6.23.2013

The pornographic canon: "The Bigger The Better" (1984)



Mike Ramsey and Buster as "straight" buddies in The Bigger The Better.

A while back I wrote a post in which I mentioned the hand-wringing that goes on in the gay community over the fetishization of straight men in gay porn.  A huge percentage of gay pornography advertises straight models, often amateurs or non-professionals, being initiated into the world of gay sex.  Of course, since many of these models are only passing for straight, much of this pornography involves considerable suspension of disbelief.  Sometimes the scenarios are explicitly presented as fantasy, as when well-known gay porn stars appear in videos playing straight characters. In Matt Sterling’s The Bigger The Better (1984), for instance, gay porn actors Mike Ramsey and Buster play a pair of horny straight buddies out on the town trying to pick up women.  After they’re rebuffed, they head to Mike’s brother’s apartment to crash for the night, whereupon Buster, aroused by the sight of Mike sprawled out on the bed in his tighty whities, initiates sex with him. 

The Bigger The Better: "Cruising for babes"

The scene belongs to a subcategory of the straight-guy fantasy that we might call the “buddy” scenario (the seduction of one straight guy by a closeted friend, or mutual experimentation by two equally curious friends).  The powerful appeal of these scenarios rests on their acknowledgment and transgression of the taboo against homosexuality.  They imply that to indulge in gay sex, especially with one’s frat brother or football teammate, is to cross a serious boundary.  The fantasy is enhanced by performers whose hypermasculinity acts as a signifier for their seemingly infallible straightness.  Some thoughts, lines of dialogue, and unspoken responses around which such fantasies coalesce: “this is my first time”; “will he reciprocate?”; “this is so wrong”; “no one else can know”; “we can make each other feel better than any woman could”; “he likes it”; “I always suspected…”; “just try it”; “a guy knows what a guy likes”; “boys will be boys.”

Straight-guy fantasies thus play scintillatingly on the tropes of closetedness, homosocial bonding, and sexual repression, and become ways of exploring darker, potentially more latent feelings of homophobia, shame, or misogyny.  The persistent popularity of straight-guy fantasies therefore haunts the desire of the gay pride movement to demystify and de-stigmatize gay sex, to untether it from associations with shame or disgust, and to insist that gay sex is, at bottom, loving, natural, and deserving of social sanctioning.  It comes as little surprise, then, to encounter backlash against porn that makes the seduction of straight men the stuff of sexual fantasy (especially considering that gay rights activists have continually worked to convince homophobic straight people that we are not trying to “recruit” them).  But why should porn participate in this process of demystification, assimilation, and respectability? If I’ve taken anything away from my study of hard-core pornography over the past two months, it’s that porn lends itself particularly well to diving headlong into the unconscious muck of sex.  (This, more so than its explicit images, may be why it makes so many people uncomfortable.)  Its greatest strength lies in its dredging up of ugly feelings, its playing on the knife edge of pleasure and shame, desire and fear—in short, its freedom from the tyranny of “positive representation.”  The making of a sex-positive society must involve not only bringing historically maligned sexualities into the light but also keeping in touch with sex’s thick darkness.

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