NOTES ON THE BODY IN ANIMATED PORNOGRAPHY
José B. Capino
A film depicting the raunchy sexual misadventures of Eveready Harton, the most famous animated porn character from the silent era, indicates that pornographic cartoons began circulating as early as the 1920s. Since that time, animated pom's proprietary cast of 'fornicating' characters have appeared in films alongside mainstream animation's most beloved and respected figures, including the likes of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Mickey Mouse. Even the immaculate Snow White was poised to make one such appearance for, as one famous insider revealed in an anecdote, animators on the Disney's first feature drew sketches of the fairest maiden copulating with the seven dwarves.1 This long, checkered history of animated porn is matched by the impressive volume of such works, many European in origin, that comprise the numerous adult cartoon compilations now sold at most porn shops. Avant-garde filmmakers and independent animators, among them sex-positive directors like Suzan Pitt, have also contributed many erotic works that might also be described as pornographic. And if we count in the more sexually explicit forms of Japanese anime-with their predilection for oversexed, ultra-violent schoolgirls and older women who are sexually impaled by various sorts of slimy, fleshy tentacles-then the corpus of animated porn swells considerably.
This long and productive tradition of making cartoon porn is built on a premise that can either seem especially sensible or dangerously perverse. Those of us who grew up associating cartoons primarily with children might find the sexualization of Bugs Bunny and Minnie Mouse quite disturbing. But if we see cartoons as a medium for all ages-one that, aside from entertaining kids, is routinely used to teach foreign languages, explain various procedures, describe bodily functions, and map out strategies for sports and battles-then we would have no problem linking animated porn to allied traditions of erotic illustration, including pillow books, marriage manuals, and more recently, the '10l sexual positions' flyers being hawked to tourists in Times Square. Whichever of these two stances we might take, it is intriguing to note that both are preoccupied with the ethics surrounding the disposition of bodies that are fundamentally unreal-bodies that are imaginary, fabricated, virtual, animated. One stance is premised upon the notion that the cartoon bodies in animated porn evoke, if not represent, the bodies of real children; thus, the disposition of animated bodies in erotic situations is deemed ethically problematic. The other stance takes the precise opposite view, and proceeds from the assumption that eroticization is but one of the many things that can and should only be done with animated bodies, precisely because they are immaterial.This ethical contest over unreal bodies is a manifestation of just how central the body is to the three major elements that comprise animated porn, namely: the cinema, animation and pornography.
Very little has been written that explicitly links all three elements together. Karl F. Cohen's Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America (1997) is the closest to a book-length study of this long-lived subgenre of animation and pornography, though very little of it specifically concerns animated porn.2 Constance Penley, one of the leading voices in pornographic film scholarship, sustains a prolonged discussion of the Eveready Harton film Buried Treasure (1928) in one essay, though not strictly in the context of either animation or pornography, but rather of white trash culture.3 Studies of pornographic comics abound, as well as critical works on pillow books and the like, but the static nature of the printed medium brackets discussions about the verisimilitude of life that motion in film and animation make possible.
In this exploratory study, my goal is to explicate animated pornography by teasing out the relationship between the three elements within animated pornography (film, animation and pornography) and the body, the one register that links all three together. I draw from a variety of films created in commercial and artisanal contexts, purchased both from art house distributors and adult bookstores. My choice of titles is not representative; they constitute a few of many possible examples. When reliable data is available or provided by distributors, I have indicated the year of release or production in parentheses at first mention of the film's title.
Pornographic and animated bodies: bodies that can speak the unspeakable
Of the many tongues through which pornography speaks the unspeakable, animation is arguably the most articulate and audaciously vulgar. Within the vast corpus of pornographic cartoons, animated bodies can perform every desire and fantasy that the human body cannot utter. Relentlessly and with impunity, the animated body's plastic genitalia and invulnerable orifices grow and multiply, mutate and mutilate, probe or are penetrated by every imaginable object and animal. Sexual boundaries assume the solubility of water colors and, unlike the wages of evil that are didactically visualized in mainstream cartoons, the moral consequences of the animated body's unbridled promiscuity are often rendered invisible, like the sheets of acetate upon which they are drawn. Immune from the stigmas of disease, exploitation and unintended procreation that haunt their counterparts in live-action porn, the bodies in animated pornography also function as the ultimate prophylactic for the expression of human (and non-human) sexuality.
But even if the telos of the animated body is acceptably oriented towards the task of perpetual coitus, its sexualization is decidedly no less 'pornographic' and transgressive than live-action pornography. One obvious reason is the intimate association between the medium of animation and the iconography and culture of childhood. Animated pornography represents the intrusion of obscenity into a domain in which sexuality is most vigorously denied. Part of the pleasure of animated pornography is the vicarious reclamation of that sexuality, achieved through a mischievous appropriation of the symbols of childhood. When, in a Germanlanguage animated short, a mouse that suspiciously looks like Jerry (of "Tom and Jerry" fame) impales a Daisy Duck knock-off, the spectator takes pleasure in several overlapping transgressions, the least serious of which being the triumphant infringement of copyright.4 Our suspicions about the sex lives of cartoon characters are affirmed and the Freudian psychosexual world of our childhood returns with a vengeance. Indeed, it is within the liminal space of animated pornography-where spectators are positioned simultaneously as both adults and children-that one may most successfully experience the range of feelings suggested by Freud's idea of the primal scene. Watching a defiled Daisy Duck experience sexual pleasure evokes, if only for a fleeting moment, the repugnant curiosity and paralyzing fear behind a child's desire to access the site of parental copulation.5 This liminal position that the spectator assumes is not only cued by a relay of associations between animated figures and the culture of childhood. It is also activated by the very image and sound of the animated character's bodies, which are often marked as both childlike and adult.
The ability of these liminal, drawn, painted or sculpted 'bodies' to elicit responses from the bodies of their spectators, whether in the form of shivers at their Oedipal adventures or fits of laughter at their outrageous transgressions, indicates both or recognition of the corporeality of these bodies (i.e., acknowledging those bodies as being somewhat like our own) and our willingness to project upon them similar values that we assign to real bodies (i.e., bodies like our own). This dynamic gets complicated when we think about animated pornography because it involves the constitution and disposition of what I shall conceptualize as the 'animated body'-the body whose appearance is that which produces pornography and yet which is also, simultaneously and fundamentally, often nonexistent. Questions of the body are central to understanding both pornography (a cinematic mode that attends the body's disposition in sexual contexts) and animation (a cinematic mode that attends the mimicry of human motion in non-human plastic bodies). In animation, the presence of the animated body evokes the 'real' body whose essence and movement it mimics or stylizes; in many (though certainly not all) respects, spectators appraise and evaluate animated bodies in terms of real ones. Moreover, our locus of identification with animated bodies is often grounded in the fiction of our common possession of bodies: thus, when Wylie Coyote falls of a cliff with a 500-pound anvil in his hands, we cringe because we realize that yet another body is consigned to the routine of destruction. The presence of the animated body in sexual congress evokes not only the issues attending the surplus of bodies and sexualities but also, in many ways, the 'real' bodies displaced from the frame but nevertheless haunting its margins. In short, the pleasures and ethics of animated pornography are inevitably mediated and understood by and through those of live-action pornography.
Hyperbole, pornography's principal mode of enunciation, also lies at the crux of animation's aesthetic. In all kinds of pornography, big is always better: broad acting, big groans, melonsized breasts, footlong schlongs, voluminous ejaculates, and global gang bangs. Similarly, in animation, much is overstated: facial features and body parts are hypertrophied, gestures are exaggerated, doses of violence are administered in extremes, sound and visual cues are magnified, and production numbers are rendered in over-the-top fashion. When animation meets pornography, the fusion of hyperbolic sex and hyperbolically drawn cartoons produces more than the sum of their parts. For instance, not only is animated pornography capable of producing sexualities that cannot exist (i.e., that are physically or legally impossible) in liveaction pornography or in real life; those already 'impossible' sexualities, along with extant sexual formations, are also rendered hyperbolically-multiplied in volume, exaggerated in magnitude-resulting in hypersexuality par excellence.
Predictably enough, this hypersexuality is represented literally by the presence of multitudinous and massive genitalia. Phallic shapes and, less frequently, yonic forms abound in backgrounds, landscapes and objects. The witch in Schwänzel und Gretel (Dickzel and Gretel), for instance, tends a garden of penis asparagus (which she nourishes with freshly squeezed breast milk), lives in a house that has a penis for a chimney and tiny labias for roof shingles. She pumps milk out of an unusual artesian well that masturbates a big disembodied penis to draw white fluid.6 Predictably enough, even such an extreme ubiquity of penises is never adequate for a hysterical woman like the witch, whose enormous sexual appetite only grows in hyperbolic correspondence to the surplus of sexual energy generated by the genital forms surrounding her. With every gush of water from the phallic milk dispenser, every burst of smoke from the penis-shaped chimney, her desire is concomitantly (over) stimulated, thus making her predation of our youthful protagonists both inexorable and understandable.
As in live-action pornography, animated pornography celebrates excess while at the same time negating it, since nothing is ever enough. The consumption of pornography implants perversities from its perpetually expanding and inexhaustible catalogue of bodies and sexualities, manufacturing desire not primarily for sex but for even more pornography. However, in live-action pornography-but not in animated porn-problems of supply constantly expose the finitude of its 'pornotopia': not everyone consents to making pornography, no matter how great the demand may be, and laws pertaining to the disposition of the human body limit the pornographies created with them.7 The sexual plenitude of live-action's pornotopia is surpassed by animation's superhuman capacity for producing bodies, desires, and sexualities-the cosmology of animated porn boasts the capacity to meet every demand, fulfill every fantasy. Moreover, animation's endemic propensity for surrealist excess and its high tolerance for non-diegetic embellishment in its mise-en-scène easily accommodate and naturalize the saturation of genitals, sex and sexuality in both the narrative and the visual field of animated pornography-desires, however perverse, never stand out but always find a context in image and story. It may even be argued that the relentless and unrivaled generation of this surplus of sex and sexual images is the primary sources of animated pornography's jouissance (the unfathomable jubilation it engenders) in the same way that the tireless kineticism and unabashed explicitness of live-action pornography's sexual routines serves as the ultimate wellspring of its joy and appeal.8
This may explain, for instance, the spectator's delight in viewing Pimper Power, an animated short that offers no narrative pleasure but an exhaustive visual exploration of every possible sexual situation involving two couples, a house, its contents, and then some.9 The film opens right before the orgy, with the suggestion from one of the two men that the "swat of mateswapping" begin "after a second cup of tea." Once the possibility of coitus is pronounced, everything is suddenly charged with sexual energy and meaning, and a visual orgy of diegetic and non-diegetic sexual acts begins. The TV automatically switches back and forth between pornographic programs, showing, for example, a woman who brushes laundry against a washboard and ends up masturbating while getting sexually penetrated from below by a disembodied penis. New characters drawn in different illustration styles appear intermittently in non-diegetic, surreal sexual situations. The disembodied head of a maestro plays sexual music on a piano and later jumps into the realm of another cartoon couple to administer cunnilingus on one of the 'diegetic' women. A couple of breasts emerge out of ice and sit beside chilled fruits, including, not insignificantly, pears and melons. A woman performs jumping jacks but instead of clapping her hands, she reaches for a penis suspended from the wall. A man draws an endless spool of thread from one of the two women's pubic hair. To be sure, a lot of the humor of Pimper Power and similar works derives not only from the depiction of imaginative (im)probable acts but also from delight at the sheer energy and sense of possibility that propels its creative sexuality.
In animated porn as in a utopian society, sexual orientation is often seen as fluid. More often than not, homosexual, bisexual or even bestial sex acts are not permanently attached to the sexual orientations of the characters. Just as infancy is posited by Freud as a period of polymorphous sexuality, so too does animated pornography exist within a state and space of sexual liminality-something not enjoyed by most live-action pornography and porn actors who are constructed and marketed in such rigid categories as tops, bottoms, sadomasochists, bisexual, butch, femme, fat, granny, etc.10 In this regard, the figures in animated pornography are more like their counterparts in mainstream animation: just as animals, plants and humans communicate and play with each other in mainstream work, the figures in animated pornography speak the language of polysexual desire and perform more sexual roles than conventional human morality can tolerate. It is not surprising, then, that a dragon impales a duck 'doggie style' in Odysseus und die Konigin van Pornos (Odysseus and the Queen of Pornos) and that Eveready Harton in Buried Treasure's titular penile protagonist engages in bestiality and homosexual penetration without being marked specifically as homosexual in the film.11
Of animated bodies that are hypersexualized and polysexual, extreme promiscuity is expected. When bodies come together in the visual field of animated porn, they almost always precipitate a sexual transaction, even between the unlikeliest of sexual partners. Such is the case when the famous protagonist of El Pichote dela Mancha finds himself alone with his sidekick, Sancho Panza.12 Pichote asks the latter to scratch his itchy member. Panza obliges and ends up stroking his friend to full erection. Before they get too intimate with each other, two distraught women with chastity belts (and bearing keys to them) show up from out of nowhere and request service.
Predictably enough, when animated bodies come together in groups, they end up in orgy. In fact, so strong is the tendency towards orgy in animated pornography that it might as well be an obligatory feature. In some films, like Freibeuter der Mäsen (Pirate of Cunt), a wild sea adventure featuring appropriated American cartoon characters, the gang bang is woven carefully into the plot: Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny rescue an island from the designs of the evil Captain Pisscums. When victory is attained, the seafarers barter treasures for women. A very politically incorrect orgy ensues, including, predictably enough, Bugs in a threesome and pirates chasing a voluptuous Black native while shouting, "Come here, my sweet savage, and have a taste of civilization!" Orgy is also central to the narrative of Raum-Ficker (Space Fucker), a Star Trek cartoon porno that sees the famous starship landing in a planet where the sexually insatiable female inhabitants are sustained by sex robots.13 When the latter go on strike, the crew takes pity on the women and volunteers to preserve the peace by beaming themselves down to the planet and servicing the inhabitants. Of course, not all films bother to 'justify' their orgies through plot points. In some, orgies occur only in the background, typically among oversexed animals in the margins of the mise-en-scène, or as brief diversions in the plot.
The hypersexuality and polysexuality of animated pornography is predicated upon an actual lack of sexuality. In theory, one could speak the gravest taboos in animation because animation, like child's play, is nothing at all; animated bodies are only virtually corporeal. One may thus think of this hypersexuality as built-in overcompensation for an intrinsic (and fundamental) short-circuit in the representational program of animated pornography-in the same way that, as Linda Williams argues, live-action pornography employs an excess of groans, ejaculates and sexual acrobatics in order to make up for its essential inability to represent female sexual pleasure.14 Following this argument to its logical conclusion, animated pornography emerges as a paradox and/or misnomer, for how can one have visual pornography without real bodies? Does the word 'animated' in 'animated pornography ' bracket the pornography it purports to offer? The answer is necessarily complex. While the term 'pornography' ('writing about prostitutes') is rooted in oral, gestural and verbal traditions from ancient experience, I believe that the invention of photography and cinematography, and their use in making pornographic images, constituted both a limit and a flash point that redefined pornography as a product of real bodies.15 This is why live-action pornography is, in my mind, pornography par excellence. That said, experience has shown that the politicallycharged term 'pornography' in 'animated pornography' confers upon animated bodies a discursive existence (sometimes even a pseudo-legal character) over and above the provisional/fictive materiality that spectators traditionally assign to all animated bodies. Like the female torso-in-the-meat-grinder that appeared on the cover of Hustler, the imaginary children impersonated by law enforcers at chat rooms, or the fictive children in pedophile oriented fiction and virtual pornography, the bodies in animated pornography possess a phantom status that is arguably substantial and real enough to become the subject of angry protests and serious lawsuits.16 In this light, I must qualify my characterization of animated pornography as a hypersexualized field that is predicated upon a paradoxical lack of bodies and sexuality. Instead, I should say that animated pornography proffers the illusion of a transgressive hyper and polysexuality legitimized by the discursive (im)materiality of the animated body and managed by the legal cultures surrounding their creation. These cultural and legal complications lead to another important but often unnoticed paradox of animated pornography: that in a medium associated with childhood, the figure of the child is most notably missing, appearing only by proxy, transference or association.
(The kind of) body matters: The fabric of animated bodies
As is true of nonsexual animation, the style of figuration and the medium employed in creating animated figures colors the nature of the animated body, suggesting its expressive possibilities, and determining the meanings generated by its placement within and outside the diegesis of an animated film. For instance, the Quay Brothers' use of industrial debris and mechanical puppets is particularly effective in evoking totalitarian regimes and conjuring nightmarish visions of the modern apocalypse in films such as The Street of Crocodiles (1986). Similarly, Sheldon Cohen's evocation of crayons and his childlike illustration style in The Sweater (1980) not only complements the joyful simplicity of author Roch Carrier's childhood reminiscence, but also finds a perfect visual texture to represent the evanescence of memory.
The medium, process and style of animation also allow animators to convey tone, position their audiences, and even mark the targets of their transgression. The predominance of pornographic cartoons drawn in the style of American studio animation may thus be understood not only as a practical and appropriate choice but also -depending on one's interpretation-as a potentially subversive one. Some may see the emulation of mainstream cartoon aesthetics as a rather transgressive attempt to simulate and occupy a cultural form coded for children. Others may argue that this transgressive edge is effectively blunted when these 'threatening' sexualities are grafted onto cute, silly, pastel-colored animated figures. To be sure, cel animation, while closely identified with studio animation and a childlike aesthetic, is a much more supple medium, as demonstrated by the long and vibrant history of avant-garde and political works in American independent animation and (Western and Eastern) European animation. When used in making pornography, alternative cel animation aesthetics not only seem equally suited for representing adult subjects but are even more significant for their resonances to the history of erotic visual art. For instance, Pimper Power draws extensively from the conventions of expressionism, Japanese erotic prints (shunga), commercial illustration, and cubism, among others. Its fugue of sexual scenarios and eclectic visual style draws connections between animated pornography, modern 'marriage manuals' and older pillow books, suggesting not so much a common didactic or instructional strain but, more interestingly, a common exploration of the plasticity of sexuality and the body through the mediation of infinitely plastic bodies.
Cel animation may also be employed to create unmistakably adult bodies in a realist (and surrealist) manner that draws from the language of such adult-identified traditions as technical and commercial illustrations, and studio art. In Crocus ( 1971 ), Suzan Pitt Kraning employs a visual style reminiscent of Victorian print illustration and commercial line art to evoke a modern woman's fantasy world of muscled men, sensuous butterflies, overfilled apartments. Pitt Kraning's plotless erotic reverie uses animated erotica as if it were an adult woman's (moving) paper doll-modern surrogates for enacting fantasies and representing dreams, extensions of an adult woman's body and her imagination.
Similarly, Gary Moore, in Armchair Inventions (1975), exploits animation's ability to simultaneously render bodies in both realist and fantastic ways in order to capture the texture of adult sexual dreams.17 Told and animated in the disjunctive style of Monty Python (or Jan Lenica), the film delves into the consciousness of a middle-aged man sexually aroused by a girlie magazine. In images and plot points that imbricate eros and thanatos, the woman in the magazine pops out of the print world, turns into a tomato, and inserts herself into a pinball machine. The man tries to play with her or for her through the machine, but when he successfully hits the target (her vagina), she turns into a skeleton and he, mortified, devolves into a tomato. Moore's employment of human bodies that transform into machines (or are interchangeable with them) not only utilizes animation's unique ability for metamorphosis and predilection for surrealism; it also gestures significantly, reflexively, towards the nature of the animated body as a mechanized human prosthetic.
Predictably, animated bodies created as objects with a tangible existence evoke an even greater affinity to human bodies than two dimensional forms of cartoons; they possess a gravitas that comes only from having an actual (even though nonhuman) body. Like human bodies, wooden puppets or clay figures are vulnerable, able to register distress, subject to the laws of physics, occupy space, etc. Moreover, the materiality of their bodies better parallels the range of meanings that human bodies can generate. In Karl Krogstad's Jack in the Fox (1972), characters with clay bodies are endowed with human characteristics that are denied to characters with hard plastic bodies.18 The contrast is drawn sharply when Jack, who is suffering from sexual alienation, emerges from selfimposed exile inside a toilet bowl and witnesses a sexual orgy between plastic baby dolls, other clay human figures like him, Raggedy Andy, a pseudo Mickey Mouse, and other playthings from the toy box. The soft and flexible sensuality of the clay figures contrasts with the hardness of the dolls' plastic bodies. When the clay figures engage in coitus, their bodies writhe poetically, unlike the harsh, jerky motions of the 'depraved' plastic dolls who twist erratically and hump with strong, clumsy force. Jack, turned off by the sexual excess of the group grope, leaves the scene. He is followed and consoled by his wayward lover, a red-haired woman, after she extricates herself from the dog pile of copulating bodies. The film's unsubtle treatise on promiscuity suggests a Biblical significance to the clay figures' materiality:like human flesh, clay is corruptible, and the first human body was fashioned with clay. For all their fragility and inherent 'human sinfulness', however, clay bodies are posited in the film as superior to plastic bodies precisely because their emulation of flesh carries with it a concomitant imitation of the human conscience. The clay-bodied Jack and his lover abandon the orgy because, unlike the others, they strive to be truly human. The plastic and rag dolls, on the other hand, revel in 'sinful' depravity because they are less analogous to the human body and thus, by extension, to the human person. More importantly, the dolls suggest not characters but real toys; thus, when they mate promiscuously they come dangerously close to representing the tabooed sexuality of the children to whom they belong and whose sexual energies were transferred to them in the process of child's play. When Raggedy Andy and a cute infant plastic doll hump, they conjure, by proxy, the image of children in sexual situations. Even more disturbing, the tattered, abandoned, and somewhat distressed look of the dolls suggests the absence of an owner-a human body-whose presence remains unaccounted for.
The example of the dolls in Jack in the Fox suggests that their possession of a body-even a nonliving one-concomitantly carries with it the potential for producing (actual) pornography. Whether they behave as proxies for humans or as lifeless possessions, their participation in the fabrication of erotica constitutes what could be described as object pornography. Their emplacement within the pornographic field endows these objects with a sexual intentionality that seems to draw energy from the absorption of sexual desires projected upon them by their owners. Conversely, their suitability for making pornography issues from a sexual meanings and energies gained from their immersion in a world that is innately steeped in sexuality. Put alternatively, when used to make porn, these animated bodies acquire a sexual purpose; corollary to this, they are useful for making porn precisely because they already, intrinsically possess a sexual intentionality.
Filthy and funny: voice and the (animated) body
In animated pornography as in live-action porn, the voice functions interestingly as an extension and displacement of the sexual body. By design or by circumstance (since much of the commercially distributed animated pornography is from Europe and re-dubbed into English) the voices seem to always teeter on the verge of being separated, if not existing separately from the body. In live-action pornography, the slippage between the synchronization of the moan and groan soundtrack and the bodies of the performers turns an otherwise sloppy technical practice into a complex pattern of relationships between sound and visuals. By smothering the image of bodies in sexual congress, the soundtrack functions variably as internal monologue, as a distinct vocal narrative displaced in time if not also in space from the image, and as compensation for the invisibility or illegibility of (female) sexual pleasure, among others. All these may be extended to animated pornography, as one may see from a cursory analysis of the soundtrack of Vince Collins's Malice in Wonderland (1982).19 Less interested in retelling the story of Lewis Carroll's novel than in using its premise and exploiting its images of female (sexual) curiosity, the film juxtaposes a monologue of a young woman's sexual free associations with continuously morphing cartoon images of yonic forms, emblems from the book, mutating sexual organs, and kaleidoscopic/psychedelic Roschach blot-like forms. As in live-action porn, the sound and image tracks are not always synchronized-at times they work in contrapuntal relation to each other; at others they complement each other. Always, when you focus exclusively on either sound or image, you will obtain distinct, separate experiences-but, together, they signify clearly and decisively.
There is, however, a very fundamental difference between sound-image relationships in animated and live-action pornography: in the former, the human voice is grafted into a nonhuman body. In a sense, then, sound double compensates for vision in animated pornography: first, for the inability of visuals to adequately register female pleasure and, secondly, for the comparative disparity in the source and manner of performing sexuality. Quite often in commercially produced animated pornography, a vulgar (or naughty) soundtrack not only reinforces sexual humor in the visuals but, more commonly, adds it where there is virtually none. Let's look at one example of each. In the final scene of Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming arrives and revives the titular character through coitus.20 As a simulated iris closes in on the genitals, the woman's disembodied voice delivers the naughty bit of dialogue that brings the visual and aural punchlines together: "I knew that someday my prince will come!". The cartoon fades out as Beauty, with a sparkle in her eye, writhes in ecstacy. The words and images, in this case, work in equal force to provide the sexual humor to the scene. In the opening scene from Schwänzel and Gretel, the verbal humor puts in double effort to escalate the sexual humor that the visuals alone cannot provide. As the cartoon fades into an amorous forest scene, an adult woman's voice supplies the verbose and graphic narration: "Once upon a time, a schlong schlong time ago, somewhere between Shangrila and the Garden of Eden, there was a magical forest where all the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and the moon up above got off on a thing called love, which they also called fucking, screwing, boffing, sucking, groveling, spiving, and filling the pestholes. Into this fucking forest came, and came, and came a happy, horny young couple named Schwänzel and Gretel."
This liberal use of verbal, sexual humor in animated pornography echoes the practice of pairing bawdy verses and illustrated erotica in 19th century Europe as well as the underground porno comics (sometimes referred to as Tijuana Bibles' or 'Eight-Pagers') of the 1930s which featured cartoon images of celebrities and bastardized versions of comic book characters in sexual situations.21 I interpret the interjection of sexual humor into sexualized cartoon images as yet another attempt to compensate for the absence of real bodies.22 On one register, the introduction of human voices performing sexuality gives an erotic charge and an adult sensibility to the graphic scribbles that constitute the (inert) cartoon bodies. This is evident in Schwänzel and Gretel in which the voice-over narration and sensibility of the oversexed witch woman very noticeably galvanizes the predictable proceedings with the energy of a hysterical woman. On another register, the use of sexual humor implants in animated pornography yet another mechanism for engaging the spectator's body. Funny (nonporn) cartoons are able to fully serve their purpose of appealing viscerally to the spectator's body even without using real bodies-something that animated pornography generally falls short of realizing. While comic cartoon animals easily make us laugh, sexily drawn cartoon foxes are likely to be relatively less affective (in terms of eroticism). In comedic animated pornography, one might say that the gaping weakness of the animated body's erotic appeal is 'papered over' by naughty laughter.23
The disposable and concupiscent body
When humor and eroticism are excepted, the other source of visceral engagement in animated pornography comes from the often severe and cruel punishment of oversexed cartoon characters. Buried Treasure's Eveready Harton's hyperactive penis is snapped off by a crab and pricked by a cactus. The witch in Sleeping Beauty is annihilated when the Prince inserts a dynamite dildo into her vagina while saying, "You'll get a bang out of it, I promise!". Various penises in Pimper Power are squashed, twisted, and pulled. The Cyclops in Odysseus is speared in the penis before being lured into penetrating a fake female Cyclops whose vagina leads straight into a dragon's mouth. The penises of the animal pirates in the fake Porky Pig adventure, Pirate of Cunt, are tied together, bitten by a shark, used as a flexible rope for a hammock, and boiled along with their owners to flavor the tribal soup.
From where comes this tendency to punish promiscuity? Do animators also embed the guilt of concupiscence at the same time they endow their figures with prosthetic sexualities? Or is this contradiction of porn that punishes promiscuity merely consistent with the legitimizing tropes found in most forms of pornography (i.e., contradictions that riddle representations of sexuality legitimize the breaking of taboos, attenuate the impact of their transgressions, ease the viewer's discomfort, or work through the collective guilt inherent in a practice that is socially stigmatized as immoral)?
Since the moralizing in animated porn is almost always done tongue-in-cheek and the punishment of the promiscuous body conducted ubiquitously with gleeful and liberating impunity, I believe it signals a central tendency in animated pornography worth elucidating. The unique magnitude and pervasiveness of mutilation, punishment and annihilation among the bodies in animated pornography gesture towards both their ultimate potential and most pragmatic limitations. The rituals of destruction that attend these bodies at the end of their sexual display invite us to inscribe onto them the most obscene sexualities, the most lurid fantasies we are capable of conjuring. We write these fantasies and reveal sexual secrets to the imaginary and disposable bodies in these silly tales, knowing that they are programmed to be maimed, destroyed, and consumed before the cartoon's end. We also consent, in the manner of François Rabelais ' carnival24, to participate vicariously in the suspension (and inversion) of all propriety because we know that these fantasies will be later purged in laughter dismissed as innocuous artefacts of legitimized irreverence. Yet in the interminable wake of public hysteria about pedophilia and the sexual abuse of children, it has become unacceptable to seek a carnivalesque reprieve, especially in a field where the emblems of childhood meet unfettered sexuality. While it continues to be legal to look at Deveria's Precis Erotique d'Histoire Universelle (ca. 1840), with its depictions of interracial sex, sadism, scatology, sodomy, masturbation, analingus, and pedophilia (between a friar and his altar boy), it has become insanely risky to deploy modern technology and the contemporary imagination to create several of the same scenarios in animated pornography.25 The fantasies purveyed by animated bodies are not what they are fully and uniquely capable of but what their spectators are presumably capable of taking, and most ironically, what laws that apply to real bodies are capable of tolerating. Thus eviscerated, animated pornography has indeed become a grand contradiction in terms.
Rotoscoped, traced, reconstituted
Is there an exit to the blind alley of animated pornography, given the constraints that defeat the fundamental plasticity and amorality of the animated body? Are there other aspects of animated pornography that may be harnessed and rediscovered in order to vivify it? Algis Makas' Show Biz offers an interesting possibility.26 The animated short appears to have been completely rotoscoped from a stag loop. It shows a heterosexual couple kissing, fondling, undressing each other, and engaging in different sexual acts and positions. As in live-action pornography, camera angles and shot distances vary to shift our focus on different sexual activities and to capture faces in the thrall of ecstasy.
Because the images are presumably distilled from sanctioned, commercially distributed pornography, the legality or obscenity of the sexual acts in Show Biz becomes a non-issue. Any quarrels about the obscenity of the film's rotoscoped images would only serve to force - in a manner ultimately favorable to the cause of the animator-a distinction between a real body and its trace or, more to the point, a photograph and a drawing. To be sure, it would only be for purposes of legal discourse that the liminality of the rotoscope's representation of the body - its simultaneous emplacement and erasure of the human corpus -is suspended. To the eye, however, the pornography and the presence of the body are unmistakably self-evident. For animators and trained spectators, rotoscoped animations like Show Biz are palimpsestic inscriptions that never fail to yield traces of the real effaced body in between the fresh strokes of ink. This is why, in animated pornography, the appearance and disappearance of the real body's image beneath and between its traces constitute something of a playful striptease, as strokes and washes both reveal and conceal the details of the real bodies that have been redrawn. Here, a few well-defined lines show a male member throbbing while standing at full attention; there the creases on a woman's skin rise and ebb through pulsing shades of pink and periwinkle. Even spectators unfamiliar with the rotoscoping process are bound to recognize the uncanny quality of the rotoscoped animation's unwieldy surfaces and distended rhythmshauntings, one might call them, of what is 'buried' underneath the strokes of ink and layers of paint. Though we may respond to them as we do to real bodies, in their appearance and for legal purposes, they're painted acetate.
More importantly, rotoscoped animated pornography like Show Biz often surpass the beauty of the original cinematographic images without losing their intensity. The flat washes of muted colors that register errantly outside the broad outlines, and the minimalist, primitive strokes suggest what Henri Matisse's later nudes could have looked like if the great modernist master had practiced animation.27 The wavy lines that trace over the figures of the copulating bodies in animated pornography make them pulse with energy, reducing them to dynamic lines and colored figures imbued with hyperkinetic power. They distill the essence of the sexual act as an intricate dance, an incendiary encounter, vigorous labor, fierce battle, frivolous play, and relentless fugue among many others. Through rotoscoping, live-action pornography's attention-grabbing photographic surface gives way to a fuller appreciation of the body's figuration and its movement during sexual congress, in this way rerouting the pleasures we experience from pornography away from realism. It also reorients us to the kinesthetic pleasures of moving image pornography that we have ignored because of our preoccupation with stars, narratives and the latest sexual tricks.
While it may seem like a cop out-or, alternatively, impracticably circumlocutory-to trace liveaction pornography in order to make animated pornography, films like Makas' Show Biz rediscover the primal energies that made not only pornography but also film and animation such wondrous experiences when they were first discovered: the sensuous corporeality of photogenic bodies in revivified motion that define the cinema; and the paradoxical visibilityand- invisibility of the mysterious interstices (the gaps between the frames) that create the illusion of animation.28 By restoring the body to animated pornography in an elegant game of habeas corpus (or a Freudian fort-da), Makas' rotoscoped animated porn not only finds a way to recuperate the legacy of Matisse, or, for that matter, Eadweard Muybridge; he may have very well stumbled upon an elegant formula for recuperating the pornographic in animated pornography.
Buried Treasure (1928), 2:0 für Bumsi Maus (2:0 for Fucky Mouse; 1986), Schwänzel und Gretel (Dickzet and Gretel), Pimper Power, Odysseus und die Königin von Pornos (Odysseus and the Queen of Pornos; 1924), El Pichote dela Mancha, Freibeuter der Mäsen (Pirate of Cunt), Raum-Ficker (Space Fucker), The Street of Crocodiles (Quay Bros., 1986), The Sweater (Sheldon Cohen, 1980), Crocus (Suzan Pitt Kraning, 1971), Armchair Inventions (Gary Moore, 1975), Jack in the Fox (Karl Krogstad, 1972), Malice in Wonderland (Vince Colllins, 1982), Sleeping Beauty (pornoversion), Show Biz (Algis Makas).
José B. Capino teaches at the Loyola School of Humanities, Ateneo University. He is an alumnus of the doctoral program in film at Northwestern University and recipient of the 20th annual dissertation award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. He writes about documentary, television, erotica and historical representation.
1 This information is extracted from this quote: "Suddenly, near the end of the picture the tension in the studio was too much. To relieve it, there was a spontaneous avalanche of pornographic drawings from all over the studio. Drawings of Snow White being gang raped by the dwarfs, and mass orgies among the dwarfs themselves. Even the old witch was involved." See Shamus Culhane, Talking Animals and Other People. New York: St. Martin's 1986, p. 181-182.
2 Karl F. Cohen, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland 1997.
3 Constance Penley, Crackers and Whackers: The White Trashing of Porn. In: Matt Wray - Analee Newitz (eds.), White Trash: Race and Class in America. New York: Routledge 1997, p. 89-112.
4 2:0 fur Bumsi Maus (2:0 for Fucky Mouse) on the video Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1 (Chatsworth, Ca.: Hollywood Video, 1986), videotape.
5 Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books 1962, ps. 62,92.
6 Schwänzel und Gretel in Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1.
7 Steven Marcus coined this term to evoke a tendency in (Victorian) pornography to emulate utopian fantasies in which "all men . . . are always and infinitely potent; all women fecundate with lust and flow inexhaustibly with sap and juice or both. Everyone is always ready for everything." See Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians. New York: Basic Books 1964, p. 276.
8 Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang 1975.
9 Pimper Power in Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1.
10 S.Freud, c. d. (note 5), p. 57.
11 Although the intertitles in a video copy of the film-conceivably added by the distributor-identify the production date as 1924, an animator familiar with the project claims it was made in the late 1920s. See K. Cohen, c. d. (note 2). p. 12-13. Odysseus und die Konigin von Pornos may be found in Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1 while Eveready Harton in Buried Treasure is in the video anthology Sextoons: an Erotic Animation Festival (HTV, Inc., 1992), videotape.
12 El Pichote dela Mancha in Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1.
13 Both Freibeuter der Mäsen and Raum-Ficker are in Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1.
14 Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible". Berkeley: University of California 1999, p. 122-123.
15 Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd ed., s. v. "pornography."
16 For some examples of how fantasies and virtual bodies end up in legal entanglements, see William E. Brigman, Politics and the Pornography Wars. Wide Angle 19, 1997, n.3, p. 149-170 and Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged. New York: Grove 1996, p. 3-63.
17 Both Crocus and Armchair Inventions are included in Sextoons.
18 Jack in the Fox may be found in Sextoons.
19 Malice in Wonderland may be found in the video anthology Adult Animation (Picture Start, Inc. 1991).
20 Sleeping Beauty appears in a dubbed version and without a title card in Dirty Little Adult Cartoons Vol. 1.
21 Examples of illustrated erotica with raunchy verses may be found in Peter Webb, The Erotic Arts. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux 1983) and Peter Weiermair (ed.), Erotic Art from the 17th to the 20th Century. Frankfurt: Edition Stemmle 1995. See, in particular, the work of English draughtsman Thomas Rowlandson (in Webb) as well as Wilhem von Kaulbach (in Weiermair).
22 Constance Penley points out in an essay that "the ubiquitous use of humor" is "the most striking feature" of the pornographic films (presumably most of them live-action) she and her students survey in her pornography course at Berkeley. I agree with this observation and think that it does not necessarily contradict what I am arguing, especially in the face of animated pornography's lack of real bodies from which to generate pornography. See C. Penley, c. d. (note 3), p. 89-112.
23 It is important to note, however, that verbal humor is used not only to up the ante on sex but also to manage it. In the cartoon Dickzet and Gretel, which was dubbed into English upon its importation from Europe, the narration clearly defines their relationship as a couple rather than incestuous siblings.
24 See the introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, Bloomington: Indiana UP 1984, p. 1-58.
25Reproduced in P. Weiermair, c. d. (note 21), p. 46-49.
26Show Biz is included in Sextoons.
27 I am thinking of works such as Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background, oil on canvas, 1927, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris and Pink Nude, oil on canvas, 1935, Baltimore Museum of Art Cone Collection.
©2004 José B. Capino
Copyright A J Press 2004
Publication: Animation Journal 1, 2004.