In the 1960s and ’70s, it was possible to buy soft-porn postcards with a girl clad in a bra or a thin blouse; if you moved the postcard a little bit or looked at it from a slightly different perspective, the dress magically disappeared, and you could see the naked breasts of the girl. The true lesson of this phenomenon is that of Alphonse Allais, a French satirical writer from around the turn of the 20th century, who once on a Paris street pointed at a decently dressed woman and shouted in horror: “Look at her! What a shame, under her clothes, she is totally naked.”

Allais’s lesson—we are naked only beneath our clothes—is crucial to understanding why, in the last few months, the (wrongly) so-called deepfake hardcore videos of Taylor Swift engaged in sexual activity exploded on the web and were viewed by millions. Where does their popularity come from? The mere fact that Swift is a megastar doesn’t suffice to explain it. The images, which may have originated on 4Chan, have been perceived as part of a broader backlash against Swift encouraged by elements of the populist right.

Though her critics have presented Swift as some kind of left-wing operative, her music ideally fits today’s predominant mode of subjectivity: It avoids both extremes of right-wing populism and of left-liberal politically correct stiffness, focusing instead on the apolitical sphere of broken love affairs and similar daily traumas or small pleasures. This is why her anti-Trump stance provokes fury and even conspiracy theories—what if she will be the main reason for Biden’s eventual re-election?

One should risk some more general conclusions here. How does an average viewer relate to a hardcore scene he watches? His stance is, of course, that of the fetishist disavowal: I know very well, but…. I know very well that the scene I am watching is a fake, just staged for the camera, its “realism” a fiction, but I nonetheless enjoy watching it as if it were true. Raphael Siboni’s 2012 documentary with a Lacanian title, Il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel, makes this point clear. It is much more than a “making of” of a hardcore porn movie. By stepping back and rendering visible the frame, the window through which we observe the scene, it totally desexualizes the entire scene, presenting hardcore acting as gray, repetitive work: faking ecstatic pleasure, masturbating off scene to retain erection, smoking in the breaks, and so on. Such a procedure raises anxiety, because it ruins the illusion, which the viewer knew to be fake. This holds especially for the deepfake porn scenes of celebrities; they are directly propagated as fakes.

Get the best of Compact right in your inbox.

Sign up for our free newsletter today.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link.
Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.