“I had a couple reporters in here earlier and I wasn’t sure what they wanted,” porn director Lee Roy Myers tells me as he takes me on a tour of his newly opened studio in Las Vegas. “I was expecting them to ask me some questions, but mostly they just walked around giggling and wanted to take pictures with the props. Before I could say anything, one of them had on the big foam head from the Family Guy parody – which we just used and I hadn’t had a chance to clean since there a sweaty dude in it. The other one had on a bathrobe from the same shoot. I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking, ‘You know, there’s probably semen on that.'”
Lee Roy (his real porn name, but not his actual birth name), thanks to the brand new studio he’s been showing people around this week, has been held up as part of a porn “exodus” to Las Vegas after LA County passed its infamous condom law last year. Some, like LA Weekly, say this supposed exodus has been wildly overstated. It’s hard to find a consensus on much in the porn industry. Regardless, no one at the AVN Awards (aka “the Oscars of Porn”) and the AEE (Adult Entertainment Expo) really wants to talk about condom laws this week. That could have something to do with the fact that the AIDs Healthcare Foundation, who sponsored and financed the LA bill, maintains that federal law requires the condoms nationwide, and thus the rule should apply to Nevada as much as it does LA, and that this loophole is only temporary, if not illusory. As with many things in porn, it seems there are differing legal interpretations, which will eventually have to be settled in court.
As mainstream as anyone wants to claim porn has become – and it’s hard to argue against certain evidence – it’s still the kind of thing judges and politicians and bureaucrats and people who hold themselves up as “respectable” are embarrassed to talk about. No one wants to talk about it long enough to agree on terms or specifics, so the laws governing porn production are all ambiguous and arcane. Making it is only officially legal in New Hampshire and California, and trying to even understand the rules is a headache. For their part, porn people seem to think that the less politicians are talking about it, the more they can just go on with their jobs in peace. Porn endures. Only the delivery systems change.
Whatever the case, Lee Roy has moved his production to Las Vegas for a host of reasons, not the least of which being that it’s cheaper to shoot here. This is an era of belt tightening for most of the porn industry. Whereas you once had to go to an actual theater and sit in seats with a roomful of people to watch porn, (which seems utterly insane to me as a child of the internet, as barbarous and thankfully obsolete as trepanning or lobotomy), most people now watch porn for free on Tube sites, from the privacy of their laptops or iPads. And as the market for paid porno dries up like the sleeve of a jizz-crusted bathrobe, the obvious solution is to lower overhead. Thus, the AVNs present an interesting situation. How does an industry that’s in an acknowledged decline treat its most self-congratulatory ceremony?
“This is a jacket we used for Ygritte, in Game of Bones,” Lee Roy says, thumbing through racks of outfits (clean) in the prop room of his studio. The warehouse-like building near the Circus-Circus casino houses a classroom set, an office full of cubicles, a room that looks like a hospital, a green screen stage, a stripper stage and pole, and room to shoot virtually anything you want, porn or otherwise. Joining us on the tour today are a professor from UCSB who studies porn – a choppy-haired, professorial-looking woman with glasses and a scarf, her nodding, eager grad student with a nose ring, and Lee Roy’s accommodating wife. Lee Roy is in the middle of explaining how the porn industry is mostly trend-driven, with everyone rushing to capitalize on the latest fad.
“So what are the big trends now?” I ask.
“Uh… piracy? Free porn killing off the porn industry is a really big trend,” he laughs.
Porn consumption is so generation-specific, so micro-generation specific, even, that your memory of it can date you almost as accurately as radiocarbons. My friend Joe, who’s 34, told his girlfriend that his favorite porno growing up was Buttwoman (you can look it up if you want, but there are a million Buttwomans). The girlfriend, who’s in her mid twenties, says she asked her male friends about it and was met with blank stares. Even the idea that someone would have a favorite porno was foreign. There’s a hard cutoff, it seems, around 1983 or 1984, where guys born before still remember the days when porn tapes were shared among friends and porn mags distributed in the woods. Guys born after, coming of age entirely in the age of reliable, private internet connection, can’t even imagine such a thing. For guys born 10 or 15 years before that, there were only theaters. While porn stars have become household names, porn itself seems to be on a larger trend from quasi-mainstream public spectacle, where Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. once did Deepthroat jokes on network TV in the seventies, to increasingly private jack-off material. What was once discussed publicly is now so personal that I’d feel a little weird about even a significant other knowing my porn-watching history.
And changing delivery systems do affect the finished product. When porn was something viewed by a broad audience in public and semi-public places, the trend seemed to be towards girl-next-door types, innocent nymphettes who blossomed when shown the light of freaky deaky sex (“she was always horny, she just needed to feel comfortable enough to be herself! YOU can help her!”). In short, characters and stories with broad appeal. Now that porn watching has become such a private activity, a place to indulge your weirdest fantasies that maybe you didn’t even know you had, we get crush videos and quicksand porn. One of the belles of the ball at this week’s AVNs is Bonnie Rotten, new to the business but already the toast of the town, a performer with spider web tattoos radiating out from the areolae of her implanted breasts, among countless other tattoos. Definitely a little freaky for my tastes, but I admit the scene in Rambone where the Colonel Trautman character gives her vigorous standing anal in a field has a certain appeal. Also, everyone I’ve talked to at the AVNs says she’s an incredibly pleasant person.
In any case, Bonnie Rotten seems to be a reflection of the porn phenomenon “the riches are in the niches,” as director Jacky St. James puts it, during a panel on “The Future of the Feature.” St. James, young, girl-next-door pretty and articulate, with strawberry blonde hair, who also happens to direct porn, is lamenting the fact that the movies she makes that she’s most invested in tend to sell the worst. While the ones she thought were the strangest, most novelty-themed ideas from the outset, tend to sell the best. The entire purpose of this panel, it seems, is as a support group for porn directors who really like making porn features, and trying to figure out how to reconcile that with a changing business, where viewers only watch porn in 10-minute chunks, where story, and all the creativity that went into it, is irrelevant.
“I’m a pornographer, it’s what I do,” one the guys on the panel says, looking wizened and hip, more like a Bad Religion guitarist than the Al Goldstein pinky-ring stereotype.
He’s so earnest and honest and sincere – they all are. Like they really do make porn because they love it. Artists, but mostly unpretentious about it, because it’s an unpretentious art. They’re charming in the way that anyone who seems to really believe in what they do are charming. And then I feel bad because I can’t remember ever having watched a feature porn, except out of curiosity. I watch porn in the same free, 10-minute chunks that are killing these peoples’ business model as everyone else. I wonder how the feature model even still exists. Are feature-length porn releases still supported by a hard core contingent of romantics, like vinyl records? As if to answer my question, a tall woman with a thick drawl and big hair stands up during the question and answer period, saying that she owns an adult bookstore, and that bookstores and adult theaters still thrive in the Bible belt, because a lot of people there still don’t feel comfortable jacking off at home. I try to understand how a person could feel more comfortable masturbating in a shared jack-off space where your shoes probably stick to the floor from other guys’ dried semen than they would in their own house behind a locked door, but I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. Masturbating, it’s somehow universal yet intensely divisive. Sex. Fickle. Imagine that.
Lee Roy takes me back out on a tour of the AEE convention floor, where he basically knows everyone. A heavy-set guy with a bushy goatee and a ray gun tattoo on his arm (the logo of his new company, Woodrocket), Lee Roy used to work for Troma before he got into directing porn. Having directed titles like “Spongebob Squarenuts” and “A Wet Dream On Elms Street,” he’s clearly gravitated as much to the comedy potential as he has to the sex. In look and exuberance, he reminds me of just about every geeky film type I’ve ever met, and not surprisingly, we have an easy rapport, a nice comedic “yes-and.”
We pass by company booths full of scantily clad starlets – there’s technically no nudity allowed at the convention, so, like Sports Illustrated, many of the starlets exploit the loophole for body paint and pasties. The space itself, I’m told, is drastically downsized from previous years.
Lee Roy introduces me to girls he has worked with, which are many. They’re all very polite, and the scene is basically exactly like Comic-Con, only the booth girls are actually selling videos of themselves screwing instead of video games. In that way, it’s much more honest. The implied “Hey, wanna watch me fuck?” question actually leads to the customer being able to do just that instead of an attempt to sell a comic book or computer game.
You’d think it’d be somewhat titillating shaking hands with a girl who you can see getting her vulva pounded on a monitor right next to her, but the truth is, one gets inured to this kind of thing shockingly quickly. When you remove personal connection, it starts to look like a butcher’s diagram. Insert fuck meat D in meat slot C, repeat. I see one short, balding, middle-aged guy with an exhibitor’s badge that reads “Mistress Thick.” Meaning that, presumably, he works for the infamous ebony scat queen. Go ahead and Google that if you like.
We meet a few of Lee Roy’s colleagues, some who have worked in front of the camera, others behind, many a little of both. Lee Roy keeps introducing me and then hesitating, not knowing whether to introduce the person I’m meeting as their real name or their fake porn name. This will become a theme. All the while, loud house-type music blares from… somewhere. I’m not sure there’s any place to escape from it in Vegas, and that’s doubly true at the AVNs.
Lee Roy finds James Deen hiding in a corner, texting furiously with one hand and sipping a latte with the other, while people sort of hover around him, waiting to chat or take a picture. While Ron Jeremy has long maintained a novelty appeal, it’s somewhat unprecedented for a male performer to so eclipse his female counterparts in crossover success and mainstream fame as Deen has. Where Jeremy might get a joke cameo in Scary Movie 6, Deen gets offered roles as the dramatic lead. Lee Roy says hello and introduces us. Deen is polite but understandably distracted, and I can understand his crossover appeal even on a visual level. He reminds me of most of the non-porn actors I’ve met, in that he seems smaller and more carefully built than a normal human being. As if he was drawn with a finer brush. Being around actors always makes me feel like a sledgehammer.
After a bit of chit chat, we head into the (also drastically downsized) trade show side of the convention. For the most part, it’s pretty much what you’d expect – dildos and vibrators in all shapes, pocket pussies and flashlights, assorted bondage gear, vibrating nipple clamps, etc. One guy is standing behind a monitor playing a continuous loop of fart fetish videos. You can tell the fart sounds weren’t added in post, either, because of the close-ups of the girls’ dilating assholes. No true fart fetishist would tolerate a fart video without visible ass dilation and gas-blown hair. The guy hands me a sticker that says “I Heart Girl Farts” and has a free password to his fart site on it. We chuckle about it together, both in on the joke. The fun thing about porn is that there really is no dividing line between parody and non-parody. It’s sex. It’s meant to be laughed at. That this is the key to our survival is the ultimate cosmic joke.
Making my way through the booths, I next come to a smiling man in a suit standing next to two big bowflex-looking machines, one with the bench upright, the other with it flat. The flat one has a preposterously proportioned Real Doll lying on it, her football-sized breasts with puffy nipples pointing up at the sky, legs spread, as a small motor rocks her back and forth, demonstrating the machine’s range of movement. The goofy smiling guy in the suit, who reminds me more than a little of Dr. Nick from the Simpsons (famous graduate of Upstairs Hollywood Medical College), hands us flyers reading “Grey Sex Machine,” the name of his invention. “You wanna get on that thing?” Lee Roy asks.
“Sorry, 90-pound weight limit for this,” Dr. Nick says, in some kind of consonant-heavy accent. Israeli, maybe?
“Only 90 pounds?” Lee Roy asks
“Motor like this only for display,” Dr. Nick says. “This way can hold much more,” he says, gesturing to the upright model.
“How much can that one hold?” I ask.
“Three hundred-plus,” Dr. Nick says, beaming.
“Oh good, I like ‘em meaty,” Lee Roy says.
Dr. Nick, it seems, is a real-life version of George Clooney’s character from Burn After Reading. An everyman who one day had a divine stroke of inspiration, and, like Kevin Costner in his cornfields (to mix the shit out of movie metaphors), listened to that inner voice telling him he should drop everything and build a high-tech fuck chair.
“So you just built this in your garage as a hobby?” I ask.
“That’s exactly right,” he says, putting his hand on my shoulder conspiratorially. He’s friendly, and incredibly happy to be talking about this. “I am not an engineer. But my brother is and he helped me. I just came with the idea. What happen was, one time, long time ago, I am having sex with my girlfriend, in how do you call– a sex swing. And I have the idea to combine it with the pull up bar, for exercising.”
“So it’s sort of like a sex swing meets a Bowflex machine,” I suggest.
“That is exactly right,” he says.
“What was your day job?” I ask him.
“I was a dentist. No engineering experience whatsoever.”
“But you did have experience with adjustable chairs,” I say.
He laughs and slaps me on the back.
Lee Roy asks if I want to see a shoot that’s happening upstairs. I say of course, hoping to finally see that live sex show I’ve always wanted (I write about porn often enough that I’ve received countless set invites, but somehow I’ve never been able to make it). But when we get to the room, it turns out not to be a live sex shoot at all, but a rather chaste shoot featuring a topless actress, with red hair and freckled upper arms and a Jurassic Park tattoo on her shoulder, sitting on a bed and reading from Billy Crystal’s autobiography. Sort of like something a random fetish generator might spit out, which I believe is the point.
It’s part of a series called, aptly, “Topless Girls Reading Books,” a new series for Lee Roy’s latest business venture, Woodrocket.com. The idea is to offer a range of free porn and porn-ish stuff for anyone over the age of 18 on his website, and then sell banner space to advertisers and make money through product placement and sponsorship. “We offer advertisers, looking for a way to get their brands or products to reach a whole new market, product placement and sponsorship. In Game of Bones, for instance, the Iron Bone was made from 300 Evolved Novelties’ vibrators,” Lee Roy says.
He notes that they actually cast and scrapped three thrones before they got one they thought looked real enough. “Their product has now been seen all over the web, by both mainstream and adult audiences. They’re happy. So, they will keep sponsoring us.”
Seeing as how Game of Thrones is already pretty close to being erotica, Lee Roy says the goal is to just take it all the way there. “We want to be HBO in 10 years, but with comedy.” he says. “Like when they start having Game of Thrones with full penetration, we want to do that, but as if it was on Adult Swim.”
Porn used to be at the forefront of a lot of the technology that made the internet. Paying for stuff online? Streaming video? Porn companies made a lot of that happen. But making money from porn was so easy for such a long time that it sort of stagnated, and now, as a whole, it’s lagging behind. In the same way network TV seems to care way too much who hosts their late-night, throwback Johnny Carson variety show with a rapidly shrinking and aging audience, porn companies seem to increasingly be competing for a share of a market made up of oddball purists. Lee Roy wants porn to start leading the way again. Which, of course, involves risk.
“Ugh, I’m tired,” a second girl in the hotel room says. Lee Roy and I are talking across from each other in the small foyer, with the shoot going on on the far bed, with the redhead, and a camera man and sound guy. This second girl just lies down on the floor between Lee Roy and I, sort of in cannonball position, with a hoody covering her top half and head, and her thong and skinny legs sticking out the bottom. She stops moving. It seems that she has passed out.
“Does anyone know who this is?” Lee Roy whispers to one of the crew.
“I dunno, the photographer brought her,” the guy whispers back.
“Well… can we get her a ride somewhere?”
On our way out of the hotel, Lee Roy expresses regret that Billy Crystal’s autobiography wasn’t quite what he’d hoped. “It was okay, I guess. I was hoping for more Yiddish. A hot girl saying words like ‘shlep.'”
“‘Putz.’ ‘Fakakta,'” I offer.
“Right. My vision involved a lot of Yiddish,” he says.
I walk back to my hotel, a discount room at The Quad (formerly the Imperial Palace) from the Hard Rock where the AVNs are happening. It’s about a mile and a half walk, despite the hotels not being that far apart, as the crow flies. But Vegas being Vegas, there’s a bunch of shit in between. I pass a nail salon called, fittingly, “Get Nailed.” This only a few blocks from the Hard Rock’s famous Mexican restaurant, “The Pink Taco.” I envision the pet groomer here being called “Clean That Bitch” or “Shave Your Stinky Pussy” or something to that effect. Everything here has to have a dumb, sleazy sex name.
It’s a strange place, Vegas, so transparently disdainful of its target audience. It truly is every propagandist’s dream. Sick of your concrete jungle rat race?? Escape to our concrete jungle, at Hotel Escape! All baby rats dine half off! The buffet has crab!
Every time I come here I mistakenly think getting a hotel in the middle of the strip is the way to go, thinking I’ll be in the “middle of it all.” Only the middle of it all is the last place you want to be here. Being trapped in the center of a bunch of casinos in close proximity is like living inside a cigarette display. Like casinos, cigarettes are all basically the same, but it’s like this social experiment to see if advertisers can build brand loyalty through sheer presumption, all while competing with other companies selling a product that’s transparently identical. “You don’t want that cigarette, that one’s for girls! Didn’t you notice the pink packaging?? You look like a rugged, nautical type – that’s why we have Portholes, the one with the anchors on it and the drawing of Popeye! It’s the cigarette for manly sailors!”
In the market for a casino at which to lose your money, friend? I’ll help you choose. Are you a Roman or a country western?? Choose wisely, your decision will dictate the novelty name on the club sandwich in the room service menu.
I quickly give up on finding anything normal to eat and just go to the absolute most soulless, culturally bankrupt overpriced funnel cake peddler I can think of, which happens to be Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, inside Harrah’s. There’s a mechanical bull inside and half the dudes I see are wearing bedazzled Affliction-style shirts with beat up baseball caps or artfully distressed cowboy hats, just like Toby. Ahh, the power of marketing. I sit at the bar and order the “Stays in Mexico Quesadilla.” I’m told the name is a reference to a Toby Keith song called “Stays in Mexico,” about two people having an affair in Mexico (probably at some time share that looks exactly like a Mexico-themed casino in Vegas). But given that Toby Keith is the guy who sang “Freedom Isn’t Free” and led the boycott against the Dixie Chicks, I refuse to rule out the possibility that he just hates Mexicans and thinks they should stay in Mexico.
That night, through a series of friend of a friend of a friend relationships and meet-this-person-here-and-say-you’re-a-friend-of-so-and-so’s, I finagle my way into a party thrown by the guys who run Brazzers and some of the Tube sites frequently blamed for ruining the industry. The party is at a club inside the Wynn casino, where I’ve never been. In a city full of gaudy shit, it takes a lot to be impressed by the gaudiness of something, yet the Wynn manages to make me “Ooh” and “Ahh” at carpets and decorations like a rube.
If you’re wondering who’s still making money off porn, it’s these guys. All the free tube sites that have basically taken over the industry exist to funnel people to subscription, affiliate, and cam sites (it’s a thousand times more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it). The party begins at a restaurant, attended by more than I can count and paid for by I’m not sure whom. Someone offers me a French cut lamb chop, which tastes delicious, even at almost one in the morning. Best new starlet nominee Natalia Starr is there (she does look girl-next-door-ish, in a busty blonde way, partially contradicting my earlier theory). Male performer of the year nominee Keiran Lee is there. Former backyard brawler-turned-MMA-star and some-time Reality Kings bodyguard Kimbo Slice is there (I make a note to get a picture with him).
Eventually we move to the club next door where at 1 am or so the party is just getting started. We get the full VIP-section treatment, complete with bottle service and a giant marquee that says “WELCOME BRAZZERS.” The DJ, playing thumping, Euro-style house music gives a shout out to our group on the microphone and gold confetti explodes from God knows where, covering everyone. These guys party like Arab royalty. Vagaries of the industry are discussed. Clearly, these guys are more interested in making money than making porn, porn just happens to be a method they’ve discovered that works well, when paired with a high-level understanding of IT and search engine optimization. Many have made the case that the web and math geeks have taken over smut. Our conversation itself is a blur, and having researched it in the past, I’m not sure I would understand how all this works even under optimal circumstances. It’s a complex chain of web traffic algorithms and affiliate relationships. I drink a bunch of Red Bull vodkas and wake up in my hotel room. Bottle service seems nice. The last thing I remember is talking to a girl from Tucson.
The next night is the actual awards, held inside a gigantic ballroom inside the Hard Rock. It begins with a Hollywood-style red carpet procession snaking its way through the Hard Rock floor. Girls with gigantic fake breasts pose for paparazzi, creepy-looking men crowd in to take amateur photos, and rubber neckers of various stripe collect a new anecdote for their epic Vegas weekends, looking amused. With the convention shrinking in size and the traditional “industry” feeling like it’s in a state of flux if not an outright death rattle, this is the part that’s the most unchanged from 15 or 20 years ago, right down to some of the people involved. (Yes, Ron Jeremy is there. Of course he is).
For us non-red carpet attendees, the entrance is outside and through a side door near the garage. There’s a long line of people ranging from schlubby dudes looking casual to older guys in overworked clothing with much younger dates in cleavagey dresses. Plenty of guys look like the old pinky ring stereotype, and you wonder if they’re actually in the business or if they’re just emulators, attracted by the idea of it.
“Ash? Come on honey,” says a grey-haired guy in an Affliction t-shirt with the brand’s letters sewed onto the back, jersey-style, between a pair of iron crosses. His blonde date clops after him as best she can in her heels, sounding like the coconut guys in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They leave the rest of us in line, presumably off to be feted at some more important VIP entrance for the legitimately sleazy.
Once inside, I make my way to my seat, in what I gather is the “journalist” section, all the way in back, up in the balcony section. The people on stage will be but small specks from up here, meaning I’m going to watch all the action on the jumbotron, meaning I might as well have been watching this from home, had I that option. Though at home you do miss out on a lot of the ambience, like the giant Fleshlight mini-blimp buzzing around the atrium of the theater.
A Fleshlight, by the way (for the five percent of you who don’t already know), is an incredibly lifelike rubber vagina stuffed inside a flashlight-like container, presumably in the interests of concealment (never hurts to be discreet with your sex toys). A few years back, I saw an anime-themed Fleshlight being sold at Comic-Con. A Fleshlight with a picture of a sexy Japanese cartoon on the side of it. Which, when you break it down, is a disembodied vagina, stuffed inside a flashlight, that you f*ck, while pretending it’s a cartoon who can’t speak English. And I thiiiink to myseeeeelffff, what a wonderfullll woooooooooorrllldd….
Looking around the giant auditorium, the crowd runs the gamut from excited porn performers to bored porn technicians to excited spectators who look like they might start having sex at any moment. People doing… whatever it is these people are doing.
The night begins with a performance by theoretically important recording artist “Machine Gun Kelly” (has anyone you’ve actually heard of ever been introduced as a “recording artist?”). A Eurotrash-looking white guy (who was actually born in Houston, Wikipedia tells me), heroin chic and with lots of tattoos, Kelly performs a rap song amidst a cadre of dancing porn girls like a neo-Robert Palmer. He plays drums very theatrically. The main thing I notice about the music is that it’s VERY, VERY LOUD. It seems I’ve been sat directly inside the speaker.
The AVNs generally have an adult performer or two co-hosting the ceremony with a comedian. This year’s performer-hosts are Wicked contract girls Chanel Preston and Samantha Saint, with comedian Rebekah Kochan. Past AVN comedian-hosts have included Dave Atell, Bobby Slayton, Lisa Lampanelli, the late great Robert Schimmel – comedians that run the gamut from living legend to people you’ve at least heard of. Kochan, with whom this is my first experience, is a loud blonde with big hair and very red lips. As for her opening monolog, it’s hard for me to describe a comedian’s set without a lot of excessive prefacing about how I’ve done many a bad comedy set myself and have bombed countless times and I understand how many factors out of the comedian’s control can contribute to making it seem worse than it is and blah blah blah. All that is true, and I’d never judge a comic from a single set, especially in a venue as singular as this. But putting on my casual observer’s hat, Kochan’s jokes sound mostly like bad cover song versions of Lisa Lampanelli jokes, told at ear-splitting volume. She seems to be yelling into the microphone like it’s a CB radio with the windows down, and the fact that I’m sitting in an empty section, right next to the shrieking speaker, but too far from anyone to tell if she’s getting laughs, seems to magnify the effect.
Kochan’s jokes include congratulating the performers for always looking like they’re having a good time, which is amazing because “NOBODY has a good time in Chatsworth.”
She has another one about how she’s growing out her cooch (which she comically pronounces “kewch”). “It’s like a brillo pad down there,” she shrieks, holding for laughter. “But I gotta tell ya, our dishes have never been cleaner.”
There’s another joke about how she can tell when her goldfish have been having sex because “the black fish stops coming around.” Then another about how much she likes the morning after pill. “This oven has killed more Jews than a Nazi,” she says.
The general assumption seems to be that porn people will really appreciate naughty sex and race humor. It’s an understandable assumption, though I’m not sure if it’s actually true, because there’s never been a control group. The previous night, the AVNs/AEE had promoted another comedy show by Colin Kane. I watched a group of four or five porn girls walk out mid show, apparently put off by Kane’s neo-Dice Clay act. They left shortly after Kane’s joke about how if you want to know what a black girl’s pussy looks like, you can go down to the animal shelter and check out a Rottweiler’s gums. Hard to say if that was the joke that did it, or if they just had another party to get to.
The awards begin, and aside from the Clever Title Award, and various unintentional bits of comedy, it’s not an especially comedic affair. None of the performers thanked God or their families, mostly just their studios and directors. Though Annike Albright did describe her role in the film that won her Best Anal as “a dream come true.”
The best part is watching directors try to thank their crew members while trying to remember all of their fake porn names. One of the director of the year nominees is simply named “Mason” and just has a skull avatar instead of a headshot in the montage, Gorillaz style. Previously mentioned Bonnie Rotten takes Performer of the Year, while Best New Starlet goes to Mia Malkova. Just before the winner was read, a guy sitting in front and to my right predicted Malkova. Which surprised me, as I assumed the AVN awards were far less predictable than the Oscars. The only thing I’d predicted correctly was that Dave Navarro would show up at some point, and show up he did, not five minutes later, like some enchanted human bauble, guylinered and stinking of hookah.
Butthole Barrio Bitches wins Best Latin Release, not to be confused with Best Latin Series. Phat Ass White Girls wins Best Big Butt Series. Male Newcomer of the Year goes to Ike Diezel, a fake name only slightly sillier than Vin Diesel. Eurobabes Jizz Explosion gets robbed in the Foreign Sex Scene category. Meanwhile, my favorite introduction speech begins with the presenter solemnly reading, “The poet Mark Twain once said…”
There are so many categories and awards, and each with fifteen nominees, that the thick program consists solely of the awards and nominees, nothing else. This is just the categories:
They premiere a new Machine Gun Kelly music video, which is basically just an unbroken tsunami of grating noise. Wicked Pictures founder Steve Orenstein was honored with the third annual Visionary Award. He’s celebrated for going condoms-only in his own company’s shoots to protect performers 12 years ago, while later fighting against Measure B, the ordinance requiring condom use in adult shoots in LA. The crowd applauds wildly, nearly giving him a standing ovation.
Underworld director Brad Armstrong’s voice breaks as he pays tribute to a lighting guy who has died recently. Performer “Skin Diamond” says “It was really awesome getting covered in cum,” while accepting her award for… something. Thankfully, the ceremony only names five nominees for each category and not the full fifteen. Even so, the night ends with a montage of the award winners who weren’t mentioned in the celebration, and even with a pre-recorded announcer quickly naming the just category and each winner, the montage lasts the better part of fifteen minutes. Now I know why Lee Roy had opted out of attending the awards, sarcastically telling me “have fun,” and rolling his eyes while he stayed at the bar.
We grabbed a drink after the awards, and I met a few more people. I would leave the following morning.
So what did I learn in all this? Basically I learned that porn is being tossed around by the same forces affecting virtually every other type of business. I expected to see a celebration of an industry in decline, and I did, sort of. But it’s not “going away” in any real sense. It can’t. It’s porn. It’s been around in some form forever. Things have changed rapidly in the last five or ten years and it’s still changing. The money hasn’t gone away, it’s just that the people who understand and manipulate the digital forces underpinning it all are the ones who are making the biggest profits. Everyone else is either holding on to a dying model or trying to play catch up. The romantics hate it, and it’s easy to see why. Remember story? Remember theaters? Remember shooting on film? Soon they’ll be saying “Remember features? Remember DVD?”
But as with everything, no technological advance ever undid itself because someone wrote a wistful editorial about the good old days.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.