theorizing gangbangs

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sun Aug 6 20:29:50 PDT 2000

The Stranger (Seattle) - Jul 27 - Aug 2 2000

A NICE, MIDDLE-CLASS GANGBANGER The Stranger Interview with Annabel Chong by Jamie Hook

IN 1995, Annabel Chong, née Grace Quek, a young porn actress from Singapore with endearingly bad teeth and an accent with equal parts King's English, Malaysian Chinese, and Valley Girl, took to a tinsel-strewn stage and proceeded to sexually engage a record 251 men in a single eight-hour session. The World's Biggest Gang Bang I ignited a craze for gangbangs, and her record has since been broken twice, in a 300-man and 640-man gangbang. A 1,000-man gangbang is scheduled for later this year. A biographical documentary, Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, opens this Friday at the Varsity. I spoke with Annabel Chong by phone in Los Angeles.

I've been thinking that the gangbang kind of reenacts, on a visual level, the process of spermatozoa attacking the egg--the intense multiplicity of it. Are there any images that come to your mind when you're thinking about the gangbang?

I think it's really close to sports, specifically team sports, you know? But the gangbang itself is almost like a re-enactment of a historical event: the Messalina event. Messalina was the wife of the Emperor Claudius, and she decided to challenge the most famous prostitute of Rome to a gangbang. She held it in the town square and invited "Friends, Romans and Countrymen" over to participate, and of course she won because she was the empress. This is according to legend, of course.

Translated into America, in this time and age, I think the American religion is sports, specifically football. And I think the gangbang itself has the same sort of cheesy theatricality, you know, the pomp and circumstance. And of course there's me, right in the center. But because the event is so much about male bonding, I think my presence is only supposed to guarantee the heterosexuality of the event. Really, most of the interaction that's going on is between the men. So it's a very homoerotic event.

Would participants admit to its homoeroticism, do you think? I don't think so, but at some point the guys are standing in line; they're cruising each other, you know, checking each other out, kind of like, "Hey, he's hard; I'm not; I better get hard soon--whoa, look at him! Isn't he big." That sort of thing. So it becomes really competitive between the men, and there's a certain degree of backslapping going on.

You gave someone a great quote about your gangbang: "Once you put something out there, people can interpret it any way they like--nothing contains a specific meaning; nothing is essentially degrading for anybody." Well, I think the meaning of the gangbang continues to evolve, and of course I personally think that an event itself is less interesting than the discourse surrounding it. If you look at the press about the gangbang when it first came out, it's very different from the sort of press that it's receiving right now, as evident by the fact that you're writing this article, you know, getting beyond the sensationalism, the FOX TV sort of reaction. So I think it's constantly evolving. I've gotten to the point where I'm more interested in seeing how this thing plays out, how it's evolving, how it's being adapted to the current craze about wealth, about prosperity....

Like the gangbang is kind of analogous to an initial public offering in a sexual commodity....

Exactly. It's incredibly contemporary in that sense. You know, it's not about ideas like decadence, for example; or even, going all the way back, fertility. It's about numbers; it's about commerce. It's about information. And of course, it's a completely false act. It reminds me of scientists who will develop a 120th element that lasts for about four seconds. This element doesn't actually exist, just like the gangbang doesn't actually exist, but it's developing the element for a momentary piece of time that enables this experiment to get started. It's like theoretical physics and conceptual arts in that sense.

What do you think about the reliability in gangbang numbers reporting? People are taking great license with what they're describing as actual sex with 251 or 640 men.

Right from the start it wasn't really about the sex, or how much sex; it's about how many men. It's about statistics, just like sports. And so really the numbers just sell the tape. And even if they didn't have that many guys in the room, they're going to come out with the numbers. It's very much a scam.

The event's producer, John Bowen, seems to be a real sleaze bag.

He is a real sleaze bag. He was all over that video, wandering about, yelling orders on his bullhorn. He kind of drowns my voice out completely. But then again, it makes it less of a porn movie, which I thought was interesting, because it makes it more like a rockumentary.

Do people within the porn community embrace you for your gangbang? Oh no, they dislike me intensely for it. Some even thought it shouldn't be allowed. And what cracks me up is that for once, the porn industry, the feminists, and the religious right were in complete agreement, that this is totally atrocious. I just like the delicious irony of that.

Actually, USC, the college that I went to, had this Christian paper and they had to list the 10 worst things that happened in the '90s, and I think I came in at number seven, with Bill Clinton at number five.

Wow, so you almost beat Clinton? Yeah, almost.

Porn producers are on a bit of a crusade recently to push extreme-sex boundaries. Do you fear that your video opened that door a little bit; do you feel any responsibility for addressing it? I feel really ambivalent about this whole extreme porn thing. Pushing things to the extreme--I think that is just really academic. It's like the Marquis de Sade, where The 120 Days of Sodom is very much an intellectual exercise--okay, so we put a monkey and a woman, and this and that and this together, and this is what happens. It's like mathematics; it's getting more and more cerebral. Ironically, a lot of the so-called "art porn" is much less academic, because it's more visually driven. It's not so much about acts and ideas than it is about how these visuals work with each other to make it more erotic.

How do you feel about the documentary? I think there's a lot of projection going on in every single piece of documentary filmmaking, but this one especially. The director is really unable to focus on me, the subject. He's more interested in using my life to tell his own life story. I've seen it about two and a half times now, and each time I see the film, I see Gough Lewis, not Annabel Chong or Grace Quek.

Do you find the porn industry a big enough canvas to keep working in? No, not really. I think that it's very parochial. There's a big difference between my interest in pornography and my feelings about the porn industry, you know? I want to try other things. I would consider doing a gangbang as much of an experiment as, say, monogamy, for example. I have my own prejudices right here; I'm just laying it out on the table. I'm like your typical middle-class suburban kid. Gangbang and sexual promiscuity notwithstanding.

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