What porn does wrong (and so do you)

sleepin with my shoes on
The door opens on a hot and lonely housewife in improbably high heels. The TV repairman senses the great depth of loneliness in her and makes a joke about his tool belt.

Next scene, they’re rutting with the mechanical precision of fornicating robots. It’s pretty damn hot.

You watch. Your groin is certainly fascinated, and sometimes that takes all your attention.

But your head isn’t in the same game as your groin. Your head is thinking…

Those are ridiculous breasts.

Jee-sus, do you have to look so bored, repairmanguy?

The trim on that kitchen counter is rather nice, I wonder where they got it…

After you’ve finished watching – and whatever else you’re doing – you feel faintly melancholy.

It worked, so you should be happy, but…

Somehow you feel cheap. Used. Resentful.

If you could get your money back, you’d probably try to.

And you think, Huh, that’s odd. Why do I feel so unsatisfied about something that worked?

To cheer yourself up, you hire an action movie. (Today is a day of testosterone.)

The credits explode through the screen and an unknown figure on a black Ducati with leathers and a full-face helmet crashes his bike through a warehouse door and screeches away on his rear wheels as the warehouse explodes in slow motion.

You don’t even bother to pause as you wander off to get a drink and some of those mini-marshmallows.

When you get back, the mysterious Leather Biking Guy – black-tinted helmet still on – is fighting a room full of improbably dextrous Korean gangsters. He does an amazing standing flip over one gangster to axe-kick the next one in the head and you involuntarily cheer.

But ten minutes later, you’re thinking…

Damn, is that Sammo Hung? He’s aged so well!

Why are all these warehouses so poorly lit? That’s unsafe.

That gangster is using way too much product.

You say, “Meh”, stop the movie and go put on Die Hard instead.

The moral of the story – home player edition

What was the mistake the action flick and porno made? Why did both leave you so dissatisfied?

You tell me.

I’m going to give away two prizes:

One free hour of coachsulting to the first person in the comments to identify what I think the problem is.

And another free hour to the person who comes up with the best answer that I didn’t think of.

You’ve got until Friday the 25th of March… hit me with your best shot.

(No pun intended.)

(Ew.)

[Edit: the competition has closed. Enjoy the amazing comments!]

Creative Commons License photo credit: mistress_f

75 thoughts on “What porn does wrong (and so do you)

  1. Both the porn and the action movie lay it all on the line without asking an investment from us. Kinda like a $2 whore we haven’t paid enough to care, so she doesn’t even bother to fake pleasure. It is a one-sided relationship.

  2. Neither engaged you at an emotional level, nor allowed you to picture yourself as a participant. You are stuck as a spectator, because the premise is so un-lifelike. Or life giving.

    btw, extra points to you for the Sammo Hung mention. Specifically after the porn vignette.

  3. The characters aren’t identifiable as characteristics we see in ourselves and others we know. John McClane is a drunk, absent father, crap husband and a near-washout at his job… but he’s a good guy. Sure we all know someone like that (hint: sometimes its us).

    The plastic porn or anonymous kung-fu guru don’t seem human… so we don’t form a human connection to them. To put it simply: we don’t care about them.

    Honestly, do you give a shit if the TV repair man had a satisfying sexual experience? I sure as hell don’t.

  4. Hmmm, I’m thinking that this person expected to get something other than what was delivered… that the marketing headlines and titles promised the world and delivered a pile of crap. That there was no connection, that it’s all been seen and done and said before, that it wasn’t believable. No connection, that’s the bit that’s sticking out most. The care factor = zip. And how was it actually useful? Something too about giving people what you think they want, rather than just being yourself and offering your true gifts authentically (let’s face it, a lot of those porno actors aren’t very gifted actors nor are the stories those movies tell – not that I’d really know, by the way).

    And I’m getting way more excited now than I would watching that porno… I would LOVE to spend an hour with you 🙂

  5. I think you probably intended to make the point that there was no emotional connection from the viewer to the actors. We hadn’t been moved to care about the outcome.

    For me, though, the biggest crime is that the filmmaker had my attention, and yet failed to do anything with it. Seth Godin calls it delight. There was nothing to delight, stimulate, excite, compel, or even amaze. ho-hum. Another failed transaction.

    By the way, you made the point a lot better than Godin.

  6. I’m gonna go with the fact that they didn’t engage the brain and fascinate. They didn’t tease with questions that you were begging to know the answer for, showing you a little peek behind the curtain, a little bit of a promise of more to come that will BLOW YOUR FREAKING MIND.

    Which, it seems, is exactly what you’ve done with this post. Created a sense of mystery.

  7. Here’s the thing: YOU chose the movies. You paid for and got what you ordered. It’s what you thought you wanted because everyone wants that, don’t they? It’s kinda like alcoholic bevies. When you’re young, having a little nip from the parent’s liquor cabinet is cool. When you get older you can appreciate a fine Cab or Pinot…they both give you a buzz so what makes the wine so much more appealing to the mature you? Does it matter which one you consume? Absolutely. It’s because you’re desiring the EXPERIENCE, the connection and the uniqueness of the vintage and grapes used. The process is as important as the result. The mistake is that neither provide the experience their viewer is craving. Neither movIe is in touch with what their viewer really wants because they are not anticipating their changing needs. They are offering what others before them have done without thinking about what the new viewer wants to experience.

  8. Both of them start with a bang – but there’s no leadup. Nothing to make you care about the characters and what happens to them. No relationality. So it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    In other words, they go straight to the features, but the features aren’t benefits because the audience isn’t identifying and engaging emotionally.

    Another way of saying this is that there’s no story. In stories, characters that you care about change through their experiences. They don’t just have experiences.

    And the application is that we also need to engage our audiences in a story rather than jumping straight to the “outcome”.

    I discovered an application of this principle when I changed my main “hire me” page. A few months ago I rewrote it all clever and with a big form where people could book time with me online.

    Nobody booked me. Just recently, I lost the form and described, instead, why someone would want to work with a health coach, a personal development coach, a hypnotherapist, and specifically me.

    Now I’m getting inquiries again.

    I was going to “book me” too quickly without telling them why they should care.

  9. Both the porno & the action flick are trying to pander to the most people possible, so they don’t ACTUALLY appeal to most people and just end up boring a lot of people. (They bore me, anyways…)

  10. Ah, see…here’s the thing. Both the porn and the action flick give us what we *think* we want…but utterly fail at giving us what we actually need. So, when its over, instead of feeling satisfied, we feel kinda dirty. We ask ourselves “what’s wrong we me that I wanted *that*?”

    It’s kinda like getting all tingly with excitement during a call, then feeling empty and even more lost as soon as you hang up the phone. A person can only take so much pink smoke blown up their.. ehm…yeah. At some point it becomes impossible to suspend reality any further and the whole illusion dissolves like a big, disappointing mirage.

  11. Because they both gave you exactly what you expected – nothing more, nothing less, nothing unique, nothing special, no surprises.

  12. I think there is a lack of authenticity in both scenarios. In the first, there’s no heart or real vulnerability on display. We can’t fully invest because the actors aren’t fully invested. In the second, we can’t fully invest because the action is so unrealistic. We can’t invest in a story that is all show and no humanity.

    So I say a lack of authenticity in both. 🙂

  13. Well, at first I was going to answer as the others have answered because I think that’s the primary message, however I also think that there is so much hype surrounding watching a porno or seeing the latest action flick. It sounds fun, naughty, interesting to mention, however the reality is that the hype was much more interesting than the actuality.
    If they used some of the creativity and originality they did when hyping up the product and actually made the product GOOD, then there wouldn’t be a problem.

    Now where are those marshmellows you were talking about? I feel a tad peckish!

  14. To restate a bit what some have already said . . . I see the dissatisfaction in lack of creativity; it’s all been done before, and lack of connection; who are these people and why should I give a rats ass about them? We watch to be entertained, stimulated, and to ‘check out’ for a while but then when it’s all over . . . we’re right back where we started . . . lacking any real investment or connection and likely feeling even more unsatisfied.

    GREAT post!

  15. You had Die Hard available and you foolishly went with something else. You wanted Alan Rickman with a ridiculous German accent, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Now I have a machinegun too!” written in blood on the T-shirt of a dead terrorist, and Bruce Willis triumphantly screaming “Yippee-Ki-Yay Motherfucker!” You wanted old and comfortable.

    New and exciting only works when it really is “new and exciting” The Porno, is just a rehash of every other porn film ever made only with maybe different outfits, if you’re lucky and the filming budget stretched to that, otherwise, it doesn’t matter if it’s Star Whores, Good Will Humping or Buffy the Vampire Layer, once the clothes are off, it’s the same old thing. Similarly with the random action movie (which is probably The Transporter 2 or Shoot ’em up or some other equally dire gunporn).Unless the leather clad biker turns out to be a steam powered cyborg chick from an alternate timeline, and they show you this early on the film so you’re interested, it’s just going to be a whole lot of mindless fight scenes with the odd pun, and you’re better off watching an 80’s action flick which they probably ripped off anyway.

    You think you’re giving people something new, something edgy, but really, it’s a tired old retread of an idea that you’ve tried to spruce up with your bedazzler. Once you’re past the sparkle, you realise that you already own 17 useless versions of it in a multitude of colours and you wonder why you wasted your money on it. All of which just fuels the inner cynic and makes it more difficult to reach the person the next time.

    (P.S. what movie were you watching, sounds like it might be worth a trip to get)

  16. It is all about “why”. The cause and relation that drives us with passion. That’s why a good erotic scene in a movie can kick you more than top-class porn. It’s not only attention, it’s involvement.

  17. Hi.
    The first two movies lack a connection to humaness and authenticity. They are empty. Like cotton candy. A perfect shot of sugary sweetness: It rots your teeth and leaves you feeling a bit empty.

    In the first movie, the sex is perfect, the tool belt is perfect — even the kitchen trim is perfect. Same with the movie starring the leather-clad, motorcycle straddling ninja. It’s all just a bit too staged, theatrical and perfect to be real.

    Spun sugar.

    Yet, in Die Hard, we find a hero we can relate to. Like most of us, he is flawed and imperfect. He’s human. He’s real.

    Watching his story unfold nourishes our souls.

    Like us, he makes errors in judgements. But down deep where it counts, he is a good guy. He embodies our desire to be vulnerable, flawed and human, and still come out on top. To be super human in spite of all our human-ness.

  18. There is no story.

    I don’t care how much some people claim they love action — we just can’t get involved in pure action, can’t relate, can’t picture ourselves as participants.

    Movies should be centered around a story. Instead, so often they’re all about action — or special effects, as the case may be.

    This applies to just about everything. To take the field I know well — graphic design — it so often becomes all about that glossy shiny look, or the over-abundance of effects and filters; or even the total opposite, the super-clean and ordered look.

    It doesn’t matter all that much in the end. If the design isn’t helping to tell a story, it’s a fail.

    Sure, it’s important that it looks nice and professional. But it’s not the main point.

    The story always is. Or should be.

    Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😛

  19. No story/character development leaves us unsatisfied. Whether sex without intimacy, violence without believable moral outrage (see Ip Man for a great martial arts movie), or sweet tasting food without any nourishing nutrition, what we truly long for cannot be satisfied with a shallow substitute.

    I’m guessing you are making some point with marketing about telling a robust story that communicates the benefits of your product or service instead of engaging in a superficial marketing campaign that relies on gimmicks, hype, or dumbing down your offering to be more palatable to the public.

    That said, 25% of all web searches are for porn, and the supermarket is primarily full of junk. The human species has yet to discover what actually satisfies our deepest desires.

  20. Here’s a second thought. The reason these movies are disappointing is because the actors are incapable of feeling the emotions required for intimacy or moral outrage. They are people who lack virtue, who actually have no personal experience with human depth or complexity.

    Porn is universally an industry that degrades women, but simultaneously degrades the male viewer. Most of the actors are addicted to multiple illegal drugs, and the women often retire from the “industry” due to STDs and incontinence from frequent, unprotected, violent sex.

    Crappy action movies star bad actors who lack their own depth of character, so they can’t play a complex character when acting. Many martial arts movie stars are terrible martial artists who lack the discipline to actually transcend violence, so instead they portray violence as entertaining, denying the realities of the horrors of real violent conflict. And as we know from the endless reporting on the private lives of celebrities, many actors themselves are drug and sex addicts.

  21. Archetype with no backbone.
    The characters were there, but the Story wasn’t.

    And they failed to sustain the suspension of disbelief that is critical to storytelling.
    They broke the fourth wall, not deliberately, but by allowing the details to rule over the passion and the tales they were trying to tell.

  22. It’s been said, but:
    Generic. Not real or engaging. ‘Airbrushed’ to beyond the realm of believability.

  23. No trust. Neither of the films does anything to win my trust. If I don’t trust, then I don’t relax, don’t engage, don’t allow myself to suspend my disbelief. Without trust, my brain is going in full-on critique mode because it’s protecting me from leaning into something that doesn’t feel solid and reliable. To keep with the porn metaphor, the viewer has to be seduced. If some stranger proposed to you on bended knee while you were shopping for tea towels you’d think they were out of their mind. Everything in its time, and trust is the first of these.

    That’s why you feel icky when the porn “works” — it doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t feel like you did the right thing. You gave yourself over (partly) to something that was unreliable so you betrayed yourself.

  24. I think it’s because there’s no emotional connection. You don’t care what happens to the characters. There’s got to be something there that makes me want to care about what happens to these people.

  25. You’re reminding me with this post that even bad porn and hairless cats and Hitler have their Right People.

    Someone could make a killing off me if they would make porn with their Right Person Karen Paritee dirty talk. Even though story is often proclaimed to be King, my favorite porn can have the worst story of all time, as long as the characters are saying certain things. I’ve got my own story all ready that I’m in! they just have to say the word(s.) (So I guess in that way, I am in the story, and then I am left very satisfied, the way a mere observer, isn’t.)

    Of course, the majority of porn caters to those who are visual among us, and assumes that all we want is T&A, and we’re good to go. They do seem to run a pretty brisk business.

    For me to even have decided to put movies you described in the DVR, I would have had to have first looked at the packaging and/or the description, and then hope that I was going to get a match between an experience I thought it was offering, and an experience I wanted to have.

    When I didn’t get what I thought I would, I was an observer rather than a particpant in the story, and so like so many have said here, I was underwhelmed.

    The exact opposite of what happened when I saw the title of your post, and then read it. I got what I came for. And it was good for me.

    (Punz intended.)

    (If you like audio, too, let me know and I’ll send this comment along with some deep breathing and choice phrases.)

  26. My thoughts…it’s obvious that in the porn & typical action flick that the people involved (actors and/or characters) aren’t enjoying themselves really at all – it’s all fake, if there is any enjoyment. And so there’s less connection with what they’re doing at all.

  27. The movies both lacked the ability to allow the viewer the escapism they wanted from a film like Die Hard. In both instances the viewer questions the authenticity of the experience and connects all of the problems with their viewing experience.

    Without the setting of the big screen, the movies have a different movie experience. The viewer may not have noticed and critiqued the films so harshly because the big screen moguls know how to sell something that is fake. However, the marketing for the films in the big screen didn’t work the same for an at home viewing experience.

    The set design, makeup, and actors aren’t making you believe them and if you see through the facade you can’t escape. You are faced with the cold hard reality that you don’t need this in your life and can search for something else to replace it.

    If our products have different mediums included, we should make sure that they are really working well together in order to get the product we and our potential market wants.

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