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Far From Flatbush

It Takes a President

In 1998, at the height of Clinton impeachment mania, I, as editor of Sex Acts magazine, commissioned a cartoonist to illustrate “choice” parts of the Starr Report, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s record of his run-amok investigation of a White House enmeshed in scandal—financial, political, and sexual. The report, now best remembered for its explicit descriptions of the multiple erotic encounters between a 49-year-old sitting president and his 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, was published unexpurgated in The New York Times, marking the first time the Gray Lady had allowed “fuck” and “blowjob” to stain her pages.

One Sex Acts cartoon illustrates a tryst that, according to the Starr Report, took place in the White House study on December 31, 1995. It shows Bill Clinton, pants around his knees, displaying a curving erection of porn-star proportions that appears to be Viagra-enhanced—though Viagra wouldn’t be available to the general public for three more years. It’s an image that encapsulates much of what The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido (Twelve), by Vanity Fair editor David Friend, is about.

That’s presumably why the words “Naughty Nineties,” as they appear on the cover of this 632-page epic, are shaped like a curving, fully engorged, seven-and-three-eighths-inch phallus—though the effect is subliminal. I’d been reading the book for a month before I noticed it. I now assume that phallus is meant to represent Clinton’s penis, which is really a stand-in for every Boomer phallus that ever grew erect in the nineties.

If Bill Clinton and his penis are the star of this leave-no-stone-unturned analysis of the decade in which libidinous Baby Boomers took over America, Viagra is the co-star, and the complex, dramatic, and at times touching tale of how it was discovered, tested, named, and marketed, and then became one of the best-selling prescription pharmaceuticals ever—thus bringing erections and their dysfunction into our living rooms—may be the most fascinating part of The Naughty Nineties. (See “The Hardener’s Tale” and “Homo Erectus.”)

Hillary Clinton, weaponized gossip, and the Internet are among the major supporting players, with the latter two bearing responsibility for the “tabloidification” of an era in which “we learn not only that Prince Charles is having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, but are treated to a recording of Charles stating that he wants to be her tampon.”

It’s also a decade in which expansive silicone breasts and the $10-to-14-billion-a-year pornography industry emerged from the shadows to penetrate every segment of mainstream media and society.

My book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is among the multitude of texts that Friend, whom I work with at Vanity Fair, consulted in the course of his research, and The Naughty Nineties elaborates on some of the material I touched on. In discussing Lyndon Johnson’s porn-investigation commission, for example, I describe the president as “a corrupt Texas Democrat with a big dong,” before moving on to Richard Nixon’s war on porn. But how is it known that Johnson had a big dick? Friend explains: “He was known to flabbergast acquaintances by whipping out his Texas longhorn of a pecker.”

This kind of breezy, vernacular-laced prose makes The Naughty Nineties an entertaining alternative to the slew of turgidly written textbooks dominating undergraduate reading lists for any number of history, sociology, political science, gender studies, and communications courses, such as U.C.L.A.’s “Pornography and Evolution.”

The scene in “Chez Fleiss” of Friend’s journey through the Mojave Desert to visit “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss contains another good example: “To get here, I have driven an hour along the parched perimeter of Death Valley without spying a human soul. And then, like some portent out of Castaneda, I see a vision. A titty bar.”

Yet Friend’s intent is never less than serious, and his research sets a scholarly standard for comprehensiveness, no matter how raw the subject matter. In “Botox, Booties, and Bods,” he explores rap culture’s fetishization of the female buttocks, cataloguing, in three jam-packed paragraphs, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot’s “crooning about the merits of a fuller moon”; Experience Unlimited’s “Da Butt,” a.k.a. “(Doin’) the Butt”; 2 Live Crew’s “Face Down, Ass Up”; Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Appelbum”; Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre’s coining the word “bootylicious”; Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”; DJ Jubilee’s inventing the term “twerk”; Juvenile’s “Back That Azz/Thang Up”; Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty”; and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Ubiquitous and fulsome footnotes, which could comprise a volume unto themselves, enrich this meticulous detail. (The mother of all footnotes, on pages 467–68—perhaps the longest annotation I’ve personally encountered—analyzes why the institution of marriage is “on the rocks.”)

Friend is at home, as well, with the erotic. In “The Glory of O” he brings to life a masturbation workshop: “Ken, ever stroking, tells the audience, ‘Her clit just grabbed on to my finger.’ Her legs shake and flutter. ‘The clitoris is a spinning top,’ he says, ‘now spinning by itself.’”

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the nineties set the stage for the ascent of Donald Trump and a presidency in which politics, pornography, gossip, and reality TV are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. And Friend, rising to the occasion, ends with “The Trumpen Show.” But is Trump the terrible tyrant of a passing moment—the Tawdry, Tempestuous Teens, when the Times turns to titan of adult cinema Ron Jeremy for insight on POTUS paramour Stormy Daniels, the biggest XXX superstar since Deep Throat’s Linda Lovelace? (It takes a president.) Or has he brought us to the edge of an Enervating Endtimes, leaving us longing for the days when the most horrific thing you’d read in your daily newspaper was Ken Starr’s depiction of Oval Office anilingus?

We’ll just have to wait for the return of the Roaring Twenties for an answer. They’ll be upon us soon enough.

—Robert Rosen

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WTF Is Football Porn?

When Chelsea G. Summers wrote to me last week, asking how and when "football porn" became a thing, my first thought was, WTF is football porn?

My second thought was, Wait a minute, I know what football porn is: It's the biggest cliché in pornography (see Debbie Does Dallas). How many times when I was editing adult magazines did I run pictorials involving football players and cheerleaders?

Which reminded me of my first exposure to football porn. In the 1960s, when the Green Bay Packers ruled the football world, I came across a Playboy with a “Little Annie Fanny” cartoon strip. In that strip, the “Greenback Busters” gang-rape Annie on the 50-yard line, before a cheering, sellout crowd. (This was considered funny a half-century ago.)

I got lost in a football reverie, remembering how I covered the football team for my high school newspaper, and wanted to be a professional sportswriter. Then it took a darker turn, to locker-room hazing, sexual assault. Why, all of sudden, was there a rash of stories about this… and stories like the one out of Steubenville, Ohio, hometown of underage porn star Traci Lords and the scene of a notorious rape involving high school football players? And why was there a rash of stories about college football stars who raped and got away with it… because they were football stars and the schools made a lot of money from them?

What is it about football? Plenty, I suppose, but that’s a question that’s going to take more than a blog post to answer.

I finally told Chelsea G. Summers that there has been football porn as long as there has been football, which began in 1869, in New Jersey, where, perhaps not so coincidentally, adult magazines, under the benighted reign of Lou Perretta, went to die.

You can read Chelsea’s article, “Deep Inside the World of Football Porn,” in Vocativ.

And you can watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. I hear it’s on TV.

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Taking it Personally

I tend to write about movies that have a direct, personal connection either to my life or my books--see About Cherry, Magic Trip, and Chapter 27--and the latest such film to fall into this category is the generically titled Back Issues, a documentary about Hustler magazine. (Why not just call it Hustler?)

I enjoyed Back Issues in part because it adds an additional dimension to much of what I write about in Beaver Street. And Beaver Street, with its tales of High Society publisher Carl Ruderman trying to pattern his magazine after Hustler, only to end up as Hustler’s "Asshole of the Month," adds an additional dimension to Back Issues.

But the primary reason I’m writing about the film is because Bill Nirenberg, whom I used to work with at Swank Publications—the company at the center of Beaver Street—is at the center of Back Issues. Before landing at Swank, Bill was an art director at Hustler during its glory days, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, and watching the film with two of my former colleagues filled me with the disorienting sense of being back at Swank and listening to Bill regale us with his Hustler and Larry Flynt stories. Bill’s demeanor, his tone, his vibe, as well as the stories themselves are exactly as I remember them.

Capturing somebody on film just as they are in life is not an easy thing to do. But the reason Bill comes across so realistically—in fact the reason this film exists at all—is because his son, Michael Lee Nirenberg, directed it. And because of the intimate connection between subject and filmmaker, Michael was able to gain access to all the key Hustler players, including the often-inaccessible Flynt, as well as former editors Paul Krassner and Allan MacDonell, whose memoir, Prisoner of X, covers the same time period as I do in Beaver Street.

Michael also managed to unearth a number of documents that illustrate some of the most notable moments in the history of a polarizing magazine whose impact on American popular culture was profound. The most outrageous document is an audiotape of Flynt ranting at the Supreme Court justices, in 1983, when they were considering a libel case that Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s girlfriend, Kathy Keeton, had brought against Hustler. The language Flynt uses, a series of gratuitously racist and sexist slurs, is so inflammatory it transcends the realm of mere obscenity and serves as a sublime demonstration of a man rendered paraplegic by an would-be assassin’s bullet, who now thinks he has nothing to lose, speaking the truth (as he sees it) to power.

Among the people Michael speaks to who didn’t actually work for Hustler but still offer valuable insights about the mag, its founder, and the porn biz are Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, who is at death’s door and giving what would be his last interview; writer Michael Musto, who does an excellent job of explaining how the Internet destroyed the porn magazine business; and professional anti-porn activist Gail Dines, who, uncharacteristically, comes across as a sane person.

But it’s the segments where Michael interviews his father, who’s now retired from the porn biz, that give the film a homey, intimate feel, which is unusual (if not unheard of) for a documentary that covers this kind of gritty and often offensive material. This intimacy also helps to make Back Issues an essential document for anybody who wants to understand not only Hustler’s place in the history of modern porn, but how, in the late 20th century, pornography was able to supplant rock ’n’ roll as the premier symbol of American pop culture. Read More 

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Quote of the Day

"If Surrealism leans towards the pornographic, then outright pornographers find kindred subversives in the Surrealists--as with long-time pornographer Robert Rosen who claimed to embrace the idea 'that pornography and transgressive art could be one and the same.'" --from an untitled paper on pornography and surrealism, submitted to the English and Film department at the University of Exeter, U.K., and posted anonymously online Read More 
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Sex & Politics, American Style

The image on the right is the flyer for the next event at the 2A bar, 25 Avenue A, in the East Village, where Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been coordinating a series of readings for the past few months. The theme for Tuesday night, September 17, is politics--specifically sexual and gender politics.

In celebration of this theme, I'll be reading the section from Beaver Street that ties together Lyndon Johnson's Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, Charles H. Keating, Deep Throat, and Watergate. All in about 1,300 words.

Whitney Strub, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, will be reading from his first book, Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), which was just released in paperback, and which covers material that’s almost identical to what I cover in Beaver Street. (You can read a review comparing the two books here.) The title is a reference to an anti-porn film produced by banker and convicted felon Charles H. Keating, who might have described Strub as a “permissive professor dedicated to a position of complete moral anarchy.” Our kind of educator, in other words.

J. C. Malone, a take-no-prisoners political columnist for Listin Diario, in the Dominican Republic, will read one of his columns, posible en español. Translation will be provided. Here’s a link to a recent Malone dispatch from the Bronx.

Malone’s daughter Gloria Malone, who writes for Teen Mom NYC, will read “I Was a Teenage Mother,” her Op Ed piece that ran in The New York Times.

Other performers include Lainie, who will read from Election, by Tom Percotta, adult film star Britney Shannon, actor David Healy, and actor Peter Loureiro.

It promises to be a provocative and enlightening evening, and we hope to see you there. Admission is free and the event runs from 8:00-10:00 P.M. Read More 
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Keeping Literature Relevant

Bloomsday on Beaver Street II is one month from today, and as is always the case when you're coordinating a complex event with a wide array of independent-minded and highly creative people, there will be divergent opinions. In the interest of group harmony, these opinions must be addressed.

"The event is sounding too much like a celebration of pornography," is an opinion I heard expressed yesterday.

I respectfully disagree.

What we’re celebrating is literature that was once branded pornographic, not pornography itself. The main case in point, of course, is Ulysses, which was originally banned in the U.S. for its explicit sexual content. And some of that content will be read as an illustration of why certain misguided people chose to ban an extraordinary book.

Then there’s Beaver Street, which certainly explores the place of pornography in American culture, but is anything but a celebration of pornography. In fact, the critic Neil Chesanow, in describing Beaver Street, referred to my “deep ambivalence and frequent disgust” with porno. “Yes,” he writes, “the book mentions gangbangs and all manner of sexual acts, but none of these are lovingly described in salacious detail.”

And the other book that I’m going to be reading from, my almost completed novel Bobby in Naziland, has nothing at all to do with the pornography industry, and ties in directly with Bloomsday by paying tribute to James Joyce in the subtitle, A Portrait of the Author as a Young Jew.

The other two books we’re celebrating, The Complete Linda Lovelace, by Eric Danville, and Confessions of the Hundred Hottest Porn Stars, by Lainie Speiser, are about, and examples of, pornography as a mainstream cultural phenomenon. But they are not works of pornography.

Plus there’s the music. Some of it, like Mary Lyn Maiscott’s haunting new song, “Angel Tattooed Ballerina,” about a transsexual, simply touches on the theme of transgression.

And yes, it’s true, there will a porn star on hand, and she will be reading from a book. But if I understand correctly, it is required that every cutting-edge literary and art event in New York City have at least one porn star on hand. In fact, if the porn star is famous enough, and she’s sitting naked and ironically in a bathtub filled with money, she will be recognized as an object of beauty that has nothing to do with pornography.

So, if Bloomsday on Beaver Street II seems a little heavy on pornography, it’s only because we’re doing what we can to keep literature relevant in the 21st century. Read More 
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Notes from Underground

On pages 37-38 of Beaver Street, I tell the story of the first time a porn magazine assigned me to go to the set of a XXX movie and write an article about it. High Society, where I was working as an editor, was the magazine that sent me. Adventure Studios, in Corona, Queens, was the location. The film--it was an actual film, not a video--was Succulence, starring Kelly Nichols, Rhonda Jo Petty, Little Oral Annie, and (of course) Ron Jeremy.

It was October 10, 1983. I know this because as I was interviewing porn stars in the Sewer Club, as the green room was called, Cardinal Cooke's funeral was being broadcast live on the TV playing there, and a quick Internet search just provided me with the date.

The article I wrote, “The Making of a Fuck Flick,” was published, uncredited, in the June 1984 issue of High Society, five months after the publisher, Carl Ruderman, fired me for calling HS a “porno mag” in the New York Post. (According to Ruderman, the only acceptable term for what we produced at his smut factory was “adult entertainment.”)

“The Making of a Fuck Flick” is an incredibly sleazy article where I describe such things as the mechanics of filming a “dogfuck,” and quote porn stars saying things like, “To sit with a camera up your twat all day—this is not normal.”

So, when Gene Gregorits, author of Dog Days, told me he was looking for “an essay, a story, an article, or an interview regarding the lowest of the low in NYC between 1975 and 1995” for the book he’s now putting together, Necropolis Now: New York Scum Culture, I sent him “The Making of a Fuck Flick.” “This seems to fit your criteria,” I said, and Gregorits agreed.

If all goes according to plan, the book should be out before the end of the year.

Look for it. Read More 

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30 Years Ago Today

Monday, April 11, 1983, 9:30 a.m.: I showed up for work in a suit, unaware that I was stepping into ground zero of a new age of pornographic wealth and joining a revolution that was changing the face of commercial erotica--as well as society itself. I did not grasp the profound, and far-reaching, implications of phone sex. All I knew was that I'd feigned enthusiasm during the interview and now I had a job, which I was determined to keep because my economic survival depended upon it. Having studied an issue of High Society over the weekend, I understood that the job was going to require a strong stomach, not to mention a few minor adjustments in my moral code. But I thought it was a small price to pay for a steady paycheck.

This is the first paragraph of Beaver Street's "High Society" chapter. The most shocking thing about it is the date. Thirty years have passed since I walked through the door of that magazine to begin my first permanent, full-time job, and embark on a career in pornography that would continue into 1999. Also, 30 years have passed since the dawn of the Age of Modern Pornography--"free phone sex" being the first fusion of erotica and computers.

These two anniversaries bring to mind the time I was 14 years old, and first heard that lyric on Sgt. Pepper. “Twenty years ago” sounded like an eternity in 1967. In 2013, 30 years feels as if it could have been, oh, I don’t know, 2010, maybe.

I really don’t have much more to say about this anniversary or High Society magazine. In fact, everything I have to say about High Society, I already said in Beaver Street. So, I’m going to celebrate by doing what I always do—working on another book. If you feel the need to celebrate, the best way to do that would be to read one of my books and join me in psychic communion. I’ll feel your energy. I always do. Read More 
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The Dirty Dozen

The War on Pornography is an ongoing effort, dating back to the dawn of recorded history, to cleanse the world of smut. It's an unwinnable war waged by radical religious groups and radical political groups of both the right and left wings. It's a subject I explore in Beaver Street, writing at length about the Meese Commission and their use of underage porn star Traci Lords as a pawn in a sting operation designed to bring down the porno industry in America. And it's a subject I've written about extensively on this blog, detailing porn star Missy Manners' relationship with anti-porn Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, and more recently deconstructing anti-porn activist Gail Dines and her efforts to have actors who perform in S&M videos charged with war crimes.

The War on Pornography is a crusade marinated in hypocrisy, corruption, and absurdity that never stops providing me with material, and the other day it provided a little more: Morality in Media (MIM), an interfaith religious group dedicated to the elimination of pornography and obscenity in American life, is best known for their "Dirty Dozen" list, which contains the names of individuals, corporations, and government agencies who, in MIM's estimation, are the "12 top enablers of our country's pornography pandemic." Among those names are such entities as Comcast, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Hilton Hotels, and the Department of Defense--because the Pentagon allows porn mags to be sold at commissaries.

MIM has just selected a new #1, the dirtiest of the Dirty Dozen: Attorney General Eric Holder. Why? Because Holder, they say, “refuses to enforce existing federal obscenity laws against hardcore adult pornography” and “has initiated zero new obscenity cases” since he’s been in office.

One of the points I make in Beaver Street is that “the biggest crooks cry ban pornography the loudest.” The examples I cite—Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, Charles Keating, and Alberto Gonzales—either had to resign their offices in disgrace to avoid criminal prosecution or, in the case of Keating, went to prison after being convicted of multiple felonies.

Which makes me think that, unlike, say, Attorney General Edwin Meese, who, in the midst of fighting his War on Porn, was busy committing crimes ranging from influence peddling to suborning perjury, Eric Holder might actually be a paragon of moral rectitude. Which, I think, is what most Americans would want their attorney general to be.

I can only congratulate Eric Holder for being #1. Read More 

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Personal Faves: Volume II

This week I've been celebrating the third anniversary of The Daily Beaver with a look back at the ten most popular posts and a selection of some of my personal favorites. As I was putting together Volume II of my personal faves this morning, it reminded me that anniversaries also serve a practical purpose: They are a time to take stock, evaluate, put things in perspective--to see what's come out of this three year frenzy of writing, promotion, and travel. So, once again, here's a random selection of blog posts that caught my eye.

The Business of Smut: Critique #2 (June 15, 2011)
A review of "Hard Core," by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, one of the articles Slate selected as an example of great writing about the porn industry.

The Real Life of a Beaver Street Character (July 15, 2011)
Izzy Singer steps out of Beaver Street to publish a shocking pornographic e-book.

Still on the Bus (Aug. 4, 2011)
A review of Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Cool Place, and a tribute to my friend John Babbs, who passed away last year. I ran this photo essay on my other blog, Maiscott & Rosen, because you can't run multiple photos on The Daily Beaver.

Yossarian Taught Here (Aug. 18, 2011)
A memoir by Joseph Heller’s daughter, Erica, prompted me to jot down some of my own memories of Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, and one of my creative writing professors at City College.

The Trials of Traci Lords (Jan. 10, 2013)
A further exploration of one of the main subjects of Beaver Street: At age 44, the once underage porn superstar seems to have stopped complaining about being “exploited.” Instead, Lords complains that people won’t let her forget her X-rated teenage exploits.

Tomorrow, Volume III Read More 

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Personal Faves: Volume I

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 Read More 
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The Trials of Traci Lords

Traci Lords

The last time I heard anything of interest about Traci Lords, whose tale of alleged exploitation is one of the centerpieces of Beaver Street, was in August 2011. Lords had taken to Twitter to complain about how a certain online mega-conglomerate was unwittingly selling vintage issues of men's magazines containing pictures of her when she was underage. Lords, then 43, was still refusing to take any responsibility for what she'd done from 1984-1986.

Now Traci Lords, age 44½, is back, busy promoting her new album, titled (with no sense of irony) M2F2 or Music To Fuck To. She recently spoke to the Huffington Post about it, and they asked her the obligatory question about her porn career. Here's a condensed version of what she said:

“When I was doing porn… at 15 I was really wanting to take my sexual power back. Doing porn was my way of saying, ‘No, I’m going to fuck you’… I made those decisions [to do porn] when I was really young. The bigger bummer of it is that I feel like it’s something I’ve been on trial for all my life.”

The first part of this statement is similar to what she said in a passage in her memoir that I described in Beaver Street as the only 86 true words about her porn career in the book. But what makes this quote even remotely interesting is what Lords doesn’t say. Twenty-six years after the fact, she appears to have stopped complaining about being exploited. Instead, she’s chosen to complain about being put on trail for her entire life for that porn career.

Is it possible that Lords still doesn’t understand that that’s the price you pay for becoming an underage porn superstar and then blaming your success on the “vicious” people who “victimized” you by paying you thousands of dollars per day for the privilege of taking your picture? Has she forgotten that many of her former employers really were put on trial in a court of law, and found not guilty of all charges?

Judging by the evidence, she doesn’t understand and has, conveniently, forgotten. Just as in her memoir she’d also forgotten everything of interest. Read More 

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Is There Work After Porn?

In the Beaver Street Prologue, I talk about how, after working in adult entertainment for 16 years, I was "totally burnt out on smut" but felt trapped in my job because "I'd become a professional pornographer and my career options were limited."

Fortunately, I was saved by a book deal, which coincided with my being fired. For the past 13 years, I've been able to stitch together something resembling a living through a combination of book writing, freelance writing and editorial work, and a number of odd jobs that have nothing to do with writing or publishing.

Most of my former colleagues, the majority of whom have been laid off or cut back to nothing as the magazine business collapsed in the face of free Internet porn, have not been so lucky. They've been forced into unwilling retirement because--as if it's not hard enough for members of the Baby Boom Generation (and older) to find any kind of work that pays a living wage in this economy--nobody, apparently, is willing to hire somebody who once worked in hardcore pornography. (I left the business in 1999, just before most magazines switched from a softcore to hardcore format.)

I’ve been thinking about this dilemma since an article from the Detroit Free Press was brought to my attention. A district attorney in upstate New York, Mark Suben, denied during a reelection campaign they he’d ever worked in pornography. Videos posted on Youtube then came to light, indicating that Suben, using the pseudonym Gus Thomas, had acted, in the early 1970s, in such X-rated films as Deep Throat Part II, Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma, and The Love Witch. Suben, however, has refused to resign, saying that the films were made over 40 years ago, they weren’t illegal, he wasn’t married at the time, he wasn’t practicing law, he wasn’t even a law student, and his studwork is irrelevant to his current job and law practice.

Suben’s opponent, of course, is saying that the issue is that Suben lied, not that he was once a porn stud. But would Suben have been elected if he’d admitted that he was once Gus Thomas? Well, considering that none of my former colleagues who are now seeking work outside the porn industry can get so much as the time of day from potential employers, I think the answer is self evident: If you’ve ever had any association with XXX, you are forevermore unqualified to make any contribution to society. This is, after all, America. Read More 
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About Cherry

Cherry (Ashley Hinshaw) and Frances (James Franco) look for love in the world of XXX.

There was a time in the porn industry, about 25 years ago, when people spoke of X-rated films that had "crossover potential." I discuss this phenomenon in my book Beaver Street, in a scene where I'm asked to play a "nerdy file clerk" in Tickled Pink, which I describe as "a screwball comedy with hardcore sex." This is a historic film, I'm told, because, "never before had a porn movie employed fourteen paid extras in one non-sex scene."

Tickled Pink, like a lot of other pornos produced in this brief "Golden Age," had "upscale production values," a quality soundtrack, "performers who could act and fuck," and a well-plotted script written by a smart young director who just happened to be passing through smut on his way to respectability.

Tickled Pink never did crossover into the mainstream. Nor has any other porn flick. In fact, with the porn industry having degenerated into amateur exhibitionism on sites like YouPorn, and professional studs wired on Viagra engaging, as the inimitable adult-industry critic Gail Dines would put it, in “body-punishing sex” with a succession of anonymous starlets, the idea of crossover porno has been long forgotten.

Though it comes very close, About Cherry contains no hardcore sex and therefore cannot be called a crossover movie. It does, however, contain a lot of very explicit sex scenes, and is also the best and most realistic film about the porn industry I’ve seen since Boogie Nights. It’s certainly the best movie yet to be made about pornography in the 21st century, an age when the Internet has taken over and relegated what remains of the venerable “men’s magazine” industry to its deathbed.

This realism can be attributed to About Cherry’s co-writers, director Stephen Elliott, who has written extensively about sex, and Lorelei Lee, a porn star who plays a porn star in the film. Obviously, they both know the business, and their insider knowledge and experience comes across in such scenes as when Angelina aka Cherry, played by the gorgeous young actress Ashley Hinshaw, is interviewed by a porn production company before they hire her to make videos.

Realistically depicted, as well, is the arc of a porn star’s career—single-girl still shoot/single-girl video/two-girl video/boy-girl video—as is the nature of a porn star’s romantic relationship. Cherry begins dating Frances (James Franco), a wealthy coke-addict attorney who doesn’t hesitate to tell her what he thinks of her job: “It’s disgusting.”

The extraordinary ensemble of actors—notably Heather Graham as Margaret, Cherry’s lesbian mentor/director who’s dealing with a jealous girlfriend; Dev Patel as Andrew, Cherry’s supportive gay friend; and Lili Taylor as Phyllis, Cherry’s alcoholic mother—create a milieu of such verisimilitude it can, at times, border on queasy. But the porn industry can, indeed, be a very queasy place.

The plot is basic: Cherry, a high school student, runs away from her dysfunctional family and sleazy boyfriend, Bobby (Jonny Weston), accompanied by Andrew. She winds up in San Francisco, needs a job, and after waitressing in a strip club, finds her way into porn. What’s different is that About Cherry, unlike, say, Boogie Nights, ends on a positive note, if not necessarily a happy one.

Guaranteed to piss off Gail Dines, and that’s a good thing. Read More 

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On the Road Again

Since I tend not to write anything more substantial than a tweet when I'm traveling, this will be my last blog post until Monday. I'm leaving for Albany, NY, on the Megabus (who could resist the price?) tomorrow morning for my Beaver Street event at the Book House, on Friday, September 14, at 7 P.M. So, if you're in the Albany area and in the mood for a provocative discussion about pornography, please do drop by. I see that according to the "What's Happening in Literary Circles" listings in the Albany Times Union, I'm up against Vijay Prashad, at the Oakwood Community Center, where he'll be discussing his book Uncle Swami. He's charging five bucks. My event is free. It's a tough choice, I know, but I really do hope to see you at the Book House.

For those of you not in the Albany area, one more reminder about tonight: At 9 P.M. Eastern Time, I’ll be available for a live Internet chat hosted by Julia Widdop, of Talk Story TV. AMA, as they say, especially if you’ve read one or both of my books. Read More 
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Fifty Shades of Beaver

 

Say what you will about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Call it bloated. Call it amateurish. Call it Ishmael. The bottom line--and it's literally a bottom line--is that this series of S&M novels has sold nearly 50 million copies, and in so doing has made the book world safe for smut.

If it weren't for E. L. James, the British TV executive and mother of two, who began writing Fifty Shades as online fan fiction, I doubt that I'd have been invited to participate in a live Internet chat about Beaver Street on Talk Story TV on September 12 or to read from and sign my investigative memoir at the Book House, in Albany, NY, on September 14.

Fifty Shades of Grey and Beaver Street are both entertaining books about sex that contain explicitly pornographic passages. And there are, indeed, a number of S&M scenes in Beaver Street. But the similarities end there. Fifty Shades is fiction. Beaver Street is nonfiction that reads like fiction. Fifty Shades was written to arouse. Beaver Street, though arousing in many parts, was written to inform—to show the history of the late 20th century through a pornographic lens.

Ironically, critics have panned Fifty Shades of Grey and acclaimed Beaver Street across the cultural spectrum, from highbrow to lowbrow—which only goes to show that nobody cares what critics say. Which is to say, if, over the course of my lifetime, I can sell 1/100 of the number of books that James has sold, I’ll be a very happy author. Read More 

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“The Best Behind-the-Scenes Expose Since Hell’s Angels”

After reading Neil A. Chesanow’s Beaver Street review, Skip Slavic, a reader in Ohio, posted the following “comment” on Facebook. One can only hope that others agree.

Thanks to Mr. Chesanow’s fine review, this is a good place to say a few words: Beaver Street is indeed “splendid: elegantly written; well researched”—a completely enjoyable book. It does for the porn industry what Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels did for biker gangs, and that’s meant as a high compliment: the best personal, behind-the-scenes expose I’ve read since Hell’s Angels. The parts of the book that dealt with the comings (pardon the pun) and goings of the day-to-day travails of a working pornographer remind me very favorably of Henry Miller’s portrayal of life at the “Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company” [in Tropic of Capricorn]—the kind of giddy despair that comes through is disturbing… and brilliant. The discussion centering on the Lockhart Commission, Ed Meese, and Traci Lords should be required reading for anyone concerned about the lengths to which government will go to interfere in the personal lives of its citizens. In a nutshell, a really fine book, a remarkable story and an essential piece of history as well. Read More 

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The Literature of Porn, Part 2

Yesterday I published a review of Beaver Street by Neil A. Chesanow that he’d posted on Amazon. I’d gotten in contact with Chesanow after reading the review, and the e-mail below is his response to some of my questions about his background and his expertise in writing about sex. It offers a good deal of insight into sex journalism, magazine publishing, and book publishing.

Hi Bob,

Since it’s late, I’ll save my excursion into the literature of porn for a future email. But I thought I might provide some perspective.

I wrote for the major women’s magazines from 1972 to 1996. My very first article, for Cosmo, was on sexual surrogates. I interviewed one on West End Avenue. I thought she had the hots for me. Sexual surrogates, by definition, are highly sexual irrespective of partners, but she wasn’t really my type and even though I was a tyro journalist, I felt it would be a gross violation of professional ethics to have sex with an interviewee.

But I have always been interested in writing about sex because it’s so difficult to write about. (That you made it seem so effortless is a big part of the brilliance of your book. It’s easy to take for granted, but writing about sex “in an acceptable way” is no mean feat.)

To flesh out my journalistic assignments, I started to contribute personal essays in, oh, the mid-1980s. I’m a self-abnegating person. The women’s magazines found that a man who could write about masculine issues of intense interest to women in a self-abnegating way was, I don’t know, aphrodisiacal, and I inadvertently found myself cast as a “man who could write for women.” It was a new thing, and for about two years, I owned it.

In that capacity, I wrote about a multitude of subjects, but most especially sex. If a man has sexual fantasies involving other women during sex, is it cheating? Do married men masturbate? (When Ellen Levine, whom you mentioned in a footnote in your book, who was then the editor of Redbook, suggested this to me, I just looked at her. I couldn’t believe she was serious. It turned out to be one of my best-read articles).

But I’ve always found sex to be the most fascinating area of journalistic inquiry because so much of it is unspeakable, when journalism is about telling all. And this is the perfect time to be writing about sex. Online pornography has driven a stake into the heart of normality as a concept and it was a stake that needed driving. Sex surveys on our sexual habits conducted by the University of Chicago and other august institutions are about as accurate as a tip from a racetrack tout.

I could not help but notice that you were published by a British publisher. That a book of this quality wasn’t published by an American publisher is a scandal. Maybe you’ll get a reverse sale—you deserve one—but still! And that’s because there are a half-dozen middle-class suburban matrons who do all the sex book buying in this country, and if they find something offensive, which they regularly do, bang: no one will publish you here.

In 1992, I sold Redbook (via articles editor Diane Salvatore, an up-and-coming lesbian novelist, with Ellen Levine’s blessing) an article on sexual swingers. I said I would take an objective anthropological approach and they agreed. On their dime, I visited swing clubs in Florida and California, attended parties (fully clothed, but with no notepad permitted), and did a great many interviews.

I came away with a lot of good stuff that I hadn’t seen before and haven’t seen since. A majority of male swingers experience erectile dysfunction for up to a year (after which they either get over it or drop out of the lifestyle) because of their inhibitions about performing in public.

A majority of women, upwards of 90 percent, most of whom have never had a lesbian encounter before, regularly if not primarily engage in girl-girl sex.

The whole idea of swinging is to recognize that people a) have a need for a stable relationship with a significant other; and b) have pansexual desires despite this commitment, and to enable the latter without destroying the former. Most of the time it doesn’t work. But once in a while it does work. Because I said that in the article, and refused to retract it, I was fired, after working for the magazine for 10 years.

So I wrote the research up in a book proposal. I do a very nice book proposal. In fact, this was the only book proposal of mine that found no buyer. It was the six suburban dowagers who control everything. AIDS was efflorescing. They found the subject repugnant and, given the current epidemiological climate, irresponsible.

That left me with your alternative: sell it in Britain (or Germany) and hope for a reverse sale. I considered it. But the advance I was offered was less than I made writing a single magazine article, and there was much expensive research left to be done, all, apparently, out of pocket. It wasn’t financially feasible. So I passed and continued on with my life.

Due to the lateness of the hour, I’ll respond to your literature inquiry at another time. However, while I’ve read some porn star biographies, I mainly read scholarly investigations, and those tend to be thin in metanoic insight. That’s why your book is so valuable: it humanizes the enterprise. Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, this is something human beings do for the delectation of other human beings, and the financial scale of the enterprise strongly suggests that if we are to come up with an accurate definition of sexual normality (not normalcy—that term was introduced by Calvin Coolidge and never exceeded its political context), the quaint Victorian meaning of that must be entirely scrapped. Kinsey said, “If it feels good, it’s normal.” That seems to be about the size of it.

We’ll talk books in a future email.

Neil Chesanow Read More 

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But Is It Art?

The other week I went to the opening of Consent, an exhibition at Apexart in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood. The show is about pornography and the artwork was strictly X-rated. In the course of the evening I, along with my copy of Beaver Street, were photographed by a roving paparazzi. You can check out all the photos at Whack Magazine and LynseyG.com. Consent runs until May 12.  Read More 
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A River of Fire

Kendra Holliday, editor of The Beautiful Kind, has titled the third part of my Beaver Street interview "Sex Is a River of Fire."

I don't believe that sex is a river of fire. Rather, I'm quoting one of the many things Pentecostal pastor Jimmy Swaggart said after being caught up in a prostitution scandal in 1988. And it's typical of what Americans say about sex as they spend billions of dollars per year on pornography and prostitution.

Why is America such a hypocritical country, especially when it comes to sex? That is the question I discuss in the final part of this interview. Read More 
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Blog's in Your Court, Ms. Breslin

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. Read More 
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The Indictment of Carl Ruderman

Much of the time I spent writing Beaver Street was devoted to research. It took me about a year to unearth all the information I needed for the Traci Lords chapter alone. Though time consuming, the problem wasn't finding material. Between Lords and the Meese Commission, there was too much material, and the challenge was to sift through it all, figure out what was important, and then integrate it into my narrative.

Carl Ruderman, the anonymous publisher of High Society magazine, posed an entirely different problem. The “Invisible Man of Smut,” as Al Goldstein called him, hid behind figurehead publisher Gloria Leonard and went to great lengths to keep his name out of the media, at least in connection with anything having to do with porn. In fact, as I said in Beaver Street, “an internet or library search for any connection between pornography and Carl Ruderman produces little that’s concrete or substantiated.”

Well, that’s changed since the book was published. In the past year, much that connects Carl Ruderman to pornography has been popping up on the internet. One example that I wrote about a few months ago was an article in the New York Observer that bore the headline, “Porn’s ‘Invisible Man’ Prices His Condos at $13.5 M.”

Yesterday, I found something even juicer: the Justice Department’s 1987 appeal of the dismissal of an indictment against Ruderman for “various federal obscenity crimes in connection with the operation of a ‘dial it’ telephone service whereby persons could call a New York City telephone number and listen to a sexually suggestive, pre-recorded message.”

You can read the entire document by clicking here.

I’ve posted this link for my own reference and as a service to any future researchers who want to cast more light on a man who revolutionized the porn industry but has, for the most part, managed to escape being credited (or indicted) for what he did. Read More 
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This Just In…

Cicciolina in 2009. Photo by Certo Xornal.
Having had my John Lennon bio published this week in Italy, and hopeful that Beaver Street, which is about pornography and politics, will soon follow suit, I've been keeping an eye on any news of sex and politics to emerge from the declining Roman Empire. I found this:

Porn star Cicciolina (real name Ilona Staller), who made her hardcore debut in 1983 in a film titled Il telefono rosso (The Red Telephone), starred in 40 more XXX-rated movies, and was then elected to the Italian Parliament in 1987 and served one five-year term, has ignited a bitter uproar in her adopted country.

The Hungarian-born former MP, who was once married to artist Jeff Koons, and offered to have sex with Osama bin Laden if he’d renounce terrorism, will turn 60 in November and begin collecting a taxpayer-funded lifetime pension of more than $53,000 a year.

Though this is a standard pension for any one-term MP, ordinary Italians are furious, as they believe Cicciolina did nothing while in office except attempt to pass a dozen sex-related bills, such as one to set up “love parks and hotels.”

Parliament, meanwhile, recently passed an austerity package, and politicians—while they continue to collect an annual salary and expense package totaling more than $335,000—are now asking the rest of the country to make painful sacrifices to prevent a Greek-style financial crisis.

Cicciolina, however, feels she earned her pension and is as proud of her government work as she is of her sex work. Read More 
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When Academics Attack (Each Other)

Nasty business, academia. Imagine what it must be like to say something inconsequential about an obscure theory only to have 14 other professors in your department, all of whom are competing for the last remaining tenured position, drag you into a metaphorical dark alley and viciously pummel you to within an inch of your professional life.

I got a taste of this kind of scholarly brutality when I sent to the so-called anonymous professor who once edited Swank magazine (I call him “Jack”) the H-Net review comparing Beaver Street to Whitney Strub’s Perversion for Profit. (Jack had previously weighed in with his opinion about Beaver Street.)

At the time I sent it to him, I was still not aware that a revised version of the essay, by Patrick Glen, PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, had been published on H-Net, and I lightheartedly suggested that “Jack” had written it himself, on a sojourn to England.

Here is the anonymous professor’s response to “Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States,” an essay that I thought was brilliant, and that another reader has lauded as “the first scholarly paper to refer to the ‘insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking.’”

Hey Bob,
I may have been a bit slow in responding to this for a reason—it is a gargantuan pile of silliness. First, from the spelling and punctuation, it is safe to assume the review is from the UK (or perhaps Oz.) Second, its possibly valiant attempt to merge a post-mod theoretical study (meaning it is largely improvised according to political need) and your authentic and gritty memoirs is sad and strained. I wouldn’t be the first to compare the former to a type of mental masturbation that aligns reality with the titillating prospect of a “reasonable” theoretical outcome, no matter how outrageously this interferes with perceived facts. I’m afraid I don’t have the energy or inclination to respond more fully, but I’ll add that the stylistic errors throughout attest to a desire to put the message before the medium, to the certain detriment of both.

Frankly I enjoyed best Sonja’s comment—“I’m one of those women that worked as an art director for D-Cup. I assure you I am a feminist.”—which simply blew apart the absurd posing of both the “academic” study and the review itself. Pfft.

Jack

PS—I’d probably give him a C-. He’s fairly articulate, though makes stylistic errors that a grad student should not. (Was there no editor?) The main problem is that his approach is simply wrong-headed—it follows a construct that is largely improvisational and therefore less than useful. He does (perhaps by accident) make some useful observations.


Do we have a genuine, take-no-prisoners academic controversy brewing? One can hope. Read More 
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About That Scholarly Analysis

The scholarly analysis comparing Beaver Street to Whitney Strub's Perversion for Profit that I wrote about last week is showing signs of being a turning point in Beaver Street's publication.

The essay, titled "Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States," by Patrick Glen of The University of Sheffield, and published on the humanities and social sciences site H-Net, seems to have persuaded certain people, who were leery or dismissive of Beaver Street because of its subject matter, to reconsider the book's merits.

Their thinking seems to be: If a scholar, in an academic paper, is describing Beaver Street as “thought provoking,” “vivid,” and “a rich account,” etc., perhaps it’s more than a dirty book. Perhaps it’s even a book worth reading.

But my favorite reaction to the essay comes from an old friend who plays a small but crucial role in Beaver Street. On page 146, he informs me that while I was incommunicado in the mountains of Idaho, trying to forget about what I did for a living, Traci Lords had confessed to being underage for her entire porno career.

Here’s what he said in his e-mail:

Congratulations, Bob. Not only is the analysis flattering, but you are now responsible for the first scholarly paper to refer to the “insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking.”

I hope that no federal funding went to pay for this paper; you might end up being named in a tirade by Eric Cantor on the floor of Congress and will have to defend yourself in the presidential election.


To which I replied:

No need to worry about Cantor. The paper is a product of the British university system. Someone should alert the Queen. Read More 
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The Sleazeball Six

In Beaver Street I call Nixon, Meese, Keating, and Agnew (aka Dick, Ed, Chuck, and Spiro) the "Fab 4" disgraced anti-porn warriors of the 20th Century. But in writing about Texas governor, presidential candidate, and former porn monger Rick Perry the other day, it occurred to me that I should add to the group Alberto Gonzales, Bush's attorney general, a 21st century anti-porn warrior who resigned in disgrace before Congress could formally threaten to impeach him for lying under oath. So, with Al in tow, that would make the group the DC 5 (as in District of Columbia, not Dave Clark). But it's really hard to not include Perry himself in the group. Though not a declared anti-porn warrior, he is ignorant, misguided, and morally bankrupt—in short, everything a certain segment of the population is looking for in a president. And as a conservative, evangelical Republican who once invested in Movie Gallery, a video rental chain that specialized in hardcore pornography, that makes him hypocritical and sleazy, too. And it gives me license to call this supergroup The Sleazeball Six, which is both fitting and catchy. Read More 
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Mystery Solved! Source of "Beaver Street" Review Found!

The source of the "anonymous" review that I posted last week, comparing Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), by Whitney Strub, has been located. Titled, "Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States," it was written by Patrick Glen, a PhD candidate at The University of Sheffield, in England, and published on H-Net, which describes itself as "An international consortium of scholars and teachers," dedicated to the advancement of "teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences."

Well, I’ll drink to that. And while I’m at it, I’ll post a blurb on my homepage.

Click here to read the review on H-Net. Read More 
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Rick Perry: Republican Porn Monger for President

One of the political oddities I discuss at length in Beaver Street is the fact that the biggest crooks cry "Ban pornography!" the loudest. And for some reason, which I'll leave open to interpretation, the most corrupt, ban-pornography-crying politicians are invariably conservative Republicans. The five grotesque examples I cite are: President Richard Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew, Attorney General Edwin Meese, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and banker Charles Keating. All of them declared war on porn. Then all of them were forced to resign from office in disgrace to avoid prosecution or impeachment, except for Keating, who was sent to jail for racketeering and fraud.

Which brings us to the curious case of Texas Governor Rick Perry, an ultra-conservative Republican and evangelical Christian who does not believe in evolution, global warming, or separation of church and state. Perry is running for president, but has never spoken out against pornography, like most of the other Republican presidential candidates, notably Michele Bachmann, who wants to ban it altogether.

The apparent reason Perry has never declared war on porn is because he once trafficked in pornography. According to Salon and numerous other sites, the Texas governor owned between $5,000 and $10,000 in stock in Movie Gallery, a Blockbuster-like video rental chain that was known for its wide selection of XXX titles, and was the target of the American Family Association, a socially conservative group that recently helped Perry organize a prayer rally to save America from Obama. The AFA had once described the Movie Gallery’s product line as “hundreds of these hard, nasty-looking videos that were extremely graphic.”

Among the titles that Movie Gallery carried were: Teens with Tits Vol. 1, Teen Power Vol. 4, Teens Never Say No, Big Tit Brotha Lovers 6, and Bisexual Barebacking Vol. 1.

If I’m not mistaken, I ran positive reviews of most of these videos when I was editor of D-Cup. Who knew that I was helping Rick Perry make money? Read More 
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An Encyclopedic Knowledge of Applied Obscenity Laws

Now that I've had time to fully contemplate the anonymous review I posted last week, comparing Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit (Columbia University Press), by Whitney Strub, a history professor at Rutgers University, I'd like to share a few more thoughts.

The review, which apparently ran (or is about to run) in an academic journal, is important because it shows that Beaver Street, condemned by some as “smut,” is being taken seriously in academic circles, which is something I was hoping for but hardly counting on. And, of course, the critic, whoever he or she is, totally gets what I did in the book: “By combining memoir and historical account Rosen constructs a vivid impression of how the pornography industry worked and the tensions imposed on the individuals involved, describing a reality that was shocking and mundane in equal measure.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For those of you who don’t have the time to plow through the review’s densely written 1,869 words, I’ve taken the liberty of condensing it, Reader’s Digest style, to a few salient points.

· Rosen … describes the pressure and paranoia of being under the surveillance of the anti-pornography crusaders and maintaining sales whilst satisfying both publishers’ requirements and readers’ tastes. A sixties counter-culture participant of the kind that later pornography opponents feared, Rosen celebrates the subversive potential of the medium.

· Some of Rosen’s protagonists inspire sadness as they are exploited, alienated from society, experience feelings of shame and some rather unhappy personal lives … [T]his results in a rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked.

· With his encyclopedic knowledge of applied obscenity laws, Rosen details how he and his counterparts tried to provide their readers with the “smut” they demanded.

· The stigma surrounding pornography attracted an eccentric milieu as those intoxicated with wealth and sex mingled with social outsiders. Rosen captures them evocatively, the good and bad, which is a handy reminder that the book is as much of a literary as it is a conventional historical account.

· Rosen adds further confusion to the reading of gender and partial confluences of feminist and New Right politics with his account of the Traci Lords scandal … This wider issue in pornography is energised by Rosen as he describes the panic to remove every image of Lords from the D-Cups office to prevent accusations of child pornography.

· Overall both Strub and Rosen have written thought provoking and entertaining histories of modern United States pornography. Neither revel in smut—as the readers of Stag may have done—yet, neither are they coy, thus enabling the reader to gain a solid understanding of a large part of the print, film and now web-based pornographic media and its socio-political context.

· Readers of more “vanilla” tendencies may be put off by graphic descriptions of hard core pornographic scenes, such as [Rosen’s] account of the “insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking”. Rosen’s candour is not simply aimed to titillate, but to inform about pornographic publishing using its own idiom. What both Rosen and Strub convey is how pornography comes into contact with greater narratives of obscenity, permissiveness, sexuality and gender. It is apparent from their accounts how pornography is a vital and rich subject for analyzing a range of social pressures and competing narratives. Read More 
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"Quasi-Feminist Tropes"? I Love It!

The below review, comparing Beaver Street to Perversion for Profit, is brilliant. It was posted anonymously online. I'd like to know who wrote it and where it was published. An academic journal, I presume.

Whitney Strub. Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. 382 pp. $32.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-14886-3; ISBN 978-0-231-52015-7.
Robert Rosen. Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. London: Headpress, 2010. 256 pp. $20.00, ISBN 1900486768; ISBN 978-1900486767


Perversion for Profit and Beaver Street contribute to understanding the negotiations and social fault lines that pornography brought into acute focus in the twentieth century United States. Whitney Strub’s Perversion for Profit describes and analyzes the cat and mouse battle between the mostly prudish, incrementally more aligned to the New Right, defenders of public morality and a pornography industry whose more unwholesome proclivities and economic successes provoked controversy. In some cases this clash led to legal action and tested the limits of the right to free speech. Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street is a less conventional history. Rosen edited, wrote and, on one occasion, featured in pornography in a career spanning sixteen years. By combining memoir and historical account Rosen constructs a vivid impression of how the pornography industry worked and the tensions imposed on the individuals involved, describing a reality that was shocking and mundane in equal measure. The two books complement each other, providing an absorbing discussion of both permissible social mores and obscenity in the context of interpretations of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Strub offers a meta-textual analysis from the voluminous and lively body of literature surrounding pornography and pieces together the skirmishes prompted by pornography and obscenity focusing upon campaign groups, politicians, judges, lawyers, pornographers and the general population. Strub’s analysis has some parallels to other works on censorship by Paul Boyer, Nicola Beisel, Andrea Freidman and Leigh Ann Wheeler.(i) Nevertheless, it extends the project and local focus that Andrea Freidman, for example, explored in her work on obscenity in pre-war New York. Perversion for Profit stands out by concentrating in great detail and scope on a period in which pornography proved a cultural mainstay and a political issue. Strub’s inclusion of the local battles in which obscenity proceedings emanate before eventually reaching the Supreme Court underlines the key friction between local and national law-making is key to the book’s success. By showing these frictions Strub helps contextualize the change from the rather polite opposition to pornography posed by the relatively moderate Citizens for Decent Literature to the Communist scaremongering of the New Right or the outraged moralist New Christian Right.

Rosen, on the other hand, provides an account of his personal experience interspersed with a wider history of pornography. He describes the pressure and paranoia of being under the surveillance of the anti-pornography crusaders and maintaining sales whilst satisfying both publishers’ requirements and readers’ tastes. A sixties counter-culture participant of the kind that later pornography opponents feared, Rosen celebrates the subversive potential of the medium. Nonetheless, he admits that his kind of pornographer was outnumbered by those who were simply sexually precocious, cash-strapped writers (for instance Mario Puzo) or capitalists allured by the financial rewards of selling sex. The precariousness of the industry is apparent in Rosen’s account. He describes magazines folding, participants finding more mainstream occupations and editors developing cocaine habits. The dark side of pornography is also not obscured. Some of Rosen’s protagonists inspire sadness as they are exploited, alienated from society, experience feelings of shame and some rather unhappy personal lives. Together, this results in a rich account that adds considerable depth and texture to any understanding of how the pornography industry worked as a sector of the print media, particularly in regard to the uniquely intense outside scrutiny it received.

Perversion for Profit takes the reader through the ruptures in the modern anti-porn movement. Following the Second World War, pornography was restricted under the law. Simultaneously, a liberal legal interpretation of free speech predominated, positing that censorship was anathema to American values. As the production of pornography on an industrial scale became more viable, the number and circulation of magazines increased; higher sales were prompted by more and more brazen and titillating pictures. In response, as Strub argues in chapter three, an organized antiporn movement emerged. In 1963 Citizens for Decent Literature released the documentary Perversion for Profit which focused upon “the extent of the pornography racket and the different types of pornography”. This was coupled with the emergence of local chapters of the group which put pressure on local authorities to prevent obscene literature in the community. Strub’s explanation of the way in which the First Amendment was tested by national and state legislatures when creating and applying obscenity laws is impressive. In the latter half of the book he explores the way in which the First Amendment debate intensified and became politicised by the New Right and New Christian Right. This qualitative change in the antiporn movement was in some ways mirrored in the more outré pornography that began to be produced at the same time, allowed by, as Strub argues, the permissive social changes of the sixties and seventies. However the internal vicissitudes of the pornography industry and its magazines are naturally better explained by Rosen.

Rosen’s account fits the general narrative that Strub proposes. For instance, Rosen recalls being the subject of an early seventies obscenity dispute as the editor of City College’s student newspaper Observation Post following the publication of a cartoon that depicted a nun masturbating with a crucifix. This cartoon was debated in the United States Senate by Republican James Buckley and led to a cunning bill that circumnavigated the hegemony of liberal free speech laws by cutting the funding for student papers. A few years later as a result of sustained unemployment and a job offer, Rosen was working for pornographic titles High Society (followed by Stag then D-Cups) and again irking the moral purists. Interestingly Rosen discusses the daily precautions taken to prevent obscenity accusation, the placement of strategic blue dots, the politics of “split beaver” and the adjustments made to magazines to satisfy stricter Canadian obscenity laws. With his encyclopedic knowledge of applied obscenity laws, Rosen details how he and his counterparts tried to provide their readers with the “smut” they demanded. The completion of this finely balanced task is interspersed with anecdotes of censorious threats and colorful colleagues both in front of and behind the camera. The stigma surrounding pornography attracted an eccentric milieu as those intoxicated with wealth and sex mingled with social outsiders. Rosen captures them evocatively, the good and bad, which is a handy reminder that the book is as much of a literary as it is a conventional historical account.

Although Strub’s book is thoroughly engaging throughout, his focus upon reactions to modern pornography by American feminists is particularly thought provoking. It resists the often-held assumption that feminists are categorically opposed to the medium and its frequent explicit sexism. Strub is insightful when analysing the marriage of convenience between anti-pornography feminists such as Angela Dworkin and the vehemently anti-feminist New Right. Strub argues that Dworkin and the New Right’s dalliance was due to American liberalism’s failure to provide a space for a debate on sexual politics. In fact, many feminists sought to protect society from censorship and, as Strub shows, were thus compelled to defend pornography despite its failings. Rosen further complicates interpretations of gender politics—which seem inextricable from pornography—by giving instances in which strong women have worked in porn as actors or magazine staff. Indeed, it is important to take into account that these women were not feminists and have often been subject to disapproval from feminists; even feminists who support women in pornography’s inalienable right to free speech have remained uncomfortable with their submission to misogyny. Also instances of advancement within pornography do not disguise how few women were in positions of real power in the porn industry, or that women who become porn actors were often discarded decades before their male counterparts. The exploitation of women is an issue that historians of pornography cannot ignore and which could be explored more in both texts.

Rosen adds further confusion to the reading of gender and partial confluences of feminist and New Right politics with his account of the Traci Lords scandal. Lords was a highly successful porn actor who in 1986 admitted to having acquired a false driver’s license and passport when she was fifteen in order to appear in pornographic films and photographs. Rosen relates how Lords deployed quasi-feminist tropes to justify her advancement in the maleficent pornography industry and in response to her personal narrative of exploitation by older men in the industry and relatives. Nevertheless, the New Right responded by espousing a rhetoric that focused upon child protection and child pornography. This is slightly incongruent with Strub’s conceptualisation of a marriage of convenience, as in Rosen’s account and this instance, both rhetorical language from the New Right and Lords’ peculiar brand of self-defined feminism seem to share aims, but remain separate. Nevertheless, the strategy acrued the right considerable political capital and had significant legal ramifications for the magazines. Ronald Reagan added the ‘Traci Lords amendments’ that Rosen argues were superfluous and craven changes to the already robust Child Protection Act of 1984. Lords eventually parlayed her infamy into a moderately successful non-pornographic film career. This wider issue in pornography is energised by Rosen as he describes the panic to remove every image of Lords from the D-Cups office to prevent accusations of child pornography. The Lords affair shows how coupled with Strub, both texts work to problematize the reading of gender, and narratives of liberalism and conservatism that compete for control. Albeit it is important to note that Strub is somewhat unconvinced about Rosen’s implicit assumption that pornography can be a tool for the advancement of women.

Overall both Strub and Rosen have written thought provoking and entertaining histories of modern United States pornography. Neither revel in smut—as the readers of Stag may have done—yet, neither are they coy, thus enabling the reader to gain a solid understanding of a large part of the print, film and now web-based pornographic media and its socio-political context. Rosen’s lack of squeamishness may be off-putting for some. Readers of more “vanilla” tendencies may be put off by graphic descriptions of hard core pornographic scenes, such as his account of the “insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking”.(ii) Rosen’s candour is not simply aimed to titillate, but to inform about pornographic publishing using its own idiom. What both Rosen and Strub convey is how pornography comes into contact with greater narratives of obscenity, permissiveness, sexuality and gender. It is apparent from their accounts how pornography is a vital and rich subject for analyzing a range of social pressures and competing narratives.
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i Paul Boyer, Purity in Print: The Vice-Society Movement and Book Censorship in America (New York: Charles Screibner’s Sons, 1968); Nicola Beisel, Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997); Andrea Freidman, Prurient Interests: Gender, Democracy, and Obscenity in New York City, 1909-1945 (New York: Colombia University Press, 2000);Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004).
ii Robert Rosen, Beaver Street, p. 56. Read More 
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