Fresh off the bus from Nowheresville where they had always been told by passing men in slow-moving cars that they were the hottest thing since toast, finding themselves not in a red-carpeted Glamorland but in the harder than hard Hollywood of hustler alley, a lucky few were scooped up by the pioneers of movie-porn, the out-of-work cameramen and lighting guys who knew their way around the heavy equipment (this was before the digital camera) and were living on the cheap in Van Nuys or in a gritty bungalow in Silverlake with a sideline in boy-on-boy mail-order.
Together they created reels and reels of not-quite make-believe where all the tops looked like Tom Selleck in plaid shirt, mustache and bushy- bushy hair; and all the bottoms resembled the twink legend Kip Noll who with his curly mess of blond locks looked like an angel that had fallen off the top of a Christmas tree in Surf City.
And so talent met direction in those long-ago disco years, the 1970s.
“I often think, ” Lilly Tomlin quipped at the time, “that porn is somebody else’s bad taste.” For Gloria Leonard, the sole woman porn publisher then,” porn was simply “erotica — but with bad lighting.”
In the 70s, the Sexual Revolution was everywhere in the media. Even a heavyweight intellectual like Susan Sontag troubled her mind with it. The function of pornography she announced after a long essay-length meditation “is precisely to drive a wedge between one’s existence as a full human being and one’s existence as a sexual being.” It was manfestly unhealthy. “What pornography is really about,” she concluded gloomily, “isn’t sex but death.”
Thus is demonstrated once again the truth in Jane Austen’s tart observation:”One half of the world can not understand the pleasures of the other.”
For men, porn is neither a joke or a sickness. It is serious business, a pragmatic aid to a necessary outcome, in all cases immune to aesthetics and for that reason preferable to erotica.
Porn is no more a failure of character than eating or sleeping, though all three can be done to excess. And as far as quips go, No man could possibly be ironic when he has an erection.
I speak here as a gay man. Porn, while powerful for all men, has the force of a gut punch when first viewed by a gay man, a revelation of one’s true identity however much that unruly self may have been denied by daylight.
Even years later, porn tumbles us back into the time of floating identity, evoking shower rooms, locker rooms, jockstraps, all charged up souvenirs from the days when the jumble of adolescent male bodies in a high school locker room was the first place, as far as our secret desires were concerned, where the rubber met the road.