I’m going to start by begrudgingly acknowledging that episodes 2 and 3 of Channel 4’s three-episode docuseries, Mums Make Porn, did address some of the criticisms I leveled at it in my review of the first episode. To my overwhelming relief, they discovered the work of Erika Lust (whose name the subtitles just could not spell correctly, much to my chagrin as a freelance captioner) about halfway through episode 2. They visited a set of hers and waxed lyrical about how much “better” her porn was than the stuff they’d seen thus far – “better”, in this context, meaning “more closely aligned with their own values” and also “produced with a bigger budget”. This is not to say that I don’t love and respect Erika Lust’s work – I really fucking do – but it was always placed at odds with mainstream porn, and was described more than once as more “intelligent”. I’m not sure what, exactly, they mean by that, but as a developmentally-disabled person who enjoys a bit of plotless, carnal, seemingly “unintelligent” porn, I didn’t love it as a piece of terminology.
What I did love was the fact that Anita, mum-of-four and my sole source of solace throughout this series, finally spoke up during a roundtable discussion and articulated what I’d been thinking throughout all of episode 1 – that the other mums’ continued assertion that what mainstream porn depicts isn’t “normal” is insulting to the people who do do those things. Unfortunately, after apologising, mums Sarah and Sarah-Louise continued to use a lot of the “normal” and “real” rhetoric that I criticised last time, but Emma (another fave of mine) didn’t bring those words into play again. Like the aforementioned discovery of Erika Lust, this came as a huge relief to me, a kinky weirdo who literally has “unintelligent” porn sex for funsies all the time.
Another relief was Jane’s departure from Mums Make Porn. That sounds unkind, but I wasn’t relieved because I disliked her – I was relieved because she was obviously so viscerally uncomfortable with the whole thing that watching her suffer through it would have been painful and joyless. She sought advice from her reverend, who said some unfortunate things about “dysfunctional sex” and the fact that fucking “is not a spectator sport” (I beg to differ), but who ultimately seemed to give her the validation she needed to walk away from something that she just couldn’t participate in enthusiastically. Consent is important in non-sexual settings too, and I just couldn’t imagine that Jane was actively, mindfully consenting to see some of the things she’d had to see during the research phase of the project. Her values might be wildly different from mine, but she seems like a nice lady and I was glad to see her walk away from what must have been a truly horrible experience.
Episode 2 continues with the mums interviewing prospective cast members, and I cringed the whole way through. I would be mortified to turn up to a job interview as under-educated as some of the mums were on sex, porn and kink terminology, let alone to host an interview whilst so under-prepared. Nonetheless, the interviews proceed, the interviewees patiently explain terms like “shibari” to the mums, and they finally settle on… the candidate who would be the most mainstream in any other field. I’m sure Daisy is perfectly nice, but the fact that they picked an eloquent, educated, middle-class, able-bodied white cis girl whose pornographic filmography didn’t feature any of the things they personally disapproved of struck me as a bit impotent. They spend the whole series talking about challenging the industry, but all their performers are cis, able-bodied and what they term to be “intelligent”. I will give them props for hiring a plus-size lady and two actors of colour, but they could have gone further with the “diversity” they kept promising us and they did not.
Episode 3, for the most part, managed not to elicit any new criticisms from me in terms of rhetoric and so on, but it did further showcase their lack of education and preparedness in two distinct ways. The first: whilst shooting their first scene, with girl/girl couple Heidi and Katana, they have the actors for their second scene, Romeo and Daisy, just… waiting around. For ages. In dressing gowns. I appreciate that maybe they only had their filming space booked for one day, but could they not have scheduled it a little bit better so that Romeo and Daisy could have made better use of their mornings?
The other, more irksome thing I noticed was that they kept talking about portraying safe sex, but that only seemed to appear in the form of condoms and lube. And I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the full film, but there was nary a dental dam nor glove in sight (except the gloves that Emma wore to clean the dildos) and no discussion of whether they should be included at all. The toys didn’t seem to be condom’d either, and I spotted at least one utensil of the jelly variety. The inclusion of condoms and lube in porn isn’t quite as radical as they seem to think it is, especially not when paired with those oversights, but I suppose it’s cool that they thought of it at all.
(It’s also cool that they thought about showcasing consent, but less cool that there was a whole uncomfortable scene in which a delivery man arrives at Sarah-Louise’s house and she makes a few jokes about his “package”. I really hope this was scripted, but since the bloke’s face was blurred and he didn’t joke along with her, I imagine it wasn’t.)
The theme of the whole series seems to be criticising mainstream pornography and then not quite following through on the promise to deliver the opposite. I think this can be adequately summed up by the fact that all the mums talk about wanting to portray diverse bodies (but not disabled or trans ones!) in a positive light, but Sarah-Louise ends up making a statement about wanting to see porn where “the bits don’t look quite right”. I think what she means is that she wants to see more genitals that are hairy, asymmetrical, coloured differently to the rest of the performers’ skin, featuring more prominent labia minora and so on… but it comes across as judgey.
And on the topic of coming across as judgey, one key aspect of the series I neglected to mention last time is the clips of various teenagers, some alone and some with a pal, sitting in front of some exposed brick wall and being asked leading questions to produce soundbites about mainstream pornography. I didn’t mention this in my previous review because I thought it’d be unfair to criticise kids who (presumably) haven’t engaged with much feminist or sex-positive discourse and who are (definitely) being asked pointed questions about material they don’t even look old enough to legally explore and critically reflect on. I think that, as with recruiting Jane for this project in spite of her obvious discomfort around sex and porn in order to generate conflict, Channel 4 acted irresponsibly in enlisting these teenagers to feed their narrative that mainstream porn is bad and damages children, and their desire to create good TV seems to have overwhelmed their desire to behave ethically or do any real research.
Did I hate Mums Make Porn? Sometimes. Sometimes it exasperated me so thoroughly that I mashed barely-comprehensible notes into a Google doc, such as, “Weeeird reaction to trans porn – trans people fuck!!!” and, “sarah-louise.. No”. But it did feature a few redeeming moments like Anita being brave enough to tell the other mums they made her feel judged, Emma cleaning dildos in her nice mumsy jumper, Erika Lust being her delightful self and the mums’ daughters expressing genuine excitement and pride at the final screening of Fourplay.
Should you watch it? Maybe, if you like yelling at your TV a lot. Should I go and knit until I calm down about the whole self-contradictory, poorly-researched and self-serving goddamn series?