Media"The recent history of pornography in the United States is a history of its magazines," writes Bernard Arcand in 1993's The Jaguar and the Anteater. They attract the most attention and it is often around them that debates about the nature of obscenity revolve.
"Magazines are the Canaries in the mineshaft that test the state of censorship…" Quasi-respectable periodicals like Playboy and Penthouse introduce porn into the ordinary life of middle America. The rest of the industry, writes Arcand, despite the success of a couple of films in the early 1970s, remains the unrecognized interest of a public that keeps it private and discrete.
Through monthly print-runs of millions of copies, Playboy and Penthouse acquired the power to represent the standard of what is admissible. These magazines played the role of spokesperson in the struggle against censorship, which explains why critics of pornography choose them as targets, even if, in their own eyes, there are much more offensive examples. (Jaguar)
While in Japan major studios fought the legal battles to make and sell porn, magazine publisher bore that burden in America. Consequently, when porn makes news, the media runs to Playboy, Penthouse and Adult Video News.
Strictly speaking, such American sex magazines are not porn in the sense that this book usually uses that word, as they almost never show penetration. Hustler, Penthouse and Playboy are softcore. Europe's leading sex periodicals such as Private, by contrast, explicitly show penetration and cum shots.
As the number of persons watching sexually explicit films increased through the 1970s, a specialized media developed to cover the industry. Within a decade, the sex movie and the sex magazine industry virtually merged. Porn frequently uses centerfolds while magazines with centerfolds frequently use porn. Many rely for their photo spreads on free stills of coming movies. Major publications independent of the porno industry include Playboy, Penthouse and Screw. They offer their own lines of sex videos.
The sex magazine with the highest circulation [3.3 million in 1997],
Playboy, is the least sexual with voluminous space devoted to non-sexual
topics and a smaller proportion of nudie photos to copy. A total sex publication
contains no non-sexual advertising while Playboy features more non-sexual
advertising than sexual.
Playboy still attracts the most famous women to uncover for it, but along with Penthouse, its dominance in beautiful women compared to what other sex mags boast has almost disappeared. Proportionately more beautiful women are willing to disrobe than ever before.
Playboy's circulation is half what it was in the '70s and its format remains unchanged. Hefner's daughter Christie runs Playboy Enterprises which receives the majority of its slim profits from its cable and video businesses. Christie says Playboy stands for "sexy but not sexually explicit. It's the difference between Body Heat and Debbie Does Dallas."
Playboy and Penthouse devote limited coverage to adult films. Penthouse, the more explicit of the two, runs a page or two of reviews most issues by 300 pound Screw Editor Al Goldstein.
A year after Deep Throat, Penthouse went pink, becoming the first major men's magazine to reveal female genitalia. Playboy followed, then reversed itself in 1977. Hefner thought such exposure unromantic and bad business. He realized that if he kept showing spread vaginas, he'd lose his readership without gaining those of Penthouse and Hustler.
Hefner's private tastes are far raunchier than his magazine. He owns a large collection of porn films and perhaps the world's largest collection of bestiality flicks. Linda Lovelace describes Hugh's fascination with human-animal sex in her book Ordeal. The star of Deepthroat had sex with animals such as dogs for the edification of Hefner and his friends.
In contrast to Hefner's public life, Penthouse Publisher Bob Guccione, born around 1927, lives quietly with his third wife, Kathy Keeton, born around 1940.
By showing pubic hair and couples, Penthouse circulation shot to its high of 4.7 million in 1979.
Cheri magazine debuted in 1976, showing fingers poked inside vaginas and other raunchy material. Puritan went further, showing full penetration and cum shots, becoming the first newsstand hardcore magazine. At the same time, Hollywood producers seriously considered using real sex in their movies.
During Jimmy Carter's presidency, it appeared that explicit sex would pervade America. But pornographers abuse of their freedom through child and rape porn prompted a new national mood that through the 1990s increasingly regulated and harassed sexual entertainment.
Beginning in 1977, sex magazine circulation plunged. Puritan moved off the newsstand into adult bookstores. Cheri stayed public by toning down. With the success of porn video in the early '80s, Hollywood producers abandoned their flirtation with real sex.
During the late '80s, Cheri, along with other magazines like Hustler and High Society, began showing increasingly erect cocks, cum shots, and hints of penetration. But it was too late. Though magazines grew even bolder in the '90s, their era of importance was over. Moving pictures had triumphed over still, just as pictures had earlier triumphed over writing. Porn's reason for being after all, is to make masturbation easy.
Hart Williams fell into writing for sex magazines in the late '70s. "It was not so much that I wanted to be in it, as that I didn't mind doing it. I began writing audio-cassettes (we called it XXX radio) and wrote about 50 at 15-30 pages each. I ended up at Hustler, which ended my first marriage. She didn't mind the $200 each script brought, but Hustler was too much…"
Hart says most pornographers do not like their work. "Complaints were universal. But that's what customers wanted, so that's what we had to do. An old joke asks: "Is sex dirty? Only if you do it right." America has this assumption that sex must be dirty to be good. I don't feel that way. Not many did. It is the very act of 'illegitimacy' that creates the industry. If sex were viewed as natural and normal, porn would not be profitable. Indeed, the profitability of the industry declines in direction proportion to its legality. Europe found this out. Porn reflects the Collective Obnoxious. The same prophets who decry porn create its 'dark' appeal.
"I remained in the industry because I was fascinated from a young age by how 'sex' drove people insane. They screamed if you talked about it, they decried it, and, at the same time, they destroyed their homes and families trying to get more of it. They withheld it, they gave it, they spent all their time obsessed with it, but living an equal and opposite anger at it. So, I thought, "here's an unparalleled opportunity to see what all the fuss is about, and go where everyone secretly dreams of exploring: sexual nirvana." Boy! What a letdown!
"Actresses are usually from California and are rebelling against their background. They have a "bad boy" boyfriend. They desperately need money. They are in the business for an average of one month and are gone. Most actresses are Roman Catholic school girls and most of the actors were Jewish.
"The average starlet was a high school dropout [like Sindee Coxx, Brandy Alexandre], or just barely made it. An inordinate number drove Chevrolets. The industry learned to pander to their fantasies by making them into "stars" for awards shows and conventions. The average starlet has a strange boyfriend - one who gets off in some way, on watching her screw other men. Few boyfriends make the transition. Few starlets come into the business alone, or, if in, remain alone for long."
Since the 1970s, Hustler and Screw's reviews have been the most respected within the industry. Alan MacDonnel, born 1956, edits Hustler, frequently writing scathing articles under the pseudonym Christian Shapiro. "People who had a religious background or had some inappropriate sexual thing happen to them when they were young, frequently hate porn. These people do not like sexual entertainment. They do not see sexual and entertainment belonging in the same sentence. They have a reaction to it that they cannot control. It's not a mental reaction nor a reasoned opinion, but a gut reaction. Many attitudes to pornography are based on these gut reactions. They're not rational.
"We try to put together an interesting and funny magazine. We have a lot of serious stuff that's not about porn. We try to get people thinking for themselves. We try to not insult the intelligence of the reader by rehashing the accepted public relations of the business. Many magazines are just PR releases slapped together."
Alan reads widely, particularly enjoying Harpers and Hot Video, a French porn mag. Though Alan can't read French, he enjoys looking at the pictures.
"One of my favorite mags ever was the mid '70s National Lampoon. The writing quality was consistently high. We strive for that kind of quality. I'd like to get more pages in to Hustler to make it a bigger magazine. Our main challenge is to maintain our standard. All the urinating, defecating jokes are just basic humor. They are the first jokes many of us learn. Cavemen probably made jokes about that stuff.
"Hustler is getting more hardcore with the photo sex. No one is sure what you can do because there are no laws about it. You put it on the market and see what happens. We feature cum shots every issue. Other magazines like Penthouse are also heating up."
"If a chick's picture is the primary visual of a porn-tape box, or if her name is emblazoned across it, most dicks in the market expect her to get royally and variously f---ed on the film, by the more dudes the better," writes "Christian Shapiro" in Hustler Erotic Video Guide. "Her allure is being used to sell the product. Yet, more and more these days, richly-paid stabled smut holes are appearing in flick after flick and taking either no dick at all or only the choad of a boyfriend or husband."
Before Bill Harriss got laid off, he worked hard for his money, and he doesn't have much left. He'd like to think he knows value when he sees it, but he keeps feeling he's paid too much for what he gets. "Porn movies should be the top buy for any entertainment dollar, but many times they are not. If I don't see penises - emphasis on plural - penetrating every pussy, then I feel like I haven't got my money's worth."
The manager of Vapid Valley Video where Bill rents his tapes, Hirsooth Agleetian, says Bill's problem is that he's a sucker. "This Harris, I can see him come in. He can look no real woman in the eye. This is his dilemma. Real women he knows nothing about. All he knows is porn women, and he only knows shit about them… All these women care about is money. The less they do to get the money, the better they feel about it."
Christian Shapiro loves porn, and not just because it pays for his Italian loafers, exotic muscle car and tastefully appointed, Beverly Hills adjacent swing bachelor pad. "Some professionals, their values inverted by a deluge of dollars, grow contemptuous of their given field. Not me. I'd be watching splooge TV even without the big bucks tossed my way. Women adore me - they're all over me - but I'd rather get it on tape... Any equation that includes one's fellow human beings is ultimately unsolvable... But with porn, one can arrive at Destination Spurt refreshed and alert and free from the sort of entanglements that accompany any activity involving more than one individual." (Hustler Erotic Video Guide)
Alan's boss Larry Flynt is immortalized in the Milos Forman movie The
People vs. Larry Flynt, a rare mainstream movie that didn't trash porn.
"The movies wouldn't have to bend over backwards to prove how "nice" the
Hookers…were if they didn't believe that hooking was a pretty un-golden
activity," writes Greta Christina in San Francisco's Spectator. "You wouldn't
call someone a teacher with a heart of gold…or a rabbi with a heart of
gold. I'm certainly glad to see sex workers portrayed as nice, interesting,
likeable people; but the positive depiction of sex workers doesn't necessarily
imply a positive depiction of sex work…. Almost without exception, sex
work itself is depicted as unpleasant and obnoxious at best, degrading
and dehumanizing at worst."
Former United Artists executive Steven Bach, who wrote the book Final Cut about the Heavens Gate debacle, remembers the search for a director to bring to the big screen Gay Talese's story of the sexual revolution Thy Neighbor's Wife.
"I think the book is fabulous, Steve, just fabulous," explained Sidney Lumet over lunch. "But there's just no way to do this movie without showing" - he searched for the word - "insertion, and my God, Steve, I wouldn't know how to direct that. I mean, what do I say tot he actors? Is it - is it possible -" He went pale as some revelation struck him. "My God! Is it possible I'm a prude?"
Mainstream movies with porn themes include the following:
The Singing Nun (1966): "No, Debbie Reynolds does not get f---ed by Bunuel's Andalusian dog," sighs HEVG Editor Michael Louis Albo, "although that would have made for an interesting plot point in an otherwise dull tale" of a real-life Belgian nun (Reynolds) unable to decide between doing God's work and making hit records. Reynolds rescues a young European girl from the clutches of oily Frenchmen in the dirty postcard biz.
The Last Porno Flick (1974): This Deep Throat parody bomb made by the Mob was originally released by Butchie Peraino's Bryanston Distributors as The Mad, Mad Movie Makers.
Taxi Driver (1976): A psychotic New York cab driver, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) slips into madness after he is rejected by the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). When his attempt to assassinate a presidential candidate is thwarted, Travis turns his violent energy toward helping Iris (Jodie Foster), a child prostitute, which leads to the film's bloody conclusion.
Travis Bickle, the personification of the typical porn user in many minds, spends most of his free time in porno houses. When he takes his love Shepherd to a 42nd Street hardcore theater, she flees in anger.
Like much American R-rated fare, the violence in Taxi Driver is explicit while the sex is implicit.
Hardcore (1979): George C. Scott gives a powerful performance as a Calvinist Midwesterner in search of his teenage daughter who's become a porn queen. Serena makes a cameo appearances.
Death of a Centerfold (1981): Exploitative TV movie about Canadian blonde Dorothy Stratten who works at Dairy Queen before becoming Playmate of the Year.
Star 80 (1983): Smalltime hustler Paul Snider seduces innocent Dorothy Stratten and orchestrates her rise to Playboy centerfold and movie starlet before murdering her. "Well-crafted, well-acted movie that leaves viewer with nothing but a feeling of voyeurism - and no redeeming insights into a tragic true story. Bob Fosse's final film; before his death, he reedited this for network TV." (Leonard Maltin)
Videodrome (1983): Cable TV operator James Woods fools with a satellite dish and discovers a porn-bondage-torture station from Pittsburgh that has hallucinatory power. "The story gets slower and sillier as it goes along," says critic Leonard Maltin "with icky special effects by Rick Baker" that include Deborah Harry burning herself with a cigarette.
Body Double (1984): An out of work actor sits at home and watches a neighbor lady masturbate. He sees what appears to be a murder. His search for the truth leads him into the Los Angeles porn underground where he meets smut star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith).
Director Brian DePalma shoots psuedoporn scenes - what porn might look like with bigger budgets. (Albo)
Paris, Texas (1984): An amnesiac drifter finds his wife behind the sperm-spattered glass of a roadside porn emporium peep-show booth. Nastassia Kinski's "dumb, suffering beauty is the soul of this film, and it's great to see her prop those long legs up against the glass of her booth. Then she talks. Too bad." (Michael Albo of HEVG)
The Ambassador: (1984) Rock Hudson makes his final theatrical appearance in the film based on Elmore Leonard's novel 52 Pick-Up which was remade two years later under that name.
52 Pick-Up (1986:) John Frankenheimer's film wallows in the sleazy voyeuristic world of the bad guys. A porn party features Sharon Mitchell, Amber Lynn and Ron Jeremy.
Pick-Up, along with other '80s films such as Videodrome and Last House on a Dead End Street, and an episode of Miami Vice where Don Johnson beats up a pathological artist who views his murder on film as a sublime aesthetic statement, kept alive the myth of snuff films.
Shattered Innocence (1988:) Trashy TV movie gives a fictional account of the life and lurid death of real-life porn princess Shauna Grant. A small town cheerleader comes to L.A. seeking fame and becomes lost in sex, dope and suicide.
Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989): Primarily about child prostitution, this xenophobic film features an assault on the set of a porn-film in progress starring two Asian girls on a double bed. The urban thriller pits supercop Charles Bronson against scummy pimp Juan Fernandez who turns teenage girls into prostitutes. "Some interesting ideas are dropped in favor of the same old thing, done the same old way," says critic Leonard Maltin.
Parenthood (1989): Ron Jeremy did Janine Lindemuller in a softcore scene for Ron Howard's film where the little boy watches a nasty movie on TV until his parents catch him. But instead of using the Ron and Janine number, Howard opted for a clip from Blonde Goddess.
"I'm the first man to hump Janine Lindemuller on camera," proclaims Jeremy. "It was softcore. We both wore bathing suits. Janine had never even gone near porno at the time and wouldn't for another five years. She was still flat. Hadn't had her boobs done. She got them done before doing Penthouse. She said at the CES show in Las Vegas 1996 that if she ever does guys on camera, I'll be the first one."
Mighty Aphrodite (1996): Woody Allen searches for the biological mother of his adopted son who turns out to be the sweet but stupid porn actress Judy Cum. Mira Sorvino spent days talking with strippers and porn performer Sandy Bitch to prepare for the role. Allen told Mira before filming, "I don't want a glimmer of intelligence to show through because not only is she dumb but she's stupid."