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By Merle Bertrand | February 14, 2001

I once wasted about an hour of my life taking a boat tour of Baltimore Harbor. Throughout this epic voyage, our obviously bored tour guide kept saying things like, “Around this next bend, is where (fill in something historically significant) occurred. However, we won’t see that spot on this tour because we have to look at these butt-ugly wharves for the rest of the hour instead.”
Okay, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
The point is, he constantly and repeatedly TOLD us about something important, yet never SHOWED us whatever this important thing was.
Writers everywhere will immediately recognize this flagrant violation of the venerable “Show it, don’t tell it” rule. It’s a shame director Alexa Wolf almost totally ignores that same rule in her disappointing documentary about the Swedish porn industry, “Shocking Truth.”
The protagonist here is Lisa Nelson, a young woman who’s writing a paper on the porn industry and its effects on women. We follow her as she interviews government officials and principles in the Swedish pornography industry, including Mikka Roth; a rehabilitated handsome former porn actor-turned prostitute. We also spend a great deal of time watching Lisa watch the hardcore adult programs Swedish television (foolishly) broadcasts every night after midnight. One can only assume Wolf includes this footage in an effort to show how “disgusting” these programs are.
To be sure, Wolf’s back is against the wall here, mostly because the primary tenet of her film is that the porn industry harms women. Well, duh. Not to make light of this by any means, but this is almost as cliched as saying, “You’ve seen one porn film, you’ve seen ’em all.”
Yet, Wolf tries to pass off her thesis as a shocking revelation, which, at least here in the States, it clearly isn’t. More problematic is her constantly having Lisa TELL us how the industry has hurt subjects we rarely see. SHOW us the industry’s negative effects; former actresses dying of AIDS or reduced to turning tricks for crack. In other words, show more folks like Mikka, rather than simply having Lisa describe how rough someone else’s life has been.
Wolf clearly has a vehement anti-porn agenda here, and that’s fine. There are few people who would argue that pornography is a good thing, even adamant Free Speech proponents who occasionally watch the stuff like this reviewer. While porn may be useful on a lonely Saturday night, everyone will be much better off when VR reaches the point where real people will no longer be required. (One assumes that most of the naked women writhing underneath the John Holmeses of the world would rather be earning a living another way.)
While it’s always helpful to shine a spotlight on an industry that would rather operate in the dark, this would have been a much more useful film had Wolf turned her attention to fixing the industry’s most egregious abuses, because let’s face it: Porn’s been around since Grog the Caveman first learned to scratch a stick figure with big boobs on a cave wall and it won’t disappear anytime soon.
Instead, “Shocking Truth” makes the same mistake most anti-porn crusaders make, lumping mainstream pornography, made by and starring free-thinking adults, in with pedophilia and the broadcasting of inappropriate programming to children in her quixotic quest to rid the world of something she perceives as filth. Such typically black and white over-simplification of a complex and controversial issue does a disservice to the very people Wolf would like to help…and, at least here in the States, ultimately reduces the impact of a smugly self-congratulatory documentary that merely restates what we already know.

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