from the pages of../

Bobbitt Uncut

By Michael Bronski, Z Magazine


In terms of marketing and audience appeal the message was right on the box: "Since this has happened all that anyone wants to see is my penis." The quote is credited to John Wayne Bobbitt, and the merchandise? Well, what else. It's John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut, a full length (sorry about that) heterosexual porn film starring John Wayne Bobbitt. You've seen him in the newspapers, you've seen him on "Oprah," you've seen him on "911" now see it, I mean him, in his first major motion picture in video stores everywhere.

For anyone who has not already heard this is not a joke. John Wayne Bobbitt, famous for having his penis sliced off by his wife Lorena, is now a porn star. Well, a porn curiosity, at any rate. What does it mean that a man who was accused (although not convicted) of battering his wife and was then assaulted by her, who became a tabloid media sensation and a joke of the week on " Late Night with David Letterman," who is a self-admitted average guy who hit a media jackpot now stars in his own heterosexual porn film? The mind boggles.

Before we go any further the answers to the four questions are: yes, you see it; yes, you see the scars; yes, it gets hard; and no, it's not all that big.

John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut is a weird media hybrid. One-third movie of the week, one-third freak show, one-third porn video it is both the logical conclusion to the tabloidization of news and the cult of personality, the direct result of our inability to take sexual matters seriously, and a prime example of the fetishization of the male sex organ. A lot of cultural weight to place on a 70-minute, rather limp, porn video whose major gimmick is, well, unexceptional except as a medical curiosity.

On the one hand John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut can be seen as a piece of engineered sexual kitsch with ambitions of being a cult film when it grows up. The Bobbitt case supposedly symbolized (and acted out) two great heterosexual fears: wife battering/rape and male genital dismemberment. The problem was that both John and Lorena Bobbitt came across as a little crazy, a little too ordinary, a little odd. The "shocking story of the severed penis (as one news show phrased it) felt like a silly gruesome joke, not a moving, morality tale of sexual politics. Even when it was hot news the Bobbitt case was a media event with little or no half-life. While there was some very good media discussion of spouse abuse, most of this was actually a reaction to the exploitative, superficial tabloid coverage rather than to the events themselves.

In many ways John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut is the logical conclusion to the media circus that surrounded the case. The media's prurient attitude, its inability to deal with real issues, its constant reduction of the people involved in the case to pop-cartoon personalities are all prepublicity to John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut.

Not that there aren't problems inherent in the making and marketing of John Wayne Bobbitt... Uncut. Male genital mutilation has never been a big theme in heterosexual porn films. The film is a cross between an onscreen interview and a docudrama. Bobbitt tells his side of the story and we see reenactments of the marriage, the fateful night, Lorena driving away and tossing the loose member out of the car, Bobbitt's hospital stay, and finally his complete recovery with a host of naughty nurses, strippers, and publicity seekers. There are faux interviews with his doctors, police, Lorena, and several friends. Still, the center of the story dwells on Bobbitt's penis and its fall and rise. Watching John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut you realize how deeply homosexual heterosexual porn really is. Not that it is meant for gay men, but that the entire rationalization of heterosexual pornography is not so much to focus on the women--who are there as decor, plot devices, and to move the action along--but for the heterosexual male viewer to focus upon the men. The only reason that John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut exists is to show us the star's dick. It says so right on the package: "Ever since this happened all anybody wants to see is my penis." The film is a combination of dread and resurrection; a horror movie with a happy ending. We see the severed penis--actually a very fake looking dildo cut in half; production values are not what they used to be in porn--but miracle of miracles it is restored to its former glory and rises once again. Like a Christian biblical epic of the male organ-- The Greatest Story Ever Told crossed with King of Kings --the passion and the suffering are rewarded by life after death, orgasm after mutilation.

Heterosexual pornography, as well as mainstream culture, has always fetishized the penis and why not? What John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut does is acknowledge the enormity of this preoccupation. Yes, heterosexual porn and culture fetishizes women. But in the hierarchical ordering of cultural and sexual fetishes men rank higher than women. Bobbitt. . Uncut is ode to the male member. Ironically, Bobbitt's penis is actually more interesting than he is. Not that he is uninteresting. He looks good and his co-stars are supportive whenever he looks nervous or has trouble getting it up. But some enterprising porn company offered Bobbitt money for the mutual exploitation of his temporary fame. While someone like Sydney Biddle-Barrows (the Mayflower Madam), who has the money and social prestige to negotiate her media exploitation--she at least got a lucrative book deal with a major publishing company--the working class Bobbitt is reduced to making decidedly low-brow entertainment. The porn industry is notorious for its exploitation: performers are paid next to nothing, working conditions are often unsafe; there is no health-care, no retirement fund, no union, and no recourse for complaint.

What John Wayne Bobbitt. . Uncut does it tell us about our culture and the state of sexual politics is that an accused wife-beater can become, however temporary, a porn star. Why isn't Lorena Bobbitt making a porn video? The answer is clearly that she would be seen as a slut instead of a hero. In John Wayne Bobbitt... Uncut Lorena Bobbitt cuts off her husband's penis because he cannot get it up to satisfy her again; she is the ultimate demanding, castrating bitch.

One of the clear lessons from the entire Bobbitt incident is that the U.S. media is completely incapable of discussing or exploring serious issues such as domestic abuse. On one level John Wayne Bobbitt... Uncut is a cultural curiosity. On another level it is a grotesque monument to our inability to take sex, women-hating, and violence seriously. The endless argument over whether pornography causes violence against women--as if news reporting, television, advertising, and movies don't--seems almost beside the point here. The marketing of the Bobbitt story as a piece of sexy video kitschporn removes any element of causation. What is causing what? As serious issues are ignored and then their manifestations merged with pop-personality, exploitation, and media-inflated hype, we see the merging of thinking and marketing, of careful consideration and constant consumerism.

John Wayne Bobbitt... Uncut is another manifestation of how the U. S. media and culture is failing us. It is pop-porn entertainment that is clearly the outcome of mainstream media's preoccupation with flash and trash journalism and the cult of personalities and ratings. The Bobbitts are placed in the roles of exploited and self-exploiters, but both lack the option to go very far with this. It would be hard to imagine the more affluent--like the Menendez Brothers, or O.J. Simpson--reduced to peddling their personalities in videos like John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut. Several months ago Penthouse magazine ran purloined pictures that Tonya Harding and her husband had taken of themselves having sex. The attitude was that the white trash status of Harding et. al. made such an invasion of privacy all right. You can be sure that if they had access to similar photos of Nancy Kerrigan they would not have run them.

The release of John Wayne Bobbitt...Uncut compounds the situation. The media glee around the production and marketing of the film is nothing more then a continuation of John Bobbitt as media creation then media joke. Lorena Bobbitt barely registers on the recognition scale anymore. Domestic abuse goes undiscussed and Oprah and her friends have moved on to O.J. and that new media "slut" Nicole. We all lose.