"INCOGNITO MODE: A Play About Porn" Argues Not for Answers

 Photo via  Studio 58, Langara College

Photo via Studio 58, Langara College

INCOGNITO MODE: A Play About Porn, is the second iteration of a collaborative piece from the students of Studio 58/Langara College, and Neworld Theatre, which poses the question: “What does it mean to have grown up with the internet and readily available representations of sexuality?” Its most recent form follows a fluid and loose plot: a group of old high-school friends are having their annual get together, catching up and reminiscing about past experiences. Weaving in and out of scenes and introspective monologues, and even including an all-female group slam poem, the work is more of an exploration than a strictly structured  narrative. The underlying theme is sex—specifically representations of sex in the contemporary technological moment—and how all of the characters have interacted with these representations in one way or another.

The play’s set is simple yet highly effective: three large screens on wheels, each divided into a grid, provide light and feature projections throughout the piece. They move to create different spaces and display digital content,  a transitory set that, along with the fluid narrative structure, allows for a weaving of different perspectives and insights on pornography in a complex and personal way. The audience witnesses a projection of a character watching a violent pornographic film. The actual film is not visible to the audience, but the audio can be heard. I feel unsettled and disturbed, and I begin to wonder: how does pornographic content of rape and assault affect how we perceive this kind of behaviour? How would this video be perceived by those who have experienced assault? Does its existence in a pornographic context destigmatize the violence and brutality of acts such as rape, assault and harassment?

Then we witness a clunky and playfully awkward conversation between a couple. As they cuddle in bed, a character  asks his girlfriend if she would experiment in sexual bondage with him, a desire prompted by his experience with pornogrpahy. In this instance, pornography exposed sexual preferences to an individual and opened a dialogue that normalizes sexual desire and experimentation in a consensual, respectful setting, even if it is not actualized. Is this empowering? Soon after we hear the account of someone who performed in a pornographic film. They tell us how fun and empowering it was, until, due to an unexpected change of plans, it wasn’t. There is a complexity in the inherent intimacy of a sexual experience. For every person, the intimacy and vulnerability of sex is different, and isn’t always something you would know about yourself until you experience it.

I found it almost impossible to leave INCOGNITO MODE  with any more conclusions about pornography and the contemporary depiction of sex than I did going in. I think about how sexual representations I have witnessed have informed how I should ‘act’ in sexual interactions, and how much impact these representations have had on determining my sexual pleasure and desires. With a thing as complex as sexuality, it is work like INCOGNITO MODE that argues not for answers, but for an ever-important, respectful dialogue: dialogue that isn’t afraid to challenge, but is also unafraid  of being open to differing perspectives in our ever changing landscape of sexual representation.