One of the drawbacks to mutli-culturalism and political correctness is that everything must be understood, that hard lines about good and evil are not to be drawn, that traditional morality is passé. From terrorism to deviant behavior, we are not supposed to judge. It’s a noble concept in theory, but how far should it be put into practice?
This is the issue photographer and director Deborah Anderson takes on with her documentary Aroused, in which she interviews 16 female porn stars—women we only know by stage names such as Alexis Texas, Ash Hollywood, Asphyxia Noir, Katsuni, etc. The idea, which Anderson states from the outset in voiceover, is not to judge these women but to understand them, to go beyond the porn to the real people. It’s an effort to take the stigma out of what they do, and it is quite effective and compelling.
One might call Aroused an apologia to pornography, but since adult films—given the ease of access to them via the internet—are so prevalent in everyday life and culture now, they are impossible to ignore. Though we might not be able to ignore the films themselves, do we really want to know more about what makes the actresses who appear in them tick?
Anderson seems to think so, and I found some of the personal stories of the interviewees interesting. Remarkably, several of the women in the film had religious upbringings. Many of them appeared bright, ambitious, sensitive, and introspective. The cliché of the drug-addled, cash-strapped floozy was not in evidence, but is impossible to tell how Anderson chose her subjects. Did she screen them to find only those who would forward her agenda?
Anderson does provide balance. She interviews a porn casting agent (a woman) to give “another perspective” on women in the business. The casting agent is frank about drug use and how most get into porn for the money (and quickly spend it all). She also seems to have convinced herself that even though she is finding women to exploit for the adult industry, it could be worse. She says she, unlike others, cares about the girls. This may be true, but later in the film she states that every time a girl appears in a scene she is losing a piece of her soul. Maybe the casting agent cares for them in an earthly sense, but spiritually she seems to believe they are corrupting themselves and she is not doing anything to stop that. A paradox to say the least.
Later on in the film, the women themselves are honest about STDs, drug use, and the difficulties of interacting with family and “civilians,” given the career they have chosen.
Directed by: Deborah Anderson
Cast: Alexis Texas, Allie Haze, April O’Neil, Ash Hollywood, Asphyxia Noir, Belladonna, Brooklyn Lee, Francesca Le, Jesse Jane, Katsumi, Kayden Kross, Lexi Belle, Lisa Ann, Misty Stone, Tanya Tate, Teagan Presley
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Aroused is divided roughly into two parts. In the first half, we see the women being interviewed as they are made up prior to a photo shoot. In the second part, they are photographed in seductive yet tasteful, Playboy-style poses—all naked of course.
If you are looking for a porn movie, you will not find it in Aroused. Beyond the artful nudity of the photo shoot, there is hardly any footage of the women in their films. Here is an irony. Aroused is a documentary about women in pornography. Anderson takes care to put the women in a positive light, despite what they do, but we don’t see any of the highly vulgar acts they perform on a daily basis. Perhaps this is because including scenes from the movies would affect the rating or because the movies are readily available elsewhere, but, more importantly, it might affect our opinion of the women.
I think this is a mistake. If you are going to take on the subject, don’t try to make a Potemkin Village out of it. Just having a casting agent talk about it is not enough. Porn is a visual medium. To avoid juxtaposing a porn star’s calm self-reflection against a noisy, XXX scene is spin-doctoring, and I don’t get the sense Anderson is a political documentarian in the mold of Michael Moore. If you want us to learn the truth about the porn industry and its performers, don’t avoid showing us what they do.
That reservation aside, Aroused is a well-made and thoughtful documentary. I’m still unsure if pornography is the kind of nuanced medium Anderson wants us to believe it is, with performers whose personal sides we really need to understand, but in a day and age when many documentaries are political screeds masquerading as searches for truth (see Michael Moore), Aroused acquits itself well and is certainly worth a look.