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Why Cultural Appropriation Is Given a Pass in Porn

A film in which a man uses a didgeridoo as a sex toy has thrown up all sorts of questions around why porn isn't treated the same as other media.

by Nick Chester
Jun 26 2017, 2:07pm

Real selection of offensive stuff here: blackface, a hijabi woman and a screen shot from the 'Baby Got Back' porn parody.

The didgeridoo is a wooden instrument of immense cultural significance to Australian Aborigines, used for around 1,000 years in a number of traditional ceremonies as musical accompaniment to ceremonial singing and dancing. It was also used as a dildo recently on a Men.com video entitled "Didgeridoo Me", in which porn star Aspen worked the thin end of one into his on-screen room-mate, Jack Hunter.

That the clip – released in May – led to immediate allegations of cultural appropriation and claims of it being "horrifyingly offensive" is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the didgeridoo-in-bum story. Porn has existed in a vacuum for a while now: while cultural appropriation is usually met with criticism when it takes place in mainstream media or culture, porn oscillates outside of those rules, with seemingly every kind of cultural item or piece of clothing imaginable used for on-screen sexual gratification in recent years.

There are movies featuring hijabs and Native American head dresses; there is a specialist website featuring actors in blackface having sex with POC. So why is it that the racial taboos that govern the non-porn world don't seem to apply to the adult industry? Is it that blue movies are somehow the exception to the social rules that apply to other media, or are we just lax with what we let fly when it comes to porn?

Professor Daniel Bernardi, who has studied racism in pornography, spoke to me about why he thinks we're more accepting of the misuse of cultural items in our wanking material than we are in any other form of media.

"The categorisation system in most porn sites includes racially-based genres – 'petite Asians', 'ghetto black chicks', 'big booty Latinas', that kind of thing," he says. Bernardi argues that this view of different ethnicities – as consumable fetishes based on stereotypes – has created a landscape in which cultural appropriation is able to thrive. He points out that whenever the "money shot" is delivered in interracial porn, the minority actors more often perform for the pleasure of either a white actor or an assumed white viewer, suggesting a subservient role. The same applies when clothing associated with a specific minority is used – it's typically the character dressed as the person of colour whose job it is to pleasure the other actor.

According to Bernardi, the reason porn stars are so rarely called out for their depiction of minorities as subservient is that people don't generally tend to discuss the latest porn film with their mates, so pornos are less likely to be criticised. "We talk about film and television at work and at play," he says. "We almost never talk about pornography. If Star Wars comes out with a racist character because of the way George Lucas used a terrestrial culture to represent an alien, it's sure to be talked about in all corners of the public square. Cultural misappropriation in pornography is never talked because we don't talk about pornography."

A screenshot from "Didgeridoo Me"

There are some who think it isn't enough to simply seek to publicly discuss pornography and point out when it's racist. Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies, and author of Pornland, Gail Dines, holds the view that the very foundations of porn are based in inequality, and that cultural appropriation plays a substantial part in this. She believes that racism and sexism are integral components of the adult film industry, and that the only way of preventing porn from propagating these prejudices is to get rid of it altogether.

"Pornography works on the basis of how you can debase women, and the more you can debase her, the better the porn," says Dines. "If you can debase her as a woman and as a person of colour, you've got double debasement, so you make the porn even hotter. In porn, they use racism as a means to debase both her gender and her race. So-called progressive men have no right to call themselves progressive if they're viewing pornography because of both the misogyny and the racism."

Given that the issue of cultural appropriation in porn provokes such strong reactions, how do porn stars and directors who have been accused of it justify their actions? Do they view themselves as operating outside the rules of the mainstream, or do they simply not care? I got in touch with Kieran Lee, who starred in a porn parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" that has been accused of appropriating hip-hop culture, and Duke Skywalker, whose website Black on Black Crime features a white actor in blackface performing sex acts on black women, to see what they had to say.

Lee claimed that some of the cultural appropriation in porn is down to the "tongue in cheek" nature of the genre. He was vaguely apologetic about the film he starred in, and told me that he only featured in it because another actor pulled out at the last minute. He claimed that pornography is actually held more accountable than other genres, as mainstream movies also poke fun at "sensitive issues" but supposedly don't receive as much negative press. While this might be true in some cases, it definitely doesn't seem to apply to adult entertainment as a whole.

Duke was as unapologetic as it's possible to be, and called me a "cuck" and a "snowflake" numerous times before I'd actually asked him any questions. He did make quite a fairly interesting point, though: that the reason cultural appropriation is commonplace in porn isn't because it manages to avoid criticism – it's because those within the industry tend to be thick-skinned and don't care what other people say. "There's just no fucks given in porn," he told me.

Perhaps this is the true reason culturally offensive pornography is so prevalent; the actors aren't afraid of being stigmatised because they're already in a profession that's rife with stigma. Maybe the key to reducing the amount of cultural appropriation in porn is to create an environment in which porn itself is more accepted. But if the backlash to "Didgeridoo Me" is anything to go by, it's clear that porn can't continue to exist within a moral vacuum, escaping the judgements that are passed on other types of media.

@nickchesterv