PVV – what Tyler Knight makes me think about (part 1)

I recently posted an amazing and super in-depth interview with Tyler Knight. For those of you who missed it, check it out here. For those of you who read it, you already know that Tyler is rather poised, enigmatic, and bruuutally hott.  He also has some very sharp critiques of the adult industry.  He directly discusses and/or alludes to several hot-button issues related to worker safety and commodification (among many others).

…and as per usual, I have some responses and expositions that I would like to offer.

Now before I get started on my little scholarly deconstruction, I need to make something very clear: Tyler is a badass. He is intelligent, articulate, and very measured – he’s not out there spouting reactionary bullshit about his job and porn to anyone who will listen. His opinions are tied directly to his years working as adult talent in hundreds of scenes; and in case you couldn’t tell from his interview, he’s seen some stuff. I appreciate immensely his willingness to share his experiences and perspectives with Porn Valley Vantage and thus with all of you!

Much of what he said got me to thinking in about 500 different directions, but I will spare you and limit my focus to worker safety and worker commodification.  I am going to discuss the commodification of workers here and worker safety in the near future (sorry!! it’s just too much to talk about for one piece!!).

When I asked Tyler about the most surprising or unexpected aspects of working as talent, he responded: “Overt relativism. Race, gender, and age are reduced to commodities to be exploited or liabilities to be purged, with little to no consideration for the underlying human beings – people with feelings, hopes and dreams – that are relegated to categories,” (among other things).

So, in academic socio-speak and according to Tyler, people are commodified.  Performers are evaluated on the basis of their race, gender, and age and, presumably, on how well their particular composite of characteristics will do in the marketplace. Individuals with a hott combination of traits will be “exploited;” those with less desirable combinations will be marginalized and/or winnowed out… if they were ever allowed in in the first place. (pictured: Tyler Knight courtesy of Tyler Knight)

Tyler’s statement alludes to tensions existing between commodified characteristics centered on race, gender, and age and the proverbial marketplace.  These tensions have likely been fodder for countless debates amongst and between academics, activists, policy makers, and regular old folks during the past 30ish years; consequently…

All you have to do is hit up AdultDVDEmpire.com, or any similar retail site, to see an endless listing of genres – big cock, big butt; cougars, couples; hairy, public sex, spanking, squirting, twins, and even vampires (vampires!!).  Clearly the commodification of talent goes well beyond race, gender, and age.

But having preferences for particular “types” of things in this way is not unique to adult film content.  Do you shop at BCBG or the Gap (or both, or somewhere else)?  Do you go for luscious Texas BBQ or delightful Veggie Heaven (or both, or something else)?  Do you drive a Prius, an SUV, or an old Honda (or all of the above or something else entirely)?  We all have preferences about something, and some of us want to see some damn vampire sex!!  Others don’t… or they may want to now that they know it exists ;)

There is a chicken-and-egg tension emerging here – did we first have preferences, or were we first presented with options and choices?  And where did these options and choices even come from?  I personally think it’s more complicated than either of those questions imply; however, the “facts” remain: persons do have preferences and many enjoy having choices; and there are endless entities out there looking to provide people with options and capitalize on their subsequent desires/decisions.

I do not think worker commodification is unique to the adult industry – construction workers are commodified, as are lawyers, models, life guards, sociology professors, and everyone else with a job. I do, however, think that commodification on the basis of learned-or-earned skills is a markedly different experience than commodification on the basis of physiological features. Consequently, I feel that commodifying adult talent on the basis of one’s learned-or-earned ability to, say, deep throat an eight inch cock is different from commodifying adult talent on the basis of one’s super nice ass.*  Both certainly have a different impact on the person in possession of said skills and/or said super nice ass.

If you were to then bounce on over to the Internet Adult Film Database (iafd.com) and check out Tyler Knight’s performer credits, you might begin to realize the particular way in which he has been commodified. Barely Legal Jungle Fever, Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Ass Candy, Inseminated by 2 Black Men, Snow White Loves Black Pole, White Chicks Gettin’ Black Balled… it’s pretty clear that Tyler is commodified on the basis of race, and a quick perusal of other prolific black men talents’ performer credits reveal similar occurrences.

No wonder Tyler points out being relegated to categories – very few of his performance credits indicate that he has performed in films/scenes wherein his race was not a significant feature.  Whatsmore, such race commodification and typecasting (??) doesn’t seem to run as deep for men talent of color who are not black – Keni Styles (*luuuv*) is not in Barely Legal (English) Ninjas or Hot Tea; Marco Banderas is not in Snow White Loves Brown Pole (although he is in Culos Gigantes, so go figure).

In fact, when I did some research on the content of 30+ years of key adult film content, I found that the only talent who were consistently presented in problematic (read: pretty fucked up, race-based) ways were black men (you can read this research in detail here).  On the basis of the key adult film content I reviewed, no other “commodified group” experienced commodification in a similar manner.  Ummm… wtf?

I would like to suggest that a complex symbiotic relationship exists between porn consumers and producers whereby producers generate content that consumers demand. Although experimentation from some auteur-like adult filmmakers may certainly occur and new trends may occasionally emerge, most persons or entities that generate any kind of product or good are attempting to capitalize on what consumers want (who are these consumers??). Thus Snow White Loves Black Pole likely wasn’t an experimental film from a director looking to break boundaries and push the proverbial envelope. Likely, it was made because its creators thought it would sell.

Let me put that another way – it was made because its creators thought consumers would buy it.

Does that mean the entities responsible for that film are racist?  Maybe, possibly, who knows – they totally could be. This issue is more complex and far deeper than that. Rather than focusing on individual racism (which may or may not be present), market demand for Snow White Loves Black Pole, et al exists in contemporary US culture and the implications of that existence are extremely complex.

Although there certainly may be instances wherein black men talent are subject to “earned-or-learned” commodification, it seems that black men talent are consistently subject to the body-part-based sort of “nice ass”-type commodification.  Beyond the basic “Are you capable of doing this job?” requirements, performers such as Tyler Knight are hired (and not hired) on the basis of physiological features. But this type of complex and problematic commodification does not come from porn. In this instance, porn is simply an artifact of tendencies shaping the wider social world.

*I certainly understand that, just like professional athletes, some persons have corporeal structures such that said “learned-or-earned” skills are more accessible and/or easier to develop. Although definitely a significant point, I feel that such an argument minimizes the earning and learning work that must go in to perfecting athletic skills… and adult talent are definitely sexual athletes of the highest order.

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You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.pornvalleyvantage.com).”

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3 thoughts on “PVV – what Tyler Knight makes me think about (part 1)

  1. Well, your theory that it is all about race with black men would have to depend on if you are only considering race as the commodification assumption. I believe you would get the same finding if you looked up Asian for women in adult. You will find just as many “race based” titles concerning Asian women in adult as you wil find for black men.

    Of course all performers are first categorized by race/type. It is not just in adult. Would it have made sense to cast Elijah Wood as “Machete” instead of Danny Trejo?

    Personally, if I was trying to sort out where biases (or some would say prejudices) reside in adult, I would have to consider other genres, that are not all based entirely on race. If a woman in adult (and now mainstream ie: ‘Cougar Town’) is over the age of 26, I will most likely see her in titles containing some version of the word “Mom”, “Wife” or “Cougar”, regardless of whether she is any of those at 26. I would also look up titles that feature “fatties” or “plumpers” and find that a body TYPE is relegated to the same treatment with the majority of titles containing words like “Whale”, “Big”, “Fat” and “Curves” [http://www.iafd.com/person.rme/perfid=KellyShibar/gender=f/Kelly-Shibari.htm]. And since I used Kelly Shibari as the example, I have to include the fact that Kelly is very popular for this niche, as she is both a large and beautiful woman by entertainment industry standards (any end of the industry), but she is also ASIAN, which makes her highly desirable for the fact that she goes against stereotype for that racially based genre.

  2. Hi Sherry!

    I completely agree with you – there is just as much commodification of Asian woman and Hispanic chics etc etc as there is of Black men… and Danny Trejo would never be cast as a hobbit, but he might be cast a some sort of hobbit killer (eesh!)

    And as far as commodification on the basis of any number of “qualities,” I totally agree with you there too – age, body type, ability (as in what sort of sexxxy abilities/skills does a person have), and on and on can all operate in this commodification sort of way.

    I think the post turned to race specifically bc it was Tyler who raised the issue of commodification in general as problematic, and it appears that he has experienced in in terms of race… but that assessment is based on his credits only.

    It does look like black men experience this sort of commodification more… ummm… “thoroughly” than others though. Tyler Knight’s credits, for example, reveal very few titles that don’t seem to be centered around race… but if you look at Kaylani Lei’s, for example, there are many credits that don’t appear to be centered around her asian woman-ness (if that makes any sense!)… but that point is only based on titles and my assumptions about what those titles mean.

    it would be interesting to actually watch all that content and see who was cast/depicted as what and make some comparisons… it would also be interesting to talk to people who appear to be commodified to varying degrees in these types of ways (kelly and kaylani, for example) and see what they have to say about it…

    anyway, I could go on and on!! I hope you are well and thanks for your thoughts!!



  3. Since this was about a specific person, then naturally it would lead to “Black Man” = “Racial Profiling” in adult.

    It would be interesting to go deeper into every title that could be named and see if the title even reflects the content. Goddess knows adult is great at throwing titles and photos on the cover that do not match what’s inside the box.

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