Jan 30, 2012

Links-a-doodle Monday: Condom Laws, Bacon Lube, Anal Tails, and James Franco

Hello there, friends. Today my brain is fried, and though I'd like to do an in-depth thought piece of what the recent condom legislation in the city of LA might do to the porn industry, instead I'll say a few words, then turn you loose to enjoy some smooshy links. Sound good? Ok! Here we go:

1) This condom legislation thing. It's been in the works for years, thanks to incessant whipping from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Michael Weinstein, and I was getting to the point of thinking that LA just didn't give enough of a crap about the porn industry to do anything about it, but lo! I was wrong (and so were most of the news sites that covered the story, like the one I just linked to on Gawker, which maintained that LA had shut down filming during HIV outbreaks: the "outbreaks" have been restricted to one person each, and LA didn't shut down filming--the industry itself did, out of concern for its performers). A few weeks ago, while I was actually in LA collecting interviews, a statute (is that the right word? I never figured out the differences, if any, between statutes, laws, etc.) passed that will mandate the use of condoms on all licensed porn shoots in the city of Los Angeles.
This pisses me off. I see all sorts of possible negative results from this short-sighted law-making, such as more unlicensed and less-professional porn being made with less oversight and focus on testing, less focus on testing in general, major companies being forced to make products they don't want to make, a flight from the safe haven of LA for filming and into territory where porn-making is neither legal nor safe, more arrests, more disease... Sure, it'd be fabulous if everyone wanted to see porn with condoms and if everyone in porn wanted to use condoms, but that just isn't how things work. And I'm nervous.
But a few people I've talked to have pointed out that the vast majority of porn is already filmed without a license, even in LA. And while it sucks that, with this legislation, if someone is caught barebacking on un unlicensed shoot, they and their whole company will be put through the wringer for it... There's not much chance that the cops are going to find many unlicensed shoots, which tend to happen in offices, private homes, and hotels. If the shoot going on is so massive that there are trailers, production crews, catering, etc en masse in some parking lot, then chances are that company can stand to shell out the money for the license and the condom fee, and deal with it. Wicked already shoots mostly condom scenes, and a few of the big parody companies can handle using condoms, too, since their audiences aren't in it just for the barebacking, exactly.
So I guess the worst thing about this legislation that I can see at the moment is that damn fee. Supposedly, the city of LA will be able to afford to send in agents or somesuch to all licensed scenes to enforce the condom rule (I'd love to see how that plays out--will they provide men in lab coats to personally administer prophylactics? hilarity could well ensue) because they will collect fees from porn companies. Because, obviously, most porn companies have plenty of money to spend on giving the government control over their performers' bodies. Actually... now that I think about it... maybe the most upsetting part of this legislation is that in arguably one of the most liberal cities in the country, the government has not just decided it has the right to tell people what to do with their bodies--it's also decided that just because a well-funded activist group told it to. If this trend continues, we'll be in Big Brother land in no time.
Oh, wait...

2) On a lighter note, let's talk about Bacon Lube. When I first heard about this I thought surely it was a joke, but it appears not to be. I... I don't quite know what to say. On the one hand, sure I love bacon. I've gone vegetarian several times in my life, and while I don't find steaks and burgers very tempting, bacon has always done for me in the end. No matter how intensely vegetarian I'm feeling, a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and bacon will always get my salivary glands working overtime. But my other glands? Not so much. Bacon is delicious and all, but I personally think the bacon craze has gone too far. Bacon-chocolate martinis? Bacon cupcakes? Bacon candy? And now bacon lube? I might want some fried pork fat with breakfast or on a sandwich or in a salad or even just by its greasy delicious self. But up in my hoo-hah? YUCK.
The commercial, however? Brilliant.

3) I'd heard rumors here and there about James Franco's "porn project" at the Kink.com armory in San Francisco, and I just caught the trailer for Cherry on Jiz Lee's blog (they're an extra in the movie! sweet!). It doesn't look as interesting as I'd like it to be, but I'll give it this: it appears to be a movie that's actually treating the porn industry with some gravity instead of the "hurr-hurr," elbow-jabbing joke or unrepentant pit of moral decay that it's often depicted as in maisntream movies. If they managed to get the details right, this movie will get a huge seal of approval from yours truly!

4) I'm super-excited to be anticipating the arrival of my very own Crystal Delights anal plug with a freaking tail on it any day now! I've always wanted a plug with a tail because, seriously, how cool is that? I've already got a Crystal Delights plug with a giant shiny crystal on it, and now I get a furry one! But I just discovered--a bit late, cause I'm lazy--that the tail is made with real fur. That makes me a little creeped out. Like... Why not fake fur? I guess this is a luxury item and that's why, but the idea of having a cute faux tail makes me way more psyched than the idea of part of a real animal hanging out of my rear... Going to ahve to do some research into where the fur is sourced from. I'll report back soon!

Jan 27, 2012

The Phallic Fallacy

At a panel on sex education and porn hosted by Smitten Kitten in Vegas last weekend, discussions about a crap-ton of topics dear to my heart were brought up by panelists Nina Hartley, Sophia St. James, Tina Horn, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Courtney Trouble, Dylan Ryan, and Danny Wylde. I can't even begin to list them all, but I felt that a lot of what was being said needs to be said over and over and over until people start listening. The whole thing was filmed by Smitten Kitten and Reid Mihalko, but I'm not sure if it's available online yet. When it is, I hope that everyone gets a chance to watch the footage. Discussions of barrier use in porn (pros and cons), trans bodies and trans sex, triggers, abuse survivor empowerment... it all went down.

But there was one issue raised by Danny Wylde that's been playing itself over and over in my head, along with a discussion that he and I had the next day about the same issue. That issue was the way in which young men who are growing up with a lot of mainstream porn available to them might learn to see their roles in sex through that imagery. While I'm all about the groundbreaking discussions and leaps forward that have been made for depictions of women in pornography in the past decade, I think that it's getting to a point where a price may be being paid. There is a gaping void surrounding the understanding of (particularly straight) male sexuality, especially when it comes to porn. I feel like women have been eager, and with good reason, to take up this dialogue in recent years. We've become more empowered than ever before in taking back our voices and our desire, doing things for ourselves in sex and porn, and turning the lens of sexual empowerment upon ourselves. It's fantastic. It's necessary. It's awesome.

But what about guys? There is so comparatively little room for men to have these same kinds of discussions, and for many reasons I don't want to try to get into, but the net result seems to be that while the discussion and appreciation of the complex and astounding world of female, trans, and queer sexuality seems to be blossoming, the reverse is happening for male sexuality. Whereas women are more vocal than ever, men/males seem to be taking a back seat, a quiet, passive role, and while this gives the female contingent more talking and breathing space, which is good, a lot goes unsaid. And the result may be that all kinds of men are taking their cues about what their sex should be from places that aren't being very responsible about it, like mainstream porn that shows men as little more than hard-ons and tattoos. Guys in most porn almost never speak or moan, they don't show off their bodies aside from their sex organs, they don't show their faces. They don't moan, they don't writhe, they don't show any complexity or depth to their desire. They are, in very upsetting ways, like machines made only to fuck. They are disembodied organs of lust with no backstory, no layers to their sexualities aside from animal rutting. This is the easy way to film men having sex.

But it is not the whole story, and for people who are consuming this kind of material who may be unsure of the validity of their nuanced, emotionally-driven, difficult sexual desires and bodies and minds, it may be very very limiting. It may be stifling. It may be conveying the message that men do not have complex sexualities, that men just need to want to have sex and to be constantly, continually, perpetually, rock hard.

I am not a man. I am not very male. I don't know what it's like to have a penis. My adventures with strap-ons aside, I can't fathom what it's like for your sexual satisfaction to rely so completely on the engorgement of a phallus that's attached to me. I can't, and won't, say that erections aren't important, or that they're overrated, because I don't know how that really plays out in men's minds. But I will say that reducing sex to the hardness of a cock, and reducing one's abilities to please to that cock's longevity, is really, really wrong. And I will say that I've had experiences with men in which a few minutes of lackluster response from that ONE organ destroyed an entire evening, and sometimes laid waste to months and even years of fulfillment. I won't say that an erection isn't important, but if anyone has it in their mind that it's the only male organ that matters in sex, they're wrong: there's the skin, the balls, the perenium, the ass, the mouth, the fingers, the brain... They are all enjoyable. They are all important. And I think that porn's insistence that sex is an equation that goes: hard cock + pussy + humping = the totality of sex... that's hurting people.

Of course it's not just porn. The rest of our culture feeds into the obsession with erections, too: barrages of commercials, spam e-mails, music, movies... Everything comes back to the men-as-dicks thing. It's impossible to get away from. But porn isn't helping anything, and the further we get into the internet age of easy-to-access porn, the more difficult it gets to pick out the fantasy-vs-reality aspects of pornographic sex. The real bodies versus the professional bodies, with their editing and fluffing and discipline and one-in-a-thousand natural abilities.

I worry about this. I worry that the men I sleep with think all I want from them, or for them, is an ability to get hard. It's so  much, so much more than that. I want them to want more, too.

More on this later...

Jan 25, 2012

A Letter to Max Hardcore

So here I am, on my lunch break, composing an e-mail to Max Hardcore. The bogeyman of porno--the man anti-porn zealots can point to when they're making their accusations. The guy who just got out from a 30-month stint in a federal penitentiary for disseminating obscenity across state lines. The one who more or less invented the term "skull fuck." Who gets his actresses to call him "Mister" in knee socks and pigtails, and then, in some cases, syphons his bodily waste into various orifices. That guy.

He and his case have both fascinated and repelled me for years and now that he's out of jail and filming again, I'm hoping he'll agree to a live Skype interview in front of an audience during the run of my art show. I want to show a few minutes' worth of one his movies to the audience, then bring him up on a big screen and ask him some questions before letting the audience ask theirs. Because I think he and what he does and what's happened to him, for better or worse, is important. But honestly, he freaks me out.

I ran into him last weekend in Vegas at the Adult Entertainment Expo, and did an on-the-spot five-minute interview with him on video. I'd been wondering what it would be like to meet him: everyone I know who knows him assures me he's a nice guy. Some even call him sweet. He's certainly well-spoken. When I wrote him a letter in prison, hinting at doing an interview with him about his work, he wrote back a five-page letter on lined notebook paper that he'd turned into stationery. "Max Hardcore," it said at the top, "America's Most Infamous Prisoner (TM)"--or something like that. He'd gone into detail about how shocked he'd been when a jury of "his peers" had found him guilty of violating their community standards for obscenity, citing First Amendment issues and the rights of the artist. I discontinued our correspondence after that, less interested in the technicalities by which he was incarcerated and more in why he made the films he made in the first place, but his arguments were valid.

Max may have done some things on camera that I can't agree with, but so have Eli Roth, Stanley Kubrick, and Michael Bay. The difference is that Max deals with a part of our human nature that we don't see as fundamentally ok--sexuality--and brings in aspects of one that we love--violence--and mixes them together in a really disturbing way. Is he an artist? I don't really know about that. But did he deserve to go to jail for making those films? Surely not. Although I don't like his tropes of violence, feigned rape, dressed-up-to-look-underage girls, etc., I don't agree that he should have gone to La Tuna for allowing one of his distributors to mail his European (read: much hardcore-er) materials across state lines into a more conservative community (a problem which digital distribution may largely nullify in coming years). The charges for which he served two and a half years were rididuculous; what he really went to jail for was having sex some people didn't approve of, and filming it. And that's ridiculous. Nobody forced anybody to watch his movies--except, probably, in court. Nobody has ever filed charges against him for forcing any of his actresses to do anything they didn't want to. Nobody testified against him in court. He swears up and down that if anyone had a problem on the set of his movies, they stopped filming. The guy didn't need to do hard time, as far as I'm concerned.

But what I really think is fascinating and important about Max isn't his martyr status or the freedom of speech issues he represents. It's what goes on in his brain in the first place. Everyone I know who's worked with him or known him personally seems to genuinely like him. He's got a kind smile and an easy-going attitude. Every film he's made had all the necessary paperwork filled out, the i's dotted and t's crossed. He uses only consenting adults on shoots that it's hard to believe anyone could go into without understanding exactly what they're in for. But what they're in for is so far above and beyond the norm, so wildly over the top, so violent and--at least for me, but I realize that this doesn't apply to many others--upsetting to think about, much less to actually watch, that I can't help wondering. What goes on in his head? How is such a kind, gentle guy also Max Hardcore? How does the guy who everyone vouches for turn off his sweet demeanor and turn on the degrading language, the water-works that get siphoned into anal cavities, the willingness to skull-fuck someone until she vomits? How does this disconnect happen? Does he really hate women, or does he really love women who like this kind of sex? Is there really a disconnect here or just a love of extreme sex? How does this work?

This is what I want to find out. It's deeply interesting. But it's also scary. In Max Hardcore I see some of the things that porn gets blamed for and shunned over, the things that your mother fears when she tells you not to look at dirty movies. But I also see our neverending worship of the morbidly fascinating--the rubbernecking at the train crash. Whatever's going on behind his blue eyes is, maybe reassuringly and maybe terrifyingly, universal. I don't want to judge Max in front of an audience, because I don't think I'm qualified to judge something that interests us all. I don't want to hold him up as an example of "what's wrong with the world" or any such silliness. I don't want to say that what he does and did is right or wrong. I just want, like everyone else, to understand it.

So. How do I start this e-mail?

Jan 22, 2012

The Ugly Truth: I hate porn conventions

Let me be frank, dear readers. I just had the coolest week ever. I hung out with some incredible people, talked about things that were very important to me with lots of them, drove across the Mojave desert, and spent a truly inordinate amount of time watching TV in hotel rooms (hey, I don’t have TV at home—I’ve gotta make the most of it when I have one in my grasp!). 

And I remembered, for the umpteenth time, just how much I dislike porn conventions. I attended part of Friday afternoon’s and most of Saturday’s Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas—gave out my card, interviewed some people, did some networking… the usual. With every passing year I find myself more and more annoyed with AEE, and this year’s cramped quarters in small spaces inside the Hard Rock, complete with insufficient signage and too-loud music, really drove my loathing of conventions home for me. Even though I got more “Oh, I know who you are!” recognition than ever before, and even though this made my job much easier than it was the first time I attended, I still less-than-enjoyed almost every minute of it.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with conventions. In their way, they’re fantastic. They give fans an all-important chance to grab some face time with their favorite performers, cementing relationships that might otherwise not have led to much in the way of sales for the porn industry. And they’re fantastic networking opportunities for professionals in the industry.

But that’s why I hate conventions. I despise networking. I think it’s one of those things that I’m actually quite good at, as I tend to walk away with a billion business cards in my pockets and lots of follow-up work to do when I get home. And I know that networking in a small industry facing many obstacles it's mega-important. But I just can’t stand doing it.

I think it’s the same thing that keeps my writing obscure and spread out under various pseudonyms online: I just don’t enjoy promoting myself. Networking is all about pitching people your wares—convincing them that what you can do for them is something they really need done. And I realize that porn people really do need news sites like WHACK! to advertise on, exposure in the way of interviews and press release posting, so what I’m hawking actually is important. But I am a terrible salesperson.

I also hate interviewing people, especially on video. This is a rather large problem for me, since one of the things that has earned me a reputation in my industry is doing just that. And it’s ridiculous, because in the entertainment world, interviews are mega-important for getting the word out about people, projects, companies, etc. But I always feel as if I’m prying, or bothering people, or taking up too much of their time. And I can’t stand watching myself on video. Given that porn conventions are prime interview-getting time and that most of those interviews feature me with a stupid look on my face asking what seem at the time to be inane questions of various performers, conventions are to me somewhat akin to pulling out my fingernails one by one with tweezers. 

The reason I feel so willing to dish about how much conventions make me want to hurl myself off a high ledge is that I can juxtapose my loathing of them with my delight in spending actual quality time with people in the porn industry. Whereas conventions are constant lights, flashes, interviews, poses, and fake-fakity-fake-fakeness for the thronging crowds of fans (which is all well and good if you’re into that kind of thing), the conversations, panel discussions, and quiet time I gleaned on this trip to LA and then Vegas was, for me, incredibly rewarding. I spent time deep in conversation with people from all the corners of porn: all genders, sexualities, races, preferences, styles, and levels of fame. From megastar Nyomi Banxxx to transman Charlie Spatz to legendary crusader Nina Hartley and everywhere on the spectrum in between, the people I spent quiet time talking to over the past week were fascinating, articulate, knowledgeable, and honest. With the flashbulbs quieted, the music turned down or off, the crowds shut out, and just a few of us sitting there talking about what porn means, what it is, what it can be, and what we want from it, I felt at home. Exhilarated. Challenged. Appreciated.

I guess this is what makes me something of a homebody when I get the chance to be one. It’s a longing for real interactions with people that just don’t happen very often on the show floor, if ever. It’s a quiet living room, a movie, and some popcorn. It’s mutual understanding, questioning, and willingness to listen. It’s… well… Friendship. And it’s what I love about porn: porn people are smart, funny, and deep. You can’t work in an industry so universally maligned and so physically demanding without coming to understand and accept yourself—and if you don’t, you’ve got some bigger issues to work on. The people I meet in porn who I can sit and have a real conversation with are among the most intelligent and interesting I’ve ever known, and it’s those conversations that make me want to write this blog… And keep going back to conventions, whether I like it or not.

Jan 16, 2012

I'm Off!

Wish me luck, everybody! I will be flying to LA tomorrow morning to conduct interviews with as many adult industry insiders as I can get my grubby little hands on! Or... not hands, I mean. Um. My... interviewing prowess.
Errr... that got awkard.

Yes, so anyway, I will be in LA from Tuesday-Friday, then I will fly to Vegas to try to nab a few more interviews, then back to NYC on Sunday. It is going to be a whirlwind trip, but I think it will be absolutely amazing.


Because the people I have interviewed so far about their personal relationships to sex and pornography have been fascinating. Everyone is different, and everyone is so eager to talk about their lives and experiences and ideas. The thing I have found the most in common with everyone I talk to is that, while everyone's words are different, their excitement about discussing this part of their lives is almost boundless. While many of us have talked about our sexualities over the course of our lives, I find that few people have been asked about their relationship to porn--sexual, intellectual, spiritual, whatever. This isn't as true, of course, for people who work in the adult industry, but so far, even they have opened up to me in a really amazing way. I have felt privileged to hear the very personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences of everyone I have spoken to so far, and I can't wait to hear more.

I will try to update the blog as often as I can during my trip! I will be all by my lonesome the whole time, so free time will be hard to find. Wish me luck!

Jan 13, 2012

Consent in Porn: Sobriety on Set

Let's talk about something really important, everybody. Let's talk about performer consent in porn. This is a topic that I've brought up here and there, but that I've largely avoided a frank blog post or column about because, to be honest, it scares me. The lines around what works as consent in my mind (the word "yes" explicitly said and restated as often as possible, eager participation by both parties, continual confirmation of eagerness to participate, and so on, not to mention all the correct forms signed by all parties of legal age and of sound mind and body) are not exactly the same as the lines around what constitutes consent on the set of every porno ever filmed. I know this. And it makes me uncomfortable.

I'm lucky to have a status in the world of professional pornography that brings me a lot of porn DVDs for review material. Which is to say that the majority of what I watch for review is made by large-ish companies that have a big enough budget to: A) make DVDs of their content, B) ship those DVDs to me for free, and most importantly C) employ professionals working in the adult industry, pay them on time and well (though that's open to much discussion, of course), run all their paperwork, etc. One of the best things about content from these companies is that, because most of their content is protected enough to require people to buy it a lot of the time, they tend to film people who are, if not at the very top of their game, at least know what's going on. They are professionals, who come to the set with a full understanding of what is expected of them and what they're getting into. There are no "Surprise, buttsex!" moments, or forced situations--or at least very few of them and very unsurprising ones when they do happen--that would blur the lines of consent for me, the viewer. And just as important, there are few instances in which a performer appears to be less than sober in these movies, thus making consent a very sticky topic indeed.

This might be one of the main reasons I've avoided this topic. I do believe that there are certain jobs that can be performed absolutely brilliantly when certain substances are in use. I am not a hard-liner about intoxicants--I feel like, if I were cornered on the subject, I might argue that coming to work with a head full of cold medicine could affect my work performance just as much as smoking a joint beforehand, or somesuch nonsense argument. But the point is that while I absolutely see the need for total sobriety on set for legal reasons, I have never been one to think that if someone were to show up to a porn set with a little THC in their system, or a glass of wine with lunch beforehand, that should negate the scene. But there are limits. One reason I tend to steer clear of online pornography is that one is apt to see people who are not in control of their faculties--"party girl" scenes shot in clubs (whether these are really amateurs or not is open to debate, of course) where alcohol has obviously been consumed make me feel nervous. Girls Gone Wild makes me uncomfortable. Scenes in which any of the performers look "out of it" or "wired" or generally not in a sound enough frame of mind to decide whether they really want to be filmed doing what they're doing... these all make me blatanly unhappy because I believe that pornography is a generally good thing that, although it's often done wrong, deserves our money and a bit of respect. I want very much to believe that the porn industry can thrive on informed consent, depictions of real pleasure, and professionalism. I want very much to spread that message.

But it's to my detriment if I pretend that a large part of the industry, the part that I rarely see, thrives on exploitation and loopholes in the law. I someone is sober enough to scripple a signature on a piece of paper and show an ID, that does not mean that the same person is sober enough to make the decision to be blowbanged on camera for all the world to see. But it happens to people who are not sober. And I wish it didn't. My usual answer to this is to encourage people to pay for their porn--to spend some dollars on the offerings of companies who operate above the board and who would never film, much less release, footage of someone who was obviously intoxicated. Reward those who do good with your consumer dollars and more of the products they make--legally, consensually, and pleasurably--will be filmed. Avoid contributing in any way to the very real exploitation that some other companies participate in. The laws of economics will, if everyone follows my advice (hah!), tip in the favor of the Good Guys.

All of this is the elaborate build-up to me telling you that a few days ago I popped in a DVD from a VERY large and VERY well-known company with the intention of reviewing it. I decided to watch that one because I've gotten into a habit of reviewing only feature films with plots and scripts lately, and wanted to get back in touch with what was going on with gonzo porn. This one was a few months old, but it looked fun, and I was familiar with a few of the performers in it, so it would make a good study. I got most of the way through the film and had some really interesting notes, including some on one scene that was so intensely hot and so screamingly consensual that I couldn't wait to tell the world how fabulous it was... when a performer I haven't seen much of lately, but who I met a few years ago, showed up on the screen. Though the rest of the scenes thus far had followed a "tease" dance followed by sex, this went directly into the sex without any dancing or teasing from the actress. "Well, ok," I thought. Gonzo movies often are just compilations of similar scenes and you can't always get what you want.

But as the scene progressed I realized something was really wrong. The actress was visibly drunk. She seemed to be having a good enough time, but the vacant look in her eyes and the fumbling way she went about what she was doing made me realize that, if I were a director and this woman stumbled into my scene, I would get someone to drive her home because she was too far gone to get herself there. And in my book, if a person is too drunk to operate a motor vehicle, that person is certainly too drunk to be filmed having sex.

But then, of course, it's not that simple, is it? This being a big company with "contract girls" who are actually employed and paid to make a certain number of movies or scenes, this actress may have already had all her paperwork squared away. She may have shown up to other sets drunk and was perhaps in danger of not fulfilling her contract; the director may have been trying to help by letting her shoot. There are all sorts of reasons that her inability to soberly consent may have been only one of many considerations going into this scene. But the fact remains: she was too intoxicated to be legally filmed. And if she was filmed, the footage should never have been released.

I tried to deny it to myself; this was a very above-the-board company. The director is well known. The performers were both professionals. But that look on her face told me another story. And was it just me, or were her nostrils a bit pinker than they needed to be?

I don't like to stir up controversy, and I really don't want anyone to ever see that scene, so I won't use any names. But I remembered the first time I'd met this woman a few years before. She had been at a party after a convention and making an absolute spectacle of herself at the hotel bar. There's social-drunk, which I absolutely was at that point, and then there's self-destructive blackout drunk. She was the latter. It was uncomfortable to be around her in that state. Not that what I saw at a party years ago has much bearing on someone's current state, but it did at least give me a clear memory of what this particular looks like when she's far-too-many-sheets to the wind, and I was seeing it on my TV. I had turn off the movie and nix the review. I hope to my very bones that she is ok and that the scene I saw was just a one-off affair. I hope that things like that never happen to her again, or to anyone else. And I really hope that companies with reputations to uphold, who could act as good examples for the rest of the industry along with anyone who wants to cast aspersions upon it, don't let things like this happen on their sets. Ever. Because I want so much for porn to be ok, and for people to be able to make movies and have fun and make money. But sometimes... it gets hard to keep up my hopes.

Jan 11, 2012

Porno Product Placement: WTF?!

So I was watching a porno from a majorly huge company for review the other day when I saw, for the first time in my sexy movie experience, flagrant product placement. For another movie by the same company. I was stunned. And I'm not sure why. It's not as if I expect porn to live up to some kind of moral code that precludes advertisements or something; product placement is a good way to sell products. I get that, and it's cool. Especially in porn, which is one of the least apologetically money-grubbing of the industries, and one which has been steadily losing revenue for years. And it's not as if there isn't room in porn for product placement--really, every time you see a toy in use, it's an advertisement for the company that made that toy. But then again, you don't usually hear the performers discussing the merits of this toy made by this company, which can be purchased at this website or anything nearly so explicit. You just see people using these toys and enjoying them, and then if you really want to try that toy you can go find it on your own. It's not usually product placement so much as product use.

But in this movie, one of the characters was interested in trying anal sex, and her friend told her very specifically to get the DVD of jessica drake's Wicked Guide to Anal to learn how to do it. Which is absolutely acceptable, really. It's a good idea to get some advice on the subject of buttsex before trying it, because anal brings with it FAR more opportunities for disaster than most other sex acts. Learning about it first is excellent advice. And since Wicked made this movie, and also a movie about how to do anal, there's absolutely no good reason not mention it. I have a personal contempt for product placement in "art," but this movie isn't exactly art for art's sake, or any kind of sacrosanct advertising-free zone.

But still, it jarred me. Like, what was this, a Britney Spears video? (If her recent videos [check out the 0:40 mark] are any indication, that woman wears SO MUCH [0:40 again] of her own perfume I think I could smell her coming from miles away.) And I think that's the thing that made me do a double-take: porn is one of the biggest industries on the planet, so why not advertise more blatantly? The thing is that, because of its sexual nature, porn gets virtually nothing done in the way of advertising. Sure there are ads for porn and sex products on porn sites, and at the beginning DVDs, and in the pages of skin magazines, but the jizz biz doesn't really need to advertise for people to seek it out. It's a self-contained industry in terms of its own promotion. And within actual porno movies, there's no room for advertisements. It's not as if your average porn viewer is going to stand for 30 second ads in between sex scenes--that's when we'd turn to the fast-forward button or ad-free content online. Nobody wants to be bothered by encouragement to buy more porn when they're already watching porn.

So when this "casual" mention of another movie by the same company happened, I sat in stunned silence. I think even rewound it to play it again. Did that just happen? It all seemed so commercially meta, I couldn't figure out if it was smarter than I expected porn to be, or more self-referential, or just more boldly greedy. But the fact remained that it happened, and it worked pretty well, actually. Porn, at least from the big companies out in the Valley, is so hugely commercial now that it can do product placement. It's so much like mainstream media that advertisements seem like the next logical step. Or so seems to go the logic of Wicked.

And after all, why not? I think this is one of those instances in which I give in to my knee-jerk reaction about something in porn, but when I reflect upon it I find that whatever my knee jerked against was something I absolutely can't argue with. I've been writing for years, literally, about how porn should be treated more like other forms of entertainment: how we should talk about it more, think about it more, write about it more, and give it more respect. How porn should treat itself with a little more dignity so we can start to view it that way. And while I wouldn't necessarily call product placement a dignified thing to do, by definition it does make whatever product is being placed and the medium on which it's placed more of a serious deal. Product placement in porn is like that medium's way of saying, "We have something really good going here, and in fact it's so good that we're going to take this opportunity to shed light on something else good that we do." It's placing a porno squarely in the same kind of league as any other form of entertainment that assumes its audience is large enough to be advertised to, and that they respect its message enough to be open to suggestion while watching it. So really, this is a great sign.


Jan 9, 2012

Links-a-matic Time: the Good, the Bad, and the Baffling

Darling readers, in the month I was gone, a whole lifetime of insanity seems to have gone by in the news. I thought of writing a few posts about some of the things that have happened in my absence, but the blogosphere, I'm sure, has already taken care of Gingrich and Bachmann and Perry, discussed Sandusky into oblivion, and kept right on rolling. So I'm going to keep up with the pace and direct you to a few fun, a couple outrageous, and some absolutely batshit links for your back-to-work pleasure this week! Enjoy! Or, you know, foam at the mouth with rage. Or whatever rocks your boat.

1) Some bad news first: this study from the Center for Disease Control was, in fact, released over the time I was gone. But it's so important I'm reiterating it. I'm going to just quote from GlobalPost because typing the words hurts my soul:
"The study found that almost 12 million men and women are affected by sexual assault in the United States each year; that means 24 Americans are raped or abused every minute."
A few months ago I got into a conversation with my boyfriend about whether the rape statistics from South Africa were worse or comparative to those in the US. While there are far fewer people in South Africa than the US, and therefore there over-3,000-rapes-a-daynumber is more dramatically awful from a percentage standpoint, I argued that I was certain at least taht many, if not more, people were raped every day here in the States. And lo and behold, I was right. Yayyyy.
This number is intolerable. My suggestion? Education, education, education. And not the "Girls, don't wear skirts when you go out" kind. The "People, don't rape other people, EVER, EVER, EVER" kind. This is something that needs more reporting, more media coverage, more talking, and more exposure. If America is the land of the free, then we need to be braver about discussing this issue. It starts everywhere, and it starts now.

2) David Bowie turned 65 yesterday, amidst much media fanfare. But the recently-elusive Father of All Things Cool and Androgynous was nowhere to be seen. Artist Ed Chapman created a beautiful stone mosaic portrait of the artist during his Ziggy Stardust era, fans and celebrities alike called for the Man Who Fell to Earth to return to the public spotlight with a comeback tour, and the internet celebrated his legend. I did a lot of dancing to Low in my apartment and reflected upon just how much of a massive impact this man has had on my life. David Bowie is my inspiration--the man has taught me how to be myself, no matter what self that happens to be at any given time, and to use discipline and hard work to back up my talents. And his willingness to experiment with blurring gender and sexuality lines way before it was even part of the world's public conversation taught millions to rethink the way they saw themselves and others. And, well, his music is amazing. I submit for your consideration the below panty-wetting lusciousness:

3) The baffling: Rick Santorum. I can't believe I'm actually mentioning him in a semi-serious context. This guy has been pissing me off for YEARS, but when he became an internet meme, courtesy of the legendary Dan Savage, and lost his Senate Seat a few years back, I thought the world had gotten its priorities straightened out enough to see him for the peurile infant he is. Apparently, says Iowa and the three-ring circus that is the GOP race, I was wrong. There are so many things I find abhorrent about his politics and so many links I could post to that it overwhelms my poor mind to even think of being thorough, but his latest gaffe was comparying gay marraige to polygamy in front of a college Republicans in New Hampshire. On the basis, you see, of the foregone conclusion that both gay marriage and polygamy are inherently wrong. And their evilness, it seems, connects them in his mind, which seems to be void of all logical reasoning skills. How two men getting married translates, in his mind, to the same thing as three men getting married... well, it's beyond me. But so is the idea that non-procreative sex, even within marriage, is bad. So I guess we're just not on the same level.
But anyway, the upshot of this is that, whether because young Republicans these days are more open-minded or have just more recently studied how logical fallacies work, the students he was speaking too openly booed him for making this comparison. The forces of reason: + 1. Santorum -587 (approximately--I've lost count).

4) The head-shake-inducingly gross: And this is a rather minor story, given that most of the civilized world already knows that New Jersey governor Chris Christie is something of a wallowing, porcine specimen of political weirdness, but yesterday at a Mitt Romney (whole other story) ralley, when he was heckled by some female participants about jobs going down, he responded, and I quote: "You know, something may be going down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart."
Apparently this man isn't aware that calling a woman you don't know "sweetheart," especially in public and as a politician, is frowned upon. Not just by feminist extremists, but by anyone who's ever gone through a workplace sexual harrassment training. Or, you know, anyone who respects women. And that's without even mentioning the actual gist of what he said. Was he implying that random hecklers in the audience should stop heckling and give him a blowjob? Or that he would give them oral sex if they shut up? Or...? I can't even wrap my brain around this one. What a pig.

Jan 7, 2012

New Years Resolution: be my own megaphone

I'm no good at promoting myself. Never have been. It's not that I don't value my own work--it's that I'd rather other people like it and do the advertising/word of mouth/buzz for me. I don't know if it's modesty that keeps me from pushing my brand, or narcissism that makes me think others should recognize my genius and take care of it, or some bizarre mixture of the two. Or perhaps it's just laziness--I work very hard and when I'm done, I don't feel much like spending the rest of my energy on promoting. But whatever the case may be, it's come to my attention, via a very determined photographer who found me on ModelMayhem and then spent an entire day Google searching everything about me on the internet (this sounds a bit creepy perhaps, but it's not, he's actually a fantastic guy), that my body of creative work is actually pretty goddamn extensive. I never have time to do all the things I want to do, but when I had someone else point it out to me, it became clear that I still do a LOT. And have done a lot. And I should really be showing it all off more.

Last year I had a tarot card reading from a dear friend who is excellent at what he does. I wrote down what he told me and let it sit in a stack of papers on my desk for a long time. At the turn of the new year, I unearthed it and glanced over it, and here's what it says in huge letters at the top:


It's become clear that, while sometimes others are kind enough to take up the banner and do my promoting for me, even then they could not possibly be as dedicated to my cause as I am. Hell, even the people I've hired to do this (read: literary and entertainment industry agents) can't be bothered to do it. Last year the team of agents I'd been working with unceremoniously dumped me after they'd decided that I was not, in fact, going to crap out some piece of sparkly magenta chick lit they could stamp some "Sex and the City" reference on and sell, sell, sell. They weren't interested in promoting me or helping me, just making a dime on me. And I wasn't interested enough in promoting what I actually was interested in making to do the work myself. And now I'm agentless--very freeing, in its way, but not really ideal.

The point here is, it's time for me to start taking myself seriously. I write under no fewer than four different names, some in print and some online. I write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I do interviews, long thought-pieces, columns, product reviews, DVD reviews, and coverage of events in New York and beyond. I draw, paint, and curate. I do poetry readings live and on video, and translate poetry, and network with people from all over the world to keep it all going. Shit, I can sing. And hell, I even do some modeling for fun. I am a goddamn renaissance woman. But nobody f-ing knows about it.

So here's my resolution for 2012: MAKE MY VOICE LOUDER. I'm getting a mothafuckin' website. I'm migrating this blog to it, and I'm putting up photos of my visual work, and I'm linking to my art show, my McSweeney's column, my articles, my fiction, my poetry, and maybe even my photos. I want it up and running by the beginning March so people interested in the art show can find out as much about me as possible.

So, yeah. RAWR. Expect it.

Jan 4, 2012

Consent: Careening through Curatorial Carnality

How's THAT for an alliterative title, folks? I love alliteration when I'm writing about porn and sex. I know it's hokey. I know it's campy. But it's an aside to often deadly-serious subject matter that brightens my day. Of course, I've long suspected that I have the sense of humor of a 70-year-old man (for instance, I adore puns), but so what? I like my rants to be rife with ridiculous reams of consonants.


I've been doing interviews with porn consumers for this art show at apexart I'm curating in the spring (March 21 - May 12). Most of them are just friends who have an interesting perspective on the subject matter, and I'm really just getting started. So far I have about six under my belt, and I've got eight more scheduled in the next two weeks. We've been talking about people's experiences with pornography and how they have or have not thought about them. How those experiences have or have not changed the way they view sex or sexuality. How they've affected relationships, self-awareness, and understanding of the issue of consent. It's been fascinating so far. I'd always known in the abstract, of course, that the way people think about these things is as varied as anything else about human nature--infinitely. But these conversations have made me realize just how much people differ on topics of sexuality, and how much they're the same. For instance, I've spoken to people who have used pornography regularly for their entire adult lives, sometimes to a point of near obsession, and yet have spent an incredibly small amount of time reflecting upon what that means for their experience of sex or their understanding of themselves. But then others have amazed me with the depth of their reflections upon their habits and desires. Some are blithely unconcerned; some are deadly serious. It's absolutely riveting. And I'm sure there's more learning to come from them. I can't wait.

On January 17th I'll fly to Burbank for a few days to collect as many interviews with porn industry insiders as humanly possible there, until flying to Las Vegas on the 20th to catch even more performers, directors, producers, etc. in Sin City for the AVN awards and AEE expo. These interviews will cover the same general topics as the consumer interviews, but of course branch off into other areas. It's interesting for me, right now, to realize that I have no idea what I'll end up talking about out there--every time I do another interview with a consumer here in NYC--and I'll also be interviewing a few industry insiders here in the city, of course--I notice my perspective shift just a little bit. Each time I talk to someone new, my area of interest expands and colors itself just a tad. By the time I get to Vegas, who knows what I'll be talking about.

The idea here is that after these are all over, I will have hours upon hours of video interview footage, which I will cut up and arrange according to topic, then layer with clips from actual porn. I very much like the idea of layering porn footage with audio clips of people discussing pornography; I like the idea of watching other people watching these videos and tracking their levels of arousal--both intellectual and physical. I like the idea of pulling people together in a space to watch porn on its own terms (that's another installation) but to also think about it. Reflect upon it. Find themselves inside a discussion of what it means to be a person in the modern world who deals with pornography in whatever way, realize that we are all in this discussion space together, and the more we talk, the more interesting it gets.

So basically... I'm having a blast, you guys. I hope you'll all come out to the show!

Jan 2, 2012

First Revelation of the New Year: I'm a Pervert

My beautiful friends, it is the 2nd of January, and I have returned to the interwebz refreshed, healthy, and several pounds heavier after the excesses of the holiday season. With a half dozen bottles of booze, some sundry beers, leftover cookies and truffles, and assorted other calorie-laden gifts still cluttering apartment, my waist expansion sees no clear end, and that makes me very happy.

But you know what else does? I took a month off from this blog, writing for WHACK! Magazine, and even... yes... even watching porn. I was doing interviews for my art show the whole while, and thus doing a lot of thinking and talking on the subject, but my actual exposure to naughty films was severely curtailed. I thought this would make for a nice thought experiment, to whit: what happens to a girl's brain when her nearly constant exposure to x-rated material is cut off? It's been so long since I've gone more than a week without interviewing a porn star for promotional purposes, watching at least one full-length blue film, writing a blog post about the adult industry, etc, that I had begun to wonder how much of what goes on in my filthy little cranium was actually a result of my own impulses and ponderings, and how much was the result of an unending intake of sexual imagery. I thought that this month off, taken for health and sanity reasons mostly, would serve as a way to see backward in time--a short journey back up the rabbit hole. Certainly not enough time to reach the surface of "not being in the porn industry," but a peek back into the pre-porn times of my youth.

Well ladies and gents and gender-benders, I have news for you all. As I write this, I am settling down to review Courtney Trouble's newest flick, Live Sex Show, starring some of my all-time adult favorites (Courtney herself, Nina Hartley, Jiz Lee, April Flores, Tina Horn...), and I cannot tell you how fucking excited I am! I've been wanting to pop this puppy into the DVD player ever since it arrived weeks ago, but I was trying to maintain my porn fast to preserve whatever effects the absence of smut might have on my psyche, so I persevered and didn't even open the package until today. And seeing that manila envelope sitting there for weeks, with my name on it, knowing it was from San Francisco and contained all the joys of a surprise live-action gangbang full of queers... Well, it hasn't been easy.

And that's the thing, people. I've been watching porn professionally for years, and I've gotten very very very very very burned out on it more than once. I thought that maybe, by the end of this month--during which, might I add, I had plenty of real sex, so my little libido wasn't suffering from lack of stimulation without sexy viewing material--I would be ready to turn a new leaf and be done with porn forever. Or at least be less than excited about watching the stack of DVDs that's piled up during my absence. Or just generally be thinking in the same "meh" way that I did a month ago about the whole world of adult entertainment.

But not so. I am STOKED. I get to watch porn for work again, and, seriously, WHAT MORE FUN WORK COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE?! The truth, my dearest deranged mutant friends, is that I am a pervert. This month proved to me over and over again, in every conversation and every daydream, in the bored silences during car rides and lying awake at night in bed, even once when I was too hungover to move but found myself desperate to masturbate, that I am an incurable sex fiend. Even when the first week's porn detox had been long gone and I had entered the mid-month doldrums, I found myself sneaking double-entendres into conversations and pointing out the ones nobody had giggled at. I went after sex with a new enthusiasm, since I didn't have any to watch to keep me placated. I fantasized, I dreamed, and I thought--constantly--about sex.

And so, if any of you have been on a long pattern of withdrawal from my lunatic antics and fuck-frenzied fancies, never fear. I'm back, and I'm happier than ever to be here!

Review of Live Sex Show to come.... I think we all know it will be glowing, as will I.