“The Devil’s Face”
This one’s a classic from a few years back, written by Brown MFA grad Katie Farris. To one who is shocked by descriptions of hellish torments and scat fetish porn, it is arguably shocking. I wasn’t shocked, which is maybe cause for alarm. In the Annalemma comments section, reviews of this piece are mixed; some argue that the story relies too heavily on shock value, others argue that this dynamic is appropriate.
The story deals with a few elements related to sexuality, carnality and sin, plus religious guilt and Dante-esque damnation scenarios. Perhaps the story can be best summed up with this line:
“It is difficult, [the Devil] explains, after millennia of existence, to get off.”
It seems appropriate that I discovered this story on the internet, this wild digital community where shock and stimulation are the most valued sort of currency. Think of all the shocking things you’ve seen on the internet. I’m not just talking about that Two Girls, One Cup video (a classic!); I’m talking about cat videos and sex tapes and political diatribes and every meme under the sun. Everything that goes viral or semi-viral does so because of its stimulatory value, and this makes our internet culture one of constant emotional button-pushing. I can’t help but think Ms. Farris was contemplating the online stimulation economy when she was writing this piece.
Okay, so this is a story about how people (embodied here by the Devil) are desensitized by constant digital-world emotional input and are desperate for an authentic, moving experience. Perhaps not the most original premise for a work of fiction (I wrote a whole novella on the subject).
Still, what I find fascinating is the Marie character, and the fact that this story is told from her POV, not the Devil’s. Here, she is the stimulating factor, the object rather than subject, and she seems to feel a few different ways about this: powerful, frustrated, needed/relied upon, desperate, and of course, ashamed. I appreciate the author’s decision to let the human characters stand in as the objects, the Devil’s pornography, and let the Devil himself be the one trying to get off, the frustrated subject. People aren’t typically placed in this sort of role in fiction, and I appreciate the role-switch. I can only wonder: in a previous draft, might the author have substituted the Devil with God? Would the story have been significantly different if God, not the Devil, had been the central character? In that case, what sex act, other than scat play, would He be into? Just a thought.