I write a little column for FilmDrunk.com called “The Adult Film Minute” – it’s only been a couple of months, but I really enjoy doing it. For better or worse, the folks at FilmDrunk seem serious about taking porn seriously: they discuss, they compliment and critique, they make jokes, and they all genuinely seem to want to know more, hence me.
Recently, I wrote this bit about California Assembly Bill 1576, the latest in a series of three “mandatory condom” bills targeting adult content production. (here)
There is SO MUCH to this overall debate, not to mention this specific attempt at regulation: free speech, bodily autonomy, economics, variable ideas about risk (and wider social norms versus subcultural norms regarding sex and sex behavior in general), vague and overbroad language, the implications of health-related records keeping in conjunction with existing privacy law, and plain old logistics – how the heck is the state of California ever even going to attempt to pull this off?
With so much going on, I felt I had to address AB 1576… plus I knew FilmDrunk readers would be interested. But I confess: I was nervous about writing the piece and, namely, stating publically that I think AB 1576 is an extremely dumb idea. (I don’t feel it’s developed enough to even warrant being called a bill)
Just an adequate unpacking of any one of the afore mentioned AB 1576 issues would require its own research article; thus, given limited space and time, I decided to focus on barrier protection, performer autonomy, and the differences between imperfect-yet-possible choice (what’s current) and legally required condom et al use (what’s proposed) for FilmDrunk.* I’m pretty versed on the topic: I’ve done a lot of research on this specific dimension of labor, including hundreds of on-the-record (but confidential) in-depth interviews …but I still felt weird about it.
I think I felt weird because, honestly, how the heck am I supposed to know what performers want and feel in terms of their bodily autonomy and workplace safety? I’ve never walked in performer shoes, thus I actually technically *know* nothing.
My conundrum here taps into an issue every single social scientist must feel at some point – how do you know what you know about whatever in society if you’ve never actually done it yourself?
Most researchers explore dimensions of society from a relative distance. They learn about whatever issue or group, not by doing or being, but by observing, studying, and asking questions. There are some who get a little more involved, but even if you engage a subculture or occupation via your fieldwork (e.g. working as a waitress to study labor, which I did back in the MA day), you’re still exceptional within a community via your connection to scholarship.
Researchers work to minimize these issues by being mindful of methods, ethics, and power inequalities, among so many other things. Ideally, we are forthcoming about exactly what we do and we refrain from overgeneralizing…
Regarding performers’ perspectives about AB 1576, I only know what people tell me and I have done my damnedest to listen to whatever voices want to be heard – I have put out open calls to gather any and all perspectives, and I have done interviews in person, via skype, and in focus groups settings (whatever enhances accessibility and maximizes response rates). And I present the information I gather exactly as it’s been told to me. So minus the possibility that people are lying to me, which can happen in any human interaction, I can say that I know as much about performers’ bodily autonomy and workplace safety as they have shared with me.
There’re plenty of reasons academics stay hidden away deep inside universities, one of which is dealing with all these issues. It’s an odd feeling/accusation, the “vicarious parent + colonizer” invocation. Because truthfully, the only thing academics-as-academics can *actually* speak to is the experience of academia itself… So we stay disconnected and inaccessible, mostly because people who say “You haven’t done it, so what the hell do you know?” have a point.
But here’s the thing: every researcher must do their best to be both rigorous and face these issues head on. It’s part of the game, and the stakes are far too high to remain insular and/or silent.
* I also discussed the clear disconnects between AB 1576’s proposed logistics and the actual operations of the adult industry, but given the amount of time I have been “studying” the labor structure of porn as an industry and workplace, I felt less weird about this part.
pictured: is the capture as good as the real thing? image via Shutterstock
And ICYMI, you can read all my work featured on UPROXX/FilmDrunk com right –> here
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