Nude in Landscape
Early porn of the ’70s and ’80s, perhaps a little too eager at the new medium, incorporated trite yet tedious pre-coital narratives over which we painstakingly skipped. As the VHS tapes wore thin, staticy “noise” shot horizontally across the screen in a kind of barren digital landscape. With DVDs, one simply toggled to the desired chapters, or at worse, fast-forwarded at up to 10x speed. Part of the money shot’s allure, then, was the logistical measure (and maintenance of arousal) it took to arrive at the ultimate scene, whose pensive anticipation sort of mimicked courtship itself. Chekhov, a physician by profession, famously said that medicine was his wife, literature his mistress, and that when tired of one, he spends the night with the other. In this light, one may see Cézanne secretly cheating by himself in the middle of nowhere. Bridge at Maincy (c.1882), like most of his works, is problematic in how the foliage doesn’t recede into space. Brush marks struggle to enter the work but merely end up inhabiting their very artifice, an unlikely predecessor to a low res porn thumbnail of a Japanese couple enthralled with their hidden union. It is a kind of inadvertent storytelling, the randomly generated porn clip thumbs which often portray an oblique, even coy, version of the more explicit clip at large. The disembodied narrator is you, exiled from each moment, but a pair of eyes and one abused chakra.
In 1863, Manet showed Le déjeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refuses (“Exhibition of Rejects”), a rogue satellite exhibition comprised of works rejected by the official Salon. The problem with it then is the same problem with it today: two dressed men casually engage in conversation, ignoring a naked woman, stripped for no discernible reason at all, who is offered to the viewer the same manner as the basket of fruit. The figures themselves are carved out in flat contours, barely convincing us of inhabiting the landscape. It would take over a hundred years for our threesome to bare themselves on equal terms, apolitical and with abandon, on a blanket with personal dangling fruit. I wonder about the homoeroticism of double penetration, how the neighboring cock provides supplemental or perhaps even better friction. As a codependent hypochondriac, I worry on their behalf about catching a cold and bug bites. It is said that both Manet’s wife and muse posed for the woman, the prettier muse’s face overlaid on top of his wife’s plumper body, as if ultimate infidelity were less carnal than personal. It now hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, where past revolutions are embalmed, bored, still staring.
The world between provocative and pornographic is a loose one. We can all agree that a stiff cock, swelled orifice, their engagement with each other, and residual evidence constitute the latter, but what about bodies merely in the act, their limbs auspiciously eclipsing the point of transgression. That “Work” is the stand-in for NSFW — rather than Not Safe For Wife, Home, Mind, Spirit — is a glimpse into our deepest worries. We safe our best selves not for our partners, but our co-workers, each of us following the pantomime of vanilla while we crawl knee-deep in fudge at home. Burdened with the task of indexing everything, wikipedia (the next time you’re bored) has illustrated extreme funnies like cumshots, fisting, gang bangs, bukkake, etc. in this bland yet realistic style whose dissonance between emotion and event are surreal. The subjects barely manage a facial expression, and when they do, it is usually a conflicted frown. From botox to xanax, it’s as if we could barely manage a reaction to our degradation. This weird hyper-graphic “educational porn” may technically be safe for work, but try telling that behind your shoulders.
Outdoor porn is funny. Just enter “outdoor” in the search field to discover a collective of nudes in landscapes, forests and lakes all over the world weaved together in the tapestry of foliage. The painter and camera man, of drastically different agendas, are ultimately sentenced to the same environment. Impressionism ancestor Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot lived within a forty mile radius of his mother, and was eventually buried next to her. He took the gritty brown of painting and showed it light for the first time. Outdoor porn is generally just amateurs — “real” amateurs i.e. user uploaded vs. the professional amateur motif — awkwardly banging in a park, a distant freeway’s murmur reminding us civilization is near, the very same tether to which Thoreau was gladly tied. They’ll often bring a blanket, the most considerate ones a towel or paper towels for clean up. Part of the allure with outdoor porn is, simply, that it’s not indoors. I had sex outdoors once, in the backyard of the lady for whom my then girlfriend did housekeeping. The faint tickle of air on my buttocks played on each tiny hair as antennae, an array of goosebumps as braille for ohhhg-ahh. It was kind of mind blowing, as if the 20th century never quite happened, succumbing to grunting with a fellow hairless ape, grass welts on knees, mud between toes, a panicking bug in the pooper. I was fixated on the sky, looking up into the vast flatness, free at last, under a pale ceiling of illusion blue.
The “nude” was invented sometime around 400 BC as a loftier “naked,” the latter merely something a person is reduced to. This semantic euphemism cordoned off class, giving artists free range to be as perverted as they wanted. The Ancient Greeks were preoccupied with the male body, until forever usurped by the female one around the Renaissance. In short, Greeks invented anal, Rome wasn’t destroyed in day. Comedian Doug Stanhope — whose brilliant social commentary, even more self-effacing, rivals Louis CK — has a depressing act in which he describes an orgasm (“blort,” his onomatopoeia) as being, wrongly, the most intimate thing two people can experience. He juxtaposes this with caring for a friend who had a mastectomy, and how he dressed the foul oozing wound in her time of devastated vulnerability, the two of them reduced beyond desire, and how even this intimacy didn’t compare, in his mind, to drunkingly “blorting” on someone random, the shallow proof of his love slowly coagulating on her belly. (He also describes masturbation as draining a cyst.) I thought of the French’s idiom for cumming (La petite mort, “a little death”) and how it takes a nation of pessimists to get it right. I have been with demure Czech lovelies on train tracks; loud and crass sorority girls in dorm rooms; among my fellow black men in the gang banging of some divine void, whose drenched gag-ball — when I slowed down to think about it — made me dry gag; a cheating wife in a hotel room through the unblinking POV of a hidden cam; and tied-up Japanese girls who squealed at the unannounced entry of my pixelated midget dick draped in a quilt of blurry squares. Though I was indoors, inside the modernist tomb of my condo, I felt — in those sad depletive moments after the last contraction — sort of outside of myself, outside my mind, in some post-apocalyptic calm landscape from which others have escaped into relationships. I pull up my shorts and avoid eye contact with the cat, who despite her anus-licking still feels entitled to judge. I think about a Louis CK joke, an ad libbed addendum to a punchline about coming on his cat’s face. The more horrible something is, the more it is remembered, which may explain both the artist’s intention and the porn producer’s today. That we are all our father’s dutiful cum shot is both bleak and a little gross, his most cocky sperm wiggling towards the warmth of our mother. The humanity that kills each other every day also tries to fuck each other, earnestly, honestly, every day too. We’ll be alright.