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Thinking pop culture

Adore-ing Pop Culture’s Last Taboo

The uniform is a tad too snug around his biceps, his crotch. Maybe he’s got a moustache, but it’s not that important. One thumb grazes his beestung bottom lip, his other hand props up the box.

She’s doe-eyed-comely in that oh-my-where-did-I-lose-my-panties kind of way, and opens the door in a negligee. “I’m out of cash”, she admits, faux-embarrassed, fingering her cross pendant. Nevermind. There’s always another way to pay for that capricciosa.

In all the porn I’ve watched, in all the erotica I’ve read, I’ve never actually come across the can’t-pay-for-my-pizza scenario. And yet it’s a standard gag.

The standard gag and what I was thinking about while watching Adore.

My belief that Naomi Watts hasn’t done anything decent since Brides of Christ (1991) and Gross Misconduct (1993) meant that I was never ever going to pay to see it.

Being offered it up on a long-haul flight however - there’s only so much Peppa Pig one can endure, afterall - and I acquiesced. And I was struck by the complete and utter porniness of it all.

The pizza script might be the cliché, but a storyline much more common in porn is the seduction of a powerful figure by a subordinate.

In age-play and incest-themed porn, it’s inevitably a sexually precocious tween doing the tempting, but the power-play storyline is identifiable everywhere in the genre: think teacher/student; corrections officer/inmate; firefighter/scantily-clad-cat-owner.

By having the less powerful character do the seducing, concerns about consent get watered down. Audiences, apparently, no longer need to feel so guilty because if the subordinate does the leg work, then they must really wants this. Such a narrative thus transforms from one of abuse and exploitation to giving, to taking, to reciprocity. At least on the surface.

Such guilt-assuaging is, of course, essential for an artsy film like Adore where most fine, upstanding viewers couldn’t possibly abide by their popcorn being soured by smut.

The plot of Adore is actually much closer to porn I’ve seen than anything involving a stuffed-crust meat-lovers. So we’ve got two women - two MILFs in common porn parlance - Lil (played by Watts) and Roz (the always luminous Robin Wright). And these two MILFs - who, “naturally” spend much of the film in bikinis - are seduced by each other’s sons. Two strapping young lads; just old enough that nobody needs to pause and pant out the words “statutory rape”.

Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) in Adore.

So, because the film is based on a novel (The Grandmothers) by Nobel-prize winning author Doris Lessing and because it stars actors of some esteem, is it worth taking seriously? More than this, do we need to bother thinking about Adore as more than its porn script?

From an academic perspetive, even the dirtiest, no-holes-barred porn is inevitably more than just people fornicating, so of course I’ll argue than Adore is indeed more than its script. Much of its “more” however, is still delightfully kinky.

In line with contemporary takes on kinkiness in the mainstream, Adore doesn’t have any explicit incest. Instead it simply - fashionably - flirts very coyly with one of our supposed “last taboos”.

While the film boasts extensive inter-generational romping, it’s all of the legal kind. While audiences - and some of the film’s coastal townfolk - might find the couplings a tad icky, and while the horny MILFs themselves grapple a little with their ethics, no ground, or taboos, actually get broken.

Scratch a little deeper, however, and this film works exactly the same way as the deluge of “teenager seducing her father’s best friend” clips on YouPorn. Freud dubbed it sublimation: ideas thoroughly egregious to our sense of self get channelled into the more… acceptable.

Wanting to have sex with mom, for example, gets channelled into bonking her BFF.

Adore is an okay enough film with an elegant final scene. I’m not convinced however, that it’s much more than a sublimation of audience desires to watch incest porn while sipping a glass of wine at an arthouse cinema. Equally so I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.

Adore (2013) trailer.

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