A few weeks ago, my friends and I decided to throw a big party to raise funds and awareness for our upcoming webisode and already-released magazine. Both revolve around porn—no surprise there—so we gave the party an appropriate name, invited people to get in for free in porn-inspired costumes, and prepared to have the time of our lives at a bar that had given us the go-ahead for our sexy scheme.
We figured we were in the clear once we scoped the place out. It had a distinctly cheesy floor plan, tiny, red-lit bathrooms, photographs on the walls of people having sex in public, and a few smaller VIP rooms for our good friends. It was the perfect setting for a lewd party. This was definitely not a family establishment.
Apparently, however, we misread the situation. Within twenty minutes of our party starting the projector we’d brought, which was showing John Holmes clips from the late ‘70s, was shut down by the owner of the establishment. He claimed that he could lose his liquor license or even be arrested for showing sexually explicit imagery to his patrons, and that he couldn’t have us showing any graphic videos, images, or materials in his bar. He also shut down our raffle, which was designed to make us some money to pay back what we’d poured into the party. (We’d been planning to raffle off a selection of DVDs and sex toys from local porn shops on the understanding we’d use the raffle to advertise the stores. But the raffle, said the bar owner, would interrupt the music, and promote dreaded “graphic materials.”) So no sex toys or porn for our guests. Because sex and its trappings, obviously, are inappropriate at a porn-themed costume party at a late-night, East Village dive bar. Not just sex, but porn—the open and unashamed version of sex. The one that people—oh gracious, can it be true?—make money on.
As I’ve stated before and I’m sure I will again, I’m amazed by this kind of paranoia and small-mindedness, coming as I do from a background of almost constant exposure to sexual imagery and thinking about the issues involved. I spend a lot of time with this subject matter, and yet I’d venture to say that my career on the fringes of the porn industry has not turned me into a miscreant. I still know how to hold a fork correctly. I haven’t lost the ability to maintain conversations or thought processes. I don’t hump things in public. I have never gone on a rape and robbery spree. Porn hasn’t turned me into an irreparable degenerate.
But the point is, people (and by “people” I mean this bar owner) seem bound and determined to think that exposure to pornography and other sexually charged images, objects, and ideas will send viewers’ morals sliding into dangerously low territory. Porn, so the reasoning goes, turns all of us into no better than rutting animals—probably rutting animals with drug and alcohol addictions and violent tendencies, to boot. “Showing porn on a projector at a party with a porn theme,” the people in charge that night were implying, “will send the patrons into a howling, horny orgy of broken glass and aggressive humping that will bring law enforcement and the fury of the public health and safety people down on all our heads. The owner of the establishment will be hauled off to jail as a pornographer and lose his bar and reputation, while the degenerate party-goers will be sentenced to hard labor with their engorged genitals flopping despondently between their chained-together legs.”
OK, that might be an overstatement, but, I mean… honestly. Who on earth would call the police if they walked into a crowded dive bar in the East Village at two in the morning and saw graphic depictions of sex acts being played on the wall? Would any person of sound mind, after being exposed to loose morality, booze, and filthy movies, really lose it entirely, have a moral breakdown, and go out into Thompkins Square Park and rape a hobo? Who would really give that much of a flying crap about a little porn at a porn party? With the exception, perhaps, of a very lost and confused Amish person who somehow fell off the buggy in Jersey and made his way to the East Village seeking help, my estimate would be exactly nobody.
And yet. And yet. Our porn-themed late night extravaganza, which ended up making the bar so much money that the prudish owner brought us a bottle of champagne around 2:30, had no porn. I drank the crap out of that champagne, but I did not thank the owner for it. It was a sad day in Smutville, indeed.
It made me angry. And what made me even angrier than being censored was the realization that my frustration was nothing new. There have been thousands, millions of normal people who have achieved something like sexual enlightenment; who have all made similar claims about the generally innocuous nature of porn on its viewers; who have championed a less-hysterical, more-reasonable approach to sexuality; who have been unafraid to talk about sex or even see sex in public and yet who, to the astonishment or perhaps ignorance of the moral majority, managed to remain upright members of society. It’s been going on for centuries—people speaking out against the heavy-handed brainwashing tactics used by religion and society to quell our understanding of sex—and yet very little real progress has been made. For every step taken forward during the sexual revolution of the ‘60s, it seems we’ve slid three steps back already. Sex, particularly pornographic sex, is still considered dirty, shameful, something not to be talked about or shown in public. As if it will hurt someone. As if we will all be turned into mindless sex fiends, staggering around like zombies and mounting each other in the streets, if we’re not careful to keep our sexualities hidden from the public eye. I just… grrr… Jesus jumping Christ on a pogo stick, people, could we please just grow up? Must we continue, despite the very reasonable voices that keep speaking out against prudery and immaturity, continue to mince around the subject like five-year-olds with “cootie” issues? Are we as a society so brainwashed in our sexual ethics that we really can’t hear the arguments of dissenters with anything besides a cockamamie smile and a chuckle?
I guess not. We sure can’t show porn at a porn party, that’s for sure. In the end, my own frustration about our party being censored probably could have been thrown down the drain right then and there, along with the annoyance of thousands of others who have expressed their dissatisfaction with censorship and prudery. And the thing that made me even angrier was the quiet complacency and even understanding that the victims of the censorship showed. The party planning committee, for instance, argued our case for a few minutes but then shrugged, tried to calm me down, and proceeded to get blackout drunk and take pictures of each other all night. One of my best—and, I thought, most open-minded—friends in the world who arrived and watched the debacle unfold just shrugged at me when I came shrieking at him about narrow-minded, infantile attitudes toward sex.
I’m always taken aback when old friends of mine whip out a prude side—I like to think all my confidants are as enlightened and open-minded as I am. But then, I guess, most of them have not spent several of their post-college years thinking, reading, writing, and philosophizing about sex to the extent that I have. And then again, maybe I’m not enlightened, just jaded.
But when I stormed up to my friend, who I’ll call Patrick, and started ranting about how ridiculous it was that we couldn’t show hardcore pornography at our party, under the thump of the already-blaring music, I heard him say, “Come on, Lynsey,” he said, “what can you expect? It’s pornography.”
I bristled. “So? It’s just sex.”
He stared at me for a minute, then repeated. “But it’s pornography, Lynsey. Nobody’s going to let you play that in public, and you can’t act all surprised about it. People aren’t comfortable with it.”
I stopped for a second, blinking and realizing we were coming at the topic from two completely different places. My heart was still pounding too fast to see things his way, though, so I countered, “But. Isn’t that ridiculous? I mean really, everyone who comes here tonight will be hoping that they’ll go home with someone and end up having wild, crazy, graphic sex for hours. Why can’t we show what everyone is thinking about anyway? It’s stupid. People are such babies about this stuff!”
My friend gave me an exasperated look and sipped his drink. I gave him an equally exasperated look and stomped off to vent at someone else.
I guess that someone else is you guys. Sorry.