Have you ever heard of Sasha Grey? Maybe?
As it happens, she’s a young actress from California. I first saw her in Steven Soderbergh’s taut little film, “The Girlfriend Experience.” She is lithe, Sasha Grey, with long, fine dark hair, and oil-black eyes. Those eyes are world-weary like Scarlett Johansson’s, but not in that same I-grew-up-in-New-York-so-I’m-smarter-and-cooler-than-you sort of way.
Do you know what I mean?
She was hard not to watch, Ms. Grey, as she played a very expensive call girl who provided a particular service: she pretends to be her John’s girlfriend, beyond just sexing him up.
Her acting is languid, sure, but again, it’s hard to look away. She was oddly mesmerizing. Then I saw her during her multi-episode cameo on “Entourage,” which I’m loathe to admit I ever watched.
At that point, I’d already learned her somewhat-but-not-really shocking story: Sasha Grey was a porn-star, despite her small boobs and overall lack of looking the part. What did I think, when I first heard the news?
That poor girl. She must have gotten all worn out. Apparently, she’d made a tremendous amount of movies, in which she often had sex with multiple partners at once.
My first thought was not, “Good for her. Making something of herself. Commodifying her compelling sexuality. Way to go. The American dream in the making.”
No. I half-worried that she was tarnished goods.
At no point did I consider tracking down some of her X-rated material online. That seemed a bit like peeking through the curtain at your neighbor undressing, as I’d first seen her in a “mainstream” film, though she did get naked, as I recall.
Can we all agree that my reaction was strange? Or maybe not strange, as it’s normal to be embarrassed by pornography, even though most people use it in some form or other.
No, my reaction was not strange. It was inappropriate. Yes, that’s the right word. I was practically Puritan, which is unpleasant to admit.
Our collective guilt at our carnal urges, and the manner in which we occasionally satisfy them via visual means, was the cause of the awkward thoughts I had vis a vis Ms. Grey, and her choice of professions.
My bad, in retrospect. More power to you, Sasha. (Because I’m sure you’re reading this, right?)
It’s one of the great hypocrisies of our time, the way we all engage in the same kind of behavior that we’re all pretty sure is wrong. I think the subject is worth investigating, which we can easily do via “Denied Reality- Episode 1: Our Industry,” a new book out by Christopher J Everard, published by Interlife Pictures.
The artist sent me a copy, suspecting that I might like it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think some people were paying attention with respect to the types of books I prefer. Because this one hit the mark in almost every way.
Mr. Everard is based in London, and is British by birth, near as I can tell, though he did spend many years living in the US. So his predilection for our culture is understandable, as is his curiosity about our prurient interest in sex, which he deems a “Denied Reality.”
Open up the book, and there are a succession of well-made-but-not brilliant images that come without an explanation. So I thought, “Gee, I wonder what I’m looking at?”
As if he perfectly anticipated the question, the very next page had small black and white thumbnail images, with well-written captions. I had a desire, and the book satisfied. (No pun intended.)
It appears that this book is a research-based, first-person narrative exploration inside the porn industry which is based, primarily, in Los Angeles. As the book is being released while Larry Sultan has his retrospective at LACMA, he is referenced appropriately within.
This is a book that speaks to photo-book-geeks, because it varies up its delivery like a crafty pitcher who can no longer throw the heat, so he has to keep the batters on their toes.
Immediately after a few more photos and caption pages, there’s an honest, hilarious essay by Daniel Blight. It’s also in a first person style, and breezy, without being pretentious. No art-speak, but lots of references to masturbation, smoking hash, and improper behavior.
Basically, it was the exact style I like to read. Mostly because I also like to write that way, as you well know.
This book, unlike almost everything I review, was one I had to put down and come back to. Because there is good, engaging writing interspersed throughout. It’s too dense to breeze through it like a normal photo-book, or read it in one shot, unless you’ve allotted the proper time.
In that regard, it’s different from what I normally see, which is something I’m always begging for in this space. Do it differently. Make the book into an experience I/ we’ll remember.
Mr. Everard seems to have interviewed a lot of subjects in the industry, walked red carpets, attended award banquets, traveled to Arizona to meet some professionals living outside the LA bubble, and road-tripped to Utah, after he learned that its residents are the highest per capita consumers of porn in the US. He actually mentions statistics in several places that suggest that most of the Red States/Republican States/States with the highest rate of church-goers actually top that list year in, year out.
The conclusion reached, and perhaps dispensed a few too many times, is that the people in the pornography industry are hard working Americans. They bust their humps (no pun intended) to put food on their table, support their families, and have time on the weekends to play with their kids. They’re great dads, moms, and children.
The industry supplies jobs, and pays taxes. It is an American success story that we all pretend doesn’t exist. Because we are ashamed of ourselves; not the people who supply our fix. They deserve better, the artist suggests.
All in all, it’s a great book. The pictures within, which contain surprisingly few “nasty” images, and even fewer boobs, are not the type to blow you away. They’re not AMAZING. Just really good, particularly in illustration of the overall narrative.
But they don’t need to be more than that. It’s the book we judge, and the way in which the text and images support each another, and the pacing, degree of information, accessibility of the concept, it all makes for a genuinely excellent experience.
Mr. Blight has another great piece at the end, mocking Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” and I’m still not sure if it’s a reported story, or if he just made it up. There’s even a “Designer’s Cut” edit of pictures that wouldn’t have otherwise made book. That’s extra content that you get if you’re special, and buy this particular edition of the book. Extra stuff, like those porn sites are always offering, so I’m told, if you’re only willing to drop your credit card number.
Bottom Line: Honest, smart, very-well executed look at the things we like to see, but never discuss.