Now that I have your attention, here is a dry blog post about politics.
That was a joke with a grain of truth in it: sex sells. From shampoo ads to music videos, specific parts of our bodies (usually womens’ bodies) are being used to make us part with pieces of paper with an old women on them. Put like this, it all sounds silly, but a person’s views on the relationship between sex and politics is an important part of their beliefs.
Fuck for Forest is a film about people who sell sex, literally. Michal Marczak’s documentary follows a Berlin based group of filmmakers and activists who are trying save the world with sex. Specifically the natural world. Fuck for Forests itself, is a group of people who make ethical pornographic films and upload them to their website, where they sell membership (like most porn sites). The money goes towards saving the rainforest.
Marczak’s film is a candid fly on the wall documentary following Fuck for Forests as they raise their money, run their strange social enterprise and then try to use the money to help a group of poor Brazilians living in the rain forest. The film does not pass judgement on its subjects, but it does raise a lot of complicated political questions. It caused me to examine my own politics and my thoughts on the merits of what Fuck for Forests are doing. What follows here is my attempt to relay these thoughts in roughly the order they occurred to me as I watched the film. If you really want to watch this documentary then see it before you read further, as there will be spoilers.
The first thing to note is that Fuck for Forests are a group that are hard to take seriously. It was not the way they dress or act that made me doubt their seriousness, although Fuck for Forests do conform to the stereotype of new age hippies. Personally, I do not see how the way that anyone presents themselves affects the validity of their arguments. What I found hard to take seriously is their belief that non-monogamous relationships and public nudity are the most important political battleground of this age.
Fuck for Forests are about as obsessed with sex as the conservative Christian right are, although with diametrically opposite views. Sex is at the centre of their politics, their spiritual views and their belief in how to make the world a better place. I agree that we should be more relaxed about sex and non-conventional relationships. It seems to me a bit silly that public nudity is illegal; why are we so frightened of naked flesh? However next to the huge political, social and economic inequalities in the world, the cruelties of war, and the slow crushing of everything that is not of financial value, the right to have sex in public is not a priority.
I also feel that an intense focus on sex (either liberally or conservatively) is not the best way to go about political change. Our attitudes to sex is a reflection of the state of gender politics, not the cause of it. To achieve equality between the genders, different sexualities and people who do not easily fit into these groups, we need to examine all of society's attitudes to gender and sexuality, not just what happens when genitals are stimulated. As feminist writer and equality campaigner Laurie Penny wrote: "we cannot fuck our way to freedom".
Generally I find that those whose politics revolve entirely around changing attitudes to sexual intercourse are usually privileged enough not to have to worry about other forms of discrimination; the members of Fuck for Forests exemplify this. In one scene, a Fuck for Forests member talks to a group of Palestinian refugees and argues that public nudity should be legal. It is painful to watch the lack of comprehension on the faces of the refugees. Eventually one tells him that they do not have a home and he is only interested in being naked in public.
Any so called "sensible" people will dismiss Fuck for Forests almost straight away, because of their long hair, tattoos, piercings, constant nudity, vague spirituality and liberal attitude to drugs. They are a stereotype that the political mainstream likes to colour anyone with radical views with. I find it tiresome that people with usually the most boring and conformist political opinions enjoy looking down on and easily dismissing the views of anyone who does not conform to their own narrow range of opinions. Usually this dismissal is based on the way someone looks or acts and not their arguments. The sense of superiority that is used by the political mainstream to easily ignore Fuck for Forests is also used to dismiss anyone who challenges the accepted free market orthodoxy. Try questioning capitalism for yourself and see how long it is before someone dismisses you as a “hippy”.
However there is serious point to be made about the best way to convince others of your views. Their appearance and attitudes will alienate most people, which makes it difficult for Fuck for Forests to achieve their core goals, ie the protection of our natural environmental. There is a degree to which you have to conform to what "sensible" people look for in a political movement to achieve change. This unwillingness to conform aesthetically to what is expected is partly what holds back the environmental movement.
After first finding Fuck for Forests and their hyper-sexual politics faintly ridiculous, my view shifted overtime to having more respect to them. The main reason for this is that their commitment to what they believe is inspiring. The members of Fuck for Forests live an incredibly frugal lifestyle to put all the money they make from their sex videos into the cause of saving the rainforest. This includes eating food from the bins of shops and restaurants to save money. This living off what most people consider waste, is partly done to minimise the impact of their lives on the natural environment but it is also because their first and greatest priority is raising money to protect the environment.
Whatever your political views, you have to respect someone who has over 400,000 euros in savings but chooses not to spend it and instead scavenges for thrown away food so that more money can go towards your cause. This level of commitment has to be respected. It is difficult to live an ethical lifestyle, to never use the products or service of a company that dodges tax, exploits workers or damages the natural environment. There are lot of people on the left and right who talk a lot and do very little. Anyone has to respect someone from any political background with the level of commitment to what they believe in that Fuck for Forests have.
They have used their funds to set up an NGO which plans to protect the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people. The specific means of achieving this is buying rainforest land and giving to the people who live there so that their way of life is protected from companies wanting to exploit the environment. During the film, a group of rainforest residents put out an open call for NGOs to support them in doing just that. Fuck for Forests were the only NGO to reply and the members travel to Brazil to meet the community their money will go towards helping.
This is where the politics of the film get complicated (if they were not already). Fuck for Forests clearly have a, frankly, slightly racist view of the rainforest residents living a harmonious existence with nature, which in their minds includes a relaxed attitude to public nudity. To me, this harmonious existence with nature looks a lot like poverty. Living off the rainforest is a result of the lack of jobs, education and infrastructure in this part of Brazil. Does the world view of the Fuck for Forests require these people to live in poverty so that it can offset their guilt about Western materialism?
Quickly it becomes apparent that these people do not want Fuck for Forests’ money to protect their current way of life. They want it to build roads and start businesses, to create jobs and bring in the material goods that people in the West take for granted. Fuck for Forests are not interested in this, although they do say they want no say in how the rainforest residents manage their land after they use Fuck for Forests' money to buy it.
Fuck for Forests clearly know nothing about the people they want to help, what these people want and what is in their best interests. Their view of an ultra-green existence, epitomised by a pre-industrial society, is in reality poverty. The people in poverty want to escape from it to attain everything that Fuck for Forests believe is destroying the world.
Clearly Fuck for Forests has the wrong priorities. In a selfish way this made me feel better about owning an iPhone and occasionally spending money in Starbucks. Then I thought, what if Fuck for Forests are right? What if taking this money is in the best interest of these people?
Indigenous people's views are rarely consulted when natural resources are exploited. If, in the future, valuable minerals or chemicals are found in this area of the Amazon then the people who live there are more likely to be thrown off it as mining or chemical companies swoop in to grab as much for themselves as possible.
Purchasing their land for their own protection might be the best long term strategy for the rainforest residents. I understand completely that they want roads and industry, but if their land is taken away from them because it is found to be valuable they will be left with nothing. Free money with no strings attached does not come along very often, even if the motivation behind the gift is somewhat dubious.
I was left confused about whether Fuck for Forests were brilliant or crushingly naive. Were they crusaders for equality and defenders of the natural environment? Or just more smug Westerners with slightly racist views of people in other countries?
There are a few things that are problematic about Fuck for Forests’ hyper-liberal take on sexuality. Mainly that they are still a patriarchal group. I get the strong sense that most of the decisions are made by the men in the group and it clearly has a patriarchal power structure that makes all women sexually available to men at all times.
Also a scene where Fuck for Forests co-opt a Copenhagen Slut March to attempt to promote themselves and their public nudity agenda, which is not one of the goals of Slut March, made me angry. Slut March is a feminist political movement against victim blaming and not related to public nudity or sexual liberalism. This was just an opportunistic attempt for Fuck for Forests to promote themselves and shows clear lack of respect for the work of other activists.
Fuck for Forests is not a movement I am keen to sign up with or endorse in anyway, however their commitment to what they believe in has to be respected. The film of the same name asks some interesting questions about politics in a subtle way and led to a lot of introspection on my part. If we all took more time to think about the relationship between sex, politics and the environment then we might be able to build a better world.