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When I Grow Up I Want to be a Porn Star!

August 12, 2012, 2:28 PM
Lipscropped

I was flipping through a beach coupon book, and came across this ad:  “Ladies are you looking for an exciting Girls Night Out?”

The business hosts all-female parties that “teach guests basic pole dancing techniques,” and how to do lap dances. They recommend their services for bachelorette, birthday, graduation, divorce, and “break up parties.”

Interestingly, I’ve not seen an equivalent ad for all-male events to celebrate a bachelor party, divorce, or break-up by having men “teach guests basic techniques to sexually arouse, titillate and please your girlfriends.”

There are moments when you realize that you really are in your 40s, and that the younger generation is disorienting. I wouldn’t have imagined the option of celebrating a break up, by learning to pole dance like a stripper.

I guess it’s interesting and cool that women are doing this with and for each other. But that sisterly, homosocial bonding could be achieved by, say, hiring and thereby objectifying a male stripper, or painting pottery while drinking cheap red wine.

It’s an example of the “pornification” of American culture. Porn is drifting into the cultural mainstream, and, in the process, pushing actual porn to the extremes.

One of the more disturbing aspects of this down-marketing of our national libido is that young women seem to be subtly and even unwittingly turning to the now-mainstreamed porn star as a kind of sexual role model.

I’ve come across a few examples of this pornification recently. An editor at a women’s magazine tells me that young women have even more insecurities about their bodies, because their male peers so easily access porn online, and have internalized its standards.

A Sex Roles study finds that girls as young as six aspire to be “sexy” which in this example meant porn-ish fashions of tight-fitting, revealing clothes.

I hear from an esthetician that Brazilian waxes are really popular—partly, she explains, because they make a woman’s genitals look more like a porn star’s. Shortly after this conversation, I read of boutiques that offer waxes for teenage girls.

Women talk about the moment when a lover wants to do something that they’ve clearly picked up from a porn flick. Books even instruct women on how to have sex “like a porn star,” as if she’s the superhero of good sex (and, “good sex” for whom?)

As a young feminist in the 1980s, I wouldn’t have looked to the porn business for sexual mentoring. I didn’t know any women who did.

Porn hadn’t been mainstreamed, and as for porn actors themselves, it seemed like a fairly brutal, difficult way to make a living (although Woody Allen has a prostitute declare in “Deconstructing Harry” that sex work “beats waitressing”).

Our feelings about porn actors ranged from empathy, to consternation that they were being humiliated and objectified, to curiosity. Not taking cues about the kind of sex life you wanted from women who, in the more extreme examples, were spat and ejaculated on, anally penetrated and pounded into while being called a bitch, slut, and whore didn’t seem like an “anti-sex,” prudish, classist, or an “ist” stance of any sort. It was just common sense, and being minimally observant.

It’s a very diverse field, of course, and there’s porn that is more pro-sex and not misogynist. There’s a burgeoning field of soft core porn, too. You can find the whole gamut, but much of it is boring and some of it is harrowing.

I’ve never favored censorship as a response to misogynistic porn. I still don’t. On the other hand, I certainly wouldn’t call porn overall a repository of “pro sex” values, or aspire to have a daughter, if I had one, follow its lessons.

Consider the economy in which the porn actor operates.

James Earl Ray wanted to be in the porn business. When that failed he assassinated Martin Luther King instead. After trying his craft in Mexico he went to California, naturally.  Chatsworth, California is to porn what Detroit was to cars, or Silicon Valley is to PCs. Eighty-five percent (85%) of adult entertainment is produced in Chatsworth.

From here, Frontline reported earlier this decade on the “pure profits” that hotel corporations, for example, make in the distribution of this prodigious crop of “adult entertainment.”

The profits are perhaps overstated, and hard to pin down. It could be $1 billion or $10 billion. A 2012 New York Times magazine article on the mainstream “big business” of porn cited profits for the industry of $10 to $14 billion. But a Forbes analysis finds that to be a faulty calculation based on a widely-cited but non-existent study (the best kind!), and estimates that actual profits are somewhere between $2.6 and $3.9 billion.

Still, porn is big-ish—even though we know to say that size doesn’t matter.

Consider the porn actor herself. Of this billions-dollar pie, how much does she make, in the cause of viewers being able to get off somewhere else? It varies. They get paid by the scene. From my cursory review, it seems that a man or woman doing a “typical man/woman scene” who’s a neophyte might earn $500/scene, but once they add “X” features or do “atypical” things the wages go up. If you had some experience or did kinkier things, you could make $1500/scene, or even up to $3000.

Why do they, and we, call her a porn “star”?  A “star” makes it sound as if she’s glamorously sashaying down the Hollywood red carpet, going to chic après parties after the Oscars, studying method acting with the masters, and shopping on Rodeo Drive. But this star is more accurately an actor.

She’s not even an actor, really, because she isn’t getting paid to play a role. She’s getting paid to have someone film actual sex occurring on and with her body.

Some truly are stars. They’ve cut out the middlemen, and/or developed online followings, for example. They could rake in millions a year, but they’re rare, and choose projects carefully, to conform to their sexual “brand.”

Paradoxically, the online world might make porn much more popular and much less profitable. It cuts into the porn industry profit margin and introduces amateur products.  Some couples and groups record and circulate their sexual exploits for nothing.  As with food, I guess porn is going local, and home-grown organic.

But for now, if there are around 1,400 porn actors in Chatsworth, it doesn’t amount to much dished out for their labor, compared even to the more modest estimates of the porn industry’s profit margin.

My point is that one of the worst things about porn is totally banal, and humdrum:  It’s another corporate, bottom-line rip-off that offers the most fast food, efficient ways to satisfy a need at the lowest cost and the highest profit. Porn actors aren’t unlike others who perform strenuous work in a rotten economy and whose career “choices” aren’t all that great, and richly deserving of scare quotes.

So why would I serve up my libido on a silver platter to The Man? Taking cues from the porn business—or at least a large chunk of it—would be like going to McDonald’s to learn to be a chef, or learning haute couture from cruising the aisles of Dress Barn.

 

 

 

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