“Whilst half a century ago the motto “sex sells” was present in between the lines of different media, adopted as a secret strategy to capture people’s attention, today it looks more like this:
Sex used to be “obscene,” literally meaning offstage or off-scene, marking the hidden and private nature of pornography. Today, in the introduction to her Porn Studies collection Linda Williams proposes the term on/scenity as a way of capturing the spreading of rather pornographic images that are included in many facets of popular culture and artistic practice but not in pornography itself per se. On/scenity refers to a culture of imagery and discourse where the organs, acts, bodies and pleasures that had before been considered ob/scene and thus were kept off-scene, to become available to the public at large.
Walter Campbell, the director of Under the Skin (2013) has made a mesmerizing fashion film that is a perfect example of contemporary on/scenity culture. Using extremely quick editing of fetishistic images, combining the flashy characteristic of the music video with an experimental juxtapositioning of images creating different associations à la Eisenstein, “X” by Rankin hypnotizes its viewer, making us thirsty for sex (yes, the Coca Cola experiment works). Thus beautiful sexual imagery is used to promote and sell erotic lingerie. Then what? Rankin says:
“The film is pushing boundaries of what films can do. It’s not about selling, it’s about you being part of an experience.” (Read more)
Indeed, (fashion) films like these can open up the public debate about our sexual nature and altogether influence the very way in which we think about sex. Like Under the Skin, “X” approaches “sex on screen” from a different angle using haptic visuality through a focus of different materials which almost make the viewer feel on his own body what he sees on another. In a way this is fundamental to cinema, referring to the spectators’ eyes gliding over the fabric of the film screen itself.
In the last few years, the prominence of on-the-border pornographic imagery in mainstream culture has been a notably increasing (think about films such as La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is The Warmest Colour) and Nymphomaniac). This may be because of the fact that porn has become openly accessible on the internet making it less of a shock, making room for imagery addressing the horror-like nature of our unconscious (sexual) mind instead of a feeling of uncomfort towards showing the act of having sex itself. As a result, this has opened up the possibility for creative and aesthetically more interesting representations of the orgasm.
…Which is a pleasure.
See also: Needham, Gary. “Bringing Out the Gimp: Fashioning the SM Imaginary.” Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 18.2 (2014): 149–168.