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from www.forbes.com – I’m sitting in the nosebleed seats at the porn awards.
To my right, an older man — maybe 60, or 70 — is reading the evening’s program with a small yellow flashlight.
To my left, a young Asian woman is studying her program as if cramming for a final.
“WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” a man behind us screams.
On the stage, a woman whose breasts risk overflowing the neckline of her sparkling dress is at the microphone, but there is a technical difficulty, and we can’t hear what she’s saying.
It doesn’t really matter. This is porn.
The last time I went to the AVN Awards Show in Las Vegas, it was a decade ago or so. Back then, it was a whole different game. The Adult Entertainment Expo trade convention preceding the awards show used to run concurrent with the mainstream Consumer Electronics Show but has been moved to the middle of January.
Once upon a time, you entered the convention hall and were staggered by the overwhelming size of it. The top three adult production companies had massive booths with sky-high banners, stables of starlets on stools just beyond reach, market positions fortified and seemingly unassailable.
In 2013, everything has changed. The Expo is split into a series of rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The booths are smaller. The enterprise has shrunk. The most high-profile production company — Vivid Video — doesn’t even have a booth and is doing business in a private suite. Fans clog the aisles: a man with a seeing-eye dog, a little person, several men in wheelchairs. The stars: accessible. The competition is a delegation of a dozen chattering cam girls who’ll do anything online for tips.
Before the Awards show, the media and the pornographers convene in a banquet hall ringed with bright lights. At one end of a red carpet, porn stars stand in a line. A woman holds up a piece of paper with a porn star’s name scrawled on it and yells the porn star’s name. The porn star makes her way down the carpet. The photographers on the riser shoot the porn star.
I look around and realize I am the only woman on the riser. All the photographers are men.
“I need alcohol,” a whippet-thin blonde in a black leather dress says, stepping out of frame.
The Awards show is held at The Joint, a live music venue at the Hard Rock. On the bottom floor, the attendees swarm the bar. A man in a tie and a dog collar wanders past, drink in hand. A woman tugs at her brass knuckle necklace, her neckline so low it exposes her bellybutton. Years ago, ticket holders sat at large round tables in a football field-sized room. This year, there are far fewer tables and a great many folding chairs.
The lights dim 45 minutes late. Two words appear on the screens flanking the red curtain: “IN MEMORIAM.” The disorientingly long video with a depressing soundtrack features everyone with a connection to porn who died last year, Gore Vidal included.
“Sex is,” Vidal once said. “There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels and sex certainly gives no meaning to anything in life but itself.”
At the end of my first day at the convention, I go back to the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, where I am staying because this is my seventh trip to Las Vegas and this is a hotel I have not stayed at yet. I estimate the distance between the elevator and my room nears half a mile. The emerald green casino is an homage to The Wizard of Oz, but this is not the Emerald City, I am not Dorothy, and there is no yellow brick road.
In one of the 6,852 rooms, I pull back the curtain and survey the electrified Strip below. I can see the fake Eiffel Tower, the fake New York City.
I turn off the lights. My room glows green.
A porn star named Houston and I are sitting in front of a Wheel of Fortune slot machine in the Hard Rock’s buzzing casino. Houston has expressive blue eyes, her very blonde hair in an up-do, and she is wearing a backless persimmon-colored dress with gold high heels that have fake gun heels, the twin muzzles pointing into the ground. After 13 years out of the business, she has returned to making porn movies.
Among porn stars, Houston is a legend. At the tail end of the 20th century, she became famous for doing extreme things in her movies. As I had followed her through the throng, heads had swiveled. People still recognized her.
Why did she stay famous when other porn stars faded?
“I think because I was so infamous in my reign in the nineties,” she says, wide-eyed. “And,” she considers, “I’m still alive.”
“Are you guys ready for some porn chicks?” crows April Macie, the flame-haired, comely comedian hosting the Awards show, and the audience roars.
I scan the Expo’s adult toy exhibit. The sex gadget business is great, I’ve heard. The reason is simple: You can pirate adult movies. You cannot pirate adult toys.
I approach the Fleshlight booth. (For the sake of illumination, a Fleshlight is something like an anatomically-correct flashlight. Some Fleshlights are molds of real porn stars. According to the company’s website, what Fleshlights are made of is “a company secret covered by a series of US patents.”) A middle-aged woman is working on the marketing display, which consists of different Fleshlight models stuck into holes in the wall. Each model has a name: “Wonder Wave,” “Speed Bump,” “Vortex.”
I watch the woman remove the Fleshlights and replace them with fresh ones.
“Why are you doing that?” I ask.
“They get sticky,” she explains, from people sticking their fingers in them.
has your libido been killed off completely being at that thing (AVN) ala that david foster wallace piece or is it different (for chicks)? a friend emails, referencing Wallace’s account of the 1998 adult awards, “Big Red Son.”
Different for ladies, I reply. And I’m porn blind from overexposure already.
porn blind, he responds. like that.
“You’ve all been so welcoming!” Remy LaCroix gushes from the Awards show stage, clutching her trophy for Best New Starlet.
I stand with my back against the wall, talking to Tod Hunter, who has been covering the adult industry since forever. I met Tod on the first adult movie set I was on. It was August, I believe, of 1997, and we were in a Los Angeles parking lot, and we were watching a coterie of porn stars have an orgy on a fire truck that had been rented from the city for the day.
“It seems like yesterday,” I say to Tod, and it does.
“I mean, we had Wookie sex,” confesses Axel Braun, surrounded on stage by a dozen cast and crew members. “What can I say?” Braun has won Best Parody — Comedy for directing “Star Wars XXX: A Porn Parody,” but the movie’s “Wookie Nookie” scene loses Most Outrageous Sex Scene to the “Clothespin-Head” scene in the vampire-themed “Voracious: The First Season.”
At the convention, I spot Max Hardcore. He is hard to miss. He is wearing his trademark cowboy hat. Max is notorious — for making outre porn movies and for going to prison because of those movies. I hang back, debating whether or not to approach him. A while ago, a journalist who visited Max in prison informed me that Max had ranted angrily about me. Over the years, I’ve written about Max, and I would not describe the things I’ve written about him as particularly flattering.
I stand in front of Max and hold up the badge with my name on it hanging from a lanyard around my neck. He reads the badge and glowers at me. He doesn’t want to talk to me. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to get in anymore trouble.
“I learned my lesson,” he tells me.
This is probably a good thing, I think. A few days earlier, a pornographer in Los Angeles named Ira Isaacs was sentenced to four years in prison. The judge was not lenient in part because he did not think Ira had learned his lesson.
“He has cloaked himself as a First Amendment defendant,” the judge said of Isaacs at the sentencing. “But the fact is that he did it for money.” The judge told Isaacs, “You are an abuser of the 1st Amendment. You cheapen the 1st Amendment.”
“Thank you to every girl that’s willing to have sex with me,” James Deen, Male Performer of the Year, declares, his back to the crowd. I wonder why Deen isn’t facing the audience. I’ve stood a few feet away from Deen having sex on the set of a porn movie. I cannot imagine that he is shy.
Question: Why did James Deen accept his award with his back to the crowd? I email Deen’s publicist later.
james says he was having a panic attack as he walked up to the stage, and turning around to accept the award helped him to get through it, Deen’s publicist explains. the first time he won male performer of the year at the 2009 avn awards, he took shelter in the bathroom rather than go up on stage.
I sit in the cafe near the Expo, taking a break and eating a banana. A very young, very popular, very tattooed porn starlet is sitting a couple tables over and talking to a guy who looks like he isn’t in the porn industry. He’s wearing a jacket. He’s probably from L.A. He’s maybe a producer or an agent. The guy in the jacket is trying to get the girl to sign with him or something like that. He is telling her that he can make a reality TV show starring her, sell it to Showtime perhaps, help her crossover and go mainstream.
The girl relates her resume. “I’m a good dancer. I’m an OK actress.” The girl looks unsure about the guy in the jacket. After all, the girl hasn’t even been in the business for a year, and she’s totally famous already. Before this girl was born, that was impossible. It took that long to get your first movie on the shelves. Today, she’s a social media star, the XXX queen of her own reality, and it’s entirely possible she doesn’t need a guy in a jacket to get her wherever it is she wants this career in porn to take her.
“Thank you to everyone who hired me,” Asa Akira, Female Performer of the Year and co-host of the show with fellow porn star Jesse Jane, enthuses.
By the end, it’s clear “Wasteland” is the night’s big winner, scoring seven awards, including Movie of the Year. Remarkably, “Wasteland,” produced by a company called Elegant Angel, does not look like a porn movie. It looks like an independent movie.
In the movie, Lily Carter, a petite, brunette 22-year-old who hails from Oregon and named herself for 1970s “Wonder Woman” star Lynda Carter, plays “Anna.”
According to Anna, “Sometimes you feel things like — like love that make you so sure that there’s fate and destiny, and it takes you to this place where you know, this is why I’m here, this is why I’m alive, and then that magic is over, like, it just vanishes, and then you wonder, did I make it all up? Was it just a dream?”
At the airport, I think I spot Jesse Jane. She’s very blonde, petite, and wearing sunglasses. She drifts into a store, looking for something. I slow as I walk by, trying to figure out if it’s her or not. But I can’t be sure. It’s possible it’s the porn star. It’s possible it’s some random blonde in a hoodie and grey sweatpants, going someplace else. I can’t tell the difference anymore.