Review of the Malthouse Theatre's production of 'Gonzo'

Review of the Malthouse Theatre's production of 'Gonzo'

Gonzo 21 September – 1 October


The Malthouse Theatre’s production of Gonzo billed as the most talked about show this season promises to expose how porn is really affecting teenage boys, from their perspective. Teenage boys have grown up in a porn saturated world where the average age they start watching porn is 11 and where more than 87 billion videos were viewed last year on PornHub alone. So, who is better equipped to delve into the complex issues surrounding pornography and it’s effects on our culture than teenage boys themselves? 

Hundreds of young Australian men were interviewed to create the content of the play, because as director Clare Watson laments there are “educators, academics, psychologists, neuroscientists - that are telling us about the great threat posed to our boys by porn” but that the real insight lies within teenage boys, only no one has asked them for their opinions, until now.

Gonzo is a chance to hear from these young men, presented through four characters vaguely representing stereotypical teenage archetypes. They hang out chatting about the mundane issues they face at school and work. This is interspersed with anecdotes of porn use signalled by abrupt visual changes. The juxtaposition of adult content onto their otherwise childish lives begs to question how these young boys are capable of making any valuable contribution to the conversation around porn when their thoughts are so basic.

Gonzo follows suit, making no real contribution to the discourse and failing to tell us anything we don’t know. What we get is oversimplification of the complexities of this phenomenon and total lack of difference in opinion and experience supposedly drawn from a wealth of material and presented by otherwise idiosyncratic characters.

Gonzo places the porn discussion into a false dichotomy between parents and other adults consumed by moral panic, and well-meaning teenage boys with a sophisticated understanding of pornography and the ability to discern fantasy from reality. It’s simple. No need to bother with any critical analysis, evidence based research, or educated opinions – the boys are all suave, ethical, socially aware, experts on the effects of porn. Not like those other boys recently involved in the exposed high school porn ring of teen boys and young men secretly exchanging thousands of graphic sexual images of female students and other non consenting women.

To prove how clever and savvy the young men are, Watson uses an example of one interviewee in her blog on creating Gonzo, who suggests that ‘incest porn is really big right now’ because of the influence of Game of Thrones. Although he deserves a pat on the back for recognising that porn does not exist in a cultural vacuum, he and Watson miss this opportunity to explore a much larger cultural issue altogether. Incest is a problem in Australia with 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 women sexually assaulted usually by someone they know or are related to. Incest porn is not a consequence of Game of Thrones, it is male sexual fantasy – Gonzo had an opportunity to probe this and it let us down. 

Gonzo presents us with graphic descriptions of violence against women, and extreme racist, homophobic, and paedophiliac porn titles, but instead of offering us a critique simply assures us that our boys know how to navigate this minefield and these boys use porn responsibly. The boys tell us that teenage girls “watch it just as much as we do!” With no young women represented I suppose we’ll take their word for it.

What they don’t tell us is that girls are affected by porn resulting in increasing numbers of teenage girls requesting surgery for ‘designer vaginas’ and alarming amounts of girls and young women being pressured to provide nude pictures of themselves and engage in sex acts inspired by porn. They don’t mention the growing number of girls aged 14 and up presenting to their GP with porn inspired sex injuries, which we can assume the girls didn’t do to themselves.

But none of this is even hinted at because Gonzo is void of female perspective. Until towards the end when real life porn producer Gala Vanting enters the stage. This woman has a vested interest in maintaining a positive image of the porn industry. She is here to allay our fears and this is when Gonzo’s agenda becomes clear.

Any concerns about how boy’s and men’s unfettered access to sexually explicit material, often depicting physical aggression towards women, impacts women and girls are stamped out before they are raised. Any concern is quickly dismissed as being religious belief, or moral panic, or simply being not “progressive” enough. It’s just not cool to question male sexual entitlement.

The play ends with a PornHub web link projected onto the stage that the audience is asked to view on their phones so that (if we’re not too prudish) we can get our “happy ending”. We were promised uncensored perspectives, inquiry, and that Gonzo was going to lay bare the facts, what we got was boring at best and careful not to upset the status quo. 

Tegan Larin is a Melbourne based feminist and occasional writer with an interest in advancing women's rights.