by Rich Moreland, July 2015
“I was scared to death of porn because I was scared to death of the socially constructed idea of it,” writes sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals. When in college she persuaded some friends to check out an up-scale theater on Sunset Boulevard for the showing of a 1970s Porno Chic era film. Unfortunately, her viewing time was brief because the future Ph.D. “stormed out of the theater,” abandoning her pals inside. The sex, in her view, was abusive.
As a budding feminist scholar, Chauntelle confesses she remained anti-porn. “I couldn’t separate what I was actually seeing from what I’d been conditioned to experience,” a disconnect that would forge her graduate school resume and a career today. Simply put, Chauntelle’s emotional and psychological blinders dictated how she “was supposed to feel” about pornography. But did that match its realities?
To find answers, Chauntelle began her research and learned that porn fights an unending battle against preconceived notions. Aren’t all porn girls and the business they represent extensions of what “may stir fear or revulsion in one person” while being “the hottest thing ever to the next?” Most likely. After all, her grad school adviser swore by revulsion and discounted everything else, side tracking a young scholar’s research.
Embracing All Readers
Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment is as much Chauntelle Tibbals’ personal story as it is a commentary on the adult film industry. Her approachable and contemporary writing style (think: no big words or lengthy chapters filled with citations) is refreshing coming from an academic. Too often those of us involved in higher education are too immersed in scholarship to realize the average guy on the street matters when writing a book. Chauntelle embraces all readers and does it with a bevy of personal takes on the people of adult film.
From my own experience writing in the industry, I can affirm that Chauntelle is spot on with everything in this book. She points out that porn is anything but monolithic which makes research problematic. Commenting on porn’s supposed experts, she says that “what’s ‘extreme’ or ‘sexy’ or acceptable” about the topic varies tremendously. In other words, there is no accounting for taste. As a result, concluding “anything about the nature of adult content” after watching a handful of scenes is questionable and a challenge for those who study behavior using selective sampling.
Of course, there is another common research pitfall. Academic types rarely mix it up with porn people, preferring to remain distant in making their judgments. Chauntelle’s solution was to get involved, experience as much as she could in real-time and go from there. So she worked trade shows as a gofer and all-around handy person, gained entrance to porn sets, talked casually with those closest to the business, and did the ultimate, write a dissertation on gender equality based on her research.
That is Exposure, the personal Odyssey and re-education of a feminist scholar via an inside look at the everyday people who populate a quite remarkable industry.
Traci, Kristi, or Norma?
In Chapter Five Chauntelle relates how people can fall into the trap of “gauging their self-worth” through the “conflation of pornographic reality and fantasy.” Take, for example, the question of what is real. If boob jobs are fake, then what about braces to straighten teeth? How does each address self-worth? Extend the example to the debate over authentic sex. Yes, porn sex is real on-screen but the scenarios are often so outlandish that they require what literary folks call the “willful suspension of disbelief.” Porn stars are animated with acrobatic behavior in unlikely sexual situations, but is that any more contrived than a teenager with straight teeth?
Chauntelle’s story of Traci Lords supports this point. Traci is the stage name of a fake ID bearer named Kristie Nussman who was born Nora Kuzma. Traci’s goal was to shoot porn for profit. The question becomes, who gained entrance into adult entertainment at age fifteen, slapping the industry with child porn accusations? Traci, Kristie or Norma? Where is the separation of reality and fantasy? Was Traci Lords a concoction?
Other chapters include racial and sexual diversity in porn (particularly “trannies” as a rising film genre), a different take on Linda Lovelace, and how men too quickly can fail (let’s be honest, droop) under the lights while the cameras roll.
Another fascinating account captures the weirdness of some porn fans who “slip a little too far into the fantasy.” Volunteering her time for the studios at the Vegas convention, Chauntelle remembers keeping these “super fans” at bay during the signing times girls are obliged to fulfill. It’s their creepiness that is bizarre. These fans “sincerely believed they knew their favorite performer, and one day she would be theirs, no matter what,” Chauntelle says.
The lingering back story throughout Exposure is the academic snobbery and ivory tower attitudes that became Chauntelle’s ball and chain. From my own experience around the release of my book, I can sympathize with her. Porn and the classroom are not often brought together with grace and colleagues (and students!) can sometimes be perplexed at why any scholar would do this: research people whose lives pose their own question of “who would do this?”
Like the author herself, Exposure is brimming with personality and deserves a read! I don’t usually give out stars, but on a scale of one to five, Chauntelle Tibbals is a fiver!!
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Available at Amazon.com
- Print Length: 150 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press (July 7, 2015)
- Publication Date: July 7, 2015
- ASIN: B00XLSXH0S