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Taking the Fun Out of Smut

The People’s Porn

by CLANCY SIGAL

I am not hard wired for pornography, but I don’t feel superior to it either.  Sometimes after browsing the best seller lists, I try experimenting, like kids do with weed.   And then wait breathlessly for the sensual high which rarely – excuse the expression – comes.

One reason I don’t feel superior is that, like friends of mine in Paris, such as Alex Trocchi and the poet Christopher Logue, I was approached by the publisher Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press to “knock off” a porn novel for a few bucks eating money.  Girodias kept a number of quite good writers alive this way.  Alas, I was no good at it and couldn’t stay awake past a page or two of the same old.

Lately as a reader I’ve been trying again with an “erotica” blockbuster about a baby sitter’s adventures in, uh, self pleasure, threesomes and how to get a good beach tan.  According to its Amazon reviews, which of course are always to be trusted, this rubadudub volume turns on a lot of women readers as super hot.

I’ve always been fuzzy about the distinction between erotica (Henry Miller? Anais Nin? Deep Throat?) and porn so don’t worry about it.  Boils down to naked bodies doing this and that with occasional dollops of whips, chains, barking commands and submissive whines.  Or have I got it wrong?  They’re hard slogs to read.   Fifty Shades of Gray may not be the clumsiest prose ever written, but comes close.

Porn, whether in books, movies or TV, is a very serious money business.  In California alone the porn industry employs 12,000 workers. Although dirty movies are in a current slump the business makes about $13 billion a year; San Fernando valley, where most dirty movies are filmed, would vanish down the San Andreas fault if  sleaze shuts down.  I don’t know the equivalent balance sheet for book publishing but it’s got to be a lot of money especially when there are so many “independent” (amateur) writers out there, often housebound females, scribbling from the kitchen table.  No sneer intended, historically many fine women writers worked from home while busily cooking, nursing and tending.

I quote from one of many career-starting female authors’ advisory tip sheets (“Helping Writers Achieve Their Dreams”):  “One erotic publisher has a vocal readership who constantly cry “moresexmoresexmoresex!”…You can get sick of describing sex, even when enhanced and made new by the characters and situations. Depending on whom you’re writing for, you may be asked to add more sex scenes or sensuality or both. If the market you’re aiming for isn’t a perfect fit with your own comfort levels, you may find yourself describing sex acts that make you uneasy.”

Go for it, Martha, there’s gold in your Sasquatch fantasies.   The latest fashion is “monster porn” where ladies are raped by Yetis.  Imagine dating a girl or women who’s into Virginia Wade’s latest Big Foot confection: “From within the tufts of matted hair, the creature released a huge pale cock that defied logic… He stroked his…etc. etc. ….”  Defy logic indeed.  How can any mere mortal man, uh, measure up?

I’m reluctant to get into the whole Is This Demeaning To Women? rap.  (of course it is)  All I know for sure is that there’s a lot of porno around, on YouTube, in hotel rooms, on TV and Amazon.  Masses of paying customers seem to get a kick out of (monotonous or uplifting) lists of clit, labia, cock, sperm flowing like Old Faithful – a perfect world where penises never go flaccid, women are famished for it, and emotions except “down there” have no place.

I have a pretty dirty mind when I concentrate but it goes slack at porn-erotica.  That’s the penalty of growing up on Rita Hayworth movies where her swaying to “Put The Blame On Mame, Boys” is the pinnacle of arousal sex.  And, in my evil adolescence, on those forbidden, closely studied, wonderfully drawn “eight pager” cartoon books of Superman and Lois doing it.   Smut used to be fun to read secretly under the covers and to feel delightfully soiled by the experience.   But now that it’s cheap, free, mainstream and methodically businesslike, where’s the fun?

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives