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Thinking pop culture

That’s the time I feel like makin’ love to food

Amidst all the stabbed kittens and delightful dickheadery of the Melbourne International Film Festival’s WTF Shorts session, a carby gem emerged.

Lievito madre. Or Sourdough, to the rest of us.

“I knew you’d like it,” my companion said with a smirk.

Fulvio Risuleo’s 17-minute marvel centres on Dino (Emiliano Campagnola), a man who finds a piano, finds dough inside that piano, and progressively develops some very special feelings for the white sticky stuff.

The money shot centres on the piano’s efflux spread out on the kitchen table. Dino, disrobed, kneads into that dough with all his… lovin’.

Out in a month or so is my new tome: Masturbation in Pop Culture. One chapter deals with methods.

Most people in real life - and, equally, most people on screen - predictably use their hands. Variations on hands transpire - robot hands, say, in The Big Bang Theory and Family Guy, or strategically numbed ones as in The Inbetweeners or Gone in Sixty Seconds - but generally it’s a manual job. Happily however, the screen, also offers up the erotic deployment of a wide variety of other, less obvious objects.

Spoons for example, prove… stirring… in both Nymphomaniac and Une vraie jeune fille (A Real Young Lady). A paintbrush does the job in Sex and Zen. Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) makes satisfying use of a screwdriver (and possibly even a puppy) in Orange is the New Black. It’s a teddy bear in Screwballs, a cigarette in Frauengefängnis (Barbed Wire Dolls), and a deodorant bottle in The Slap. Just for starters.

A subsection of my book specifically investigates the masturbatory use of food. Not quite a trend, but there are certainly some notable examples.

Jim (Jason Biggs) and the pie in American Pie.

Jim’s (Jason Biggs) use of Mom’s domestic labours in American Pie.

Andy (Michael Carbonaro) and the quiche in Another Gay Movie.

Alan (Jon Cryer) with the pudding in Two and a Half Men.

The title character (Maxime Collin) pilfering Alexander Portnoy’s liver idea in Léolo.

Shane’s (Alexander Gould) “banana fix” in Weeds.

Stu (Dan Fogler) and the grapefruit in Good Luck Chuck.

Sandwiches get used in Drawn Together and American Pie: The Book of Love. A loaf of bread does the job in Dirty Deeds.

So what motives a character to self-stimulate with fruit and desserts and baked (and unbaked) goods?

For Sourdough it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that the film hails from Italy, a country with not only a strong - if not passionate - association with food, but more specifically with starchy deliciousness. We effusively celebrate Italy for its pizza, its pasta, for its bread, and Sourdough provides a retort to such effusiveness. Since childhood if Mum is ever too enthusiastic about anything I’ll petulantly say, “why don’t you marry it then?” Sourdough presents a similar cheeky comeback: if you love bread so much, why don’t you fuck it then?

Equally, it doesn’t feel like an accident that in a world where people are dodging carbs and taking dietary cues from The Flintstones that dough gets fetishised this way: of course we ravenously - if not carnally - want what’s we’re told is bad for us.

The moment when The Flintstones jumped the shark.

There are however, some other explanations for these food romps which share much with film and television’s many other masturbation portrayals.

While Candy (Carmen Electra) used a pear in I Want Candy and Ellie (Mandy Moore) bonked a cucumber in Swinging With the Finkels, men are actually far more likely to use food that women.

An obvious explanation centres on technique. Given that a) most men deploy a style where they penetrate rather than getting penetrated, and b) because food items are often pervious in ways that other objects aren’t, pies and microwaved grapefruits and squidgy, yeasty deliciousness simply makes masturbatory sense.

Another explanation however - and something I’ve written about at length in Masturbation in Pop Culture - centres on a key difference in the way men’s masturbation is portrayed compared to women’s.

Female masturbation is invariably a sexy display: she’s on her back and she’s pleasuring you - the audience member - just as readily as she pleasures herself. Female sexual ecstasy is invariably a sexy presentation designed, primarily, to titillate others.

Men’s masturbation and it’s a completely different story. It’s walked in on by a privacy-invading mothers. Semen gets “disgustingly” splattered (on walls and balconies as in Happiness, or library books in The Squid and the Whale). It’s often quick and dirty over a toilet bowl and it’s invariably sad or embarrassing or completely laughable. Equally, it’s nearly always a horribly lacklustre substitute for intercourse.

Apparently only a man would be perverted enough to masturbate with a lump of dough.

Dino (Emiliano Campagnola) and Anna (Virginia Quaranta) in Sourdough.

I discuss over 600 masturbation scenes in my book. And even the really good ones involve some cliches. Margot’s (Nicole Kidman) “ugly” masturbation in Margot at the Wedding for example, on one hand nicely deviates from the standard female depiction: she’s lying face down, she has her mouthguard in and the display is anything but erotic. On the other hand, Margot is a lonely, single mother. Her (unpleasurable) masturbation isn’t a satisfying choice or an act of self-love, rather, it’s what women in her “predicament” settle for.

Ben (Dylan McDermott) in American Horror Story gob-smackingly disrupts gender norms when he does his nudie stand-n-stroke. Ben however, cried at orgasm. What was a unique and sexy display for the audience was also one of grief and guilt for the character, illustrative of the negativity that has long haunted self-stimulation both on and off screen.

Like the multitude of male masturbation depictions, Dino’s dough defiling in Sourdough was still about men being sexual sickos and autoeroticism as ruinous to relationships. That said, it also happily unites two of life’s greatest pleasures: carbs and masturbation. And I’m willing to find pleasure in that.

Lievito Madre (Sourdough) - trailer.

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