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?

All the sex that was missing from the original ...

All the sex that was missing from the original ...

The Sex Files, starring Kimberly Kane and Anthony Rosano as Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, was released last week to huge acclaim in the adult film press. What made it so good? According to a fleshbot.com interview (NSFW) with the film’s director Sam Hain, it was “geekery.”

“I wanted it to fit into a plot hole in ‘The X Files’ that lots of fans were talking about,” he said. “We see Scully…leaving a room as she’s adjusting her clothes, and inside we see Mulder…on the bed. (I) tried to make it organic to the original show(.)

Unlike the originators of the porn parody trend, The Sex Files began with the intention of creating continuity with the source material, not through a scrupulous application of out-of-work set designers, but through narrative and characterization. That is, through fan fiction. This strategy is a little odd for the super-commercial world of pornography, as the performers would have to be as committed to the ideology of the project as the fanboy director. Oddly, that seems to be the case. Kane, as Scully, squints into the sun like Gillian Anderson, crouches over corpses at crime scenes like Gillian Anderson, smirks with annoyed condescension like Gillian Anderson, as though she were doing the work of a real actress, which she is. If Kane’s twitter feed can be believed, she is a total sci-fi geek who was as excited about getting to play Dana Scully as she was about getting Galaxy Quest on DVD.

Here we get to the real question: when this “fan fiction” mentality meets the disruptive force of near-Hollywood-level production values, is that détournement? Or is it just the autonomous image reasserting its dominance over the viewer? When we watch Kimberly Kane play Dana Scully, is she playing Gillian Anderson playing Dana Scully, or is Kane simply another actress taking on the role? If Kane is playing Gillian Anderson, the movie becomes an attack on the illusion of narrative continuity, prying a wedge between our subconscious minds and the commodity of The X Files. Levels of representation separate from each other, revealing the complicated relationships between the “subculture” of genre television as another model for marketing trench coats and flashlights. On the other hand, if Kane is playing Dana Scully (which she appears to be), the movie neuters one of the tools of critical appropriation: the abjection of a narrative through explicit synthesis with the indescribable reality of the human body. It’s like taking the piss out of Piss Christ (pun!). By making it possible to have both the continuous illusionary space of sustained narrative (without it being undermined by non-realist acting) and the bodily sexual interaction of the constituting characters, the psychosexual crisis at the heart of puritan American television starts to disappear.

It’s unlikely that the porn parodies ever had much power as anti-spectacular propaganda. The “porn ghetto,” much like the animation ghetto, insulates the referenced work from direct critical interaction with the parody. For me, the most interesting take-away from The Sex Files is that one of the goals of the Situationists (a disruption of the separation between the individual and the physical experience of the reality of the human body) seems to have been achieved at some point in the recent past. Abjection, as great as it is as a tool for the political artist, is one psychosexual crisis I wouldn’t miss.

[Have porn parodies of mainstream pop culture transcended actual parody? Will The Sex Files have as many unresolved plot threads as the series that inspired it? Sound off in the comments!]

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?


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