The Sporadic Beaver

Personal Faves: Volume I

February 13, 2013

Tags: Occupy Wall Street, performance, Lou Perretta, Scott Garrett, Susannah Breslin, pornography

As the third anniversary celebration of The Daily Beaver continues, I'd like to now share some of some of my personal favorite blog posts. The pieces below were selected at random. They're stories I’ve written over the years, most of which I haven't looked at since the day I wrote them. But reading them today, I think they still stand up, and they give a good sense of the type of material I've been covering here and will continue to cover.

'72 (Sept. 29, 2011)
My report from Zuccotti Park (which I call "Liberty Square") in the early days of Occupy Wall Street, on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of Jewish New Year, 5772.

The Writer as Performer (March 27, 2012)
What does it take to get a book published in America these days? Good looks, primarily.

The Lou Perretta 20-Point Plan for Demoralizing Employees: A Guide for Postmodern Office Management (Feb. 1, 2012)
How bad was it to work in a Paramus porno factory? This satirical guide explains.

What’s the Matter with Jersey? (March 21, 2012)
I was subjected to a surprising amount of criticism for writing about my former boss Lou Perretta, the abysmal working conditions at his company, and his campaign contributions to Tea Party congressman Scott Garrett. This is my response.

Blog’s in Your Court, Ms. Breslin (Oct. 19, 2011)
A spirited online debate about blogging, criticism, and books about pornography.

Tomorrow, Volume II

Blog's in Your Court, Ms. Breslin

October 19, 2011

Tags: Susannah Breslin, They Shoot Porn Stars Don’t They?, Slate, pornography, Beaver Street, Orrin Hatch, Andrea Dworkin

A few months ago, I wrote a series of reviews about five articles that Slate had cited as "great writing" about the porn industry. Some of these articles, I thought, were hardly examples of great writing, and one of them was barely about the porn industry.

Recently, one of the writers I critiqued responded on her Forbes.com blog to my review of her porn book and to general criticism of her work. In a piece called “This Is Why You’re Stupid, or How to Deal with Criticism on the Internet,” Susannah Breslin took issue with anonymous posters who’ve called her a “c***,” a “f***ing moron,” and a “festering boil.” Her conclusion: Don’t blog if you don’t have a thick skin, and it’s better to get a vicious reaction than no reaction at all. I couldn’t agree more, especially about the thick skin.

I’ve written similar pieces myself, most recently comparing two Nowhere Man reviews that appeared on Amazon the same day, one a five-star rave (in Italian) and the other (since deleted) a one-star hatchet job. I pointed out that this is a microcosm of the type of criticism that Nowhere Man has been subjected to for the past 11 years, that it’s as if the critics had read two different books, and that it’s always the most ignorant critics who post the most vicious comments.

In any case, Breslin devoted a good portion of her blog to analyzing my criticism of her book They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?. She didn’t like my comparing her to the late Andrea Dworkin because Dworkin, she said, was “passionately anti-porn” and she isn’t. She thinks it’s unlikely that Senator Orrin Hatch will use her book as evidence in his anti-porn crusade, as I predicted. She disliked the fact that I called her writing “humorless” because, she insisted, she has a sense of humor. And she said I seemed to suggest that Beaver Street is a better book than They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?.

Well, I’ve reread my critique of Breslin’s book, and I think it still stands up. Breslin might not be like Andrea Dworkin, the person, but her book is definitely anti-porn in a way that Dworkin would have liked. And Breslin’s thesis—that porn is bad, stupid, ugly, and violent—plays right into Orrin Hatch’s hands, confirming everything he says about the industry and the need to investigate it more vigorously. (His crusade appears to have stalled for the time being, which may be why he hasn’t yet presented Breslin’s book as evidence.)

I didn’t say that Breslin doesn’t have a sense of humor. One can indeed be detected in “This Is Why You’re Stupid.” I described the mood of They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? as “grim and humorless”—because it is.

And finally, I didn’t suggest that Beaver Street is a better book than They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?. I said only that Breslin covered some similar material in her book, specifically, “the predilection of conservative administrations, like Bush II, to declare war on porn, often with embarrassing results.”

Ms. Breslin, I feel as if we’re playing tennis, and the blog’s back in your court. But before you return my serve, perhaps you should decide for yourself how Beaver Street stacks up against They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?. U.S. pub date is March 23, 2012. Review copies are available now, and, in my opinion, you’re more qualified than most people to review it. Beaver Street, I might add, is very much up your pink slip and recession alley.

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