Searching for Studio Style in Contemporary Gay Porn

Regular readers of this blog probably know that I have a longstanding interest in gay porn. Obviously, like many gay men, I have a libidinal interest in watching it (a lot of it is quite hot), but as a scholar of film and queer theory, my interest in it is also an intellectual one (it’s fascinating how porn reveals so much about who we are and how we think about and feel desire). And, if I’m being completely honest, my posts about porn have been some of my most popular, so why not continue writing about it?

There are many things that I find endlessly fascinating (and, ahem, stimulating) about porn: the erotic component, the ways in which audiences engage with it (particularly in the era of social media), the star system it employs, its methods of distribution. Most importantly for this particular blog post (and the ones to follow), however, is the question of “style.” Now, it might seem counterintuitive to use a word like “style” with a genre like gay porn. After all, to many people, even academics, porn as an object of study exists somewhat beyond the pale of respectable company. To think about something like style would, I think, be to challenge the codes of taste that still govern how we think about pornography, elevating it to a position that perhaps doesn’t deserve.

I would like to suggest, however, that by focusing on the particular styles of various gay porn studios we can learn a great deal about the types of pleasures that they aim to offer their viewers. Given how central gay porn is to many gay men’s experience of the world, to say nothing of how they learn about sex, it seems to me especially important to understand the ways in which they do so. Like the classic Hollywood studios of old, today’s porn studios are very much in the business of cultivating, and catering to, specific tastes among their various audiences. And, as with classic Hollywood, one can get a strong sense of the way a studio views the world, as well as the ways in which they encourage their consumers to do the same.

In a subsequent series of posts, I plan to spotlight several of the gay porn studios that I most frequently watch. Some potential subjects will be TimTales, Sean Cody, Corbin Fisher, GuysInSweatpants, Helix, and RawStrokes (yes, these are all real names of porn studios). Though I have a preference for those “minor” studios that have come up in the last ten years or so to challenge the hegemony of their titanic predecessors, I will, I think, also be focusing on some of the heavy hitters in the industry, if only because they provide such a marked contrast to their newer counterparts.

Each post will focus on the “house style” of a studio. They will focus on issues like cinematography (strange as it seems, most studios can be identified simply by looking at their camerawork), their stars or star types (indeed, the type of model they employ is frequently one major way in which studios differentiate themselves), and the type of sex they focus on (also a significant marker of brand differentiation). Doing so will, I hope, shed some much-needed light on the crucial differences (and similarities) between and among these purveyors of desire.

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