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Q&A: Dan Savage talks about the HUMP! National Tour


Since 2005, nationally syndicated columnist and sex positive advocate Dan Savage, along with a tight group of collaborators have hosted HUMP!, a Pacific Northwest-centric film festival devoted to home-movie erotica, amateur sex cinema and locally produced pornography. Since it’s inception, HUMP! has gained national attention through both its unique and racy premise as well as Savage’s rising profile as a cultural commentator and television pundit. Thousands of people flocked to the 2013 iteration of HUMP!, which showed in Savage’s home base of Seattle. Thus, in 2014, he and his festival organizers have decided to take HUMP!’s 20 best films on tour to willing cities across America.
 
One of those stops happened to be at the Hollywood Theater located on Potomac Avenue in the heart of Dormont on Fri., June 13. But, after the municipality received “some complaints” about the festival, Borough Manager Jeffery Naftal cited section 210-62 of the borough code, labeling the Hollywood an “adult business” and stipulating they could not operate within 500 feet of a church or school.
 
Since an interdonominational church sits right across the street from the Hollywood, the theater’s Executive Director Chad Hunter agreed to refund the deposit for HUMP! and cancel the showing altogether.
 
Naftal’s interpretation of the borough code for adult businesses was liberal at best, and Sara Rose, a staff attorney at the Pittsburgh office of the American Civil Liberties Union, recently declared the decision to ban HUMP! from the Hollywood Theater as “unconstitutional” in a recent Pittsburgh City Paper article. Regardless of the dispute, HUMP! festival organizers quickly found a new venue for the same date in Lawrenceville’s newly established Row House Cinema. We spoke to HUMP! founder Dan Savage about getting kicked out of Dormont, the film festival’s social mission, and how pornography is not a niche interest.
 
Has the HUMP! Tour had to deal with problems from surrounding communities before?

We’ve never had a problem in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve never had a complaint from city officials, we’ve never had a problem finding a venue; people are only too happy to host HUMP! On the national tour this year we’ve taken it to Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, New York and Madison, and there hasn’t been a single complaint.
 
Do you have any desire to fight the Dormont Municipality over HUMP! getting displaced?
 
As far as I’m concerned, we won. They did us a favor in a way because now more people are going to want to see it. That’s always the blowback from censorship that aims to prevent people from watching or viewing or looking at any sort of art or cinema or literature: the minute you tell people they aren’t allowed to see it, more people want to see it. So, thank you very much! (laughs)
 
You’ve always been very sex positive in your writings and your public advocacy. Is HUMP! your ideal sex positive event?

HUMP! doesn’t talk about those things, HUMP! shows them. HUMP! isn’t about education necessarily, or lecturing or hectoring, it’s about having fun. And fun and pleasure is the reason people have sex most of the time. People who don’t like pornography have enjoyed [the films we show] at HUMP! because it shows that porn can be about two or three or more people who have a really great connection. People make films for HUMP! with their lovers and their friends about the things that they love.
 
What I really love about HUMP! is that, when you think about the way people masturbate, or view porn usually, they are home alone and they watch only what turns them on. They don’t watch other people’s stuff, right? What happens at HUMP! is that you have this huge theater full of people and straight people are watching gay porn, gay people are watching straight porn, kinky people are watching vanilla porn, vanilla people are watching kink porn, people are watching trans porn, people, who probably would never want to have one, are watching threeways or something like that.
 
Do you see a larger social meaning for an event like this for attendees beyond shocking people who wouldn’t normally be watching adult films in such a public space?
 
Well at first, if you watch the audience like we do, because we watch the audience to make sure no one is violating the rules and recording or something, you see people kind of thrown back in their chairs because the stuff up there is so outside their comfort zones, so far away from something that would turn them on.
 
Then, this crazy thing happens when the film ends, and the whole audience erupts and cheers. What happens is that people begin to see that on the surface, it may not be their thing, whether it’s the genders involved, the sexual orientation, or the kink. But what’s going underneath is their thing. The desire, the pleasure, the intimacy, the love, the kink-ass crazy shit--and everyone is into a little kink-ass crazy shit--all that is the same.
 
That was an accident. We didn’t go into HUMP! thinking we would find these people and show their porn, and then everyone would have epiphanies about how we are all in this together. That wasn’t the goal, that was the accidental byproduct. 
 
Most commercial porn today is made for straight males, rampantly objectifies women and dehumanizes sex. Do you feel like this event in some ways tries to legitimize pornography as an art form, outlet or social construct? 
 
HUMP! shows a different type of porn. It also shows that people don’t really have a problem with porn, they have a problem with the fact that [commercial porn] is dehumanizing and usually shot with anger and resentment.
 
A lot of porn is made for people who can’t get laid otherwise, so a lot of what you see on the screen is what they wish they could have and how they abuse it. It is at once a sexual fantasy and a revenge fantasy. And you see that anger repeatedly in commercial porn. At HUMP!, we do have hardcore BDSM films, but you don’t see anger, you don’t see resentment, and you don’t see revenge playing out.
 
As a public figure of your stature with a sizeable following, who do you think your target audience is for HUMP!?
 
Every year when we book the festival in Seattle, thousands of people come. It’s not niche. There is everybody from sex radical demimondes in bondage gear and facial piercings and not much else to middle age couples on a date. Porn is not a niche interest. I really think that porn is really deeply human and humorous and humanizing. Those are not niche interests either.
 
HUMP! is not for some tiny slice of the sex positive community, HUMP! is really for everybody. We’ve had people who were dragged to HUMP!, hate porn, then watched HUMP!, and submitted a film the following year.
 
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