James Deen: Intersections in Male Body Image and Gender Typed Recreation… and also Porn

I’ve noticed a couple of articles floating around the zeitgeist recently.  They involve porn.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/11/17/porn_that_women_like_why_does_it_make_men_so_uncomfortable_.html

http://www.good.is/post/what-women-want

The subject of their discussion is rising porn actor James Deen and his growing appeal among female viewers, a heretofore largely inaccessible and untapped audience. Something touched on in the articles is the ambivalent-to-negative reaction towards both Deen and his female fans from the male majority pornography audience.

The articles want to lay blame for this with strains of latent homophobia stemming from a legitimately attractive male porn lead and with feeling threatened by the frequent chemistry he has with his female partners. I’m not going to say that either of these conclusions are wrong, in fact I believe they are likely onto something there. I wish however to present my own thesis, one which I believe may be more salient. Male body image and self-loathing.

Yes, its a thing. We will deny it. We don’t like talking about it. It exists, though. Men obsess just as much over things like physical appearance and weight as women do, we’re just not ‘supposed’ to. In a way, I’ve found this tends to make us even more neurotic about it, because we don’t have the same kind of approved outlet for this frustration. Now, its certainly true that women tend to have much more negative body image stimulus bombarding them than men do in our everyday media. There is however one section of media enjoyed by most men, some frequently, some casually, some only occasionally, that does greater damage to our body image and self-esteem than I think most of us would like to admit. That is, of course, pornography. The male performers in most mainstream porn are described best in the article as a parade of “…neck chains, frosted tips, unreasonable biceps, [and] tribal tattoos.” It is suggested in the article that this is an expression of industry misconceptions  “…that women want everything big—’Big arms. Big abs. Big dicks.’” I would argue though that would only hold true if the porn industry were actually marketing itself towards a female clientele, and would not account for the kinds of negative response James Deen has received from the male porn fan-base. Given porn’s disproportionate audience, I would argue that these are casting choices made with their male viewers very much in mind.

The body types these actors represent are caricatures of masculinity, part alpha-male, part bad-boy, part metro-sexual, all reflected in a fun-house mirror. The twisted Adam to their partner’s plastic parody of Eve. The articles assert that this is to provide  a kind of prop, a tabula rasa onto which the male viewer may project himself. I won’t say this is wrong, but I will further assert that when we project ourselves onto that form, we also project that form onto our expectations. We can deride the leathery, ill-proportioned corpus we see on the screen, and yet we unconsciously refer to it as a norm representative of sexual prowess. How does this cognitive dissonance occur? The same way it occurs when a woman talks about how much she hates the unrealistic figures on supermodels and then bites her lip over a couple of pounds on the bathroom scale. James Deen’s popularity ought to be empowering to the everyman, yet he is threatening because he undermines our expectations and forces us to question our own self-loathing.

The matter of negative response to Deen’s growing female fan-base is something of another question. Some of this is certainly due to uneasiness with female expressions of sexuality. When men take an active role in their sex-lives they tend to be socially rewarded, whereas when women do the same they are more often stigmatized. However, I tend towards a less  cited reason for this reaction against female porn viewership. There is a conceit within our pop culture that when a woman expresses interest in or knowledge of a traditionally “male” bailiwick, that the typical male response is slavering adoration (I’m looking at you, Big Bang Theory). In my experience though, female interest or knowledge in these areas has tended to be met more often with condescension and dismissal. If one looks at the question historically, attempts by women to gain entrance into more typically male areas of life (drinking establishments, academics, the workforce) have been met with suspicion and hostility. This also holds true in areas of traditionally male recreation such as sports and modern nerd culture. Female fans of James Deen are women at last crossing that final frontier of largely male pastimes, and a certain amount of backlash is all but inevitable.

Now, to try “I’m feeling lucky” on Google…

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