TUESDAY MARCH 28, 2017
 
Blog SEX COLUMN
THE BUSINESS OF PORN
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 Inside the Adult Studio

Q: What spurred your investigations of the adult world in the San Fernando Valley, some 12 years ago to today?
A: In 1997, I interviewed Jenna Jameson, who was dancing at a club in San Francisco. I was living in the Bay Area at the time. Her publicist told me that if I were ever in Los Angeles, I was welcome to visit one of Jameson’s sets. A few months later ... I was fascinated by what I saw, watching seven people have an orgy on a fire truck in broad daylight. It was like entering another dimension. I moved to L.A. not long after, and I continued to write about the adult film industry over the following years.

Q: You seem to be questioning the assumption some have that sexual goods are recession-proof. What do you think of the current recession’s impact on Porn Valley in your photo essay "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?"
A: Until recently, many people believed that the adult movie industry was recession-proof. That has not proven to be the case. The economic crisis has hit the business hard – and the industry was already hurting.

In recent years, content piracy and the Internet have proven to be formidable rivals of the adult industry – not friends. Most pornographers are reporting revenue losses as high as 50 per cent. Many businesses are going out of business. Pay for performers has dropped. The industry is imperiled. Some predict the industry will bounce back – but no one predicted the current state of affairs. It’s hard to know what will happen next.

Q: You mentioned interviewing Jenna Jameson and what seemed a certain splendour in this period. What do you think of the idea of porn stardom? Do you think the process of crossing over is still occurring?
A: I think porn has gone mainstream, and it’s lost some of its taboo mystique in the process. More people consume porn than ever before. It’s a part of our culture.

At the same time, it still has a stigma attached to it. Adult performers remain outsiders. Porn inhabits a strange position in 21st-century pop culture: it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Q: As you’re referring to the development of porn culture from times of increasing activity and proliferation with the home video revolution, what do you think of your repeated assertion that reality and fantasy in Porn Valley are one and the same?
A: The adult film industry is a dream factory. It predicts, guesses at and manufactures fantasies people want to see – or that its manufacturers believe people want to see. To see an adult movie is to witness the re-enactment of a fantasy, one that cannot be had in reality.

So, when you’re on the set of an adult movie, it’s a strange thing. You watch people bring to life the fantasy of a consumer they’ve never met. When the camera rolls, the fantasy comes to life. But when the camera is off, other things happen. What gets left on the cutting room floor is reality, and it’s not always pretty. In the Valley, fantasy and reality blur.

Q: What do you think of the conditions and changes you’ve observed in making porn nowadays?
A: In some ways, today’s adult industry is a different beast than the industry that I first encountered over a decade ago, but in many ways it’s very much the same. The content is more hardcore. There is more “gonzo porn” than ever, and big-budget movies are fewer and farther between.

The biggest impact has come from the changing economic climate. When business drops in the Valley, competition increases, and sometimes that means things get harder. People become desperate. People become more willing to do what they might not do otherwise. When people are having sex, that can be a dangerous thing.

Q: How do you see Jim Powers’s more unusual porn practices and resilience at the core of your story?
A: Jim is a businessman, period. The case can be made that he is an unusual businessman, but he is as focused on the bottom line as Wal-Mart is.

What Jim understands is that there is always a niche market for adult content that explores the outer reaches of sexual fantasy. Part of what he does is bring those freaky tales to life. You can look at him, and say, "Oh, he’s a monster," or, "He’s a freak," but he’s delivering a product that people are buying, so who is the freak in that equation? He’s a slave to the fantasies that we dream. To posit him or his movies as strange is to deny that his fantasies are ours. He’s not a monster. He’s a capitalist.

Q: What did you think observing the “Fuck Machines” scenes that you photographed?
A: I don’t know that the “Fuck Machines” movies are a direct consequence of the recession – although they may be. Without a doubt, technology is the adult movie industry’s biggest threat, and what will replace it. It’s only a matter of time before the porn star is replaced by the pixel-based star who can do exactly what the consumer wants, when the consumer wants, how the consumer wants.

Are motor-driven dildos the wave of the future? I don’t know. Ultimately, technology will be the death of the porn industry as we know it. That there were once a group of people we employed to act out sexual fantasies we were too ashamed or embarrassed to articulate will become a relic of the past.

Q: You’re open about the actions in Powers's works that can involve appearances of strain, like gagging. How do you see the extremity of these aesthetics going beyond sexuality?
A: Some of what comes out of the Valley is extreme. There are kinky fetishes, weird activities involving various body fluids and a laundry list of other freaky stuff combined with sexual activity. This isn’t a product of Jim’s mind – it’s what the market wants.

Everyone acts like there are a certain set of pornographers who are “bad” – too extreme, too hardcore. But their product merely mirrors what we want them to deliver. Some people are turned on by sex and violence. That’s who this product caters to. What’s more difficult to discern are the consequences of some of these scenes on the individuals who perform in them.

Q: Powers also bemoans the drive to making content in terms of Internet porn. How do you see the increase of Internet porn and is it necessarily hurting the creativity of pornographers in the valley?
A: I don’t think the Internet “hurts the creativity” of pornographers. I think it hurts business. It’s not like we’re talking Academy Award-calibre movies here. It’s hard to make distinctions between “What Happens Between My Tits Stays Between My Tits” and “Fuck Pig: The Movie.” They’re fuck movies.

Q: What do you think of what happened to porn production when George W. Bush took office?
A: I think when Bush was elected, his administration’s intention was to go after pornographers. That was derailed by 9-11. Eventually, they returned to targeting pornographers, but the so-called War on Porn that everyone predicted would happen never materialized.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult to identify obscenity. As I write in the essay, when “2 Girls 1 Cup” is water cooler talk at the office, what is obscene? What I do feel people fail to understand is that, when it comes to pornography, it’s not so simple.

Historically, under liberal administrations the adult industry gets very extreme. With any industry, if there are no controls, things get off the chain. With STDs, HIV and sperm omelettes in the mix, things get very complicated very quickly. It’s not as simple as its product. It’s about the people who make the product. That’s where it gets complicated. When people turn up HIV positive.

Q: What do you think of the psychological, emotional unease that runs through your narrative, the sense that working in porn has become harder?
A: It’s tough. Being a porn star isn’t easy. I don’t fully understand why that’s some kind of a shock for people. What did they think? That getting fucked in the ass for a living was a fun time?

Q: Do you think the recession is affecting male and female porn performers differently?
A: That’s a great question. As most people know, male performers make far less than their female counterparts. Pay is down for men and women, but men make less, so I suppose one could argue it’s harder for the men, since they don’t make much anyway. But women who made a fair amount of money are taking pay cuts, and that’s tough. Some women are doing things they might otherwise have not to make ends meet. Everyone suffers. Nobody wins.

Q: You observed Johnny Thrust, who is Powers's sidekick, a production manager, talking about the latest recession-proof, pirating-proof project. Are you interested in what sort of measures the porn industry is taking to cope with the recession?
A: Actually, that was an individual who is known as Porno Dan. I think any idea that comes from the mind of someone who calls himself Porno Dan may not be entirely successful. To a degree, the adult movie industry didn’t jump on the bandwagon early with the Internet. Today, they’re paying the price. Their current efforts may be too little too late.

Q: I’m curious about your choice to self-publish this photo essay. What do you think of the media – is it not so receptive to tales that take the porn industry seriously?
A: I think their thinking is: “These people are fucking for a living. This is porn. What a joke. All these people are morons. I’ve read one porn industry profile, I’ve read them all.” I think they’re wrong. I think that line of thinking is stupid, reductive and limiting.

This is part of the American dream. How is that not of value? How is that not interesting? I think people are misled by the sexual aspect – if it has to do with porn, if it has to do with sex, it can’t be intellectual, it can’t tell us about us, it can’t be anything more than somebody named Annie Body getting boned by some guy named Jack Hammer. It’s more than that.

More info:
 "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?" photo essay
Susannah Breslin blog

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