02

Jul

2012

Deep Throat at Midlife

Written by: Carolyn Bronstein

 

The new biopic Lovelace starring actress Amanda Seyfried as Lovelace and Sharon Stone as her mother is currently filming. A second film, Inferno, is planned. Deep Throat refuses to take a cinematic back seat.

Produced on a shoestring budget of $25,000 with unremarkable technical quality and an absurd plot based on anatomical irregularity, Deep Throat could never pretend to be an art film along the lines of Last Tango in Paris. Nonetheless, the story of the young woman who sought bells and whistles from her sexual experiences, only to be disappointed every time, caught America’s imagination. When actor Harry Reems diagnosed the physical cause of Lovelace’s failure to orgasm, locating her clitoris at the base of her throat far north of its customary position, and suggested the solution—deep fellatio—audience members cheered. Lovelace, many reasoned, just wanted good sex, and was actually brave enough and committed enough to her own pleasure to go in search of it.

Perhaps this perspective on female sexual satisfaction gives us a bit of insight into Deep Throat’s continued relevance. Today, one of the hottest media properties on everyone’s e-reader is the erotic fiction trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey by British author E.L. James. According to most critics, Fifty Shades is the literary equivalent of Deep Throat: full of steamy hard core action but a limited contribution to art. Yet, the success of this film and series of novels can’t be chalked up to a simple fondness for smut. There are thousands of free pornography sites on the web that offer more visually graphic content if the sexual thrill is what is desired.

Could it be that these two projects stir the imagination of women who are still seeking what the sexual revolution promised but failed to fully deliver? Deep Throat was the product of an important moment in American history, when there seemed to be real potential for women to claim equal standing with men in the sexual arena. Many women hoped that the revolution would shape a new sexual environment that would offer the possibility of participating freely and openly without fear of shame or being called nasty names, Limbaugh-like, on national radio. As I describe in Battling Pornography, feminist critics did not condemn Deep Throat for being explicitly sexual but for being male-oriented and failing to take seriously the questions of female pleasure and sexual autonomy. Historian Christine Stansell reviewed the film and described it as about as tempting as “a hot-dog stuffed in a Wonder Bread bun.” Journalist and radical feminist Ellen Willis wrote that the film made no effort to portray an adventurous or lush sexuality that might appeal to women, but instead “deliberately and perversely destroy[ed] any semblance of an atmosphere in which my sexual fantasies could flourish.” Neither liked Deep Throat, yet both held out hope for the arrival of erotic films that would take women’s sexual pleasure seriously.  Fifty Shades has a primary fan base of women, most of whom are drawn to the explicit sexual scenes that play out between protagonists Anastasia and Christian. Just as in Deep Throat, the type of sex acts portrayed (BDSM) may not be what every woman desires, but the opportunity to engage in vivid sexual fantasy without fear or shame is as compelling to women now as it was in the 1970s.

Some people today push back at middle age and the associated fear of being over the hill by adopting a mantra: 40 is the new 20.  Looking at Deep Throat, and how this film continues to be relevant in terms of women’s search for true sexual fulfillment, we just might have to agree.

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About the Author: Carolyn Bronstein

Carolyn Bronstein is the author of Battling Pornography (2011). She is associate professor of media studies in the College of Communication at DePaul University. Her research investigates que...

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