Where the latest book about infamous Singaporean ex-porn star Annabel Chong suffers and why it needs to be read in the context of other porn writings on the web.
By Belmont Lay
This is an article published in The Straits Times on May 23, 1999. Check out the caption. Who said New Nation editors are the only cheeky bastards around?
Annabel Chong, aka Grace Quek, is featured as a campy braless Wonder Woman-esque superhero treating the entire Central Business District around her ankles to an upskirt whilst arms akimbo.
This cover art is accompanied by a comic ka-pow caption with the exclamation: “Demystifying the legend of Singapore’s most famous pornstar!”
This cartoon caricature of a larger-than-life character is chosen as the cover art of Gerrie Lim’s latest book, Singapore Rebel, a title acknowledged as a respectful nod to rebel filmmaker Martyn See (not that the book has anything to do with him or dissident politician Chee Soon Juan).
And this is a book that is supposed to render an intellectual, argumentative thesis that is Annabel Chong: penetrative, comprehensible and convincing.
And that’s a tall order.
So much has been said about Annabel since her 1995 record-smashing gangbang where she committed 251 sex acts in ten hours with approximately 70 men that it is easy to depict her as a depraved nympho and leave it at that.
But this effort by Gerrie, going back in time and digging through archives of Annabel Chong interviews, is supposed to take you under her skin, so to speak. The book reexamines and explains why she is still culturally relevant and sensational after all these years, and also identifies the perpetual source of angst and rebellion for people like Gerrie and Annabel who can only find a sense of belonging in subcultures that can never be bred in Singapore.
In both cases, it is her ability to feel comfortably at home in the adult entertainment industry.
And be professional about it while sending a highly personal and political message, as I would imagine, back to conservative Singapore.
But is this effort by Gerrie, an author of numerous non-fiction books and articles inside and outside the adult entertainment industry, capable of swinging people’s perception of Annabel Chong?
You see, Singapore’s most famous pornstar is an oddity. Because when you think about it, countless Singaporeans have squeezed past and fallen through our system, but there has only been one case of Annabel Chong.
And when you get on with the book, she becomes more problematic because she poses a formidable challenge to everything we know and assume we know about women, sex, passivity and harlotry.
She is intense, aggressive and dangerous in her approach of making a poignant point through her work in porn. And when she left, she left abruptly, to become a computer programmer, no less.
She is, and rather accurately portrayed I guess, as a major bird-flipper, a hardworking, living, breathing example of an eff-you to all the perceived public and private institutions of uprightness, moral rectitude and normality.
In the cold, sterile and clinical academic approach to objective study of a subject by Gerrie, the vagina is touted as a sheath that protects the penis, a weapon in its own right, and so it shouldn’t get hurt from penetration.
She possesses that sort of daring-do that pushes the boundaries of political incorrectness and possibilities.
But you, as the reader of the text, need to work very hard to get beyond the vulgar display of rebellion to arrive at its political meaning and try to understand what motivated Annabel Chong to be an atypical Singaporean.
And that’s only the beginning of the tricky part.
Next, try not to be floored by some of the main arguments put forth by the book:
- The act of sex can be used as a parody
- Sex, when focused on numbers, is ridiculous because the joke’s on you if you’re keeping count (e.g. how do you define one act of penetration?)
- Sex is empowering for women as not all of them are exploited or feel exploited because there is such a thing as “consensual degradation” and because women enjoy sex and do make more money than men while doing it professionally
- Plus, Annabel Chong is the female version of a male stud because she can have it all
Oh yes, and lastly, in the cold, sterile and clinical academic approach to objective study of a subject by Gerrie, the vagina is touted as a sheath that protects the penis, a weapon in its own right, and so it shouldn’t get hurt from penetration.
In all seriousness, Gerrie also writes in his book: “She was extolling the virtues of more open-minded thinking through a seemingly grosteque act committed in full public view via the technology of home video.”
Which makes one wonder: Is it possible to take the premise of a pornographic gangbang to such logical conclusions and on such academic terms?
And am I being a close-minded twit for not thinking so?
What Gerrie can proposition with cocksure assurance and composure, you might not necessary swallow whole.
To read the book on its own, and express incredulity, is therefore, intuitive and reasonable. That much you should expect from the average reader.
So this is where you might have to look elsewhere for supporting complementary text to put what Gerrie has to say in context.
And this is also where the book suffers.
Singapore Rebel becomes ineffable and alienating because you cannot automatically draw connections. It needs relations, like other penetrative carnal accounts of porn and why people do what they do, which can be easily accessed on the web (like how you can find real porn!).
Take, for example, this piece of writing about Sasha Grey (apparently famous enough to appear on TV for an interview with Tyra Banks.)
Or this one about John Holmes (whose legendary schlong is modestly described as “bigger than a pay phone, smaller than a Cadillac”).
Or this piece by a somewhat unknown ex-entertainment editor of Hustler magazine, who shamelessly and falsely ranked himself as the “Top 50 most influential people in the adult industry” because “deception and lies are the essence of pornography”.
In all three cases, it provides a sneak peak into what drives such characters and the range of personalities that exists within the porn subculture.
They’re all exasperating reads but they should serve as writings worth making comparisons with.
But there exists two other minor points that are recurring bugbears: Gerrie’s book can take the form of a rebuke to conservative minds and there is a sense of aggrandisement of the Annabel Chong phenomenon.
On the latter, I only have this to say: The best way that anyone can think of the Annabel Chong phenomenon is that it remains dormant for periods during remission only to act up once in a while.
Just like a case of herpes.