CFP: Documentary Techniques in Pornographic Film and Video (NYU, August 11-14, 2011)

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Visible Evidence 18
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Proposals are invited for a panel to be entitled "Documentary Techniques in Pornographic Film and Video" to be proposed for Visible Evidence 18, which is being held at New York University from August 11-14, 2011 (check out the conference website at: This particular panel of three presenters will explore a recent and profound trend that appears across pornographic genres: the emphasis on capturing "real" sex through narrative techniques typically found in the documentary film tradition. Such techniques have become especially important in pornography that embodies feminist, lesbian, gay, trans, and queer perspectives, though some mainstream pornography has started utilizing such techniques, too.

At its simplest level, the use of documentary narrative techniques complicates how viewers consume and interpret pornography. Marginalized communities seem to applaud the use of techniques like interviews and voice-overs in pornography for revealing ways that sex can combat oppression. Tristan Taormino's Chemistry series seeks to explore the power of sexuality for a range of women through interviews and an aesthetic inspired by reality television. Treasure Island Studios has gained a certain level of infamy with its celebration of gay male sex without condoms, which has become more intriguing in recent years with their development of documentary videos such as Island created alongside traditional pornography like What I Can't See 3; the star of the pornographic film, John Sullivan, discusses in the documentary how pornography played a significant role in his own acceptance of his identity as a gay man. The documentary also reveals his HIV+ status, which is especially provocative considering his role in condom-less orgies like the one in the in the pornographic film.

At the same time, not every pornographic film that features hand-held cameras, voice-overs, or other documentary film techniques seeks to challenge oppression but can instead promote it. The rise of websites like The Bait Bus and Cruise Patrol feature sexual encounters filmed outside of traditional studios and in vans, buses, or boats traveling amidst an unsuspecting public, and the sex is sometimes meant to humiliate the woman or man involved, who might be left on the side of the road. Even though many of these encounters are staged (or they would be illegal), the use of documentary styles sends a problematic message to viewers that directly contradicts the message sent by other films that use similar techniques. This contradiction demands exploration.

The significance of this proposed panel resides in its in-depth exploration of how past debates on pornography's significance intersect with recent trends in narrative representation. Furthermore, this panel will examine how different types of pornography can mean divergent things to diverse groups. In other words, this panel delves into debates about pornography being bad or good for women, men, or transgender people, ultimately breaking away from such a simplistic binary and instead exploring why pornography's producers have started turning to documentary film techniques and pornography's consumers have begun embracing such films.

If you wish to be considered for this proposed panel, please email Dr. Nels P. Highberg, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Hartford with 1) a 250-300 word abstract of your proposed presentation with a descriptive title, 2) a brief bibliography for you paper, and 3) a brief biography that includes your history of presenting at previous Visible Evidence conferences. His email is drnels at gmail dot com, and the proposal can be an attachment in .doc, .docx, or .rtf, or it can be in the email itself.

The deadline for proposals is January 1, 2011; all submitters will be notified of receipt of their proposal within twenty-four hours and of the panel chair's final decision by Friday, January 7, 2011; those not accepted for this panel can then submit to the conference's open call, which has a deadline of January 15, 2011.