Žižek: Canned Laughter and Narrative Free Porn (NSFW)

Have you gotten off yet? Good, now get back to being productive so you can afford to buy her tits.

I’ve been delving into Žižek today, because he has emerged as one of the leading and most vocal of Lacan’s inheritors.  I stumbled across this video – he was invited to give a lunchtime talk to Google Employees.

Two things stood out for me:

Žižek talks about ideology and how we have become a culture that doesn’t have to believe in anything on an individual basis, but we still need to believe that someone believes. He goes on to talk about the phenomenon of canned laughter. How, in essence, the TV laughs for  you, and at the end of the show, you still feel like you laughed yourself. He takes the term ‘interpassivity’ from Robert Pfaller.

So, extrapolating, I do have to wonder if, in a way, porn is similar: we are supplied with footage of  people performing various sex acts, and orgasming on screen so we don’t have to bother. And yet we can still feel like we had an erotic experience. We can skip all the physical work of it, the mess of body fluids, the nuanced negotiation, the anxiety over our own bodies and our sexual performances, and just let someone do it for us.

He also addresses the issue of porn itself. Žižek proposes, and I must agree with him, that pornography – far from being transgressive – is fundamentally conservative. Moreover it is a sly and clever kind of censorship. Having no narrative with which to engage emotionally, it is the product of a regulated exposure to sexuality.  One which constantly reminds us that we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t indulge in vicarious, voyeuristic sex AND have a good narrative structure as well. THAT freedom is not allowed.

But also, inherent in the text of porn is a paradox: canned-sex allows us to feel like we’ve had a sexual experience without all the attendant risk of exposing ourselves, but it also perpetuates all our anxieties about it.  Which make us faithful consumers of all the things that can be sold to us to supposedly assuage our anxieties about our bodies, our performance.

We are left sitting alone on the couch with our hands down our pants feeling all the lack in the world. Our tits aren’t that perky, Our assholes aren’t bleached. Our cocks aren’t that big. Our cunts aren’t that tight. Our butts aren’t that toned.

We aren’t left remembering all the more relevant things like: we have bodies that can choose to feel pleasure and choose to give it. That we can offer each other refuge from a world of frightening demands upon us. That we have wonderfully complicated, highly individual experiences that we bring with us when we climb into bed: erotic, smutty, poignant, funny brains to delight each other with our idiosyncrasies, our fetishes and inversions.

Instead, we’re just left feeling like we’re lacking. We’re reminded of the utilitarian side of sex. “Right, I got off. Now I should clean up and get back to being productive.”

I have to say that, reading many ‘literary’ passages that include explicit sex, there are a whole load of ‘artists’ supporting and perpetuating this cultural control. They don’t give us sex with no narrative. They give us sex with bad, laughable narrative – like Fifty Shades of Grey. Or, if you prefer loftier literary expeditions, you get sex with murder, sex with depression. Sex with alienation. Sex with hatred and bitterness and self-disgust. They give us jouissance – in the Lacanian sense.  Jouissance that is pain-past-pleasure. Pleasure that has the taint of death about it. But never even a compelling examination of that relationship, between jouissance and death, past the pleasure principle.

So whether it is porn or literature, it’s never really eroticism.

Because eroticism has a narrative.  Because without it, it’s porn.

 

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