The Other McCain

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Natalie Portman Explains Why Lesbian Scenes Are Like CGI Special Effects in 3-D

Posted on | December 30, 2010 | 22 Comments

Whatever it takes to sell tickets:

“Everyone was so worried about who was going to want to see this movie [The Black Swan] . . . I remember them being like, ‘How do you get guys to a ballet movie? How do you get girls to a thriller?’ And the answer is a lesbian scene. Everyone wants to see that.”

(Hat-tip: Donald Douglas at American Power.) Having recently gotten Quote of the Day from Jill Stanek for my praise of Portman’s procreative success, I’m not in a mood to argue with Princess Amidala, especially because I was the first conservative blogger to predict this phenomenon.

The question of what it takes nowadays to get people to go to the multiplex and pay $9 to see a movie they can catch a few months later on HBO or Netflix is a perplexing question for Hollywood. But when a chick says to her boyfriend, “Hey, you want to go see a ballet movie?” it’s kinda helpful if she can follow that up with, “You know, the one with the Natalie Portman lesbian scene.”

One of the worst experiences of my dating life was when a girlfriend insisted we go see Out of Africa. (Talk about “date rape”: She gets to see Robert Redford, and all I get is Meryl Streep*.) But the girlfriend had nice hooters, so I sat through that tedious Oscar-bait expedition into seriousness — two hours and 41 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

* Some guys think Meryl Streep is sexy. Those guys are gay.

Anyway, the unexamined question here is, “Why do guys want to watch lesbian scenes?” And the forgotten answer is: Bob Guccione.

In the 1970s, Guccione’s Penthouse magazine revolutionized the skin-mag trade that had been “mainstreamed” by Hugh Hefner’s Playboy.

Culture Takes a Kinky Turn

Hefner had offered “The Girl Next Door” — assuming you lived next door to a large-breasted beauty who didn’t wear clothes — with a certain kind of wholesomeness (e.g., posed and photographed so that their actual genital area was not shown) and editorial content that featured advice columns, men’s fashions, sports, interviews with novelists, musicians, actors, etc. This was the substance of the old “I only read it for the articles” jokes.

Circa 1968, “The Sort of Man Who Reads Playboy” was apparently into good jazz, stylish clothes, serious fiction, premium whiskey, top-of-the-line stereo equipment and . . . Well, large-breasted beauties who didn’t wear clothes.

By contrast, “The Sort of Man Who Reads Penthouse” was unabashedly into sex — the wilder and weirder, the better.

Brooklyn-born Guccione started Penthouse in England and the magazine made its American debut in 1969. While Penthouse had many of the same kinds of articles and features as Playboy, the pictorials in Guccione’s magazine went far beyond Hefner’s airbrushed Playmates. For the Penthouse reader, evidently, the Girl Next Door was an exotic European chick with a serious kinky streak. And her genital region was right there on the page staring back at you in all its hirsute glory.

There was a bohemian decadence about Penthouse that stood in stark contrast to the all-American sensibilities of Playboy. For guys of a certain age, you can always get a laugh with the phrase “Dear Penthouse Forum . . .” Rather than giving guys an advice column, Guccione gave them the “Forum,” in which supposedly average readers shared their allegedly true stories of bizarre sexual escapades: “How was I to know she had a bisexual twin sister?”

Of course, those letters to the “Forum” were fictional fantasies and, assuming that Guccione wasn’t actually paying professionals to write them (an entirely reasonable suspicion), the letters were merely an outlet for the wild imaginings of horny guys with a literary flair.

For those who weren’t into reading about kinky sex, however, Guccione was only too happy to provide visual cues with pictorial fantasies. Among the regular themes of these soft-focus deviant reveries was lesbianism. It would be a worthwhile project for some “cultural studies” grad student to go through the 1971-79 Penthouse archives and count how many girl-on-girl pictorials they published. And you could probably get a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to do that research.

She Kissed a Girl (and We Watched It)

It was Guccione’s Penthouse that popularized the lipstick-lesbian fantasies that subsequently — via VHS in the 1980s — became standard fare in pornography and became ubiquitous online with the advent of the Web in the 1990s. I wonder if Katy Perry (who is, of course, not a lesbian) realizes that when she sings “I Kissed a Girl,” she’s acting out a kinky genre that was more or less invented by a Brooklyn skin-magazine publisher back during the polyester disco days of the early ’70s?

That this faux-lesbian motif had a specific etiology and evolution — mainstreamed not by gay radicals but rather by porn moguls — demonstrates the extent to which sexual are shaped by popular culture. And in an age when every teenager with a laptop and WiFi connection is just two clicks away from every form of sexual deviance imaginable, pornography is unquestionably part of popular culture.

Even if we do not classify The Black Swan as pornography, it would be interesting to know how many hours the screenwriters, producers and director have spent surfing porn on the ‘Net. A lot, I’ll bet.

We have seen this same porn-influenced sensibility in previous “highbrow” films, including American Beauty, the main theme of which was a middle-aged man’s lust for his daughter’s schoolmate, and which incidentally featured a scene of barely-legal Thora Birch engaging in topless exhibitionism.

The pervasiveness of the Porn Culture manifests itself in so many ways that we sometimes don’t connect the dots. Consider, for example, the evident triumph of the Brazilian wax — as I’ve called it, The Deforestation of the Pubic Delta.

Although I can only judge this apparent trend via second-hand testimony and anecdotal reportage, it seems that among sexually active young women, extreme depilation is now de rigeur. And so accustomed have young fellows become to the clean-shaven look that they recoil in horror if ever they encounter the unshorn pudenda. That was the moral of the story in an infamous tale told by the cad who claimed to have hooked up with a certain witchy Republican. Whether or not the guy was lying, the point is that sexually active young men seemingly now consider vulvar hairlessness a necessity for their hookup partners.

And where the heck did they get that attitude? From porn.

Such a reflex reaction — “Arrgghh! She’s a bushie! Run! Run away!” — is what psychologists would call a conditioned response, and is amazing evidence of how neural pathways can be programmed for perversity through the Skinnerian process. The dude wanking to porn is just like a lab rat in a maze. So many young people nowadays spend so much time in that maze they take their twisted tastes for granted, and are incapable of any objective understanding of how they taught themselves to like what they like. We cannot dis-invent porn and, given five decades of Supreme Court precedent, it’s unrealistic to think we can ban it. What we can do, however, is to analyze, criticize and warn against its influence.

If, as Natalie Portman says, “everyone wants to see” lesbian scenes, we ought to stop and ask why this is so. 

Can anyone produce evidence from the pre-Guccione era demonstrating that guys had any such voyeuristic appetite for lesbianism? Was this something guys naturally craved, so that Guccione succeeded merely by supplying a previously unmet demand? I sincerely doubt it. Erotic interest in girl-on-girl action as a spectator sport for heterosexual guys is an acquired taste, and we know precisely  how, when, and whence this taste was culturally acquired. Stag films and skin mags of the 1950s and ’60s did not routinely present such stuff, but après Penthouse, le déluge.

All of which makes me wonder whether Natalie Portman, should she get an Oscar for her performance in The Black Swan, will tearfully give thanks to Bob Guccione as the man who made it all possible?

UPDATE: Welcome, Vodkapundit readers! It’s amazing that as much as that guy drinks — there is a saying among fish, “drinks like Vodkapundit” — that he still remembers the infamous Natalie Portman sideboob. Although I’m sure I’ve posted that notorious photo somewhere, archival research has so far only turned up a September 2008 post in which I merely linked to that shocking wardrobe malfunction.

While doing that research, however, I discovered that one of my earliest posts — March 2008! — after becoming a full-time blogger was “Natalie Portman on a slim pretext,” inspired by a post from Donald Douglas. The consistency of the trend is remarkable.

However, I must say that when it comes to celebrity sideboobage, Natalie Portman is no Anne Hathway.

UPDATE II: Dave at Point of a Gun: “The lesbian scene is a gimmick. It was added to create buzz about the movie.” And it worked like a charm, didn’t it? Plus, as I am told that the scene doesn’t really show very much, it creates automatic buzz for the “Director’s Cut” DVD.

These guys in Hollywood are marketing geniuses, I tell you.


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