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.

Questions? Comments? Email me!

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

Porn Valley Vantage – Critical Commentary on the Adult Film Industry

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