The Naked Truth: A Night Out With Porn Stars

This piece originally went to air in episode 22 of The Outland Institute. You can hear it with added interview material and sound effects by downloading it from here, or why not go crazy and subscribe through iTunes?

Over the years, AIDS educators have tried many ways to get their message across. They’ve used fear, erotic photography, celebrity spokesmodels, real people’s stories, and even bowling. For the last year or so the Victorian AIDS Council has been using porn stars to inform and educate. Marco Blaze and Francesco D’Macho have already visited – probably not their real names – and last week Bruno Bond and Steve Cruz came to Melbourne. They were here to promote the VAC’s 2010 Protection calendar.

In the past, visiting pornistas have been used mostly for media promotion, and for live interview appearances. This time round there was something new. In what was possibly a world first, Cruz and Bond were to perform a live commentary on their porn in a gay sex club in Collingwood. It was an intriguing blend of private and public, combining the old world of the public gathering with the new world of the DVD extra. By extending the on-screen action into the audience it was oddly reminiscent of William Castle’s 1959 classic The Tingler, in which some of the seats in the cinema were hooked up to an electric current.

Incidentally, are all porn performers automatically “stars”? Is there such a thing as a porn “character actor”? Is anyone the William H Macy of porn?

So at 1am on Saturday the 28th of November I made my way to Club 80, for what promised to be a very special night. And let’s be upfront about this – partly I was genuinely interested in the idea of exploring the different ways in which audiences enjoy visual works, and partly I was hoping it would be hilarious so I could mock it on The Outland Institute radio show, like the angsty sarcastic self-loathing Gen X type that I am…

I should say here that I have no problem with porn. I do enjoy the pornographic arts on occasion, and I even knew who Steve Cruz was (although Bruno Bond was unknown to me). In fact, I never really believe people who say they have no interest in porn, or that porn does nothing for them. I always think they‘re lying, or they have a very slow internet connection.

It was a modest number who gathered in the Club 80 dungeon. Cruz and Bond arrived, both being much smaller than you would expect – I guess it’s true that the camera really does add 5 inches. In a charming move, they both immediately took their shirts off, fully understanding what an audience wants from them. It’s nipples.

With no microphones the live commentary idea was quickly – and sadly – abandoned. The new plan was that we would watch one of Steve’s scenes in toto, and then Cruz and Bond would present a Q&A on the work.

So we started to watch the porn – or possibly to watch the porn stars watching themselves. And it was here that I realised a few things about the nature of porn.

Watching porn, for me, is not a communal activity. I think porn is something you watch by yourself in the absence of sex, or instead of it. It’s a proxy for the real thing, in much the same way you might watch Nigella Lawson while eating two minute noodles. So if you’re in a sex club surrounded by half-naked guys, there’s no need to be eating two minute noodles. Nigella is already there, if you follow my somewhat tortured analogy.

My second realisation was about time. Of all the visual narrative forms, porn is possibly the only one in which the viewer controls the speed. In a film, or a TV show, we give over control of time to the storyteller. They choose what information to hide and what to reveal, they choose the pace with which they will tell the story, and they choose where it will end. In porn, it’s common for the viewer to take control of all that, speeding through the bits they’re not interested in, lingering on the moments they are, and when the viewer is ready to stop watching…

They turn it off. You don’t really need to see how it ends.

So when you watch porn with a group and no remote, you realise that at real speed it’s… kind of long. And a bit dull. The scene was about 15 minutes long, but it felt a lot longer as we waited and waited for the inevitable to come…

After the screening there was a Q&A, and curiously it was like any other film Q&A I’ve attended. You could’ve imagined you were at – say – The National Film Theatre, except for that guy who wasn’t wearing any pants.

On the way out there was even a merchandise stall where you could get an official “I spent the evening with Bruno and Steve” t-shirt, or pick up your copy of the Victorian AIDS Council’s 2010 R-rated Protection calendar, which were both free. Incidentally, the calendar is enormous. Honestly, it’s the size of a Shetland pony – but hotter. It’s also filthy, and not the sort of thing you should have up when Auntie Vi comes to visit. Unless she’s into that.

Porn has been around from the beginning of recorded culture. It’s one of the first things you see whenever technology makes a jump, whether that be the printing press, the cinematograph or the internet. In the 1970s Deep Throat even became a semi-mainstream hit, with an FBI report estimating cinema earnings of 100 million dollars. It allowed well-heeled heterosexual couples the chance to do something taboo and naughty together, and led to a brief period of semi-respectability that The New York Times dubbed “porno chic”. It was tres cool to be seen seeing Deep Throat, and Truman Capote, Jack Nicholson and Johnny Carson were among those seen seeing it.

These days porn is ubiquitous – not only has the internet brought it to everyone’s home, but fashion labels, pop stars and advertising all regularly borrow it’s visual motifs. Surprisingly, it’s neither shocking nor titillating when mentioned in public anymore – it’s now more like having an interest in collecting dolls of the world, or knowing about different kinds of extruded plastic manufacture. It’s probably an interest best kept at home, and enjoyed by oneself.

You can hear the original audio version of this piece in episode 22 of The Outland Institute, with bonus vox-pops, Q&A sound bites and sound effects! Why not subscribe through iTunes, or listen to the many episodes already available for your ears (click on “radio show” in the top menu for a list of each show’s contents, including interviews with Alan Brough, Judith Lucy, Angie Hart, Craig McLachlan and many, many more).

For more information about the VAC’s Protection campaign visit protection.org.au, and the calendar is available at the Laird, Club 80 and from the VAC offices in South Yarra. You can find the website for Club 80 at club80.net. I’d also like to thank the Victorian AIDS Council and Club 80 for allowing us to produce this report.

And hey! Turns out amazon sells porn! Sorry, I mean ART BOOKS – images of Steve Cruz and many other can be seen in Magnum: Fotobuch.

4 Responses to The Naked Truth: A Night Out With Porn Stars

  1. Lord Toastie says:

    Nigella is porn,

    you know.

  2. murrayNE says:

    Sure is quiet around here.

    Yep.

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