Dortmund in 2001. It shows a blown-up sex doll splayed in a gynaecologist's chair, the rubberised pink skin and violent slashes of red that mark its nipples a stark contrast to the clinic's chilled blues and blacks. There's a whiff of S&M about the set-up. The legs have been distorted to fit the iron armatures beneath the stirrups. But it's the doll's face that is most affecting. Its deflated expression is a rictus of despair. the mouth is a gaping black void, the eyes a fuzz of blue paint, the platinum-blonde wig droops off the head. The whole is a grotesque parody of those other female faces in the book, contorted in fake-orgasmic bliss. It's pretty bleak.

Perhaps there's only so far you can intellectualise porn, but Luigi is making a clever point. As in many of the other images, where the sex-acts occur offstage and the machinery of pornography dominates the composition (the plastic mats, the booms and cameras, the lights), Luigi is deconstructing the industry. Pornography is itself parody – as Amis has it, 'a parody of love' – in which people fake sex. This forlorn doll, as though discarded after satisfying its gynaecologist owner, parodies that parody. She's a reminder of porno's artificiality, of the way in which its stars are objectified with violent abandon and examined with pseudo-medical intensity. If this is porno's reality, despite Amis's flash phrases, then perhaps it is something we should reject. Maybe his Falstaff line isn't so convincing after all.
Rumana Akter posted 7 August 2010 (12:39:16)
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