The Sporadic Beaver

An Open Invitation to Martin Amis

June 24, 2011

Tags: Ben Myers, Bizarre, The $5 Blowjob, Beaver Street, Martin Amis, pornography, anal, London Fields, James Wolcott, Vanity Fair, Thomas Wolfe

In my interview with Ben Myers that ran in the July issue of Bizarre, I explained that I served as the male model in a shoot called “The $5 Blowjob”—I describe the experience in Beaver Street—because no real writer had ever gotten in front of the camera and reported on what it was like to be a porn “star.” As I mentioned to Myers, one of the writers who failed to take advantage of this kind of opportunity is Martin Amis, when he wrote a piece about the porn industry in California, “XXX Marks the Spot,” for Tina Brown’s short-lived Talk magazine. (Another version of the article ran in The Guardian.)

Amis’s article, a classic example of an outsider writing about an industry he doesn’t understand or have any real feeling for, lacked genuine insight. His big “scoop”: “Anal is hot.”

Though he blew it on the porno piece, I still admire Martin Amis’s writing. In fact, I used a quote about modern literature’s treatment of masturbation from his novel London Fields at the beginning of Beaver Street.

James Wolcott recently mentioned “XXX Marks the Spot” in his Vanity Fair blog—he called it “a quite vivid article about visiting a hardcore porn set.” It was part of a posting noting that Amis is moving to Brooklyn and had written to him asking if he knew “any cool places to hang out” there. Wolcott, a resident of the Upper West Side, couldn’t help him.

Having escaped from Brooklyn 36 years ago, when Brooklyn was still a place to escape from, I don’t think I could help Amis either. However, once he settles into his new digs, I would like to chat with him about pornography, literature, and Brooklyn.

I’m right across the bridge in Manhattan, practically walking distance from Cobble Hill—assuming Mr. Amis likes to walk. Or, if he prefers, I can cross the bridge. Den, maybe, we can grab a coupla ’dogs at Natan’s. Dat, t’me, is duh ting t’do in Brooklyn, as Thomas Wolfe might have said.

The Business of Smut: Critique #3

June 16, 2011

Tags: Slate, Susannah Breslin, They Shoot Porn Stars Don’t They?, Andrea Dworkin, Orrin Hatch, Beaver Street, Jim Powers, Ryan Hunter, Martin Amis, smut

Next up in my critique of great “smut” writing recommended by Slate is a 10,000-word excerpt of a self-published book, They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? (2009), by freelance journalist Susannah Breslin, who also blogs about being downsized for Forbes magazine.

A collection of interviews and reportage conducted on the sets of various X-rated videos, the piece is a classic example of the Andrea Dworkin School of Anti-Porn Writing. And it’s hard to say who might consider it “great” other than Senator Orrin Hatch, who will undoubtedly use Breslin’s book as evidence in his quest to persuade the Justice Department to launch a vigorous investigation of the porn industry.

I’ve no doubt that Breslin did an enormous amount of research and reporting. But to present her findings as “typical” strikes me as a gross distortion. The essential problem with the piece, I think, is that the author lacks any genuine sympathy for the people she’s writing about. Clearly she finds them interesting, but she never lets the reader forget that she’s not one of them, that she’s above it all, that pornographers are some other species, not quite human.

Yet, Breslin also displays far less ignorance than many others writers I’ve read who’ve done similar stories. And she explores a number of issues that I cover in Beaver Street, such as the predilection of conservative administrations, like Bush II, to declare war on porn, often with embarrassing results.

Thumbnail Critique
Thesis: Porn is bad. Porn is stupid. Porn is ugly. Porn is violent. Blame it on the recession and free Internet porn.
Mood: Grim and humorless.
Highlight: Breslin interviews Jim Powers and porn star Ryan Hunter as he directs her in Fuck Machine 5, a video in which the “costar” is an “animatronic phallus” rather than a human male.
Sample Quote: [A man interviews a porn star on camera] “So, what do you do for a living?”
“I work in porn.”
“Whore?”
“Of course.”
“Absolute whore, right?”
“Yes.”
“What kind of whore?”
“Dirty whore.”
“Piece of shit whore?”
“Piece of shit whore.”
Also See: “A Rough Trade” by Martin Amis

The Business of Smut: Critique #2

June 15, 2011

Tags: Natasha Vargas-Cooper, The Atlantic, Andrea Dworkin, Slate, Martin Amis, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Gail Dines, anal sex, smut

Allow me to begin my critique of “Hard Core,” by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, which ran in the January 2011 issue of The Atlantic, by saying that the author, judging by the photo on her website, is an exotically attractive brunette. Though looks are, of course, irrelevant to a writer’s ability, when a writer, male or female, writes about their sex life, one can only wonder: What does he or she look like? Well, Ms. Vargas-Cooper is no Andrea Dworkin. She is an LA-based freelance writer and former union organizer. And her 4,000-word essay, which Slate included on their list of great “smut” writing, can best be described as a quasi-academic, post-feminist, semi-personal thought piece that quotes from the likes of Martin Amis, Susan Sontag, and Pauline Kael.

Thumbnail Critique
Thesis: The prevalence and instant availability of Internet porn has transformed sexuality.
Highlight: A one-night stand with a “polite,” “educated” man who can only get aroused if he has anal sex with the author.
Sample Quote: “You could be poking around for some no-frills Web clips of amateur couples doing it missionary style, but easily and rapidly you slide into footage of two women simultaneously working their crotches on opposing ends of a double-sided dildo, and then all of a sudden you’re at a teenage-fisting Web site.”
Also see: Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, by Gail Dines

The Beaver Correspondence 4

May 23, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, pornography, Martin Amis, Martin Goodman, John Heindenry

This is the response to the e-mail I posted two days ago.

Bob,

I was strangely nostalgic when reading your thorny responses. I suppose I was throwing out some rhetorical questions. But still the same, you are far better qualified to meditate on some of the inherent issues here—i.e., the need to escape from reality (oddly characteristic of all of Martin Goodman’s publications)—than Martin Amis. You’ve earned the right to discuss some of these “big” issues by virtue of your history. You take the trouble (like John Heindenry did in What Wild Ecstasy) to trace histories of the industry that have not been brought forward elsewhere, and can guess their significance as well as or better than anyone else. This wasn’t necessity, just a road that might have been followed.

I guess what appears interesting about the “creators” is not the editors, but performers. Is porn Art to them?

My imperfect knowledge of your history led me to hypothesize about those I thought to be anonymized characters but who were real folks. Bill Bottiggi, for instance, seemed like a composite but upon reflection I recalled him from office lore.

In any case, an insightful and detailed adventure through the shadowy world of the porn industry, replete with lively anecdotes. Good luck with it.

Jack

To be continued…

The Beaver Correspondence 3

May 21, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Martin Amis, Izzy Singer

This is my response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.

Professor,

It’s funny, just as I pushed the send button it occurred to me that you teach in a state where most people don’t believe in evolution, and that you wouldn’t be able to publicly comment on a volume such as Beaver Street. In any case, I do appreciate your academic perspective.

I’m afraid you'll have to look elsewhere for your broad history. That’s why I called the book “A History of Modern Pornography,” not “The History.” Something tells me “The History” would weigh in at 1,000+ pages. Barring a $1-million advance, I’ll wait for somebody else to do it.

I’d have to agree with you that explaining what motivates consumers is too obvious: They need masturbation fodder, a point I believe is made in the Martin Amis quote on page 2: “Masturbation was an open secret until you were thirty. Then it was a closed secret. Even modern literature shut up about it at that point, pretty much. Nicola held this silence partly responsible for the industrial dimensions of contemporary pornography—pornography, a form in which masturbation was the only subject. Everybody masturbated all their lives. On the whole, literature declined the responsibility of this truth. So pornography had to cope with it. Not elegantly or reassuringly. As best it could.”

Also think it’s pretty clear what motivates the creators (you, me, and most other people), a point I made in Chapter 3: We needed a job. People like Izzy Singer, of course, are the exception. They are exactly where they want to be. They’d never consider doing anything else. To them, Porn Is Art.

I am wondering which characters you got lost with. You’re the first person to say that.

No, no doppelgangers. The main part of the “personal” narrative ends around the time you appeared on stage.

Thanks for reading. Always fun jousting with the critics. (Far more fun than writing something new.)

Bob

To be continued…