In general I don’t like to criticize other pornographers. There are three basic reasons for this: 1. I don’t pay much attention to them; 2. the world is tough enough; and 3. the highroad is more satisfying in the short term and more rewarding in the long run.
However, there’s a tendency for gay pornographers to separate into groups, each believing itself to be more socially responsible than the other. As is usually the case, the most strident and vocal are those who are the most simplistically self-righteous. The absurdity of this useless and imaginary divide into pornographers of greater or lesser culpability–the “safe” versus the “unsafe”–was brought home in the recent public response to the death of a young man who’d been deeply involved in “safe” porn.
His (more or less public) private sex was unfettered and raw. But he was bullied–socially and contractually–into making porn only with “safe” studios. And this was likely a primary cause of his early demise.
His troubled psyche and personal life were amply and explicitly chronicled in his blog. It was a sad and disturbing tale of an extravagantly insecure man living with a body dysmorphic disorder. With candor he shared his dangerously excessive steroid regimens–pointing out that they were so extreme that he knew that he would “either pop or die” from them. He was also candid about his drug and alcohol abuse. Even a glancing familiarity with him or his blog was enough to prove that this was an extraordinarily unhappy man who was committing a relatively slow–and professionally supported–suicide.
His method of suicide was the key to his success in “safe” porn. On the day of his death, the pornographers and studios who had worked with him lamented the loss of a “gentle giant”, and wrote with no apparent self-awareness or irony of the untimely loss of this “hot” man with “a huge muscle-clad frame”. Had these people known this man? Had they read his writings?
In all honesty, I don’t fault him for living the way he lived. Every man of any depth has demons with whom he wrestles. And, as Blake put it, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” And I’ve spent my life avidly embracing all the demons I can and indulging in wanton excess at every opportunity.
I do, however, find the very public tears of those who worked with him to be less than laudable. Not only because they worked with him, claimed to know him well, understood his life-path and profited from it. But because these are the same pornographers who pretend to a sanctimonious self-righteousness when it comes to those who choose to fuck without condoms or those who choose to engage in a mode of riskiness that doesn’t involve meth abuse, alcohol abuse, steroid abuse. These folks make a killing from a man with obvious personality imbalances, drug and alcohol addiction and severe body dysmorphia disorder—and yet they judge others.
The adage of the pot calling the kettle black comes to mind. All pornographers–without exception–breathe, eat and live in the same fleshly muck and mire. We are all of us laborers in the same mud, slime and smut. Our chosen territory is vice and excess, lust and depravity. We are each and every one of us sinners of the same sort. I, for one, proudly acknowledge the blood and semen on my own filthy hands.
A year or so ago, a member of the Jackass crew was killed in a car accident that surprised no one. He died in a way that seemed both premature and inevitable. I would say he died with a wild stupidity that was integral to his personality, his life-style and his work. And this personality and life-style had been supported by his friends. Yet when film critic Roger Ebert made a comment to this effect (He simply tweeted “Jackasses don’t let other jackasses drive drunk.”) he was viciously attacked by Bam Margera, the man who had most profited from and encouraged his buddy’s wildness. Through the tears of his immaturity, Margera savaged Ebert and wailed the surprising personal fact that he’d never known anyone who had died before. I’ll confess here: I laughed at Bam Margera. Not a cheerful laugh, but a dry laugh at a ruthless young businessman whose tears were completely invalidated not only by his lack of empathy but more particularly because he’d made a fortune exploiting his friend’s choices.
Death. Yes, death. In our own way we each choose how we will die. Each day, every hour, we make our choices, and those choices create our life, develop our persona, sustain our happiness, insure our misery and ordain our death. Not one of us makes it out of this cockamamie game alive. I learned long ago to accept without judgment the transgressive, terrifying, difficult and forbidding particularities of those I love and those with whom I work. In the way they live they teach me about life and death and, more importantly, about what it means to be human and male.
This young man who recently died lived the life he needed and longed to live. But it has to be acknowledged that he lived it in good part because gay men in general and pornographers in particular were giddily willing to exploit and use him. He was a “gentle giant” who sold well, and because he sold well he was encouraged through his own willing exploitation to continue being a more and more extremely muscled giant. He knew his choices would make him “pop or die”. He was right, and his life and his work and his death are simple facts with nothing shameful about any of it.
Crocodiles were once believed to weep in order to lure victims closer, to fool food that believed itself to be safe. The tears were mock, produced for effect. All pornographers, like crocodiles, exist on the flesh of those they lure and attract and devour. It’s the nature of the work, always has been and always will be. And if you work in the genre of pornography you understand the single most vital paradox of the enterprise: all the new, fresh flesh wants and needs to be devoured, to be used and exploited and revealed to the world. If this weren’t the case we would live in an unsexed and g-rated world of happy and safe married people.
The shame I feel for my fellow pornographers is in their belief that their crocodile tears are believed, that their glycerine teardrops are in any sense an excuse or even a cure for the work they do. These faux-tears were shed by the same men who today continue to do the same work with new and fresh variants of this much-lamented dead young man. And when the next young man dies, the tears will flow yet again. And then again.
The perfect irony is that those men who have worked with me in my unconscionably risky and death-embracing “unsafe” sex work, are, to a man, all hale and hardy and wickedly alive. Every single one of them. It’s the men who work for the “safe” pornographers who keep dying. And we all know why.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t experience the merest hint of schadenfreude in reading the public wailings of my sanctimonious pornographic peers as they reacted to this most recent death. I’ve been in the world of porn forever. I am finally losing what sympathy I once may have felt for the crocodiles among us, the self-righteous and thoroughly blameworthy crocodiles.
– Paul Morris
Paul Morris has collaborated with Susanna Paasenan (Professor of Media Studies at the University of Turku, Finland) on “Coming to Mind: a Dialogue on Pornography” for the Oxford Handbook for Sound and Image in Digital Media (forthcoming, 2013)