There’s an interesting article in the Guardian by Tom Sutcliffe on Gaspar Noé’s most recent film ‘Love’. It brings up the interesting question of whether fiction has the capacity to say more to us than reality and, if so, why?
Many women prefer erotica over porn, and they are often painted as prudes. Of course, there are many reasons why women might prefer fictional, textual depictions of the erotic over filmed representations of real sex acts. It could indeed be a question of prudishness, or that the visual precludes the vigorous use of one’s on imagination, or that the vast majority of porn is not produced for women as the target consumer.
But I would like to make an argument for the curious phenomena of how reality and the documentation of the lived experience can, and often does, have the unexpected effect distancing the onlooker, of making engagement harder, and foreshortening our ability to make meaning.
The news and documentary genres narrativize the real to a greater or lesser extent. To an extent, no remediation of the real escapes some level of fictionalization. The very act of choosing what to show, what angle to film it at, what language to use when writing about it, what format it is presented to the consumer in: all these things are, in a way, fictionalizing forces. This is even truer for genres like pornography, where the presence of the camera and the necessity of satisfying a viewer’s expectations fundamentally makes the sex in porn ‘unreal’. And yet, it doesn’t allow it the possibilities of being fictional.
The remediation of the lived experience, I think, can trigger our innate understanding that what we see is a tiny fraction of what is being experienced. It reminds us that we are always locked out of the unfilmable inner experience. And film, most especially, can fail spectacularly when it attempts to overcome that limitation. The wistful sigh, the far-off stare have become cringe-worthy visual signifiers for the processing of inner experience. This is often equally true when it comes to the textual documentation of the real.
Time is also a problem. Remediation of the real requires us to acknowledge real time. I am watching this event, but it not happening now. By the time I have seen it, it will always be an event that has occured in the past. Even on a ‘live’ broadcast, it is always just over in the time it takes for the signal to travel to my TV set.
In a strange way, the depiction of reality requires that the onlooker, the voyeur, the consumer produce a ‘real’ response. It limits us to admitting that there will always be an artificiality to showing the ‘real’. Its production will always be flawed and incomplete and biased by the presenter. We often feel we need to keep ourselves at a distance in order to be mindful of how artificiality can sneak in. The minute we are told that something is real is the minute we start questioning just how ‘real’ it is.
More importantly, I believe, consuming ‘reality’ pushes us into an ethical position of forestalling meaning making. Fearing some bias, some artifice, some incompleteness, we instinctively hold off on formulating conclusions, or relating what we’re consuming to our own lives too quickly.
The moment we know that something is fictional, all that hesitation falls away. We feel freer to engage, to identify, to process the story through our own subjective frame. We may demand realism, but we don’t demand and fail to receive truth. It seems far easier to feel the immediacy of a fictional account because we’re not confronted with the possibility that it could ever be immediate. We don’t need to fear bias or artifice because we KNOW what we’re seeing or reading is full of the bias of the creator and the artifice of the artform. We can, in fact we are invited to, indulge in co-authoring the fiction as we consume it, manufacturing additional details, narratives, making assumptions about the inner experience of fictional characters, and revel in the luxury of flagrant meaning-making.
I’m never going to find a filmed act of real sex as erotic as a fictive sexual encounter. The curious fact that is is ‘real’ locks me out of it.