Sex Acts, Part I
Cynthia J. Fuchs, Film Studies Program, George Mason University
At the beginning of Bimbo: Hot Blood, the First Time (1987), Jane (played by Barbie Dahl, and the "Bimbo" of the film's title) sits in her bland, blond-wood-cabineted kitchen with her husband's best friend Bob (Rob Retta). Together they read a newspaper account of Congress' inaction regarding Vietnam War POWs. Bob looks frustrated and frankly inert, But Jane is outraged that her husband Tim is "rotting away over there in that prison camp" while the US government continues to do nothing. She declares, "I'd like to fly other there and show them Commie bastards what a real woman could do. Dammit! I'd do anything to save my husband." Suddenly animated, Bob asks, "Anything?"
This brief introduction leads to one of heterosexual pornography's primary requisite sequences: the blow job. The scene's predictable visual and psychosexual dynamics suggest Bob's dominance. That is, he stands over her thrusting and she moans with pleasure. But his continued dispassion and Jane's relentless energy also parody narratives of white male potency. Unlike, say, Rambo: First Blood, Part 2, this movie's men are passive, waiting to be aroused by aggressive women. If Dahl's body is less muscled than Stallone's, it functions equally as an emblem of resolute character and spectacular nerve. When Jane arrives in "Southeast Asia" (indicated by a minimum of artificial indoor foliage), she wears a boonie hat, the briefest of red bikini tops, white fishnet stockings, shiny blue short shorts, and high heels. Simultaneously ridiculous and resolute, she raises her rifle and cries, "I'm coming!"
Suspended somewhere between the cartoon images of Wonder Woman and Rambo, Jane's narrative of "coming" will remain unresolved. Mocking twin mythologies--a hyper-phallic imperialism and an always-imminent female rapture--this self-described "real woman" offers ironic exception to this otherwise linear and emphatically ejaculatory fiction. It is precisely the question of her "real-ness" that confuses the issue of "coming." Linda Williams argues that the definition of what's "real" drives hard-core pornography. Porn's narrative, she suggests, is structured as a pursuit of the involuntary and authentic "confession" of sex, an "involuntary bodily response" in performer and viewer; in this narrative, power is organized around visible experiences, those which can be readily observed by the audience. If ejaculation is the "countable entity" that signals real and empowering experience, female orgasm is always represented (Williams 182). In other words, it is always potentially faked.
The troubled relation between representation and the real inform the filmic subgenre I am calling "Vietnam War porn." Where non-porn Vietnam narratives maintain the War's obscene authenticity through its unrepresentability (exemplified in the traditional privileging of veterans' experiences over non-vets' assessments), Vietnam porn simultaneously closes and exacerbates the gap between image and visceral experience. It constructs continuums--of pain and pleasure, spectacle and spectator, expression and performance--through repeatable acts. These continuums are both normative and subversive, effecting what Judith Butler calls a "disciplinary production of gender" while (occasionally) implicating heterosexist and racist structures that define the War (Butler 133). This paper will consider the shifting meanings of racial, gendered, and sexual acts in the following texts: the straight videos, Bimbo, Bimbo Part 2: The Homecoming (1984), and The Legend of Lady Blue (1987); a hetero-s/m film, China de Sade (1987); and a gay film, The Platoon: More than a Company of Men (1988).
Some generalizations may help to contextualize the use of the Vietnam War in porn movies. In heterosexual films, women exist in order to arouse and then accommodate male desire. Aside from "picaresque sex" movies (like Ramb-ohh: The Force is in You  and Good Morning Saigon , which feature minimal narratives that are quite divorced from the pretty-people sex scenes), most of these films separate romance and lust. (In China and Silk  for instance, a studly undercover agent has sex with a lascivious drug addict and then "makes love"--at a slower pace and accompanied by more sensuous music--to his beautiful undercover partner.)
In Bimbo and Bimbo: Part 2, racial difference destabilizes some of these pornographic conventions. In these films "fucking" serves as a conspicuous metaphor for the War, producing a familiar collapse of sex and violence where white male transcendence and self-redemption are established over bodies that are feminized, Asian, duplicitous, and penetrated. Both videos establish troubling differences and continuums between white and Asian women. Despite her striking introduction (described above), the heroine Jane appears only briefly in the first movie, overwhelmed by the far more compelling persona of Madame Chang, the bisexual dominatrix of the POW camp where Jane's husband is being held. The women compete over the passive object Tim: where Jane is engaged in a somewhat romanticized (and surely parodied) search for her man, Chang simply seeks exceptional sex. If this is a common plot device in classic porn movies like Deep Throat (1975) and Insatiable (1980), Madame Chang's specific quest is shaped by US mainstream racism: that she forces her prisoners to service her sexual needs makes her explicitly sinister, deceptive, and self-interested (but also exotic). Furthermore, Chang's occasional lesbianism secures her pathological deviance. While Jane is arguably pure in motive and orientation, Chang is indisputably corrupt.
But the point is less this cartoonish moral outline than the irony with which the film brandishes it. The Vietnam War is here refought not with large weapons (Rambo-style) but as a "fucking" contest between Tim and Chang: their fight for control becomes a struggle not to display involuntary (or "real") pleasure. Close-ups of his face during fellatio reveal that he is sweating profusely, a victim of Chang and the jungle heat, not nearly so stoic as most male porn actors (see, by contrast, the more stolid Bob). Moreover, an unusual equity occurs in the post-synchronized soundtrack. That Tim and Chang make comparable amounts of sex "noise" suggests their commensurate power positions. Typically (like Jane), women in porn movies make more noise than men since, as Williams notes, men have access to a more assertive, visible means of "truthful" and spontaneous self-display (Harry Reems' [Deep Throat, China and Silk] grimaces and groans are exceptions to this standard) (Williams 126).
In Bimbo, Tim's noisiness indicates a clear loss of control, despite his declaration to Chang that he will "fuck the shit out of you." His disempowerment continues when he asks that Chang honor her promise to "let him escape" if he satisfied her. Her sneering response--"So I lied"--suggests that indeed her moaning was genuine (certainly a suspect conclusion in this context. Worse, she is answered not by Tim but by Jane, who suddenly appears to bop her on the head with a rifle. Yet the anticipated rivalry between the women never develops: instead, they return to the States, where Chang, wearing only a maid's apron, serves cocktails at the climactic "Welcome Home" sex orgy.
Chang's final wink at the camera grants her a singular connection with the audience. The film transforms her racialized threat into popular commodity by recuperating her difference: she's domesticated (serving drinks) and foreign. In this context, consider that the video box features no image of "Bimbo" at all, but Chang in a military camouflage shirt (no trousers), with her weapon raised as if erect from her crotch. Appealing to familiar sexist and racist stereotypes--the Asian exotic, the despotic sadist, the dressed-in-drag seductress--the image is also domesticated by the caption which reads, "Linda Chu--Oriental Cheerleader." Chang remains a disturbing specter, not quite constrained (and not quite Vietnamese either), but clearly taking pleasure in the perversity of her new position.
This process of recuperating difference is repeated in the sequel, which this time displaces the prominence of the white couple at the start. It opens with a scene in which voluptuous "native girl" Angel (Karina Kalami) performs fellatio on Sergeant York (a likely allusion to John Wayne's Kirby York) so that he will take her back to the States. If, as Susan Jeffords argues, Rambo's highly spectacularized body restores and symbolizes U.S. masculine and technological potency, the aggressive but also acquiescent Asian female bodies in Bimbo and Part 2 support the flipside of white masculine supremacy (Jeffords 14). Here the once invisible and invincible "enemy" (familiar from many other popular Vietnam War representations) wants only to service her superior.
Or so it seems. York, unhappily married to the "frigid" Miriam (she reads magazines as he performs acrobatic sex on top of her), convinces her that they should adopt Angel as a daughter (as he imagines she will continue to service him at home). Though the Yorks worry about Angel's social skills in high school (and perhaps they should, because Kalami looks well over high school age), the girl proceeds to "make friends" by inviting them up to her bedroom for cash, under the guise of raising money for "starving orphans." This demonstration of a remarkable entrepreneurial expertise reaffirms US ideology regarding race--Asians are prostitutes by nature. Yet York's own self-interested deception has backfired: Angel is no longer "his alone." Angel's duplicity leads to York's revelatory outburst: "I brought you back from Vietnam for me... Remember, this is GI Joe. You can take me out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of me!"
In collapsing pop-military identity onto a strangely atavistic sexual prowess, York's historically-circumscribed self-image focuses the film's problem with representation and authenticity. The teenage sperm that spews over various eager faces in Angel's room undermines York's more mature masculine authority (which is only available for gauging only when he ejaculates at film's end during a session with Angel and Miriam together).
More specifically, the problem of representation lies with Angel. As the theme song puts it, this "pint-sized genuine geisha girl tart... blew her daddy `till he flew her home." Of course, she is not a "genuine" anything, certainly neither "pint-sized" nor a "geisha girl." While allusions to incest are no doubt intended to intensify viewers' voyeuristic expectations, Angel is obviously not Kirby's "daughter." Her continuing prostitution stateside underlines the elaborate artifice of such sexual role-playing. That her expertise brings Miriam around surely satisfies someone's fantasy that all this bored, unhappy, suburban woman needs is a "good lay," something that her husband was significantly unable to provide until Angel, the most adept and duplicitous performer, comes on the scene.
The Legend of Lady Blue also codes authenticity and performance according to race. In 1970, Casey is a Marine in Vietnam, accompanied and often counselled by his black buddy, Shelby. While the men are in country (actually, in small indoor sets with taped gunfire piped in so as to signify "the war," Casey's girlfriend, an aspiring actor named Iris Hogg, becomes a financially successful but emotionally dissatisfied prostitute. The film suggests that it is her ambition, more than the War itself, which disrupts their romance. Casey comes home from Vietnam to become a doctor (which accommodates a favorite porn convention of ravenous nurses, who must seduce another doctor when Casey's loyalty to Iris proves infinitely stubborn). The damage caused by Iris' career is made particularly clear when she becomes the mistress of a lesbian agent/pimp (again, lesbianism being a titillating image but a sign of absolute perversion in the world of straight porn). Desolate upon discovering Iris' vocation, Casey takes up heroin and cabdriving.
If the white characters are trapped in self-defeating cycles of unfulfilled romance, the film offers another, specifically moralized possibility in its subplot, the relationship between Shelby and Vietnamese prostitute Mai-Ling. Rendered mute by a "Cong" shrapnel wound, the gentle Mai-Ling is rescued by Shelby when Casey abuses her one night after receiving a "Dear John" letter from Iris. Mai-Ling embodies an alternative "truth" to the more prosaic ejaculate: her neck bandage speaks to an obscenity that is visible only in this way. (Otherwise, it is only barely audible as distant gunfire.) The sex scene involving Mai-Ling is divided into two parts: Casey's abuse and Shelby's gentle romance. Between these two scenes is an intercut group sex scene taking place in the next room of the Saigon whorehouse. A group of rowdy, naked, and mostly African American GIs masturbate while watching the sequential performances of a white woman called the Empress (whose red hair alludes to the evil Madame who will seduce Iris).
Mai and Shelby marry and return to the US to seek medical treatment for her muteness. This alliance of two traditionally disempowered and nonwhite "others," and more specifically, of two obvious victims of the War, initiates Iris' decision to leave the Madame. Mai and Shelby run into her at a chic Los Angeles cafe. Mai's silence is finally broken when she speaks for the first time upon meeting Iris: she calls her "Casey's girl." Suddenly reminded of the perfect future she has abandoned, Iris returns to her own table where Gloria, the insatiable lesbian Madame, puffs furiously (and phallicly) on her cigarette. Gloria scoffs, "Miss Hogg, you would rather wallow with Chinks and Negroes than dine with the beautiful people." This overt racism convinces Iris to make her break from the immoral life Gloria represents: she slaps her employer and walks offscreen and into the final sequence where she and Casey reunite.
The three prostitutes--Mai-Ling, Iris, and the Empress--structure sexual performance as a problem for viewers within and external to the text. When at work, their pleasure is overtly faked, compared to their male partners' "confessions." The Empress, disallowed even the single line Mai-Ling speaks, remains a standard pornographic "object of knowledge," passive and remote, what Iris would have been. Mai-Ling's mystery, on the other hand, is based not in her sexuality but in her silence, her victimization by the unseen "Cong." And on the other other hand, Iris, for all her careless ambition, is also victimized, and by an even more pathologized aggressor. What we see of her seduction by Gloria locates her victimhood in passive (and horrified) spectating. She watches Gloria masturbate, approximating what seems the disempowered position of the film's audience, yet offering another viewing position: watching her squirm as she watches. Unlike most porn movies, Lady Blue features few hard-core sex scenes, and these are compared within the narrative to tender, almost sensual "love" scenes (between Shelby and Mai-Ling, for example, where there is no "money shot"). As a social, economic, and moral battleground, prostitution in this movie exemplifies the workings of power in sexual relationships.
According to the "legend" which organizes this movie, the corrupt but well-intentioned woman's redemption is only possible when she submits to the American soldier's exceptional good will: inadvertently, Casey gives a fur-coated Iris a cab ride to a trick's large mansion. Minutes after he lets her off, he follows her into the house and confronts her en flagrante. After he storms out, Iris runs after him: they embrace in a long shot, her sinful days as a prostitute now behind her.
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