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A Different Kind of Blow Job

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A DIFFERENT KIND OF BLOW JOB

Zebra Crossing Theatre

at Club Lower Links

It's an interesting, even provocative premise: take the transcripts from the Minneapolis antipornography-ordinance hearings and dramatize them. And it's timely: legislatures in at least two states are poised to begin deliberations on similar bills. Add a talented cast, crew, and director Susan V. Booth, who takes this concept and runs with it--then flesh out the material with Jenny Holzerlike commentary, the symbolic use of everyday objects, and just the right juxtapositions of dialogue to produce a laugh or two along the way. Directed at a brisk pace, Barbara Babbitt, Diana Slickman, and Deirdra Waters are wonderful hosts for the evening.

And yet somehow A Different Kind of Blow Job, produced by Zebra Crossing Theatre and running Monday nights at Club Lower Links, doesn't quite convince.

Perhaps that's because the show, which relies entirely on transcripts from the hearings, is directed at the already converted. The hearings themselves had a bias: the city of Minneapolis hired feminist scholars Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon in 1983 to organize public hearings that would result in a public record of how women's rights are violated by pornography. The hearings never considered if: they were never designed to allow dissent. Not surprisingly, neither the hearings nor A Different Kind of Blow Job addresses how the very premise of the hearings--that pornography should be outlawed because it causes harm to women--has divided the feminist intellectual community. (For the record, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that pornography did indeed pose a threat to women but that, as a matter of free speech and expression, it was protected by the First Amendment.)

Moreover, by relentlessly attacking male desire, the show sets up an unbridgeable adversarial dynamic between men and women. If one of the show's points is that repeated exposure to violence against women desensitizes men, Booth and her collaborators should consider a corollary: maybe repeated male bashing numbs outrage in both men and women.

Not that the information presented in A Different Kind of Blow Job isn't compelling and horrifying. It is. But the way this expert testimony--from abuse victims, porn-industry kingpins, psychological experts, and law-enforcement officials--is presented makes it sound more like propaganda than it might actually be. Attribution of the statistics, for example, might give them more punch. I'm shocked that 81 percent of men said they'd consider committing rape if they wouldn't get caught, but I want to know who conducted that study. If it was the government, I'd know the real figures are probably higher--and even more dismaying. If it was the Kinsey Sex Research Institute, I'm more likely to take the numbers at face value. This may sound like nit-picking, but when political assertions are as specific and damning as this, they need to be backed up so they're not dismissed.

Called an "interactive performance" in the program, A Different Kind of Blow Job is actually pretty tightly scripted. The exceptions are two separate interludes in which a microphone is made available to audience members for comments and discussion. On the night I attended, the cast really struggled with the first such session. Finally a man got up and posed a question to them--at which point he was informed that the time was his but they were not there to answer his questions. He was supposed to direct his comments to the audience. Abruptly, the open-mike session ended. Although I think the cutoff was unintentional, it felt nasty.

The second session offered a much more extensive exchange between audience members, although the sides were pretty clearly defined. Women rapped men, promoting the ordinance and other bills of its kind, and men responded with humiliating mea culpas. "I'm just a regular guy," pleaded one young man who asked if buying the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue contributed to pornography (the audience's answer seemed to be yes). Another guy felt compelled to say that he did not support rape or sexual exploitation but wanted to know, if such a bill were passed, who would be responsible for interpreting and enforcing it. This question--the most complex of the evening--was simply sidestepped.

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