Oh, gawd, if any post on my shitty little blawg needs a trigger warning, I suppose it’s this one. but more than that, don’t read it unless you’ve watched Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest unconventional film.
Call Me Lucky was a disturbing documentary. It was funny, sure. But one thing we’re not used to in any medium (much less reality) is watching a man talk about his experience being raped. That’s an extraordinarily complex topic to discuss, especially as someone who herself has not experienced that level of sexual violence, but still advocates for survivors of sexual violence. It’s jarring, and harrowing, and even possibly worse when it’s presented in a funny and unconventional documentary.
It can be ridiculously unnerving to see old men with facial hair and liver spots and giant fugly mounds of facial hair talk about the violence they experienced and see the pain welling in their eyes. It’s unnerving as a whole to see this violence discussed in a way that’s not sexualized or sensationalized the way we’re used to, like an empty plot driver on Game of Thrones or a bit of gleeful but empty schadenfreude on To Catch a Predator. When it’s real, it’s real, and it’s not something that can be misconstrued as masturbation fodder like so many networks want rape to be, and not something that will make us feel good about being on the right side of the law like so many special editions of news programs intend. It’s just there, plain as day, a black spot on humanity’s ass that’s growing hair and reminding you all the time that it won’t leave.
I hope this isn’t a spoiler for anyone. Most of my readers are Dan Harmon fans, or at the very least they’re Communies, so they’re probably familiar on some level with Bobcat Goldthwait seeing as he directed an episode of Community and guested several times on Harmontown.
Barry Crimmins, subject of Goldthwait’s latest film, said that any number of facts could have made him into a pedophile abuser. That’s entirely possible. People who survive sexual trauma usually exhibit some alarming sexual behaviors. Sometimes trauma sends people in dangerous directions. A lot of times, trauma sends people in the direction of reproducing your own own experiences in a way that made them think they had control. Lots of adult men who were abused as children reproduced their abuse by assaulting more children and consuming and creating pornography, specifically child pornography. The consumption becomes pathological.
Crimmins, in the film, discusses testimonials of perverts on AOL in the mid 90s, when AOL cost $3 per hour, spending upwards of a thousand dollars per month on internet access so they could assemble in chat rooms where they shared images of children being raped. Even without going into too much detail, the small amount of detail he reveals is stomach-churning, as is the level of dedication these men owe to it.
I can’t help but recall a number of nocturnal nights I spent on various chan networks when I was exploring the underbelly of the internet in my youth. Amidst the copious amounts of often violent pornography and the never-ending meme production, there were threads by anonymous people (likely young men) complaining that they could no longer enjoy typical images of attractive women, stating that they needed gore, rape, child abuse, or bestiality to become aroused. The constant intake and instant gratification of pornography desensitized them, and they needed increasingly violent imagery. Sometimes other anons provided the fodder. These guys would tell their stories (often intended to be taken as punchlines) and be rewarded with the media they wanted. The cycle continued. If you ever want a peek into the depths of porn-related sexual dysfunction, spend some time on a chan site. It can make your skin crawl.
Goldthwait’s most well-known (and somberly remembered) directorial work, World’s Greatest Dad, is also distantly about sexual dysfunction and porn addiction. Though the primary narrative centers around Robin Williams as a dad deflecting the embarrassment of his auto-erotically asphyxiating son Kyle, all evidence points to Kyle being a soda-chugging sweaty porn-addict chantard. He’s frequently found searching adult entertainment on his computer and was caught early in the film choking himself to improve the orgasm. But this is not the typical behavior of an adolescent teen; or rather, perhaps it shouldn’t be.
During every moment of this film, Kyle is sexually dysfunctional. He’s completely incapable of speaking to young women of any age. He’s reduced them all to the sum of their sexually available body parts and has little interest in who they are as people. This is the identity of porn actresses as presented in adult entertainment. They are little more than passive but eager receptacles for male pleasure, and Kyle has no qualms about voicing it. His entitlement has peaked as high as his sexual dysfunction. He’s hateful and obstinate, and treats the world like it owes him something. When asked his opinion on Claire (Lance’s girlfrend and high school teacher), he responds by critiquing her body. Later, while at dinner, he sneaks under the table to take voyeur photographs of her underwear that end up being the porn fuel leading to his demise.
Kyle isn’t just a character in a film. He’s representative of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of sexually obsessed teens who are learning to view women as mere service receptacles. When he tells a girl “That pussy isn’t going to eat itself,” it is lascivious and disturbing and self-serving in addition to being a verbal sex crime perpetrated upon a vulnerable teen girl. He’s obsessed. One can also argue that teens are naturally obsessed with sex, and they’re right. However, the type of sex teens are obsessed with is what’s changed, as Kyle presents.
Kyle has long since graduated to auto-erotic asphyxiation, and the interaction with his father Lance (Williams) suggests that he’s not just experienced with it; he’s entirely comfortable with it. It suggests that Kyle has been in this sexual hole for a long time and that part of Lance’s life of perpetual impotence is his inability to discipline or redirect his own son despite finding him, you know, CHOKING. It is the first of many failings as a father. Kyle’s treatment of women is abhorrent. He’s graduated from vaginal to anal intercourse by saying he “goes straight for the browneye” (nevermind that anal sex is unpleasurable for most receivers, including gay men according to some studies) without having lost his virginity (that we know of). People don’t -start- at choking themselves to orgasm. They get there after dozens or even hundreds of orgasms. They try it because they want orgasms with greater power, the kind that one only watches in pornography; the kind that don’t exist in reality. And, in embarrassing and often avoidable ways, they die.
The other most jarring example of auto-erotic apsyhxiation that comes to my mind is Tate from the Larry Clark/Harmony Korine film, Ken Park. Similar to Kyle, Tate is an entitled narcissist who is addicted to the instant gratification of sexual stimulus (although for him, even a female tennis player’s grunt will do). Just like Kyle, he hates the people who take care of him and feels entitled to the benefits they offer. Tate goes on to kill his grandparents in a fit of narcissistic rage, only to find that the violence is sexually stimulating. He’s graduated. Ken Park also boasts an unsimulated masturbation scene, where the actor James Ransone ties a scarf around his throat and masturbates to an orgasm that is gleefully caught in dripping closeups. Larry Clark films tend to boner border on pornographic themselves. In attempting to illustrate a raw and demented version of teenage sexuality, the sex and sexual violence scenes themselves graduate to masturbation fodder. In trying to be real and gritty, it really emulates a slightly less produced version of porn itself. It becomes the thing that desensitizes the viewer.
Comparatively, the representations of sexual violence and addiction in the two aforementioned Goldthwait films pack quite a powerful punch precisely because they don’t require prurience. Not that it’s fair to compare a documentary to an indie flick, but I’m going to anyway: Ken Park shows an uncomfortable and dramatic scene where a drunk father attempts to rape his son via oral sex; Lucky shows a completely harrowing reality of the aftermath without needing to film so much as a bedsheet (and this horror would have been emotionally tearing had it been fictionalized starring Williams, but it was Williams that told Goldthwait to make it a documentary). Ken Park creates an uncomfortable but salaciously filmed scene involving auto-erotic asphyxiation, whereas World’s Greatest Dad reminds you that there’s something alarming and disquieting about teens consuming pornography and choking themselves to orgasm. It makes you want to scream at Williams’ Lance for being such a godawful parent.
But why is it important? Amanda Marcotte published an article for Slate calling the diagnosis of porn addiction itself “an attempt to medicalize religious dogma that forbids normal and healthy interest in sexual fantasies.” And sure, she makes a point: pornography is usually just an outlet for people to explore sexual activities unavailable to them. But making believe that pornography itself isn’t fundamental in sexual dysfunction and sex crime is just ignoring a truth that makes something you enjoy questionable. It’s especially alarming as it has an effect on teens and teen relationships. Young girls are now expected to perform anal sex despite it having little or no benefit to them; young men are entitled and expect anal sex to be on the table with almost every partner. Manufactured fetishes that exist as a byproduct of dangerous sexual practices and the need to make more degrading and violent porn are everyday terms (“ass to mouth,” “DP,” “rosebudding,” “facial,” etc). Kids are getting infections from improperly shaved public hair so they can emulate the body parts in porn on the internet. Frequent use of porn is causally linked to erectile dysfunction. And even anonymous chantards themselves occasionally share their inability to have typical sexual encounters with real women because of the instant gratification and extreme sexual violence from porn that fuels their entitlement. Characters like Kyle and Tate are basically extraordinarily fucked up teen archetypes. Whether or not porn is the root cause of these things doesn’t erase that it’s one of the symptoms and possibly a catalyst for further sexual dysfunction.
On some level, I know this personally; I was once an avid consumer during my loneliest years, and while I’m hesitant to discuss my experiences with any detail, I will say that it took years of avoiding the gratuitous gratification of visual stimulus before I could truly experience the full gamut of what reality has to offer. And really, it’s no contest. Reality wins every time. But how do you tell that to a teen, when the average teen is too immature to resist instant gratification and too desperate and ill-equipped to score actual sexual interaction?
Millions of people drink alcohol, and many are alcoholics; it isn’t inaccurate or “booze-negative” to suggest that the easy availability of alcohol is some part of what sends alcoholics down a path to self destruction, and an analogy could be made for pornography (if you didn’t notice the booze bit was an analogy already, derps). Sure, most people consume porn, moderately, and without ill effects beyond a sex hangover. But for many, especially impressionable teens, it is having a destructive effect on their understanding of sex and sexual relationships. For a rare few following the path of characters like Kyle, it’s completely warping them. And for many like the child-abusers discussed in Lucky or the addicted teens on assorted anonymous imageboards, it becomes a constant daily obsession, a pathology in and of itself.
Sometimes the influence of some types of porn is itself traumatizing. Crimmins spent months collecting evidence of child molestation from internet chatrooms. The people who knew him testify to the horror on his face during his mission. And while some people will jump to say “hey, this adult porn is different than child porn because agency,” I’ll remind them that so much pornography often involves the use of human beings passive receptacles, and that viewers like Kyle might see little difference between an 18 year old in her first contracted barely legal appearance and a 15 year old being abused on camera by her much older boyfriend. The distance isn’t massive.
I’m not here to moralize, just to make the connections that I see. I’m also not suggesting that Bobcat Goldthwait intended any overarching messages about sexual health in his films; he opened the action in his film God Bless America by shooting a baby with a shotgun. This is not the guy saying you shouldn’t be into fisting. But I do know that sometimes, less is more. Sometimes things don’t need to be so explicit to have a powerful impact, and sometimes the impact is even more powerful BECAUSE nobody zoomed in on anyone’s dripping penis. Sometimes real sex is better when you haven’t consumed the fictitious and often unattainable fantasies that exist on video. Sometimes the empathetic horror of watching a survivor tell his story is more emotionally jarring than every episode of Law & Order: SVU combined. Sometimes watching Robin Williams silently cry at the discovery of his dead child is far more worthwhile than a thousand gratuitous masturbation scenes, even if it doesn’t get your nether-motor running. And most of all, sometimes you need to step back and look at your own habits and really determine what is healthy and what isn’t.
I watched Call Me Lucky on Vudu: there’s dozens of other ways to watch it. Check it out.