Exposure – Book Review and Q&A with Author Chauntelle Tibbals

Rosco Fuji reviews Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment

Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment
Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, author of the recent must read book, Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment, could almost be described as a walking contradiction. On one hand she’s a noted scholar with a PhD from the University of Texas Austin, but on the other, her field of expertise is porn. She was the rebellious class skipper with purple hair and concert T-shirts, but the classes she skipped were AP classes. She was cultivated to be different, but when punished was made to associate with people who conformed. During the advanced portion of her academic pursuits, she realized that the world of porn brings out strong emotions in people on both sides of the topic. These emotions brought about the realization that there was something big going on in porn and she was going to find out what it was. Or to quote Chauntelle, “I was going to speak to the porn industry, both because it was made up of people who deserved to have their voices heard… and because no one else had the guts to.”

If you love, like, or maybe have just a passing interest in porn, this book is a must read as it’s written from a research point of view but the conclusions are presented with a sense of humor. I mean, how could you not love a book written about porn by a noted sociologist who thinks that “I Want You to Make My Mouth Pregnant” is worthy of an award for Clever Title of the Year?

Exposure isn’t just about a young woman becoming a porn expert, it’s so much more. Let’s venture into Chauntelle’s entry into the porn world which is covered in Chapters One and Two, titled after the clichéd and almost insulting phrase, How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get Into (Studying) Porn? and Disco Dolls in Hot Skin.

The film itself is grainy in my memory. It’s a classic – playful and silly – and the plot didn’t make much sense. But maybe that’s because I didn’t give it the opportunity to unfold. Though I tried to act rowdy and be in bold with my buddies, I squirmed around comfortably at the first hint of sex. And then I remember someone being chased through what I remember being some sort a house party. The pursuer and the pursued ran through a kitchen, and in that kitchen, while those people were dashing by, a man was banging some woman from behind. And for some odd reason, he was pushing her face into a bowl of soup.

That’s what I remember, and that’s when I stood up and left.

I stormed out of the theater and sat on a planter, shaken. The horror of that poor woman being violated and humiliated while people just run by! How degrading to be pushed into soup!

To say renowned adult industry expert Chauntelle’s first exposure to porn while still a precocious UCLA undergrad student was a positive experience would be as far from the truth as one could possibly get. What made Chauntelle leave in the middle of a film that she had organized for herself and a group of her friends? “I seethed over what was being reframed in my mind as a brutal and depraved culinary drown- fuck. The disconnect between my intense reaction and the content itself was something I didn’t recognize at the time. What happened? What prompted me to insist on going to see film, only to huff my way out partway through? I can only speculate that because I was so afraid of the “depraved” images that have been pre- planted my head, I couldn’t separate what I was actually seeing from what I have been conditioned to experience.”

The preplanted ideas of what porn represented, didn’t magically go away when Chauntelle started in on a Master’s program at Cal State Northridge. Quite the opposite actually. Chauntelle began obsessing over the every bit of porn related material she could get her hands on and was sucked in on the anti-porn rhetoric and became mortified at the existence of films like Deep Throat, even though she hadn’t watched it, because that was what every feminist scholar was supposed to do. And, even though Chauntelle was researching various aspects of the adult world, it wasn’t until her second year as a PhD student that she decided that she should actually view some of the material that she was researching. This leads into her mission to obtain a copy of Camp Cuddly Pines Power Tool Massacre by visiting several adult bookstores in Central Texas. While anyone who’s ever visited a bricks and mortar store can relate, Chauntelle’s first foray into the seedy side of porn acquisition was a little unnerving, both for her and the reader.

As she embraced porn for her Doctorate thesis, Chauntelle repeatedly butted heads with the powers that be in her department at UT. So much so that she lost her funding to continue her studies forcing her to work numerous jobs to complete her program. Amongst all these challenges, Chauntelle started researching out to content providers in Porn Valley and was successful in obtaining an internship. Throughout her internship and beyond, Chauntelle was able to earn her way into a notoriously tight knit group to the point where she was a Girl Friday/minder/protector of the female talent at trade shows to eventually becoming a voting member of the AVN board.

Exposure then delves into a variety of areas that most porn consumers never contemplate as they only view the finished product; the behind the scenes portion of the show. And no I’m not referring to the BTS material furnished in the bonus features of a DVD. Topics covered in “Working the Booth takes us for a trip to the 2008 AEE and all the related issues Chauntelle faces as a booth coordinator from dealing with overly enthusiast/downright annoying fans waiting in line for autographs, setup/takedown, being a girl Friday, to being a confidant to some of the female talent. The Thin Line Between Real and Fake starts out with Chauntelle discussing breast implants and winds up discussing what’s real and fake about porn and a little bit of life. Several chapters such as Being a Guy in Porn is (Not) Hard, On the Set, and Match Mates take place on set with some descriptive nature of various aspects of shooting scenes and difficulties faced regarding talent. We’re treated to chapters called; Beyond Porn Funk, a quick look at porn soundtracks, Pegging: The Oldest New Trick in the Book (self explanatory), The Real Traci Elizabeth Lords (again self explanatory), and finally Chauntelle wraps it up with her own declaration, Coming Out Porno.

Chauntelle Tiballs, PhD, is a sociologist specializing in gender, sexualities, work and organizations, media, and popular culture. Her research has been published in numerous scholarly journals, including Stanford Law and Policy Review and Gender, Work & Organizations; her essays and op-eds have appeared in popular periodicals, including Men’s Health and Playboy; and, she has been quoted and cited in news outlets, including Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, and CNN.

Author Q & A

Chauntelle Tibbals

Academia

How long have you been studying the adult entertainment field?

Over 10 years now – since the early 2000s!

When you’re teaching on campus, how popular are your courses and do you meet resistance along the way from other faculty and/or student or parent protest groups?

I’m lucky that, when I was still working as a college professor, my courses sort of leant themselves to inherent human interest – gender, sexualities, the intersection of society and identity. Who’s not interested in that stuff?! And I think I’m pretty decent at explaining academic-ese in an accessible way, so that helped too.
I always like to take things that frustrated me at various points in my life and correct them in my own practice though – like incorporating your own feedback into your own life haha – and one thing that always frustrated the hell out of me as a student was when professors would leave the bulk of a topic by the wayside in lieu of talking on and on about their own work. So in terms of there being discussion of adult entertainment in my courses (and there being resulting resistance), that never happened. I spoke about adult entertainment during relevant segments of relevant courses, and that’s it. Of course, if students had specific questions, I would answer them and sometimes even incorporate them into the class discussion, but I was always very mindful to stay on topic, in every sense.

But an interesting story: one semester, during a Work & Occupations course, I had six speakers visit the class throughout the semester – one who worked for social services in LA, a professional stuntperson, one in local healthcare, etc etc. I also had a publicist come in. The students loved her, and she gave them a lot of useful information about what it was like to work in PR/marketing (a popular major), run your own business, etc. There was some-after-the-fact grumbling from my department though when it came out that the publicist was also a porn star. Even though that aspect of her career was not discussed at all in class, her work as a sex worker trumped her work in marketing in the university’s eyes. It was really disheartening.

Adult Industry

What would be the main trials, tribulations, and fallout that the women face while performing?

Though I’m certain the trials and tribulations vary from person to person, there’s also a sort of general social negotiation that seems to occur throughout the course of a person’s career trajectory as a performer.
There’s the getting in and getting successful. I think the primary relevant social factor here is an inaccurate/non-conception of the industry. For instance, wider media still references revenue figures that were never even based in reality, much less are current, and touts production narratives that are throwbacks at best. This contributes to a perception of the industry by civilians and those looking to get in that’s grossly inaccurate. Coming into an industry with this (mis)perception certainly contributes to some performers’ trials and tribulations.

Another factor that I would say impacts performers significantly is sustained wider social sex worker discrimination. Though we’ve certainly come around to the fact that sex work is work, like, in some corners of the Internet, the fact remains that commercial sex work and porn are still widely discriminated against – from banks and other social institutions to law to on-the-ground daily life attitudes. This results in othering and isolation that impacts performers, both when people are actively in the business all the way to once they have left. The intensity of this, I think, is frequently overlooked or minimized, especially when people are located in LA or other industry hubs where society may (outwardly) seem more accepting.

AVN Awards / Adult Entertainment Expo

How long have you been an AVN judge?

Since 2010, so for the 2011 Awards program (if memory serves!).

How much time do you spend reviewing the nominated material?

I honestly have no idea – more hours than I can count and until I’m cross-eyed, plus all the hours spent reviewing and thinking and assessing and comparing throughout the year leading up.

Do you feel that the number of judges is sufficient, or do you think there should be more?

I honestly leave that up to the powers that be at AVN. From what I can tell, there’s a great diverse mix of voters in terms of expertise, experience, and standpoint. And everyone who is a judge gives their time so generously (being a judge is not compensated/paid in any way) – the commitment to and passion for the craft of erotic entertainment amongst voters cannot be emphasized enough.

What is the process for determining winners? Is it secret ballot, or do the judges convene for a voting session?

I actually just wrote a piece about the exact process, as well as some of the voters’ experiences, recently for Mic. The basic voting process itself is actually really simple. Voters rank their choices in each category (there have been as few as 17 categories when the awards first started in 1984 to up to 140. This year there were 114), from best to worst. In a category with fifteen nominees, for example, a voter’s top choice gets fifteen points, their second choice gets fourteen points, and so on. The nominee with the most points after all the voters’ choices have been aggregated is the winner. After those parameters though, it’s a pretty intense and personal process, so no – we don’t all get together (though that would be awesome). I even had one long-time voter tell me that she’d had no idea about some of the demographics until she read my article!

Every year on ADT, the top category of Female Performer of the Year is debated heavily to say the least. This year was no different. The overall feeling is that Adriana Chechik should’ve been the winner and not Riley Reid. From a judge’s point of view, why did Riley win and not Adriana? What criteria are used to crown the winner? Is it popularity amongst the judges by smoozing and swag, number of releases, lack of extreme acts, etc?

I cannot speak to each voter’s process, but for me, after I go through my own complex and laborious quantitative assessment (number of scenes, diversity of productions, etc etc), there’s the qualitative. And that’s where voter experience and expertise comes in – because there are so many intangible-yet-significant dimensions that factor in. Especially for an extremely significant award like Female Performer of the Year, for me, after I winnow the pool to the front-runners, the final decision almost feels instinctive.

As far as shmoozing and swag, that’s funny. The days of swag are long gone, and in the words of voter Jennifer Peters, “One of the ‘perks’ of being in the industry for so long is that autographed DVDs or new swag don’t really have any impact on me. Chances are I’ve interviewed whoever it is whose autograph is being given to me, and I don’t need more crap filling up my apartment, so short of buying me a pony, there’s nothing a nominee could really do to curry favor with me.” I couldn’t characterize my experience any more concisely!

If you could add one category to the show, what would it be?

I would definitely bring back the “Unsung” performer categories, though perhaps with a bit of a rebrand. The category seemed to be getting a bit of a “backhanded compliment” reputation, but to me it always felt like a way to acknowledge performers whose work was fantastic, but who weren’t necessarily as prolific (often by design) as the Performer of the Year powerhouses. Maybe rather than “Unsung,” it could be called “Critics’ Choice”? That’s what I’d like to see.

Personal

If you were to watch porn for enjoyment, what genre would you choose?

I don’t know if I could narrow it to a genre, as there’s a great diversity in content quality and execution within every genre. I can say that some of the greatest content I’ve ever seen has been directed by Mason, both because of her eye and because of the interviews she often does with her stars; that Wasteland (2012) is one of the most beautiful and moving films ever made; and that Café Flesh (1982) remains one of the most cornerstone narratives informing my standpoint on porn, as well as gender relations/inequalities in general.

Other than the soup incident described in your book during your first ever porn viewing, have you been offended by anything you’ve viewed?

Haha that story! And it wasn’t even the soup per se that was “offensive” – It was what the soup was supposed to mean to me when I was just a wee 20-year-old lady. It’s such an intense example of wider social norms and narratives shaping our individual thinking. Everything else aside, it’s wonderful I think to be able to self-reflect like that.

Today, I wouldn’t say that there’s really anything in porn that I find offensive, but there’s definitely stuff that’s not my cup of tea. Rosebudding and big anal gapes – not for me, and I honestly get worried about what’s going to happen to people’s assholes later on in life. I’m also not a fan of blowbangs. But those are just my views and preferences – and as long as sex is consensual, what I or anyone else thinks about a specific act is kind of irrelevant.

What’s next professionally for you?

More writing, more research, and (hopefully) more demystification – there truly is nothing more fulfilling to me than finding a new piece of information and then making that information available to an interested world. Every piece, big and small, contributes to the wider conversation. I hope to continue contributing to making that conversation more fulfilling, authentic, and autonomous for everyone. It’s not about everyone accepting porn – because it’s not for everyone, nor should it be – it’s ideally about helping us all get to a place where people can feel free to make informed, consensual decisions without fear of having their lives limited because others may not approve.

Contact Information

How can interested parties contact you on social media?

I am in love with Twitter, and people can always come there to ask a question or say hello – @drchauntelle
My Sites are:
http://www.chauntelletibbals.com/
http://pvvonline.com/

Get your copy of Exposure today – Amazon Kindle version on sale for only $0.99 now through February 14, 2016

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