“In Too Deep” explores a guilty pleasure indulged by millions and in doing so covers a slice of life that everyone knows of, but avoids talking about.

Lisan Jutras, “In Too Deep”, Maisonneuve, Fall 2013

By Tristan Simpson

Why do people order another pitcher of beer knowing they have to work first thing in the morning? Or eat the entire bag of potato chips when they are supposed to be on a diet? They take that swig and eat their chips because they are compelled by pleasure. 

Lisan Jutras’s “In Too Deep” explores one of the guiltiest of pleasures indulged by millions—viewing pornography—and in doing so covers a workaday slice of life that everyone knows of, but avoids talking about. Adult films are no longer stashed in a box under the bed: any device with an Internet connection can access them. Yet despite its ubiquity the same question persists: does pornography exploit women?

Jutras visits the set of Barely Blue Velvet, a spoof of the 1986 David Lynch film, to find out why women get into pornography. Rather than spell out the reasons why porn is bad or degrading to women—though those points do appear—in a literary fashion, she lets her characters tell the story. Her cast includes a pornography film director, the talent and herself.

Jutras’s personal anecdotes are instrumental in telling this story: it relates to the many women who watch porn and feel guilty for doing so. “Being a female consumer of porn traditionally defies stereotypes and invites judgment,” she writes. “Not only is masturbation sexual, it’s also selfish—two qualities that, for centuries, women weren’t meant to possess.” 

This openness about her own experiences with and thoughts about sex makes her an affable narrator who integrates historical opinions on pornography into her evolving inquiry. Many literary pieces lose readers once history is introduced, but not in this case. Jutras doesn’t badger readers with opinions of famous feminists; instead, she uses her childhood of being brought up by a second-wave feminist parents to integrate feminist responses to porn.

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With access to the set of a porn shoot, Jutras can provide details about the actors that wouldn’t be shown in their scenes. She quickly stomps out assumptions that porn stars are lowlifes with nothing better to do. The cast of Barely Blue Velvet consists of an engineer, a former intern for Senator Hillary Clinton and a performer enrolled in women’s studies at UCLA.

The stars have their own opinions as to why pornography is still such an issue:

When I ask her why people have a problem with porn, she answers me quickly, like she’s bored of saying it. “America’s so uncomfortable with the topic, it makes sense people are opposed to it,” she says. “Some people think sex is for reproduction and for married people that need to make babies. Some people are uncomfortable with sex and their own sexuality. Some people aren’t educated about the industry in general, and the mainstream media doesn’t represent what it’s actually like—what’s actually happening.’”

It’s not surprising that may actors don’t consider their work degrading, but Jutras’ first-hand experience on the set of Barely Blue Velvet is enlightening. Jutras remains in the room when performers have sex and exposes the feelings that viewers sitting at their monitors wouldn’t see. There is a “pain behind the evident joy.” There is something wrong with pornography, all right, but the problem isn’t the exploitation of women. Rather, it’s the uncontrollable urge to find pleasure. Jutras’ thoughts on her flight out of Las Vegas summarize her position:

We push up into the thin air, the curve of the Earth asserting itself below, an endless starry sky above. The long view. All those people down there, losing their money on slot machines, drinking to the point of anesthesia, eating their way to cardiac arrest—terrible decisions are made every day in the pursuit of pleasure, whether at a cost to ourselves or to others.

The actors performing the script of Barely Blue Velvet don’t enjoy receiving ejaculations on their faces. Positions that may look great on screen to some viewers don’t actually feel good to the actors. They are standard, created poses. Porn is a job, Jutras points out, one that is not only wanted, but also needed. 

[[{“fid”:”3948″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””},”type”:”media”,”link_text”:null,”attributes”:{“height”:”1280″,”width”:”960″,”style”:”width: 80px; height: 107px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: left;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]Tristan Simpson is a final-year journalism student at Ryerson University.

Students and non-students alike may write a Great Canadian Literary Journalism story on a worthy piece of literary journalism/long form/feature writing/reportage. If interested, please contact Bill Reynolds, reynolds@ryerson.ca.

Image by Alessandra de Luca, via Flickr.