The Porn Identity

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Sam Benjamin makes us feel feelings while talking about basketball.

Photo courtesy of RayCornelius.com

I spent most of my mid-twenties as a director in the adult film industry, so it's only natural that, to my eyes, a lot of life seems to resemble porn. The military-industrial complex? Pornesque. That reliance on shock and awe, the unending, obsessive kowtowing to tangible instruments of power. HGTV? Pure porno - but with wood paneling and an affordable down payment as the objects of gratification, instead of wet, soapy thighs or six-inch stilettos.

But when it comes to sports - particularly professional basketball - that's when my porno detective powers really start to kick in. The pure, unabetted physical prowess of the players, the massive viewing audience, the innumerable tired faces, dripping with honest perspiration. Sports as porn, the amateur philosopher inside of me whispers. Athletes as paid stallions. Am I the only one who sees it?

Both enterprises apparently subsist on the emotional involvement of a viewership whose gawking habits tend to border on the addictive. Precious hours that could be spent in a community garden, or volunteering at a homeless shelter are repeatedly flushed down the sports toilet, as I watch intently, yapping at the television, holding up a victorious fist or, horribly, shaking an utterly flabbergasted head. Caring, in other words.

That's how I watch pornography: with utter absorption, no small amount of guilt, and, in thebest of cases, tremendous fascination. Once the game is done, of course, it never fails: I look at the clock, groaning. Jesus, I can never do this again. Sports and porn have been my trusted companions for more than twenty-five years, though, baffling little buddies that I'm rather too fond of to condemn, and a bit too mesmerized by to ever really think of kicking out the door.

My current reality isn't particularly humdrum. I live in LA, I'm trying to write a book about the band RATT, and on Tuesday afternoons, I go to a very compelling, very affordable psychiatrist in Burbank. But for some odd reason, I often can't resist the temptation to bear witness to a more thrill-packed narrative than my own. Brief escape, the odd moment of transcendence played out in full living color on an LCD screen: these are the promised fruits of televised sports and porn.

But it's not just a liberation from boredom that draws me to watch. It's a perverse attraction to envy itself. For some reason, I actually seem to enjoy immersing myself in hours of footage featuring men more talented, more dynamic, more fulfilled than me. Inevitably, this practice incites pangs of resentful jealousy, followed, more often than not, by torrents of slobbering hero worship. I have an okay jump shot, but it’s nothing like Kevin Durant’s; therefore, I force myself to watch Durant for hours, gritting my teeth malevolently, or, alternately, placing myself into his size-sixteen shoes, and cheering on his every move.

The same goes for sex. I'll never get down like my hero, Lexington Steele. He's more skillful than I am, more playful, more inventive. He’s figured out a way to have chemistry, affection and respect for each woman he meets. Thus, Steele’s simultaneously a delight and a horror to watch: every subsequent viewing affirming my undying admiration for him, just as it drives home ever more concretely the lesson of how different we are. These painful, pleasurable glimpses into his and Durant’s world are so detail-rich - so full of compelling supporting characters, so finely rendered with stunning Dolby surround sound - that I literally cannot look away. Jealousy, perfected.

But the seedier aspects of vicarious pleasure can only take me so far. At their highest level, both sports and porno present me with tableaus so breathtaking and flamboyantly unreal that I can’t even for a moment envision myself engaged in them. When I watch LeBron bull past three world-class athletes, slap their advances away, then bank a seventeen-footer off the glass, I don't even want to do that It's too far-fetched for me, even in my dreams. My experience of watching such alien and impressive talents generally boils down to some version of gratefulness, and a sort of wonder that I got see it occur. It's pure spectacle, like a ten-man Mexican midget gangbang, and I'm just glad I'm alive and have the internet, so I can see it go down.

***

Sometimes, though, I connect with both sportsand porn on a more modest, human scale, one thatis almost entirely about personal relationships,whether real or imagined. I'm a big Danny Green man. I watched D-Green all through college: loved his game, loved his attitude. Just a greatguy. Now, for him to go from getting drafted late in the second round, then warming the bench for the Cavs in 2010, then hitting the D-League, and finally working his way into a starting gig for the Spurs this year? Come on, that's amazing. It constitutes heart-warming human interestdrama - maybe not to a Jeremy Lin level, but it's the same basic idea. So when I saw Green drop a score of key three-pointers in the first two rounds of the playoffs, then get unceremoniously benched by the stoic Greg Popovich in the conference finals ... well, that kept me interested. Was my man going to get his minutes?

The same goes for the porn companies I grew up with and the friends I made in the industry. Porno's been hit hard by the tube sites: with the availability of free, easily downloadable wank clips all around us, the money generated by porn companies is way, way down. (I know: shed not a tear for the pornographers. I get it.) That means that the classic companies I grew up with, like Extreme Associates, Red Light District, WestCoast Productions, and Platinum X Pictures have less revenue to spread around, if they even still exist. There's no danger of a lockout; they just shoot far fewer scenes, and that means less work for our favorite actors and actresses. So when I see click onto a clip, and see my old friend Brian Pumper start to deliver a line of absurd panty-dropping dialogue,  I'm happy for the guy. He's getting his minutes.

(Pumper and I go way back. I met him in 2002, inMalibu, California, when I was at the apex of mycommitment to the business, a Jewish pornographer with a finely attuned sense of underachievement, and he was just another a rookie with high hopes and a ten-inch dick. Ten years and a thousand scenes later, I'm rumpled and fat, but Pumper looks fit, healthy, even happy. The other day, I ran into him on my friend Billy Watson's set. Billy was shooting a complicated, dialogue-laden set-up in his Koreatown studio that featured newbie porn actress Remy LaCroix and my old friend Pumper.  Remy's eyes bugged. Pumper's muscles bulged. His jewelry was tight. In an increasingly competitive industry, Pumper, apparently, is still holding it down.)

There's a distinct pleasure in growing olderon my couch in Echo Park, watching my belly thicken all around me, while others perform audacious feats of athleticism and bravery. And as of late, I've found it increasingly easier to choose the Finals over Redtube; for no women are harmed in the making of an NBA game, unless you include the dance teams, and their insipid glitterized Vegas-showgirl aerobic outfits. (Not that I'm complaining, exactly.) Maybe that means I'm becoming an old softy, or more of a guiltmachine, but truthfully, apart from the teams ofgroupies waiting at the Regency Hyatt for NorrisCole to make his entrance, the amount of moral and ethical quandaries experienced per minute during an NBA game is pretty far down the ladder compared to smut, at least in respect to gender.

Tonight I'm heading to El Conquistador, a dark bar with three televisions, all tuned to the same station. The drama is Durant and LeBron, Game 4. I am buzzing with excitement, just thinking about it.


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