"The truth goes deeper than you think." The gathering of students in a Harvard classroom waiting to watch a special screening of the movie Lovelace and to have a conversation with Catharine MacKinnon, the former lawyer of Linda "Lovelace" Marchiano, might have struck some uninformed passers by as a bizarre sight. At first glance, a radical feminist sitting amongst us and inviting us to watch Hollywood's take on consent and sexual oppression, presented quite the juxtaposition.
However, the film Lovelace aims to present pornography in a more critical light and to raise awareness of the facts of Marchiano's life, in particular, the horrific ordeals that she endured whilst working in the pornography industry. Hearing MacKinnon speak of Marchiano's enduring legacy to tackle sexual violence in the pornography industry was touching to many, some of whom departed from the conversation feeling moved to raise awareness in return.
Yet, somewhat disappointingly, this sense of mobilization and message has not been consistently transported through the media's framing of the Lovelace narrative. The importance of the message that the movie carries appears to somewhat disintegrate when we open the glossy pages of our top tier female magazines including reviews or features on the film- or on Amanda Seyfried.
Flicking through such forums, it is difficult to escape from the glaring misunderstanding of the film's message that persists between the glossy ads and celebrity entertainment features. The light-hearted nature of the reviews and the sexualized essence of the commentary altogether portray little of the abuse endured by Marchiano. An utterly contradictory narrative has been canvassed to the world - which does not accord with the message of the movie itself in the depiction of Marchiano as the survivor of a far darker story.
From the outset you would be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that the statement: "The truth goes deeper than you think" scrawled across the movie advertisement is altogether quite offensive. Tied between the need to draw in and capture a mass audience, and by morality, the unethical hook appears to have trumped.
Yet the widespread magazine packaging of the movie further exacerbates this problematic narrative. Consider what the following observation tells the reader of Marchiano's plight. Queue Cosmopolitan magazine: "It also felt strange seeing Amanda Seyfried's breasts quite so often - but to her credit, she has a great pair!"
Moreover, Cosmopolitan considers it pressing to comment on the lack of a hip soundtrack to the sexual abuse and rape endured by Marchiano throughout her story: "At the beginning of the film (where we see Linda Lovelace as a sweet, young girl) the music is a lot more prominent - and it's great. Towards the end it's all about those eery silences." Perhaps we should reflect on the fact that we are reading a review of the entertainment value of "those eery silences" when a woman is shown being beaten and gang raped.
Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse in the print house: "Any yawns? Not really, no. It felt a little all over the place at times (they repeat scenes to give another side to what happened), but we guess that's just the way they wanted to tell Linda's story." Offering the viewer the truth of Marchiano's experience as told through her own words might conceivably be a frustrating experience. Indeed the viewer might prefer to simply view these scenes once- through the rose-tinted spectacles of the pornography consumer.
Cosmopolitan attempts to further sexualize Marchiano by flirtatiously adding: "whatever you do, don't see it with your parents." Adding to this sexualized confusion, we are offered to consume features linked to the movie's review at the foot of the page that include: "five of the best orgasm scenes in films"; "20 celebrities who shockingly used to be hot" and "five tips for a five star blowjob."
This mixed packaging of Lovelace by Cosmopolitan is disheartening. Disappointingly, Vogue does little better. Its feature on Lovelace focuses on the physical transformation undertaken by Amanda Seyfried- the shocking journey taken by one woman- from blonde to brunette.
We are told Seyfried: "loved the physical transformation that came with playing Seventies porn star Linda Lovelace." After becoming "sick of playing myself", she wanted a "true challenge." Vogue quotes Seyfried as explaining: "costumes work wonders for people and with this more so than ever - I had brown contacts and wigs and had freckles drawn on. It didn't take long because I barely wore any make-up, but, man, the wonders a wig can do."
Good to know. Moreover, despite stressing that she wanted to do Marchiano's story justice, somewhat confusingly Seyfried adds to her Vogue interview the following curve ball: "Everybody should be able to freely express themselves, sexually or otherwise... Not all women are coerced and beaten into porn...People should be able to watch whatever they want."
Given Marchiano's plight to prevent Deep Throat from being screened in movie theatres across the world and from being sold in video stores across the country for the remainder of her adult life, surely a necessary component of doing justice to this survivor's story involves an expression of the fact that, in certain instances, where rape is allegedly being screened in a porno, people should not be allowed to watch whatever they want.
With the simple aim of collecting my mail in the law school, every day I am passed by a parade of full-length posters depicting films with a legal dimension or moral tale- Twelve Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Green Mile. The list continues. I now wonder if Lovelace will ever be added to that parade in the future as a legal tale- or if its impact will be forever limited by the fact that its message has been stifled by certain fragments of the media.
At times I find myself departing lectures or conferences feeling more perplexed about the issues we discussed than when I entered through the doors. Yet exiting the event on Lovelace I carried a clear message back with me. Unfortunately, some media pitches of that message have served to distort it from being the biography of a woman who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her oppressive husband, before taking control of her life, to an entertaining flick that we shouldn't watch with our parents.
It's little surprise that at the peak of her activism, Marchiano's abuse was still dismissed by some as an utterly contradictory narrative- because it didn't accord with what they had seen on screen. Depicting herself as the survivor of a far darker story was a difficult narrative to uniformly construct.
I am at pains to observe that it is now being toppled to an extent within the glossy pages of female magazines. Would it have consumed a column inch too many to add the qualifying words: "abused and raped" or, if wishing to be more legally neutral: "allegedly abused and raped" prior to references to "porn actress" when summarizing the film?
Yes, jokes sell. Sex sells. We know this. But in this context, need the reader be blinded and tricked into thinking that Lovelace is about something sexy? If the answer to this question is yes, then this observation of itself should offer us food for thought.
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