Détourne Me On

Détourne Me On

If it’s a parody of a television show, but it’s a really good parody, what is it? And what if it’s porn?

Big wheel keeps détournin'...

Big wheel keeps détournin'...

[Please welcome frequent guest writer André Callot – now a formal contributor! With his own username and everything!]

Détournement is a stand-in for a noble revolutionary guerilla war. On one side, the forces of “the spectacle,” or capitalism: all of the power of constructed media language, the entire culture of representation and every image you’ve ever seen in your life. On the other side, the artist: a valiant resistance fighter, cursed with the knowledge that he alone must take the enemy’s ammunition and use it against them. By reshaping the palace of the commercial image into something ugly, something political, détournement takes the power away from the autonomous image and returns it to the people. All very romantic and sexy and French.

Speaking of pornography, there is a kind of combat at work in porn, too (and not just in the really good kind). The two sides of the conceptual battle in porn are similar to the ones I just mentioned: the performers/creators who do it for money or fame or what have you, and the “sex artists” who do it because it is their creative passion. As with “the spectacle,” pornography defaults to the system of power associated with capitalism, against which the few serious auteurs struggle.

A struggle between artists and capitalism? Yes, I guess I am talking about television. Specifically, the intersection of television, Situationist art and porn: the porn parody.

In September 2007, Not the Bradys XXX (a porn featuring the characters from The Brady Bunch) became a huge hit, drew mainstream media attention and started a porn trend that is entering its third year. When it became clear that major media companies would rather look the other way than draw attention to sexually explicit videos that exploit high-profile intellectual properties, porn versions of almost every successful show on television were produced. A Friends porn. A Scrubs porn. A Seinfeld porn. High production values (provided by near-guaranteed sales) allowed for the mimicking of the sets, the costumes and the casts of these shows, down to fine details like Elaine Benes’s big, curly hair. It was all really funny and novel and cute…for the first six months.

Now, years later, the novelty is gone. What isn’t gone is the business model. A Dexter porn? Well, all right. A Borat porn? That would have been a terrible idea when Sacha Baron Cohen still had a career. Today it’s just bizarre and unfortunate. At this point, porn parodies still sell a little better than “regular” porn, but not enough to justify the huge budgets and all-star casts of the past. Whether these parodies were ever détournement can be debated. The ones produced now, though, seem to have settled down to the level of harmless cash-in, bereft of the shock-of-recognition that made the first ones possibly disruptive to the power contained in the original television shows.

Maybe, maybe not.

13 Comments on “Détourne Me On”

  1. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Callot – I’m assuming you’ve SEEN The Sex Files? I want to know how much attention is lavished on the plot elements. Is this a sex movie with a few X-Files trappings? Or an X-Files story in which there is sex?


  2. Saint #

    I don’t want to spoil it, but it plays out as a monster-of-the-week episode with plot-appropriate sex scenes. Lilith, first wife of Adam, is still alive after all these years, and she is eating her male sex partners alive after intercourse.

    It’s certainly a different kind of sexual visual language from fan fiction, as Mulder and Scully only have sex at the very end. We’re not privy to their internal emotional lives as we would be in fan fiction, and the limitations of both pornography and cinema prevent any long meditations on personal anxieties or longings. It’s plot-driven while being true to the characters. The director’s no genius, but neither were some of the less-famous X-Files contributors.

    Of course, This Is Not A Review Site, Either (TIN ARSE). My commentary was intended to focus on what was apparently an unusual set of motivations and practices within an overwise well-codified genre. I only briefly mentioned that it was critically acclaimed relative to other porn parodies to indicate that my assessment of the acting and writing were not simply my own X-Files fanaticism compromising my academic detachment.


  3. stokes OTI Staff #

    Can you follow up on that bit about the Situationists there at the end? I kind of see how you get to the disruption of the separation of the etc. etc. from the rest of your post… but then, I kind of don’t.


  4. callot #


    Guy Debord talks specifically about the possibilities of détournement in cinema language, though he doesn’t talk about abjection in particular. “Abjection” as a concept belongs to a later philosophical tradition (Julia Kristeva et al). What Debord does talk about is the desire to confront the unspoken power structures in a work (he mentions the racism in “Birth of a Nation”) by interrupting its aesthetic unity in blunt, brutal ways. As a feminist film critic, I naturally co-opt the anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-authoritarian themes heavily implied in the Situationist literature and films as existing alongside anti-phallogocentrism and anti-puritanism.

    Aside from implied alliances, “The Society of the Spectacle” explicitly criticizes the effect of the image’s separation from reality in terms of human life, including the sex/depictions of sex dialectic. Mashing together the anti-sex mainstream television narrative of “The X-Files” (anti-sex because it presents a world without intercourse but with gun shots, like most television) with pornography is an attempt to rob “The X-Files” of its spectacular power. That this fails says more about the role of sex in the spectacle than it does about the efficacy of détournement.

    I guess there’s a lot of complicated stuff in the idea of posing abjection against détournement, as they come from different perspectives on the role of the viewer in narrative, but I think that might be better saved for an article on abjection. Which I would love to write, as soon as I get a good idea.


  5. stokes #

    Okay, I think I follow you. You’re saying that the day when you can have a porn version of the x-files that is not a porn parody of the x-files marks some kind of decisive break in our popular culture’s relationship to sex, right? A break that you – and the Situationalists – welcome with open arms, because it might mean that we’ve gotten past the psychosexual crisis of abjection. (Although obviously what you say is a lot more specific and nuanced.)

    Abjection is one of those tricky things, though, where the existence of a border is more important than the precise location of a border, IMHO. And I’m pretty sure that all of the following

    – a gay porn version of the X-Files
    – a tickle-fetish porn version of the X-Files
    – a furry-porn version of the X-Files
    – a gay furry porn version of the X-Files
    – etc.

    … would, uh, “interrupt [the show’s] aesthetic unity in blunt, brutal ways.” So this could have the effect of valorizing a certain kind of sexuality while pushing alternatives further into the outer dark. Still, I suppose we have to take these things one step at a time.


  6. callot #

    All of those things would be excellent video art. And yes, this movie does not single-handedly abolish homophobia. The thing is, porn versions of popular culture aren’t new. The thing that makes the current porn parodies détournement is that they have such high budgets that they can claim to be appropriating the actual visual language of the original, instead of crudely referencing it. The Sex Files further complicates that by taking on both the visual language and the more subtle signifiers of a falsified reality.

    Moving the border of abjection to the other side of hardcore sex is a pretty significant move. I would say that the distance between network television and porn is a wider gap (by miles) than the one between the varieties of niche-marketed fetish porn.

    Kimberly Kane is part of a community of sex-centric artists working in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, many of whom would be comfortable making exactly the movies you describe. And I do mean “artist.” Kane’s friend Madison Young is the owner and curator of the Femina Potens gallery in San Francisco, which features kickass art in a variety of media, including the work of fellow porn performers Syd Blakovich and Jiz Lee.

    I name-check these people because I want to be clear that I am not saying The Sex Files happened by accident. These people are art historians, philosophers and performance artists. That they are able to make serious art while they also make commercial pornography speaks to the crumbling (and shifting) borders between explicit sexuality and the spectacle.


  7. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Callot – Wait, so Kimberly Kane and the rest of the makers of The Sex Files are “art historians, philosophers and performance artists”? And The Sex Files is “serious art”? Look, I agree that the combination of fan fiction and pornography is interesting. But I’m not sure it’s “serious art.” I think even the people involved in making it would describe it as “light entertainment.”

    And yes, I suppose you can call ANYTHING “serious art,” and that’s impossible to disprove. “Serious art” is in the eye of the beholder.

    But how is Kimberly Kane an art historian? Kimberly Kane is a high school dropout:
    Of course that doesn’t mean she can’t be an artist. But let me propose that you’re thinking about The Sex Files in a way she has not.


  8. callot #

    No, I’m saying that these people are engaged in art making and analysis while also having day jobs as pornographers. The Sex Files is intended to sell well. To see the “art” art, visit http://www.feminapotens.org/


  9. Gab #

    Nice article, Callot.

    From what I gather (since I too have not seen it), it seems as though calling The Sex Files outright porn is inaccurate, just as calling it parody is, too. It sounds like this is more, to use your language, a _version_ of the original X-Files, or an addition to its canon with new elements. Like a sequel for which the original cast was unable to make it, so other actors were brought on. If that’s the case, is it really so revolutionary (in the sense that it’s rebelling, not that it’s new)? Further, it thus wouldn’t qualify as parody, either, IMHO. The cast and crew aren’t making fun of the X-Files, they’re producing their own fanfic, and I personally think there is a difference between parody and fanfic.

    Actually, I think it _is_ rebelling, but against porn parodies themselves. It is using their concept for its own purposes within the industry it is most likely to succeed in (because of the anti-sex, puritanical mainstream). Which, I suppose means it is undermining the mainstream, yes, but not outright rebelling against it.


  10. callot #

    All X-Files fans should see it, just so they can form an opinion for themselves. At the very least, it’s better than John Shiban’s episodes.


  11. Gab #

    So what do you think of the most recent movie, eh?


  12. callot #

    You know what the X-Files needed? A psychic freakin’ detective. That’s some undiscovered country right there.

    Seriously, who said “The X-Files is great and all, but that show Medium, that’s the real deal. Let’s get in on that. Oh, but can we replace the sexy PsyILF with Billy Connolly? And can we make him a pedophile priest and literally cut his balls off? Because I have too much money and I want to make sure no one will ever want to see this.”

    Right, Chris Carter said that, among other completely stupid things like “There should be more rappers on The X-Files. And can we bring Tea Leoni back? No? Even though she’s married to the star? OK, then let’s get someone like Tea Leoni, but even LESS skilled as an actor. Amanda Peet? It’s like you’re reading my mind! Hey, a mind-reading casting agent, can we do that next time?”

    So. Flippin’. Dumb.


  13. Gab #

    Um, so I’m guessing you didn’t think it was as bad as everyone said it was?


Add a Comment