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I often say that much of porn's appeal (for me) is its cultural impact. I'm usually referring to the way it shapes 'our' views and trends in regards to sexuality.
My role as a performer is – I believe – to openly discuss the impact. However, I don't really fight the trends (whether harmful or not) when I'm on set.
Time and again, I've discussed the dynamics and ramifications of playing out rape and other non-consensual fantasy scenarios. I feel I have a grasp on the greater cultural conversation and enough empathy to take part in such scenarios without straying from the boundaries of my own moral compass.
Yet, I've put myself at the center of another controversial topic without giving much thought to what it means.
I'm honestly quite embarrassed to have posted a few pictures of my first published (in print) essay on 'feminism in porn' only to follow it up with pictures of myself in yellowface makeup. Any way you cut it, it looks bad.
There are a million rationalizations I have for why I don't feel like I acted in the wrong. However, they don't really matter. My intentions, and the intentions of those on set, are no longer relevant. The image is out there.
I wrote in my previous blog entry, “Is my portrayal of Glenn racist? I honestly don't know.” What I should have asked was, “Is my portrayal of Glenn a socially acceptable form of 'racism?'” The question is, I think, more honest and relevant. Because to a set full of white pornographers in the year 2012, the answer was, “Yes.”
I remember asking myself and others on set what the difference was between what I was doing and blackface. I don't remember coming to any conclusion. Even right now, I can't tell you what the difference is. Only that a $200 million budget movie called Cloud Atlas and a cheap porno parody of The Walking Dead were both pushed through production in 2012 with white people playing Asian roles. And neither film was stopped in order to consider the cultural implications.
As of now, much criticism exists of both. Yet we still exist within a system of institutionalized racism where there is a continuum of what is deemed 'acceptable enough' and not. In porn, this continuum is far more extreme than in what I would consider 'everyday life.' I've performed in plenty of films where the entire premise is a racial or ethnic stereotype. As Peter Warren points out in his article for AVN, “Just have a glimpse at some of the titles that have graced adult retail shelves in the past few months: Shrimp Fried Pussy(Wicked Pictures), Fortune Cookie Pussy (JustinSlayer International), Dim Sum Pussy(Vouyer Media), Yellow Fever(Exquisite Multimedia), Sum Yung Ho (OGee Studios), Sushi Sluts(Legend Video), Thai Teens: We Masturbate for You(DreamGirls). The list goes on.”
Why would I feel okay performing in a movie called Yellow Fever? My answer really is, “I don't know,” and, “It's just a stupid porno.” But it's a racist porno. The title is racist. And if there is an Asian girl in the film, she is most likely going to be playing a masseuse or geisha. The concept is based entirely on an ethnic stereotype without any social satire or commentary. Such is the nature of porn.
I exist in a system that perpetuates these stereotypes. By default, I perpetuate these stereotypes. I have conceded to this fact and become comfortable. Because I also grasp another social understanding, which is that – by and large – pornography is not to be taken seriously.
Do I actually believe this? No. Porn is my job and I take it very seriously. However, I have to hold these two conflicting ideas in my head. Most people think my job is a joke. And so much of the time, I act like it is. When I perform most of the lead-in scenarios for porn films, I do not feel emotionally or intellectually engaged. Ninety-percent of this stuff is completely trivial. We're putting fluff at the beginning of a sex scene so that there appears to be some sort of production value and fantasy element context. It has no bearing on how I treat people or interact with people in my everyday life.
That is really why I feel like my role as Glenn is not that a big deal. Because it doesn't feel like it to me. I gave no more thought to that role than I did to my usual appearance on an update of My Friend's Hot Mom.
But that ended up being the problem. No thought was given to a makeup job that portrayed me as an ethnic stereotype. There was no need to give me yellow-tinted makeup or tape my eyes back. And I don't believe it was a direction given by anyone on set. However, once it happened, there was no direction to take it off either. I certainly didn't demand it or walk off set.
In some ways, I think this dose of criticism is actually healthy for porn. Because it means that our industry is starting to be looked at as a legitimate form of entertainment that must be held accountable. If we're always tucked away in the back room, we can do whatever we want because no one's going to blow the whistle. If unacceptable behavior is pointed out, it comes with an admission that enough people are watching this stuff that it should at least have some mention in the foreground of cultural conversation.
So do I owe an apology for wearing yellowface in The Walking Dead parody? According to a horde of anonymous internet comments, the answer is, “Yes.” And my explanations (or excuses) are just more proof of my white, male privilege.
Maybe that's true. Certainly, as a white male living in the United States, I benefit from white, male privilege. My subjectivity is, in part, formed by this experience. I cannot deny it. However, I would argue that the way in which I dealt with the situation had more to do with the fact that I was on a porn set than with my 'whiteness.'
I have spent seven years working a job on which it is okay to be 'kind of racist.' In fact, being 'overtly racist' has proved for some to be quite lucrative. As a society, we have tolerated racism within pornography to an incredible extent. As a result, I admit to having become complacent.
The reason I'm not on my hands and knees begging forgiveness is because I sincerely believe that the author of the Jezebel article is not completely naïve to the rest of the pornographic world. It is out there. The racism is obvious. And for anyone who's consumed 'Asian (or any other ethnic group) porn' as a fetish or genre, there is a form of complicity in porn's ethnocentrism.
So my gut reaction is to say, “Hey, this isn't fair! Don't pick on me! Look at all the other bad shit out there!” Which is to protect my ego. I don't like looking like an idiot. And in this scenario, I certainly fit the role well.
But that is not my point. I don't want to stop criticism of porn or any other medium. Please do tell us (or me) when we're fucking up. But also then start to take us a little bit more seriously every once in a while. Especially when we make great efforts to change.
I truly am sorry for offending people. That's not the kind of thing I want to leave behind with my work. At this point, however, I don't know what else to do. There's an image out there of me that looks pretty fucking cringe-worthy. It's attached to a movie that's being put out by my friend's company, that stars many of my friends, that required a lot of work from many of my friends. I still want to support it because I want to support my friends. At the end of the day, that's what we have in porn: a community. For the same reason that I understand getting pissed when people bash porn for less legitimate reasons, I get why it sucks for any group to be made fun of.
So this is my lesson and my apology. I obviously can't just do whatever I want in a porno and say, “Hey, it's just a stupid porno.” People are paying attention. Thank you for paying attention. I hope I don't disappoint you again.