Seth Rogen on Hollywood’s Backdoor Connection to the Red-Light District

As someone who’s not a fan of chick flicks and romantic comedies (like, at all), I was surprised to find myself genuinely intrigued by the first trailer I saw for Long Shot (starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron), which played up the sentimental aspects of the story. Subsequent trailers, however, more clearly hinted at the raunchier side of things.

In the end, I decided not to see the movie.

What I did recently see, however, was a video clip from an interview Rogen and Theron gave during their press tour for Long Shot. In a segment on The Graham Norton Show, where they were discussing porn star Stormy Daniels’ dalliances with Donald Trump, Norton brought up the fact that Seth Rogen has actually worked with Daniels before.

After Theron incredulously asked, “What?!” several times, Rogen clarified what his working relationship with the porn star entailed. Below is a (slightly cleaned up) transcript of what he said:

Stormy Daniels is in Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. . . . Very early in our careers, we realized, like, if you ever need someone to be naked in a movie, you should hire a porn star, ‘cuz it’s the easiest thing they did that week. It’s not a situation where you’re, like, convincing a mainstream actress to get naked. Instead, you’re taking a porn actress and putting her in a mainstream movie, and she doesn’t have to put anything in her. And so she’s thrilled. And so there were some stripper scenes in these films, and Stormy played a stripper in those films.

The segment was intended for laughs (and there was plenty of audience laughter during it), but it was actually quite revealing. I want to point out three implications of Seth Rogen’s playful confession.

1. Pornography Has Infiltrated Art

The examples from Seth Rogen’s testimony above, as well as the examples cited in my last piece, illustrate how the worlds of pornography and mainstream entertainment have intermingled. Much of Hollywood’s output, in fact, involves a crossover of pornographic techniques—and, in some cases, porn actors.

From a practical standpoint, sans any moral considerations, it makes sense. As film and television (and especially TV over the last couple decades) continue to employ pornographic filming techniques, it may be easier sometimes to employ a porn star (who is used to nudity and sex acts), rather than a mainstream actress (who is more likely to be squeamish about undressing and/or sexually acting out for the camera).

Can I really describe Hollywood as using “pornographic filming techniques,” though? Yes, I can. Let me explain why.

What we typically call “simulated sex” in mainstream entertainment involves actors engaging in sexual acts with each other. No, such acts typically don’t involve penetration (although in rare cases it does). However, sex is not a dot on a timeline so much as a series of interactions over a period of time. It involves acts like fondling, undressing, amorous kissing (not just on the mouth), and so on, and it could last for mere seconds or for hours.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, sex does not begin with penetration, it ends with penetration. Thus, mainstream actors who “simulate sex” (a euphemism for “no one’s sexual organ was inserted into another’s sexual receptacle”) are still engaging in sexual acts with each other—and they do so in front of film cameras, with an audience in mind. That is a pornographic technique. The movie they are starring in is not porn, per se, but it contains pornified elements.

And that is why so many mainstream actors are uncomfortable with filming pornographic scenes. And it is also why, according to filmmakers like Seth Rogen, porn stars are sometimes preferable. They help get around that whole humans-are-uncomfortable-with-being-exploited-for-entertainment roadblock.

2. Pornographic Methods are Inherently Exploitative                                         

Yes, onscreen sex acts in mainstream entertainment are less extreme than sex acts with penetration (as in porn). Hard core pornography is more…well, hard core than Hollywood fare. The difference, however, is in degree, not in kind. And we can’t dismiss pornified sexuality in our films and TV shows just because there is worse content out there.

Sure, there are porn stars who might consider it simple or easy to do a striptease for a Hollywood production, since they’ve done far worse. There are also mainstream actors who are incredibly uncomfortable with performing a striptease (or sex act).

If you can agree with me that pornography is a moral and societal evil, Stormy Daniels’ relative comfort with her stripper roles in Seth Rogen’s films only shows that she’s been desensitized to forms of objectification that are less explicit than porn. Desensitization to exploitation doesn’t bring true relief; it just masks the damage.

And the damage caused by pornification is detrimental to society as a whole. Australia-based movement Collective Shout explains:

Through a pornified culture, women and girls are fed a message that their only value lies in their sex appeal and ability to attract the male gaze. The proliferation of sexualised images of women and girls is linked to mental health problems such as low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders, depression and self-harm. Pornified culture also harms men and boys, by inscribing limited ideas of how men should behave and encouraging them to view women as unequal, and as sexualised objects existing merely or primarily for men's sexual gratification rather than as persons in their own right.

The bottom line is that pornographic material—whether soft, hard, or anywhere in between—is intrinsically exploitative. It is a violation of human privacy, dignity, and sexuality. It is artistically indefensible and morally unacceptable.
                            
3. Actors Deserve Better Than Pornography

“Let’s get someone who’s more desensitized to being objectified so we can capture the content we want.” That’s not what Rogen said specifically, and I don’t think that was even his intention. That’s just the intangible assumption lying behind many scenes of nudity and/or sex in common, everyday entertainment. This assumption is so pervasive and so automatic that it’s no longer a conscious decision. It’s a cultural habit, ingrained into our collective psyche.

Filmmakers getting the sexual content they want—or the sexual content they think their audience wants—means treating actors with disrespect. Did you catch how Rogen described the process of working with a Hollywood actress? He said it is a “situation where you’re…convincing a mainstream actress to get naked.”

It takes convincing. Actors often need to be prodded, persuaded, or pressured to agree to skin parades and sexscapades. There are inherent emotional—and maybe even moral—reservations that need to be overcome. There are inherent inhibitions that need to be overridden. There are inherent revulsions that need to be overruled. Sometimes, directors and producers and audiences getting what they want means contradicting what many an actor wants—to maintain dignity as a human being.

Does it take convincing for a performer to act like she’s dying from a wound or a disease? Does it take convincing for her to act like she’s having an argument? Does it take convincing for her to act like she’s falling in love? No, it doesn’t—because acting out those scenarios isn’t inherently exploitative. Pornified content, on the other hand, is.

REFUSE PORN—IN ALL ITS FORMS

It’s true that Seth Rogen is not Stormy Daniels’ spokesperson. His views are not inherently hers. She might disagree with his assessment of her situation as a porn star. I don’t know.

What I do know is that actors are human beings just like the rest of us. They are endowed by their creator with a certain inalienable dignity, worthy of respect by other humans. This is true even if some actors willingly consent to the disrespect afforded objects of and participants in pornified entertainment.

Willingly participating in pornographic filming techniques does not miraculously dignify the hypersexualized content. Whether one is horrified, hesitant, or happy to participate, the result is the same.

Our culture has adapted a damnable double standard. Writer Marc Barnes explains: we are told, on the one hand, that it is “a moral evil and a detestable act of cowardice for a man to view a woman as a pair of breasts”—something we would, and should, agree with. At the same time, we are told that a woman willingly objectifying herself is “an act that transcends good and evil in perfect freedom.” These two paradigms are diametrically opposed. We cannot “simultaneously support pornography and an end to the pornographication of women.”

We must not require our entertainers to discard their humanity for our enjoyment. Not if they’re porn stars and not if they’re movie stars. Not if they hate porn, and not if they love it. Not if they are forced participants, and not if they are voluntarily participants.

Art deserves better. Actors deserve better. And the second greatest command ever given to humankind—“love your neighbor as you love yourself”—deserves better, too.

photo credit: Gage Skidmore via flickr, CC

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