Erotic Solutions for Ethnic Tension: Fantasy, Reality, Pornography
Erotic Solutions for Ethnic Tension: Fantasy, Reality, Pornography
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examine how the French porn industry channels and manipulates tensions and fears related to the immigration debate and the place of Arabs in France, at times offering erotic “remedies.” This has culminated in a new pornotrope: Porno Ethnik, or pornography involving men and women of color, usually Arab or black. The chapter begins with a discussion of the output of French directors who were the first to feature Franco-Arab actors in gay male pornography: Jean-Daniel Cadinot (Cadinot), Jean-Noël René Clair (JNRC), and Stéphane Chibikh (Citébeur). It then considers heterosexual pornography featuring Franco-Arab women and asks whether or not this field of production is so different in its representations of minority sexuality that it precludes comparison with homosexual pornography. Tropes of sex tourism to North Africa, the hypersexualization of single immigrant men, the “eroticization of poverty” as regards both women and men, the veil as striptease, and the “homothug” type are all surveyed. Pornography, often seen as apolitical, does tackle issues of undigested colonial memory and contemporary race relations in a much more forthright (if politically incorrect) way than do the traditional journalistic means available.
Tarek … he’s the boss of the projects … have to say … he knows how to fight … best not to challenge him. Heard that he has a giant cock. … Some guys saw it after soccer practice in the showers. With his buddies, he goes down to the basement where they have a squat all laid out. There, they smoke, tag the walls, and when possible … they fuck in groups. But sluts in the projects are hard to find … Tarek is a “Natural Born Fucker!” His balls are always full.
SKARLAONE IN THE COMIC STRIP “DEBOITAGE DANS LA CAVE”1
As the previous chapters on film and literature have shown, cultural representations of the sexual politics of immigration and diversity have managed to get at the heart of French anxieties and projections where journalistic analyses have often fallen short. In early cultural production about the banlieues, writers and directors chose modes of ethnographic “realism” to relate their stories. However, the fantastical, surreal, or fictional accounts that have depicted banlieue life arguably say more about anxieties regarding these areas than hyperrealistic portrayals that aim for sociological accuracy. One cultural medium, often disparaged, manages to capture particularly well the exaggerated sexual projections and tensions I am speaking of: pornography. In many ways, pornography provides more explicit culminations of the processes I have analyzed in the previous chapters. In this chapter, I examine how the French porn industry channels and manipulates tensions and fears related to the immigration debate and the place of Arabs in France, at times offering erotic “remedies.” This has culminated in a new porno trope: porno ethnik (ethnic porn), or pornography involving men and women of color, usually Arab or black. I begin by discussing the output of three French directors who were the first to feature Franco-Arab actors in gay male pornography: Jean-Daniel Cadinot, Jean-Noël René Clair (better known under his pseudonym JNRC), and Stéphane Chibikh, cofounder of the gay porn studio Citébeur. I also consider heterosexual pornography featuring Franco-Arab women, and ask whether this field of production is so different in its representations of minority sexuality that it precludes comparison with (p.223) homosexual pornography. Furthermore, I focus on tropes of sex tourism to North Africa, the hypersexualization of single immigrant men, the “eroticization of poverty” as regards both women and men, the hijab as striptease, and the so-called homo thug type. Through recourse to my own interviews with directors and actors, articles in the mainstream and alternative press, and DVD content, I will argue that in this case pornography, often seen as apolitical, does tackle issues of undigested colonial memory and contemporary race relations in a much more forthright (if politically incorrect) way than do the traditional journalistic media. In addition, I explore how avant-garde artists in France have recognized the political import of pornography, incorporating its provocative tropes into their work.
One of the most unapologetic and fantastical forms of sexualization, pornography responds to the dystopian visions of immigrants and their descendants circulating in the French mainstream. Many productions featuring Franco-Arabs have engaged with the alleged breakdown of mixité (social mixture) in the banlieues.2 Numerous media exposés on tournantes (gang bangs or gang rapes3) have focused on this breakdown, controversially suggesting that collective youth rape is a feature specific to banlieue populations; sociologists, including Laurent Mucchielli, have questioned both the ethnicization of rape and also the “novelty” of tournantes, pointing to many earlier examples of collective rape epidemics in French society. The pornography world has in turn produced an erotic exaggeration of these controversies to nightmarish, and sometimes humorous, extremes.
Until recently, pornography, as a cultural medium, has been dismissed as a legitimate branch of academic inquiry in France. The pornography wars in feminist circles, as well as the emergence of respected pornography scholars across the Atlantic have changed this. Pornography remains a multibillion dollar industry whose viewership numbers in the hundreds of millions: it is both a highly capitalistic enterprise with real elements of exploitation, as well as a forum for the expression of sexual fantasy and intimacy not hindered by representational and political red lines. Porn directors do not have to justify or apologize for objectionable content, because they can cite the supposed lack of intentionality at the center of desire and sexual preferences.4 The central role of fantasy in pornography entails that one cannot so easily compare it with other forms of cultural representation. One also has less control over what one desires when viewing porn, leading to instability of viewer response. The process of identification with characters on-screen is one that changes fundamentally when one passes from cinema to erotica: porn movies allow their viewers to desire and fantasize about what they find ethically or politically repulsive in (p.224) a way that most other genres do not (with the exception, perhaps, of horror movies). As discussed in chapter 2, psychoanalysis often offers ways out of conundrums in the politics of representation by opening up the psychoanalytical terrain of fantasy as a space where desire is not limited by one’s identifications in the so-called real world: one can fantasize about high-risk, extremist, or dangerous behaviors that one politically opposes. Pornography proved divisive among feminists and the LGBT community often sparred over its acceptability and legitimacy as a form of cultural expression.5 Echoing this division, in the corpus of films at hand, the possibility of identification with mainstream porn actors differs according to whether one is watching homosexual or heterosexual pornography, and importantly, according to whether one is a man or a woman. In most cases, gay consumers can project themselves into any gay porn actor’s experience while straight male viewers may not so readily want to or be able to project themselves into the experience of female performers, and female viewers may find that heterosexual porn is tailored to the straight male’s pleasure and not their own, which explains women’s recourse to woman-authored porn or, with increasing frequency, their preference for gay male porn over straight porn.6 In gay porn, however, there may be other barriers to identification between viewers and actors that go beyond their shared gender (race, effeminacy, role): in other instances, however, these same factors of differentiation can actually spur identification, especially where fetish is involved or racial difference is eroticized. The element of fantasy—by which, for instance, decided antiracists can find enjoyment in watching mirror images of themselves racially humiliated on screen—opens up a space for frank conversation about inadmissible desires that nevertheless animate social space, a space difficult to establish in holier-than-thou and progressive-to-a-fault activist circles. At the same time, some of the very best and most advanced academic writing on pornography has managed to neglect questions of race so apparently suffusing the production, and even more so questions of empire and colonialism.
In France, art-house film directors—such as Virginie Despentes, Catherine Breillat, and more recently Christophe Honoré—increasingly have been exploring the grey area between art film and pornography, with porn stars cast in starring and unconventional roles. Honoré’s L’homme au bain (2010; Man at Bath) starred the gay porn actor François Sagat, who was discovered by the French “homo-thug” porn studio Citébeur.7 Sagat, a Caucasian actor who began his porn career cast as an Arab, found transatlantic fame with World of Men (2006), Arabesques (2006), and L.A. Zombie (2010).8 These American porn producers notably cast Sagat in (p.225) a series of Arab and Middle-Eastern–themed films, confirming his initial ethnic molding by the French Citébeur studio: from the sex tourism scenes in Lebanon in World of Men to the carpeted sex labyrinth of Arabesque.
Honoré’s L’homme au bain merits further consideration as it dismantles the stereotype of the banlieue as a no-go zone for homosexuals. Honoré has been a veteran of pensive films reflecting on gay urban subjectivity in a time of evolving family relationships and AIDS; in this film however he decided to explore banlieue homosexuality. L’homme au bain is a distinctly nonmiserabilist film, which discards the portrait of banlieue homosexualities as schizophrenic and wrapped up in down-low secrecy; instead, the film depicts the banlieue in counterpoint to the mainstream media as a relative paradise of spontaneous sexual opportunity and unchallenged homophilia. This homophilia can be understood in the sense of loving the same sex as well as loving those who are culturally or socially similar, a nonpejorative way of referring to communautarisme (communitarianism), a word that carries mostly negative connotations in France.9 The complex banlieue space represented by the director, however, does have some problematic aspects, incarnated, for instance, by the American artist character who lives in a banlieue apartment seemingly to be closer to the raw “ethnic” masculinity he fetishizes and uses as inspiration for his artwork. Interestingly, the film explores the contrasts and also interactions between upper- and working-class homosexualities via the central relationship of Emmanuel (François Sagat) and Omar (Omar Ben Sellem). In this pairing, it is the Franco-Arab who represents metro sexuality and the white character who represents a thuggish-looking banlieusard. After a somewhat violent fight with his boyfriend, Omar, an artist/filmmaker type, leaves for New York on a promotional film tour, where he pursues a fling with an NYU student of the hipster variety. This provides for a representational contrast between the banlieue world of athletic and hypermasculine men of color, and the Manhattan aesthetics of rock-infused hipsterdom with its scruffy, skinny, androgynous, and mostly white young men. Rather than suggesting that metrosexuality and banlieue virility are opposed, the director considers them logically complementary as two pieces of a human relationship that respond to each other, boyfriend dramas notwithstanding. Instead of portraying banlieue men as intellectual and aesthetic voids (as is the case in much mainstream television), the film insists that they wield their own artistic potential and have always been an object of fascination for artists: after too much time spent alone thinking over their fight, Sagat draws a giant, well-executed romantic portrait of the boyfriend he sorely misses on the walls of their shared (p.226)
apartment. In the film, Sagat also makes connections with intellectual and cultural elites just as easily as he does with urban men from his own neighborhood (recalling the “passing” and social mobility of the Majid case study in chapter 1). The film’s optimistic tone, as far as sexual opportunity and affective contentment are concerned, is arguably informed by actor Sagat’s channeling of porn studio Citébeur’s aesthetics as well as the “ethics” of the banlieue as a sexually promising zone, producing a reinterpretation of the banlieue as a center rather than satellite of sexual liberation. With this in mind, I now consider ethnic pornography by Cadinot, JNRC, and Chibikh, who, through the ostensibly improbable filter of pornography, tackle issues of colonial memory, immigration, hospitality, and contemporary race relations in a forthright and unapologetic way.
In Chibikh’s Citébeur productions, we see macho, multiethnic youths carrying out a playful eroticization of their delinquent “menace” to society. Delving further into this connection between crime and alternative sexuality, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas helps contextualize the way that modern-day banlieusards help illustrate the theories of the 1970s gay French intelligentsia on this topic, as evidenced by Michel Foucault. Here (p.227) she speaks of the media’s current caricatural portraits: “Virilism, that outrageous expression of masculinity constrained to its strict sexual limits, offers the advantage of illustrating the ideological proximity already underlined by Foucault between perversion and delinquency, which, as is publicly notorious, the Arabs of the projects practice in equal measure.”10 While Citébeur productions often explore the erotics of resistance against the state, attempting a reading of pornography in the hopes of finding political engagement becomes complicated in light of that market’s highly capitalistic nature and often untrustworthy entrepreneurs, who may disguise material gain in the colors of radicalism.
In 2008, Antoine Barde of Studio Press, the business team that releases the popular Citébeur video series, offered his thoughts on the place of ethnic porn in the European market.11 The Cité in Citébeur refers to the projects: the series is one in which the racaille (thug) stereotype abounds. Several videos pit suburban Arab and black teens in sportswear and chains against symbols of the negligent or abusive French state, such as policemen and administrators, on whom the actors repeatedly carry out what appears to be a sexualized revenge. The dénouements of the often hilariously inappropriate plots rarely deliver on their original menace, often concluding with both sexual partners deriving pleasure from the encounter, though perhaps for different reasons.
Because they display so well the simultaneous demonization and eroticization of “ethnic” virilities in France, it is worth citing amply from the Citébeur corpus of clips, full-length films, comic strips, and erotic fiction. The titles of video releases evoke themes at the intersection of immigration, sexuality, and urban blight: the humorous eroticization of urbanization and the lack of green spaces (Bitume te met dans la lune [Pavement makes you see stars]12), the infiltration of the Mediterranean and the demographic redefinition of France (Med in France; Med is also shorthand for Mohammed), or the transformation of the dingy sites of gang bangs and gang rapes into zones of pleasure (Caves à plaisirs [Pleasure cellars]). The phrasing of Caves à plaisirs raises some very salient class dimensions, first of all because of the wine connoisseur connotations of cellars, which in a very different banlieue context can also refer to the disaffected storage areas below housing project towers. This creates an ironic architectural oddity: spaces designated in one instance for the collection of fine and expensive wines are now being used as hangout spaces by impoverished banlieue youth mostly of Muslim background (who supposedly do not drink alcohol). The fact that these spaces were also used to launch a pornotrope now as common as the locker room scene in US production (p.228) (i.e., the French trope of the cellar gang bang) seems odd at first; but on second thought, it is in keeping with the hedonistic qualities of both alcohol consumption and orgies.
Barde and his partner, Chibikh, started from a desire to provide an alternative to the formulaic and “colorless” output of the main porn studios, which they considered conformist. Business exploded, and in 2008 Barde bragged that Citébeur was the highest-selling gay porn DVD studio in Europe. The partners were instrumental in turning the new consumer category of “ethnic porn” into a market force. Faced with aggressive yet playful images of Franco-Arab men dominating what are alleged to be their white oppressors (policemen, prison guards, snobs of the bourgeois elite),13 many in the gay establishment media—especially in the pages of mainstream gay-interest magazines such as Têtu—criticized Citébeur as a step backward and away from a humanist, egalitarian model of twenty-first-century gay relations.14 At the same time, a gay consumer public searching for something new and slightly disturbing quietly bought Citébeur productions and spread the name.
The mainstream gay press critiqued Chibikh, who now shies away from media engagement, for choosing to film in caves, those basements converted into congregation spaces that are often used as a symbol of suburban squalor, the site of a kind of nonbourgeois listlessness, while also being the supposedly preferred site for tournantes. Chibikh was accused of eroticizing poverty and romanticizing the daily routine of confrontation that dominates miserabilist representations of the suburbs. As with many sexual subcultures (S&M, bareback, intergenerational), the gay press saw in Citébeur productions a form of renegade or even outlaw sexuality. The mainstream seemed pained at the studio’s popularity, as depictions of the erotics of conflict might “jeopardize public acceptance of homosexuality” and would also “represent astonishingly bad PR.”15 In 2003, the “Porno” rubric of the then leading gay-interest magazine Têtu profiled the emergent Citébeur studio, which had just released its first full-length DVD, Wesh cousin (’Sup, bro?). Journalist Louis Maury headlined the article “Cantique de la racaille” (Praise song for thugs), describing the release as a “porn video [that], with its rascal show-offs sprucing themselves up in front of the camera, is as irritating as it is exciting.”16 Under the subheading, Maury added, “Stéphane Chibikh, the director, explains himself [s’en explique],” as though Chibikh had been an undisciplined enfant terrible in need of a call to order. Maury captured the ambivalent strategy of Citébeur marketing, halfway between provocation and entertainment, always engaging the viewer. Declaring the human subjects caricatural, Maury preferred to focus on the “astonishing authenticity” of the lighting and (p.229) sound, perfectly rendering the surrounding urban environs, an authenticity which he then positively compared with the “realist” production of porn predecessor Jean-Noël René Clerc, better known under his pseudonym JNRC, who is notorious for his scenarios involving immigrants and construction workers hard-up for cash, often looking desperate and barely interested. More charitable than most journalists, Maury allowed Chibikh (who had not yet forsaken media appearances) to respond to the echo chamber of one-way critique:
In the face of criticism, the young man listens, takes notes, and justifies his choices, … [displaying] a disconcerting conversational ability [un tchatche qui désarçonne] and an undeniable sense of precision that rests upon a term that has become his catch phrase: authenticity.
“Why deform reality to make it more presentable?” he asks from the start. “I didn’t want to make it ‘pretty,’ but rather to make it ‘real.’ In this film, everything is na-tu-ral!”
[Chibikh] addresses, point by point, our objections. The actors’ look? “They dress the way they want.” The dialogue? “ … If you have a big dick, you brag about it. The masturbation scenes in my film resemble no others; these are interactive scenes. Filming this type of scene can often be annoying; for the spectator just as much as the actor. Here, the actor turns on and excites the spectator; with his own words. I won’t make him say things to furnish the scene.”17
Maury and Chibikh deploy the highly ambivalent term authenticity in very different, perhaps incompatible ways, such that the debate about representational accuracy arrives at a relativist dead-end: Chibikh insists the acting realistically approximates banlieue codes while Maury finds the actors’ behavior exaggerated (compared to what?). Maury’s surprise at Chibikh’s collected eloquence and entrepreneurial spirit is somewhat surprising with its ambiguous assumptions about Chibikh’s lack of education. Maury also assumes a majority opinion of sorts behind his own objections, collapsing an entire gay viewing public—which may love Citébeur just as it is—with his own point of view. In his book on the bareback subculture and its accompanying pornography in contemporary San Francisco, Tim Dean warns against the tendency to bring moral judgment, whether positive or negative, against subcultures, as this could result in obstacles to gaining a full and comprehensive analysis of that subculture.18 Bareback culture has faced accusations all too familiar to practitioners of clandestine homosexuality, namely, the internalization of homophobia, and a destructive instinct which is then brought to bear on one’s own body. Internalized self-hatred would explain the dominance of virilism (defined (p.230) here as the rejection of effeminacy) within clandestine, communitarian homosexualities, a dominance that Dean finds widespread in bareback subcultures as well.19 Citébeur is indeed the pornographic complement to a subculture of clandestine and often anonymous sex in the banlieues, a subculture that often resists exposure and is thus difficult to represent on screen: Citébeur has emerged from this subculture but also has helped to expand it beyond its original limits when disseminating videos about it. This fact also explains the preponderance of masks and sunglasses, which here serve a deliberately erotic purpose: in much other homosexual erotic production, a pixelated or hidden face causes frustration. Dean is useful here for the way he lays out the linkages between a given sexual subculture and its pornography, especially as it concerns subcultures that shy away from outside scrutiny. For some of these subcultures, only the pornographic tip may register as visible or analyzable by an outside audience. While Dean’s analysis is eminently useful in terms of understanding unconventional fantasy lives and viewing pornographic worlds and audiences as essential elements of a subculture, his views on the place of racial fetishization in fantasy productions like porn differ from mine.20
Another critique persistently raised against porn containing objectionable content has to do with viewer response. Some critics have said that porn provokes the sometimes problematic acts that it represents when its viewers imitate them with their partners, a notion disseminated not just by antipornography feminists such as Catherine Mackinnon but also French politicians such as Ségolène Royal (see chapter 2). Some journalists warned of Citébeur’s possibly nefarious effects on gay individuals whose sex lives were already, in their view, dictated by what they saw on screen. What would happen if, say, Citébeur viewers decided to return to the closet in order to experience the clandestine pleasure depicted? In terms of subcultural porn, such a claim does not hold water if the acts and subcultures depicted were already in existence long before their pornographic echo could be heard.21
Against Maury’s assumptions of coercion, of directorial cues that reinforce stereotypes, and of artificial exaggerations of virility, Chibikh insists on free will and the creativity born of it. Citébeur scenes, to him at least, do not seem as artificially rehearsed or professionally edited as mainstream productions. In a way, free will is wrested from the consuming viewer and offered to the denying performer. The interaction between viewer and performer that Chibikh speaks of stems from his productions’ special feature, distinctive in European gay porn—that the actors in many solo scenes are relentlessly conversational and interpellative, bordering (p.231) on sexual harassment. These clips channel the negative stereotype of young men of color and their aggressive pick-up lines in public, in the Paris metro for instance, a rare place of cross-class and cross-race interaction. Against the accusations of Franco-Arab actors “provoking” supposedly white viewers with denials of bodily access (their clothes don’t always come off, nor do their hats and sunglasses), the direct eye contact and sustained verbal address to the spectator establish a visceral connection that is difficult to refuse.
The following passage from the DVD jackets for the Wesh cousin series illustrates this concept of provocative yet inviting engagement: “You will check out my huge rod [grosse tige] and you will want it. Impossible not to! Look me right in the eyes and submit to my power. I know you are dying of envy for me to stuff it in your mouth and for me to detonate your little butt which is overheating and wet from checking out my huge caliber [member/weapon]. Let yourself go, damn it!” Employing the imperative case while offering the services of a guide, this monologue plays on ethnographic stereotypes of the native informant by turning that guide into a bossy drill sergeant, who reads the transparently aroused body language of spectators who find a reluctant attraction to being dominated. These scenarios depart from the assumption that the Franco-Arab partner vengefully derives a one-way satisfaction at the expense of the white subject: the objective for the Franco-Arab character is still to produce unparalleled pleasure in the recipient. This comes despite the prevailing encouragement in the gay mainstream media for ever more versatile sexual roles in homosexual relations, an injunction that is part of a sexual modernity that looks down on excessively virile and exclusively active men.
Stereotypes and Victimology
Though journalists ridicule Citébeur’s commerce in stereotypes, they often fail to remark that these bothersome “types” until then had been noticeably absent from French gay pornography. Citébeur productions evidence an awareness and manipulation of stereotypes below the surface. Mireille Rosello’s work is useful here in illuminating just how stereotypes are “declined”—conjugated, altered or rejected—when those stereotypes are redeployed to encourage the taking of social and postcolonial justice.22 In the Têtu article, stereotypes were not investigated but rather avoided. If they were ever mentioned at all, it was as a contagious label associated with something reprehensible (e.g., “this director engages in stereotypes, therefore the entire production is invalid”). In some Citébeur pornography (p.232) stereotypes are deployed, I argue, with a level of sophistication that approaches that of the reappropriations Rosello mentions in her explanation of how one can decline stereotypes while also embodying them:
The double movement of inhabiting while displacing can be achieved through a combination of the two meanings of the word “declining,” for if “declining” evokes delicate decisions and potentially strident political statements when referring to what we do to invitations, the same word also refers to an apparently innocent and quite socially meaningless activity. I am thinking about what we do to German, Latin, or Greek nouns when we learn the grammatical rudiments of such languages. … Remembering that stereotypes are also or perhaps above all a manifestation of what is mechanical in our language, I will treat declensions as an interesting combination of fixed roots and variable endings.23
If we think of the willfully exaggerated and provocative Citébeur dialogue quoted earlier, it succeeds in creating a similar ambiguity between the “stridently political” and the cliché. This dialogue approaches a humorous register that edges the spectator into an unstable state, in which he or she laughs at and is simultaneously excited and unsettled by the eye-winking recognition of stereotypes brought into a metasphere, as if to say, “I know that you know that I know what this is about.” The stereotype’s harmful repetitive power is defused by highlighting it in such a laughably evident way, or in Rosello’s framing “paying attention.”24 The scene’s racialized tension is sublimated at the same time into the forgettable and drowsy world of postorgasm (for the consumer as well as the actor), during which the “offense” of the pornographic material is diluted into an afterthought.
Citébeur’s Arab producer exploits the negative portrayal of banlieue youth as macho delinquents, while somehow casting these young actors in flattering and chest-thumping roles that have drawn the ire of the gay mainstream and praise from the avant-garde and radical fringe. Rosello’s analysis of how Arab characters exploit the stereotype of the Arab as thief to their advantage, proves useful here. Going beyond the question of why novels by Franco-Arabs would harmfully reproduce offensive stereotypes about their own communities, Rosello pays attention to how theft can be redefined. She examines filmmaker and novelist Mehdi Charef’s Le thé au harem d’Archimède (1985; Tea in the Harem), a pioneering work of Franco-Arab banlieue cinema which was adapted from Charef’s novel Le thé au harem d’Archi Ahmed. The film showcases a theft scene in which two young men, one Arab (Madjid) and one Caucasian (Pat), commit an (p.233) act of theft, with Madjid stealing a metro passenger’s wallet before passing it on to Pat, because Pat would appear less suspicious. The victimized passenger takes the bait of course, angrily searching Madjid while ignoring a laughing Pat, feeling both duped and worse, racist when the search does not recover the wallet. Rosello reads the act in a way that emphasizes how Madjid is able to literally profit from the reproduction of anti-Arab stereotypes:
Madjid is obviously quite aware of the existence of stereotypes, but he does not suffer from them. He has learned how to use them and to send them back to potential aggressors. For him, stereotypes are baits that he uses to tempt other human beings. Madjid never seems to suffer from internalized racial prejudice. He is not interested in what the man thinks. He has no desire to convince him that Arabs are not all one thing or another. …
In order to adopt Madjid’s position, it is not enough to be that ethnic Other who must constantly protect himself against stereotypes: It is more important to have become aware of the perverse dynamic that puts each potential victim of ethnic stereotypes in a complex position. Both can suffer from the internalizing of stereotypes and use them as if they were a perfectly mastered foreign language. The principle is to have the last laugh.25
Madjid accepts stereotypes as a fact of life and uses them as objects of temptation in a seduction scheme: a technique that recalls similar erotic processes at work in Citébeur. In Madjid’s case, as with the provocative marketing of Citébeur, the “white” party’s stereotypes about Arabs are not registered as injuries but rather opportunities for material gain. The producers of the pornography do not suffer for inadvertently confirming the stereotype, but rather steal it when they seize it, transform it, and gain from it. One might argue that the “Arab” does not win at the end of the day if he or she is commodified by pornography, no matter how rule bending. However, the self-conscious theatricality of the performers and the mocking of the would-be white consumer complicate the commodification of the Arab body, such that one could read Citébeur as an Arab commodification of white stereotypes about Arabs. Citébeur is a far cry from the figure of the beur complexé (Arab with psychological complexes) who crumbles whenever he falls into an ethnic pattern devalorized by society. Rather than winning over racists, the “last laugh” becomes the greatest prize, and in a certain way it becomes bad sportsmanship not to laugh, to frown at the politically incorrect humiliations of white performers on display: the duped, robbed party becomes equivalent to the disturbed (p.234) viewer of pornography who didn’t get the joke and let offense get in the way of pleasure.
Rosello also sheds important light on the role of white witness and audience reception in assessing the impact of stereotypical representation. She examines the figure of Pat, Madjid’s white partner in crime, and says that we, the viewers, are thoroughly entertained by this scene, because “Like Pat, safe at the other end of the car, we are both aware of the existence and power of stereotypes and delighted to witness an act of reappropriation.”26 I submit that Pat is equivalent (in the analogy with Cité beur) to the viewer who can laugh at the aggressive masculinity on display, without being wounded by it. Rather than showing alarm at becoming an accomplice to a visual crime, this relaxed consumer of Citébeur pornography, like Pat, looks on amusedly from a safe distance, which is perhaps itself an offensive subject position (due to the privilege of never being suspect or visible, a privilege one gets away with). Yet from that advantageous position of “white invisibility” comes not escape but applause, encouragement, and a position of solidarity with ethnic minorities that accepts and eroticizes sexual “revenge” against white privilege through porn that processes and at times may alleviate racist injury through erotic consumption. Like Pat, the imagined white viewer is offered an opportunity to move beyond an essentialized white role, identifying “unexpectedly” with the Arab virile thug rather than the victim of the shared racial category.
The place of witnesses brings up a recurring question often addressed to ethnic porn producers: Who is their target audience? Is the projected viewer a member of the “white petit-bourgeoisie” in need of exoticism and brute sensuality? Is it the marginalized Franco-Arab closeted gay banlieusard who wants to “stick it” to the man? Maury, it must be stated, had opened his article with an almost insecure admission: “Without being frightened virgins or uptight bourgeois, one can get slightly irritated, right off the bat, while watching Wesh cousin.” Chibikh responds to Maury’s question about reductiveness with a critique of his own: “It’s easy and reductive to say that … in the videos online and in this film, I mix some beur (Franco-Arab) with some French, because the combination is realistic. White people are attracted to beurs, and vice versa. In terms of the viewing public, it’s the same: I want to attract whites and beurs.”27 Chibikh alleviates fears of racial enmity, divided publics, and non-mixité by evoking the capacity of eroticism and mutual attraction to encourage social mobility and encounters outside of comfort zones and community limits. One cannot be sure whether Chibikh means by this that all manner (p.235) of people are attracted to each other in general (mixité meaning social mixture), or whether a specific attraction emerges from the eroticization of difference (in terms of race, social status, or power). The result is the same, however, with the added mixité benefit of being exposed to other types one might not have discovered in ethnically uniform pornography.
François Sagat, aka “Azzedine”
Porn star François Sagat, who declares himself inspired by Arab culture, has achieved worldwide fame as a Caucasian actor discovered peripherally by consumers searching for Arab men. With his inked scalp evoking Pharaonic Egypt, a giant Islamic crescent and star gracing his back,28 sculpted physique, and versatile performing abilities, Sagat is one of porn’s most recognizable stars and Citébeur’s most famous export. Sagat showed a keen interest in fashion, art, cinema, and photography early on in his career, and later on arthouse and queer film directors such as Bruce LaBruce and Christophe Honoré recruited him to star in their films L.A. Zombie and L’homme au bain, respectively. He achieved crossover success in the horror genre, playing an addict in Saw VI.29 Sagat (born in Cognac, France, of Slovak ancestry) got his porn start doing Arab drag as a sweatpants-wearing banlieusard with an aggressive stare under the stage name Azzedine, an Islamic honorific which means “the honor, esteem, or glory of religion.” That he was uncircumcised and frequently denied Arab heritage in interviews did nothing to stop his Arab fame. In many ways, Sagat exploits this erotic “esteem” of religion in the way he eroticizes Islam on his own body, while he also capitalizes on the still pervasive stereotype that Muslim men, while outwardly conservative, are sexually adventurous and potent: unlike, Charef’s character Madjid or Citébeur producer Chibikh, he is not exploiting a stereotype that victimizes a race or class to which he belongs. Sagat declared a long-standing love and respect for Arab men and Arabic culture in interviews, and that his crescent tattoo is an “eye-winking” gesture to the Arab men who watch him.30 Perhaps Sagat’s greatest feat of image engineering has been to make the French-Arab street style he eroticizes and performs intelligible to an arthouse audience around the world. In this way, Sagat was both able to pay his respects to the Arab culture that was instrumental to his success, and also venture into more avant-garde horizons, via his collaboration with Australian photographer Elvis di Fazio in a performance piece titled “Don’t Panic I’m Islamic.”31 Borrowing from the amateur public service announcements that have proliferated on the Internet in the (p.236) face of fear-mongering about the Islamization of the West, the performance piece takes inspiration from the suburban landscape of Western Sydney where a numerically significant Muslim population has taken up residence, and makes a strident statement in favor of multicultural acceptance. The video, structured as a triptych, shows Sagat inhabiting the dual role of a third-generation mother and son, donning a burqa and a panoply of Arab street fashions, respectively. Sagat reintroduces the Citébeur body language and articles of clothing that channel banlieusard swagger and street style, all symbols of combative posture which are again milked for their eroticism: running shoes with loose laces, wifebeater, fanny pack, boxing sweats, boxing attire, diamond studs, athletic shorts exposing muscular thighs. As the son, Sagat repeatedly pulls a gun out of his shorts for phallic emphasis, getting hyped up on his own virility, glaring at targets; one of which is the viewer. We notice an appendage that seems out of place, a tacked-on hair extension that resembles the back of a mullet but also adds an androgynous motif. At the same time, within the other frames of the triptych, the mother character, who has been smoking shisha and blowing it through the opening in her burqa, also glares at the camera (her eyes evoking the familiar stares on National Geographic covers) and begins a slow striptease that reveals that she is wearing the same shoes as Sagat, eventually becoming her son. The epilogue at the conclusion of the performance piece states: “In this piece, François Sagat reflects on the battle of masculinity vs. femininity, traditional vs. modern society and how this transition from traditional to modern created a whole subculture which has (unfortunately) become a victim of discrimination by both traditional and modern sides.” This explanation echoes my argument in chapter 2, detailing the ways that the “dysfunctional” Muslim family unit—made up of the delinquent son, the self-censoring mother, and the absentee father—has become a key engine of fearmongering about Islam. The piece also emphasizes the proximity between the self-censoring mother and delinquent son, with the former enabling and encouraging the latter in the recycling of patriarchy. However, the piece finally opts for queer optimism, underlining that what they share is an androgyny that only becomes visible beyond the smoke and the burqa. The artist statement also identifies the cultural, or more precisely subcultural, stakes of the performance on display: the artists show that the subculture emerging from Muslim suburbia is rife with aesthetic merit and possibility as well as gender bending. However, this aesthetic and queer potential is always under threat of erasure from pressures of discrimination, accusations of nonassimilation, and the awareness that one constitutes a “problem” for the host society.
The presence of firearms in the Citébeur erotic strategy, creatively channeled by Sagat, raises the specter of insécurité (lack of security) in the banlieues, a daily feature of the French evening news. In Citébeur, we witness the insécurité that imperils private property (theft, home invasion), but also bodily invasions that, in their rehearsed violence, blur the line between sadomasochism and personal insécurité. Antoine Barde, Chibikh’s business partner, is unapologetic about this violence and refuses to consider as pathological the controlled masochism on display—according to Barde, consumers enjoy watching white (and sometimes Arab) men humbled or humiliated on-screen by thug types. This mock violence, he insists, could be the main draw for a significant portion of viewers who purchase their DVDs. The presence of firearms, albeit fake, in the videos is just one point of controversy in the Citébeur erotic strategy: “We don’t support, of course, the use of firearms,” assured Barde, who seems seasoned by his PR role designed to calm down worried media inquirers who might see in Citébeur a sort of incitement to violence. In important ways, Citébeur has a paradoxical effect of addressing the fear of violence, sabotaging the expected outcome and cliché of conflict while telling another story in its place, not necessarily flattering for the parties involved, but not apocalyptic either. Much criticism of the studio revolved around the accusation that its rehearsed violence appeared too “real,” that its actors did in effect such a good job that perhaps they were not acting at all. This critique shades into familiar, racist tropes that assume men of color’s propensity for anger and violence, their greater degree of authenticity, and, most importantly, an inability to merely simulate or perform rage, which translates into an inability to distinguish between representation and reality. This pattern of representation harkens back to the rhetoric of the Algiers School and its afterlives in France, whereby experimental psychiatrists determined that Arab and Muslim men were prone to anger, sexual violence, and perversion, and lacked essential psychological capacities to distinguish shades of reality, resulting in an extreme, simpleminded literalism (see chapter 2). This projection of literalism onto racial others also affects power differentials between actors, usually an element of eroticism in ethnically uniform porn. Here, the power imbalance between Arab top and white bottom for some (squeamish critics) seems to depart from representation and approach reality. As theorists of sexuality have explained, the exhibition of power often intimidates because it seems “incompatible with freedom,” but power in Citébeur is a perpetually moving entity, taken away from bottoms and given to tops (and (p.239) sometimes vice versa), and is never permanently consolidated in one type of individual.32 This aligns with Foucault’s analysis of power: the movement and “exchange” of power (a term with less hierarchical associations) shows that power is constantly on the move, with an agency of its own, and it is this dynamism of unexpected “power exchanges” that generates drama and excites the viewer.33 One gains the sense, watching Citébeur, that performers are more excited by the channeling and exhibition of power than questions of domination, such that domination can generate pleasure in both dominator and dominated as they enjoy the spectacle.
Chibikh’s upbringing, with Kabyle and Harki parents,34 born and raised in the French suburbs, perhaps explains an investment in the French urban environment, whereas producers such as the late Cadinot fetishize North Africa and its sex tourism. Some critics of Citébeur, however, say it is animated by the same mechanisms of exoticism and colonial othering that animated Cadinot’s production values, turning the banlieue into a postcolonial repository of colonial desire and anxiety. Yet, with Citébeur, it is hard to ignore just how much the colonial tropes have been overturned. In the tourism literature of André Gide or Joe Orton, for instance, the predominant figure of desire was the androgynous North African youth of rare beauty, taken as a figure of alterity against which to evaluate European subjectivity by comparison: one remembers Gide comparing his sickly “European” body to that of exuberant, bronze-skinned North African boys and young men. In Citébeur that image has been exchanged for the often obscured Franco-Arab model, who is the opposite of naked: somber and grinning provocatively under his baseball cap, wearing sun glasses or a Palestinian keffiyeh even when indoors. Actors are purposefully dissimulated by the cinema verité style of Chibikh’s handheld camera, which playfully hides actors in a way that frustrates the viewers’ desire for nudity, yet simultaneously generates the eroticism of delayed reward when more of the actor is exposed. This returns to journalist Maury’s frustration about Citébeur being as irritating as it is exciting, a result of Citébeur’s upending of conventional porn marketing, which has it that the entire action must cater to the visual satisfaction of the consumer. Though Citébeur does eventually give the client what he (or she) wants, as with any pornographic production, the consumer is actually paying to have the actors visually frustrate him (or her, as there are female fans of this production).
For Barde, Chibikh’s coproducer, the so-called authenticity of a clandestine sexuality thought to thrive in the banlieue space is essential to Citébeur’s appeal. This is in large part due to the “forbidden, because of the danger and the possibility of surprise” that keeps that sexuality erotic. For the filmmakers, this tension between secret and discovery provides a gold (p.240)
mine of eroticism for patrons bored with a “modern” gay mainstream. “It’s a tension which you feel on film,” says Barde. “Many times, while filming in stairwells or basements, we’ve startled policemen who, in a state verging on shock, said it was the first time they had seen anything like this, or even imagined such a thing were possible, in the projects at least.”35 In this anecdote, Citébeur sabotages the structures that oppose the state apparatus and its personnel to a surveilled Arab community. Barde and Chibikh here use the serendipitous occurrence of banlieusard homosexuality as a ruse, a surprise, or even a consciousness-raising initiative against established French anxieties about racial and sexual difference. When those accustomed to a monochromatic banlieue (here, policemen) discover its sexual diversity, the hope is that they may take a startled step back and leave more room in the consideration of Franco-Arab subjectivities for sexual alterity and the dispersal of ethnic stereotypes.
The studio toes an ambivalent line by exposing sexual practices represented and valorized as private. The way that Citébeur’s visual conventions evidence contradiction (in the way it exposes sexual activity eroticized as hidden) establishes striking parallels with other infamous forms of pornography, such as bareback, in which the normal imperative to show evidence of male orgasm (the money shot) conflicts with the “commitment to internal ejaculation.”36 As Linda Williams explains in Hardcore: The Frenzy of the Visible, hardcore has a special commitment to (p.241) maximum visibility, which distinguishes it from the gradualist, progressive visibility fostered by erotica. Citébeur charts an innovative path in the way it seeks to make visible, not the body parts of its actors, but rather the techniques and instruments they use to hide themselves and establish anonymity (through the use of sunglasses, ski masks, hoodies, darkness, night cameras, basements, abandoned buildings).
In discussing the innovation of Citébeur, it may be tempting to describe its producers as capable of circumventing the representational clichés that sometimes bog down gay visual culture. In such a view, this postcolonial production, in which homosexuality mostly occurs in a clandestine mode, appears to exist above and before categories—that is, before nomenclature regarding identities and roles—and thus appears able to rejoin a lost golden age that may have existed prior to the naming and identifying enthusiasm Foucault declared concurrent with the medicalization of homosexuality that dates to the late nineteenth century. In travel and sex tourism literature, this age before categories and identifications is purported to have survived in Middle Eastern cultures (see chapter 3). In casting Arab men who have sex with men without ever describing themselves as gay,37 Citébeur establishes a bridge between Arab sexual cultures in North Africa and those of the diaspora in the banlieues.
From Beur to Beurette, a Political Loss
Postcolonial pornography has a highly lucrative heterosexual side of course. As with gay productions, Orientalist tropes have often been recycled from times past, visible in the proliferation of titles (most often made for men by men) depicting harems, the sexual despotism of Arab men, as well as forced or voluntary unveilings that become erotic events following the sequence of a striptease. One of the trendiest figures emerging in post-1980s porn has been that of the beurette (Franco-Arab woman) in French heterosexual pornography. It has become difficult if not impossible to perform Internet searches about nonsexual aspects of beurettes, so prevalent is their sexualization online. As with Citébeur and its promotion of the racaille, heterosexual porn studios have promoted the “girl from the projects” into a recognizable and sought-after type, such that zeitgeist publications like Les Inrockuptibles, which follows trends in pornography closely, have dubbed this trend La mode beurette.38 Citébeur and beurette productions strongly differ, however, in terms of the directors’ proximity and identification with the actors, and in terms of the existence of an arguably political activism on display. In gay productions, the intended audience can more easily identify with the actors, (p.242) in contrast to the heterosexual production, which is usually designed for the gratification of a hypothetically white male viewer. Heterosexual porn featuring beurettes does not showcase scenarios of resistance, role reversal, or social reckonings to the same extent, even though it takes as one of its central figures the virile woman or gang member in the banlieues (see chapter 1). As beurette porn star Yasmine describes, the racaille (female thug) role is one that provided her the means to emerge (as in her breakout title Yasmine et ses amies [Yasmine and her girlfriends]). It is a role she has avoided ever since, as it represents for her an unflattering image of a beurette de service (token Arab, but also, Arab at your service) who hustles in the projects, for whom nothing is too degrading as long as it involves money. In the 2007 investigative report “Les Marocains et le X: une histoire charnelle” (Moroccans and the X-rated: A carnal story) organized by francophone Moroccan magazine Tel Quel, the editorial writers described the France-born trope, as well as its later infiltration of the Moroccan sexual imaginary, in the following terms:
Beurettes are cast in scenes that derive from the image of the “Muslim woman from the banlieues who wants to slum it with riff-raff [s’encanailler].” The discourse is always the same: a virgin girl wants to emancipate herself from moral pressures, to “let loose and have a good time” [s’éclater] as it is often specified, to uproot herself from “poverty,” to get her “thug-girl” on, but without forgetting to put on her headscarf which she removes little by little as the film progresses. This mass of clichés seduced Moroccans, who saw resonating within it their own erotic imaginary. “This archetype of the transgressed religious taboo is just as valid in the reality of Moroccan life. Prostitutes are increasingly donning the headscarf … as it is an excitement factor for clients …” explains [the sexologist] Aboubakr Harakat.39
Interestingly, for Yasmine, the fantastical Orientalist tropes of The One Thousand and One Nights appeal to her above and beyond the more contemporary and urban roles available in banlieue pornography. This comes in total opposition to Citébeur’s rejection of the service-oriented and sex tourism–enabling Arab boy figure as a disempowering relic of the colonial era. Though Yasmine enjoyed a stratospheric yet temporary success, at the end of her journey she was underpaid, subject to extremely difficult working conditions, and eventually dropped by the mega studio Dorcel when her contract expired. She spoke very bitterly of her experience at Dorcel and her attempts to branch out—without support from her former employer—into film, publishing, or modelling.40 The prevailing representations of Franco-Arab women in heterosexual pornography for (p.243) male audiences are, I maintain, less engaged with addressing postcolonial discrimination as an injustice to be dealt with on the level of sexual representation. There are of course exceptions, as in some women-directed crossover films that engage with the porn world: Baise-moi (Fuck me, incorrectly translated in its English version as Rape Me), which had been released to a wide audience in France and had enjoyed some international success. It starred two beurette porn stars—Karen Bach (now deceased) and Rafaella Anderson, playing a prostitute and racaille rape survivor, respectively—who go on a killing spree and sex binge. Unlike the case of Citébeur, it is clear that the intended audience for mainstream heterosexual porn featuring Arab women is not the Franco-Arab subject or even the white male viewer who would enjoy seeing women of North African background “heroically” employing sexual weapons toward anticolonial or antiracist ends.
In terms of audience, Tel Quel documented how the vogue for beurettes moved from France to Morocco, the ancestral homeland of many beurette actresses. The francophone culture magazine also explained the subsequent “Moroccan-ization” of this trope that occurred when Moroccan fans began making their own films, and placing market demands for models “closer-to-home” in terms of looks, figure, and especially their ability to speak in darija or (Moroccan) dialect. One of the journalists involved in the investigative report, Hassan Hamdani, gives an ultimately pessimistic verdict on the promise of such representation to bring about anything positive in terms of ethnic visibility and empowerment:41
Racism and sexism are two breasts upon which the producers of this sector are now feeding. By investing in realist XXX porn in the mid-nineties, they have inundated the market with films in which the ethnic component was the draw-in. The Arab has not escaped from marketing and even less from racial prejudice. … Following the example of the American sites, the women don the veil, except that in France, this piece of cloth is invested with Islam in order to also sell the religious prohibition being transgressed. These sites warn that their content has nothing to do with Islam. Nevertheless, it’s the “Muslim woman who’s letting go” that one is being sold. … A “Yasmine,” as liberated as she may be, cannot serve as an example, Moroccan or otherwise.42
In an interview with the same magazine, the actress Yasmine invoked here stated that she is a practicing Muslim.43 When asked about the current image of Arab women today, she lamented the loss of “certain traditional values”: when the interviewer expressed surprise at her remark, she (p.244) expressed her own surprise at his question. Interestingly, the journalist Hamdani conservatively deprives her of role model status in the name of progressive values, while Yasmine the porn star shows a more open-minded understanding of a moral conservatism that can be available to anyone, no matter the judgment placed upon their profession. Also, in the quote itself, it is assumed the male viewer could make a distinction between practicing Islam and engaging with pornography exploiting the erotics of the veil, while the same distinction is not allowed for Yasmine. In this ongoing comparison between Citébeur and heterosexual postcolonial porn, it should be noted, however, that testimony from Citébeur actors about their experiences is not as readily available: their experiences dealing with the studio may have been as problematic as Yasmine’s, if not as well documented.
Citébeur was not the first French studio to take an interest in Franco-Arab models. Cadinot’s Harem (1984), was the first full-length production to feature North African men prominently, following the sex tour of a solitary, slight French youth (known in the gay vernacular as the “twink” type) on location in Morocco.44 The film was innovative albeit very Orientalist, exiting the hexagonal frame while at the same time drawing on stock ideas of an unlimited sexual souk or marketplace just a plane ride away. One Orientalist motif—the idea of the perilous, labyrinthine, yet seductive Casbah—suffuses the film’s description on the Cadinot website:
Everything starts in the hammam. In the humidity of the bath-house, a young Frenchman discovers Arab sensuality with a handsome stallion. It’s love at first sight. But the young Moroccan disappears within the narrow streets of the Casbah upon exiting the establishment. Our young hero follows him in hot pursuit through the populated streets … he gets lost in the souk where he soon discovers, in the boutique store-rooms, the very special hospitality of the Oriental merchants. Bronze bodies follow one after the other, even an ebony body, perhaps one of the most beautiful ephebes of the Cadinot collection.45
Cadinot’s ethnic porn often touts the consistent and nearly magical power of white skin to turn Arab men bisexual. In his entry on the recently deceased Cadinot (1944–2008) for the Dictionnaire de la pornographie, the scholar Christian Fournier connects Cadinot to the philosophy of the Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action (FHAR) in the 1970s, saying (p.245) that: “Harem … seems to illustrate the famous FHAR manifesto claiming the ‘right and the desire of French fags to go off and get laid in Morocco.’”46 On the Cadinot website, the promotion around the film mentioned that a flurry of gay charter flights to North Africa had been booked in the wake of the film’s release.47 At his death, Cadinot was eulogized in the mainstream gay press for being a champion of diversity, with journalists making the point that pornography can be in the vanguard of making France a more inclusive society, even if the images may occasionally be exploitative. In the period prior to his death, Cadinot focused exclusively on Arab and Franco-Arab models, culminating in a six-part series titled Nomades.48 Some featured performers, however, including Ilmann Bel,49 disclosed in interviews that filming conditions were less than ideal. Cadinot, he said, would recruit Franco-Arab men born in urban France and ask them to play the roles of North African boys with thick accents accosting European tourists while on location in North Africa. Bel spoke of being flown to Cadinot’s vacation home and of a tension-filled filming experience during which his request to play both active and passive roles was denied, as Cadinot preferred casting him exclusively as a macho, aggressive top. This casting decision does cause one to reconsider the reproaches often levelled at Franco-Arab porn performers (such as excessively virile and sexist) by gay and straight commentators alike: these reproaches should in some high-profile cases be directed toward porn’s directors of that virilism.
Well-intentioned attempts to valorize Arab subjects thus sometimes run the risk of assigning Arab men to a highly limited role. Prominent director JNRC was also one of the first to emphasize Arab “beauty” with the release of his Studio Beurs series. Like Cadinot, JNRC showed a predilection for what he called bisexual “men of the South,” a term strangely reminiscent of what the translator of The One Thousand and One Nights, Richard Burton, termed the “Sotadic Zone” of pederastic enthusiasm: inside the zone—which covered much of the Mediterranean—sodomy reigned, regardless of sexual object choice. JNRC spoke at length in interviews of his beur favoritism in an almost mystical language of enchantment, as if beurs were a final frontier for those who have experienced all thrills and breached all limits. The following passage could be mistaken for nostalgérie (discourse invoking nostalgia for French Algeria): “I have lived in the Maghreb in a climate of human warmth. Here [in Paris], people have no sense of orientation. The Marais, it terrifies me. There is such a sadness. … When I return to Marseille, a Mediterranean city, I find my favorite [Arab] dropouts once again.” Why mention “dropouts”? Asked what kind of actors he chooses, and according to what criteria, JNRC (p.246) responds without sarcasm, almost fondly: “Hoodlums, people recently released from jail, on the road to marginalization. These people suffer from a lack of affection, they don’t have confidence in themselves. I reflect a positive image back at them, I flatter them, I take care of them. … I do social work.”50 Perhaps unconsciously, here JNRC cuts an exploitative figure, swooping down to redress the misérabiliste mess of punctured Arab self-esteem and atrophied affectivity. JNRC has made a career out of eroticizing the risks involved in exposure to other cultures, classes, and masculinities: something evidenced in his point about actively seeking out “social cases” for his castings. In 2011, JNRC’s risky recruitment efforts were abruptly halted while on a scouting trip in Eastern Europe: he was arrested in Bulgaria under contested circumstances for violating that country’s pornography laws.51 JNRC makes ambivalent assertions about the “men of the South” he recruits, finding in them a reminder of warmth but also the loss of a once common homosocial affectivity that North Africans, among other groups, may have suffered as a result of immigration to France, a loss that stretches over several generations. Claims like JNRC’s are often observational and difficult to evaluate in part because they are caught in the crosscurrents of various essentialisms and counteressentialisms, between openness to cultural difference and the reactivation of stereotypes.
This is one of JNRC’s recurrent concerns: the perceived difference in affectivity and human warmth between the European North and the Mediterranean. He echoes other writers who have spoken vaguely of a timeless Mediterranean or Arab hospitality. The sociologist Guénif-Souilamas has historicized this pattern of affective nostalgia and attempted to track its evolution through immigration and subsequent generations, describing a distinctive North African social “warmth” characterized sometimes, but not always, by a fluid line between male homosociality and homosexuality. Immigration can impact affective traditions brought from the home country, and these traditions may evolve at their point of origin as well. Sexual customs in North Africa and the Mediterranean are not immune to change, especially in light of colonial and postcolonial relations. Sex tourism, misunderstandings between tourists and locals, and sometimes outright exploitation, has over time produced a hostility to a homosexuality suddenly seen as Western and no longer implanted in local cultures, as historians of Gay Tangier have explained.52
JNRC’s ethical concern is complicated by the eroticism he juxtaposes with his “social work.” He searches out the masculine “hardness” borne of physically taxing or contentious lives, all while trying to bring some pleasure and softness to his actors’ lives in the form of sexual service: (p.247) actors (“men from the street,” “men of Eastern Europe”) are serviced by seasoned gay bottoms in an eager assistant role. Clair contrasts men of color to sad and bitter Parisian gays: it seems as if he detects a certain vitality and affective exuberance in North African men that he wishes to preserve from the harshness of urban and immigrant life in France, hence his concern. In this somewhat romanticized view, porn is not a cause of affective atrophy but rather a remedy against it. The meaning of JNRC’s gesture is furthermore vexed because his comments about social cases reinforce stereotypes of minority dependency on the state. Though essentialist, the porn director does bring up something rarely broached, the evolution of affectivity through waves of immigration between North Africa and postcolonial France. Guénif-Souilamas explains that the image of Franco-Arabs has often been locked into a stereotype by which the modern elements of banlieue tensions, poverty, and a survivalist machismo born of these conditions have been fixed as the transhistorical components of essential North African masculinity, regardless of how “tender” affectivities have been outside of these circumstances in previous epochs, places, and pages. This stereotypical imprisonment within virility creates Franco-Arabs who are unable to comprehend the so-called representative French values of equality of the sexes and sexual tolerance that are said to reign in the center of power, in Paris: metrosexual enclaves that she ironically calls “sites of enlightened reconciliation.”53 It is this perception of the unadapted, forever macho Arab or immigrant youth that seems to have informed gay pornographers in their marketing of “rough types.”
A series of persistent and interrelated tropes run through gay and straight “ethnic” erotica: the hypersexualization of single immigrant men; the eroticization of banlieue poverty as regards both women and men; the veil as striptease; and the homosexual thug type or homo thug (caillera gay). Pornography stands outside the requirements of political correctness—it elucidates, but also exaggerates and distorts the sexualization of immigration and race relations. Porn studios have seized upon quite serious contemporary scandals involving everything from post immigration exploitation, sex tourism, tournantes, sexual violence, and insécurité in the suburbs. Instead of heightening anxieties, the gay productions at least have sought to bring about a strange, and strangely effective, civic therapy using exaggeration, fantasy, but also honesty about the fears that may cause ethnic segregation in city space. Though Arabs are, in mainstream (p.248) gay productions, more the objects of fantasy rather than the producers of fantasy, Arab performers also eroticize themselves in a way that is initially meant to frustrate, rather than excite, the assumed white viewer-consumer. Heterosexual “ethnic” pornography, made most often by heterosexual men for other heterosexual men, has not been as effective in providing politically subversive images, in exploiting the exploitation so to speak. Finally, this erotic recasting of the demonized banlieues as a space of cleverness, creativity, pleasure, and harmony allows for a crucial interrogation of pornography’s low cultural status, its academic marginalization, and its limited political potential.
(1.) La bande dessinée (Paris: Citébeur, 2012), 2. The illustrator’s name, Zgeg, translates to “penis” in Arabic argot, a word now common in French slang. The title of the comic strip roughly translates into “In and out of the cellar” (deboitage means to take out, dislocate, or disconnect an object that is placed inside another object, such as a pipe or knee bone; here it takes on a sexual meaning).
(2.) The term mixité refers to a mixture of different social groups, ages, genders, ethnicities, and classes. It is a criterion often considered auspicious for the peace and prosperity of a given neighborhood.
(3.) A tournante is a “gang bang” or “gang rape,” depending on whether the reference is to consensual or nonconsensual sex.
(4.) Exceptions must be made for discussions gathering steam on the Internet in regard to sexual racism in personal ads, which render racial preferences blameworthy.
(6.) Dean explains the differing relationship of homosexual and heterosexual communities to pornography, a distinction located in sexual difference: “Porn consumption has long been normative in gay relationships in a way that it is unlikely to become in heterosexual relationships, at the very least because imbalances of power between the sexes aren’t at stake when everyone involved in the pornography—actors, producers, distributors, consumers—is male” (ibid., 109). While critical analysis of heterosexual pornography attaches great importance to how sexual difference is represented, the same cannot be said of gay pornography. What unites gay porn with straight hardcore, in Dean’s understanding, is a concern with “maximum visibility” and “curiosity about the body’s interior” (ibid., 110). However, other kinds of difference that might stand in for sexual difference and could be eroticized in the same way are crucial to gay porn’s forms of representation and dramatic techniques: masculine and feminine, top and bottom, white and nonwhite, rich and poor, gay-for-pay and gay-for-pleasure.
(7.) L’homme au bain, directed by Christophe Honoré (Les Films du Bélier, 2010), film.
(8.) World of Men: Lebanon, directed by Collin O’Neal (TLA, 2006); Arabesque, directed by Chris Ward (Raging Stallion, 2006); and L.A. Zombie, directed by Bruce LaBruce (Wurstfilm, 2010), film.
(p.313) (9.) Communautarisme refers to the tendency of minority groups (sexual, ethnic, or religious) to stick together and thus form somewhat segregated or uniform communities, an outcome that (apart from the sexual minority case) can also be the result of decisions regarding the concentration of the urban poor in designated areas.
(11.) Antoine Barde of Citébeur, interview by author, summer 2008.
(12.) Bitume is the name of one of Citébeur’s most famous actors.
(13.) This was the case at least in the initial output, in which active and passive roles were racialized, Arabs always active and Caucasians always passive. The production has since switched up the role assignments in unpredictable ways.
(14.) For more on the interracial revenge porn trope in the American context, see the controversy surrounding the gay porn film Ni**a’s Revenge, directed by Dick Wadd (Dick Wadd Productions, 2001), DVD. See also Dean, Unlimited Intimacy, 156–57.
(16.) Louis Maury, “Cantique de la racaille,” Têtu, July–August 2003, 36. The title of the article alludes to the Flore Prize–winning novel of the same name by Vincent Ravalec, Cantique de la racaille (Paris: J’ai lu, 1999).
(19.) See Johann Hari, “The New HIV Threat,” Independent, November 7, 2005, cited in Dean, Unlimited Intimacy, 3: “They internalize the homophobia of the culture around them, and act it out on their own bodies.”
(20.) In Unlimited Intimacy, Dean takes Dwight McBride, author of Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch, to task for misunderstanding how fantasy and fetish work at the psychoanalytical level, accusing McBride of taking a naïve, humanistic view of the possibility of interracial relations free of fetishization. Mcbride’s book points out how black men are often either objectified as man-phalluses by those with black fetishes or rendered invisible in contemporary youth consumer cultures, exemplified by Abercrombie and Fitch and similar stores, which implicitly valorize whiteness and its cultural associations. While Dean is correct that in many ways there is no sexual relation—including interracial, unmediated by language and the social messaging that informs the racing of sexual subjects—this perspective depoliticizes the issue of sexual racism in the gay community, a problem that has largely been excused by appeals to semiotics and the authority of fantasy to want what it wants. My approach seeks to keep Dean’s attention to the presence of fetish at the center of every sexual exchange, while also keeping in mind the white privilege inherent in discounting men of color’s charges of sexual racism, as well as injuries suffered from it. See also Dwight McBride, Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality (New York: New York University Press, 2005).
(22.) Mireille Rosello, Declining the Stereotype (Dartmouth, NH: University Press of New England, 1998).
(24.) See Rosello, Declining the Stereotype, 11: “One sense of ‘declining’ involves paying attention to the formal characteristics of the stereotype so as to control its devastating ideological power. In practice, this type of declining encompasses ironic repetitions, carefully framed quotations, distortions and puns, linguistic alterations, double (p.314) entendres, and self-deprecating humor. Declining a stereotype is a way of depriving it of its harmful potential by highlighting its very nature.”
(28.) Sagat’s crescent tattoo is most apparent in (and one could say made for) one of the sexual positions directors often cast him in: doggy style, in which the actor playing the top gets a clear view of the eroticized Islamic imagery.
(29.) Saw VI, directed by Kevin Greitert (Lionsgate Films, 2009), film.
(30.) Explaining the origin of his crescent tattoo, Sagat said: “It’s a mix between the Turkish flag and the Tunisian or Algerian sign. I would say it’s a ‘clin d’œil’ for Arabic men. A people and culture that I really love and respect, even if I was born Christian and Caucasian. I love Algerian men. They are really beautiful. I did it when I was 20 years old, in January 2000. I’m still wondering why I choose [sic] it, I did not choose it for religious purpose. I’m not Muslim. But it is a beautiful sign and the top of my back is a good place for it.” See “François Sagat, the Man behind the Mask: Part 2,” interview by Rob Evers, Beautiful Mag, July 14, 2006, accessed December 7, 2015, http://beautiful.blogs.com/beautiful/2006/07/franois_sagat_t_1.html.
(34.) Algerian Muslim soldiers who fought on France’s side during the Algerian war of independence.
(35.) Barde, interview by author.
(37.) In Citébeur’s comic book, simply called “La bande dessinée,” all the featured Arab men are tops, and all the white men are bottoms, save for one half-Arab, half-white character who is versatile. This configuration aligns passive homosexuality with whiteness in the way all the characters’ sexual preferences are associated with their ethnic origins, not their nationalities.
(38.) For more on the mode beurette in French heterosexual porn, see Éric Fassin and Mathieu Trachman, “Voiler les beurettes pour les dévoiler: les doubles jeux d’un fantasme pornographique blanc,” Modern and Contemporary France 21, no. 2 (2013): 199–217.
(39.) Mehdi Sekkouri Alaoui, “Les Marocains et le X: une histoire charnelle,” Tel Quel, January 9, 2008, accessed July 7, 2012, http://m.telquel-online.com/archives/296/couverture_296.shtml (site discontinued).
(40.) Philippe Vecchi, “Yasmine, ex-égérie Dorcel: ‘Maintenant je sais pourquoi je suis devenue hardeuse,’” Les Inrocks, January 9, 2011, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.lesinrocks.com/lesinrockslab/news/detail-de-lactualite/t/57329/date/2011-01-09/article/yasmine-ex-egerie-dorcel-maintenant-je-sais-pourquoi-je-suis-devenue-hardeuse/.
(41.) See Hassan Hamdani, “Les Marocains et le X: Une histoire charnelle,” http://m.telquel-online.com/archives/296/couverture_296.shtml (site discontinued): “On American sites, the Arab girl is sold enrobed in pastel veils, half belly dancer, half Sheherazade [sic] in Walt Disney’s Aladdin. This is the Orientalism of bazaars. In France, (p.315) the Thousand and One Nights are not the most in demand, but the [producers’] imagination is still limitless, according to the principle: always more (shady). The client wants the sordid and that’s what he’ll get, from the demonized banlieue and beurettes presented as overworked maids [cosettes frustrées], ready to do whatever it takes to exit their social and sexual impoverishment.”
(43.) Religious faith is not unheard of in the adult film industry; many American performers, male and female, declare themselves practicing Christians; for example, mega-star Jenna Jameson, formerly a devout Catholic and now a convert to Judaism. See Zoe Nauman, “Cooking Up a Kosher Storm! Adult Film Star Jenna Jameson Ditches Bawdy for Bat Mitzvahs Converting to Judaism for Love,” Daily Mail, June 12, 2015, accessed 6 July 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3122331/Cooking-kosher-storm-Adult-film-star-Jenna-Jameson-ditches-bawdy-bat-mitzvahs-converting-Judaism-love.html.
(44.) Harem (Sex Bazaar), directed by Jean-Daniel Cadinot (Cadinot Productions, 1984), film.
(46.) Dictionnaire de la pornographie, ed. Philippe Di Folco (Paris: PUF Editions, 2006).
(47.) Jaap Kooijiman, “Pleasure of the Orient: Cadinot’s Maghreb as Gay Male Pornotopia,” Place, Sex and Race 22, no. 1 (2011): 97.
(49.) Ilmann Bel, Un mauvais fils (Saint-Martin-de-Londres, France: H + O Editions, 2010).
(50.) “Les Documents Ethniks et Gays: Interview de Jean Noel René Clair,” interview by Fouad Zeraoui, Kelma, n.d., accessed March 17, 2012, http://www.kelma.org/pages/documents/jean_noel_rene_clair.php.
(51.) “JNRC: l’interview exclusive,” interview by Didier Lestrade, Minorites.org, October 10, 2010, accessed December 10, 2015, http://www.minorites.org/index.php/2-la-revue/861-jnrc-l-interview-exclusive.html.
(52.) Michael K. Walonen, Writing Tangier in the Postcolonial Transition: Space and Power in Expatriate and North African Literature (Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2011).
(53.) See Guénif-Souilamas and Macé, Les féministes et le garçon arabe, 63: “In this context, the Arab boys … seem to be condemned to an atemporal machismo, forbidden during daylight hours in those sites of enlightened reconciliation between the sexes, spaces we pretend to be peaceful. The boys are banished to the confines of this foreign process of social transformation of sexual identities, they are prevented from participating in it but counted on to serve it by taking the role of the counterexample, of the unadapted.”