Toronto
4 min

Hot paunch

Porn stars have driven us to make our own erotica

PRODUCTION VALUES. Glossier isn't necessarily better. Credit: Xtra files

A few months ago, my friend Paul and I were having boyfriend troubles. My man of the hour (I mean that literally) had just dumped me, and Paul’s live-in amour was grumbling about “needing more space.” Concluding that all men are fools, we vowed to stay single forever and become lonely old porn addicts. Remember, we were in crisis.



We hit Yonge street looking for love, in a box. Being a bit of an expert (I worked for a porn store in Montreal in the late 1980s) I knew the best place to look for porn was in the smaller, Mom-and-Pop establishments.



But something funny happened on the way to the foreplay. Staring at the rows of canned heat, I found myself laughing at the hulking, fake woodsmen on the display cover of a film cleverly entitled Lumber Jack Off. Paul was snickering over Surfers Up. I called out: Aren’t we supposed to be turned on? He raced over with another gem, A Taste Of Sonny, and we lost ourselves in uncharitable guffaws.



Paul and I are hardly snobs or prudes. So why were we amused, not aroused?



I blame professional porn. Professional porn has become so standardized, so repetitive and so removed from sexual reality that even the most casual consumer finds it at best a little bit silly. But everyone knows that – the real problem is that professional pornography has forgotten how to seduce.



Lately, cultural pundits have been clapping their chubby hands with glee predicting the mainstreaming of pornography, proclaiming that porn and its creators are now as well known and valid to the public as Hollywood stars. Furthermore, they would like us to believe that pornography has become so voguish that respectable entertainment is now aping porn and, as a result, everything is becoming more smutty.



This is a typical liberal fantasy. Porn has not gained mainstream acceptance because people are loosening up about sex, but because it is tired and completely out of new ideas. The only thing left for porn to do is be gently carted into the cultural graveyard, ie the mainstream.



What separates pornography from the so-called higher arts is intent. Pornography, unlike literary erotica or, say, the films of Peter Greenaway, does not pretend to speak about the Human Condition while it turns its audience on. Pornography is single minded, and that’s why most of us like it. There is something refreshing, after all, about an art form with a complete lack of subtext. Life is complicated enough.



Professional pornography is now much closer in tone, style, and function to the fashion industry than to any erotic art traditions, or to old fashioned, mano a mano sex.



Which is why professional porn is no longer seductive. Idealization breeds contempt in us lesser beings, and contempt is quickly followed by derision.



When I look at the models on the covers of porn magazines or videos, I do not see an offering of sex, nor do I see an attempt to convey or share lust. What I see are interchangeable sets of hyper-manufactured impossibilities, male-like creatures designed to replicate illusory ideas of masculine perfection. What I see is anything but genuine horniness.



But this is hardly news. Art and entertainment have always asked us to worship, not love, their subjects. And I would be a typical (and unoriginal) liberal if I went on and on about how I feel excluded by the body cult that rules gay pornography.



My beef however (or, rather, lack thereof), is that while the porn industry has the ability to create limitless choices in sexual entertainments, gay pornographers are still grinding out (somebody stop these puns) the same old Adonis/Ryan Idol combinations.



If Hollywood can make dinosaurs stomp LA and send Bruce Willis to the moon, why can’t gay porn directors film two hot, and actually interesting looking guys having sex in front of a camera?



Perhaps they’re afraid it won’t sell. The porn industry is notoriously timid and discovers new material only by accident. But it is in the accidental that the future awaits.



Running alongside the winded professional porn market is a booming trade in amateur porn. Ordinary folks are hopping into the sack, capturing the moment on cheap video cameras, and selling their special time to fascinated buyers.



Does anybody really believe that Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee made their infamous ode to marital bliss without an audience in the back of their, um, minds?



In the US, a young woman paid her college fees by setting up a web camera in her dorm room and then charging viewers to watch her have rather dull, often drunkenly incomplete sex with her male dorm mates.



Several hundred e-lists and e-shops dedicated exclusively to displaying and selling do-it-yourself pornography are doing a brisk trade. Celebrity Skin, a US magazine full of covert peep shots of movie stars caught in the raw, regularly outsells its more conventional, staged porn competitors. In Montreal, McGill frat boys looking for extra beer money saunter into gay sex shops and get $50 an hour to pleasure themselves for a live Internet audience.



Economics aside, there are deeper reasons for the success of amateur porn. Amateur porn turns people on because it is reciprocal. Feast your eyes on the super boys in a typical gay porn product and you’ll notice that you are being told, bluntly, how much you desire the stars; you are positioned exclusively as a consumer.



Stumble onto some home-made porn and you will be asked, usually very politely, if you might enjoy watching some other people enjoying themselves. You become the seducer as well as the seduced, because the power to create the erotic moment is shared. And any old whore will tell you that true seduction always involves give and take.



I am not predicting the end of porn. Professional porn will continue to repackage its best sellers, and people will continue to buy the familiar. Pornography, like automobiles and lipstick, can always rely on profiting off the vulnerable self esteem of consumers.



But don’t be surprised if the next edition of Basket And Balls Diaries features a brief cameo by an unknown, paunchy bald guy who is on set just because he’s glad to see you.