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UC Davis Professor Ari Y. Kelman: Pirates II Showing is “A Little Weird”

[]-If all goes as planned tonight, hundreds of students at the University of California, Davis, will watch a $10 million pornographic movie in a chemistry lecture hall, the periodic table of elements hanging above their heads.

It’s been a long time since adult movies of the 1970s – “Behind the Green Door” and “Deep Throat” – roiled university campuses.

Today’s college students have virtually unlimited access to pornography on their computers. Many see nothing thrilling about an X-rated movie on campus.

UC Davis administrators aren’t objecting, saying the university doesn’t censor student events.

So why is the campus’s Entertainment Council – the student group that organizes films and concerts at UC Davis – screening “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge?”

Part of the answer comes from Digital Playground, the Van Nuys adult entertainment company that made the swashbuckling tale of lust and adventure on the high seas. The movie – reportedly the most expensive porn film ever made – combines computer-generated images with hardcore sex scenes.

Digital Playground’s 2005 film “Pirates” became a surprise hit on campuses from Yale to Tulane, said spokesman Christopher Ruth. Student groups contacted Digital Playground for permission to show that movie, he said.

From that experience, Ruth said the idea arose to market the 2008 sequel to university audiences by offering it free.

The marketing strategy is unique to Digital Playground, he said.

Student groups at a half-dozen universities – including UCLA and Carnegie Mellon University – accepted the offer. Hundreds of students lined up at each show.

The University of Maryland will screen the movie this weekend, the firm said.

The screenings generate publicity and sell a few copies of the movie, Ruth said.

But the larger point is to get young people accustomed to seeing adult movies as mainstream entertainment.

“It’s not anything you should be ashamed of,” he said. “Sexuality never is.”

Student groups treat the movie as both lighthearted entertainment and serious fodder for debate, he said.

“Serious discussion or a big party,” he said. “Both concepts go hand in hand with college.”

UC Davis senior Golda Criddle, 21, is in charge of booking campus films. She said she had both goals in mind when she chose “Pirates II.”

“We are showing it purely for entertainment purposes,” she said.

She said she also wanted to “get the students thinking critically” about the depiction of women in pornography.

A speaker from the campus’s Gender and Sexuality Commission, a student group, will talk beforehand.

Alison Tanner, a 19-year-old sophomore, said she plans to explain to students the screen sex isn’t the way it should actually happen.

“It’s our social responsibility to make a disclaimer before the movie to talk about the difference between porn fantasy and reality,” she said. “When it comes to porn, there’s not enough conversation between two people.

“In reality there needs to be a conversation about do’s and don’ts, using protection, and consent.”

She said her group does not endorse the movie.

Criddle said the movie isn’t costing anyone money. Film companies typically charge $300 to $1,000 to show a film. “Slumdog Millionaire,” for instance, will cost her group $850 to show next week.

Students 18 and older can attend “Pirates II” for free. UC Davis isn’t charging for the room.

Mandatory student activity fees support the Entertainment Council, a component of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis.

Students interviewed on campus had mixed reactions to the movie. Some said they didn’t see what the big deal was. They said those who didn’t want to see it shouldn’t go.

Others objected, questioning what the movie had to do with their education.

Some were merely surprised it was being shown. The movie hasn’t been publicized except for a listing on the Entertainment Council’s Facebook page. Media attention is expected to produce a turnout far in excess of the 400 available seats, and Student Affairs has hired a police officer to monitor the crowd.

Eva Martin, 21, said pornography “is so easily accessible, and it’s pretty much everywhere you go.”

She’d already seen “Pirates II” on video, and said it was “kind of stupid.” But she was planning to go with a group of friends because it was a novel, fun event.

“When are we going to get another opportunity to see something like this on a college campus?” Martin said.

UC Davis Professor Ari Y. Kelman teaches American studies with an emphasis on pop culture.

He said he finds the whole situation “a little weird.” Who would want to watch a porn movie with hundreds of their peers in a chemistry lab, he asked, and sit through a lecture about it?

“It captures the contradiction of porn in the 21st century. It’s ubiquitous, but we still don’t know what to make of it,” he said.

Undergraduates caught between adolescence and adulthood are struggling with their sexuality and relationships, he said. It can be a confusing time.

“They have a lot of freedom and intellect, but don’t always make the best decisions – like showing porn,” he said.

He said he wasn’t buying Ruth’s contentions that the film could be used for serious academic purposes. The film producers are using the students, he said.

“They’re less interested in making a statement,” Kelman said, “than in making a buck.”


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