Note: The author of this article fabricated details of a later article for Slate. Click here for more information.
I took the job in pornography because it seemed like a weird thing to do—plus it made for great party conversation. Those who stuck around after asking me what I did for a living proved to be interesting, thereby dispensing with much painful small talk.
People assume that pornographers work in trapeze-equipped cabarets with topless shot girls making rounds of the cubicles. Actually, my company’s New York offices were pretty corporate, though we had our flourishes. Instead of tacking “Dilbert” strips to the wall, we pinned up wacky porno flick outtakes—and frequently harassed the African diplomats next door. The neighboring suite was the official consulate of Madagascar, whose office sported a fancy brass plaque that read “Permanent Mission of Madagascar to the United States.” One day we answered that with a handwritten “Permanent Mission of Pornography to the United States” sign on our door, but the Madagascans bitched and we had to take it down. They hated us.
I had no opinions about porn when I started, thinking I’d work there a month or two, meet the freaks, and move on. What I didn’t expect was my quick promotion to managing editor of the company’s Internet division. Suddenly I was making good money, had a window office in Midtown, and most important, I was having fun. The dot-com boom was in full swing, and the twin vices of porn and gambling made the Internet a hot place to be. My colleagues in New Media were mostly young, bright, and well-educated, and almost half were women. One thing we all had in common was an offbeat sense of humor. Our company served as a magnet for those who might otherwise be wandering the streets, broke, horny, and lacking full dental coverage and a 401K. It was a home for wayward perverts with PhotoShop skills. That’s not to say it was a nice company. People got fired there just like anywhere else, but at least our employees got to see lots of naked people before being downsized.
My specialty was writing booty letters to the magazine, which are, by the way, completely bogus. I was the David Halberstam of porn, churning out tales of erotic intrigue by the dozen. The trick is to write from a woman’s point of view and say what men want to hear. “I had just flown back first-class from my modeling shoot in L.A., and I really needed a good screw. I saw this foxy bag handler down at the baggage claim. He was kinda greasy, but I like it dirty, so I went up and told him I wanted to file a lost dick claim. Could I borrow his?” The tough part of this job was concocting original euphemisms for male genitalia. Thinking up synonyms for “penis” is far more challenging than you might think. There are only so many ways to say cock, and all the good ones suffer from overuse. I did have a reference book, a sort of industry trade pornographic thesaurus that got passed around the company, but the real rush came from making ones up on my own. After all, I am a writer. My personal favorite was “swollen trouser-troll.” I coined that puppy. That’s all me.
By virtue of my general indifference, I maintained a certain professional detachment from the explicit material. But other employees—one of my editors in particular—loved the stuff. His cubicle was a pornographic horrorshow. Bizarre toys were strewn everywhere, including Hello Kitty nipple clamps and a light-up chastity belt buckle. There was a large picture of him wearing a strap-on rubber squid and getting spanked with a package of bacon. Rounding it out was an autographed pair of women’s panties that read, “Someday a real girl will laugh at your penis.”
Early on, the bosses assigned me to pulling back issues from the vast pornography reserves the company maintained on the seventh floor. Copies of every magazine the company ever published (festive holiday editions, et al.) were archived there on a huge series of racks. Walking into that room was like that scene in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves says, “We need guns. Lots of guns,” only with porn instead of firearms.
Initially pulling magazines was a lot of fun, especially when I got to cart them back upstairs on an elevator chock full o’ Madagascan diplomats, but over time it became just another work-related hassle. The desensitization began. I stopped finding mainstream porn even remotely sexy. After all, the bottom line of the industry is about money, not sex. Amateur strip night, where women take it off for the thrill of it and not for the money, is sexy. But a man can only look at so many pictures of a frosted blonde draped over the hood of a bitchin’ Camaro before it starts to get old.
Nowhere was this desensitization evidenced more than in our magazine concept meetings. I represented the Internet department as we sat around a huge conference table wearing loupes round our necks squinting at 35 mm slides of beautiful naked women. But for all the erotic excitement it generated we might as well have been hammering out a flat-tax proposal. We engaged in endless discussions over the flaws of one silicone-inflated blonde versus another. “One of her eyes is higher than the other!” “Her toes are too long!” Editorial and art would square off on issues like these and debate for hours before breaking for lunch at the Palm, where we would suck down martinis and three-pound lobsters until 7 or so.
I left the business in 1999 after a year on the job. Since then porn has become increasingly explicit. Compare a magazine of today with one from two years back if you don’t believe me. These magazines watch each other, see what the competition can get away with, then follow suit. Perhaps the magazines’ auteurs have become victims of their own desensitization.
In my disillusionment, I came to believe that pornography exploits men. The female models count their bills and wish they could get a little more, like working people everywhere. The porn moguls chuckle as they clap out the lights in their opulent brownstone mansions, secure in their immeasurable wealth. Yellow cabs honk along a strangely lonely stretch of Fifth Avenue. And the guys who consume this stuff shell out their bank just so they can jerk off to a lie. Tell me, who’s the real loser here?