Before embarking on what has turned out to be a new permanent position overseas, I proposed a special-topics course for graduate students, who presumably would be mature enough to handle it. When my Filipino colleagues said that “pornography and feminism” sounded fine but academic, I facetiously said “Then let’s call it ‘Skinema’” – and I couldn’t shake off the coinage thereafter from their minds. The proposal was easy for me to formulate, since I’d been paying dutiful attention to the marvelous genre of American pornography during my graduate-school years, and short of living in the state where the industry thrives, none would be more ideal than New York City, where it all started a little over 40 years ago with Gerard Damiano’s era-defining Deep Throat. (Speaking of which, one of the award-winning stars in the US porn industry was a former student of mine, but that should be the subject of a write-up all its own.) In the center of Washington Square Park, from which the village area emanates, I could face in any direction and identify at least one X-rated specialty theater, all of them (except the ones up north, which were the first to be shut down under the mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani) unidentifiable from the outside, recognizable only by the box office that first greets those who venture within.
Unfortunately in preparing for a course to be taught at the University of the Philippines Film Institute, I could not include any local readings (I couldn’t find anything of substance) or videos on the same order as the foreign titles readily available, apart from Peque Gallaga’s soft-core Scorpio Nights (1985). In fact I refused to list any title for screening whatsoever, just in case any of the right-wing religious fundamentalists infesting the College of Mass Communication might manage to get their paws on a copy of the syllabus; the incident where an Opus Dei-controlled student council requested the police to raid the faculty of the college during a screening of Martin Scorsese’s then-banned The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) impressed on me the realization that today our students would not hesitate to turn us in, the same way our student-years’ teachers would have had. Nevertheless for what would be essentially an introductory survey program, I drew mainly from the X-Rated Critics Organization’s Hall of Fame list, alongside Nagisa Oshima’s Ai no corrida (1976) and Jang Sunwoo’s Gojitmal (1999), plus the Gallaga entry, issued the standard start-of-sem warning, and plunged in.
As I’ve been implying, I sought mainly to point out how productive this type of genre study could be, and in fact some aesthetic satisfaction may be realized if we viewed the titles in historical context (hence my insistence on porn classics, although there was simply no way to avoid Deep Throat). Close to mid-semester, impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and imaginative responses, I suggested a creative option in place of the announced midterm exam. Everyone took the offer and turned in storyline proposals, a few of which were good enough to submit for subsidy funding.
The buzz the course created continues to circulate, and I’m sure everyone learned enough, including the institute: an elective titled “Cinema, Gender, and Other Identities” is now listed. My own realization came as a surprise as well. When I had my first sabbatical (actually a half-year, which is an arrangement possible in Korea), the UPFI asked me if I could lecture – for free, for reasons too complicated to go into; for an equally complex set of reasons I acceded. Then of course “Skinema” was the first thing they mentioned, and I discovered I’d somehow become too timid to agree. “I’ve done that already, so anyone who took the course should be the next one to teach it” was my defensive response. I’ll probably need some basic level of professional help if I want to sort out what happened, but meanwhile I’m providing here, for what it’s worth, a copy of the syllabus that we’d used.