The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Green Door is Closed

So Arizona State University invited Obama to speak, but doesn't want to give him an honorary doctorate. Hmmm. I'd like to see a list of their previous recipients, since their standards are so high. Arizona troubles me. Being the last state in the union to ratify MLK day suggests a certain lack of enthusiasm about the Melanin-rich. Maybe it's just that Obama beat their home town favorite. Or maybe it's something else, entirely innocent. Right.


Marilyn Chambers is dead. She was the first superstar of Porn. Linda Lovelace never parlayed her initial success with "Deep Throat" into much of anything, but Marilyn motored on after "Behind the Green Door" and "The Resurrection of Eve" into a multi-decade career, becoming the "star" of the lucrative MILF market. I remember watching "Resurrection of Eve" and being seriously amused by the basic thematic conceit: a bored marriage, and a swing club. The husband talks the wife into getting involved in the swing club. She goes along, but is initially repulsed, while hubby is having the time of his life. Then the next time they go, she meets Johnny Keys, a big black stud who rings her chimes. Suddenly, it's her husband who wants to quit the club, and Marilyn is having none of it. She has been "resurrected." Truth is that the entire story, slightly re-treaded, could have been a TV movie on Oxygen or something.

And the acting actually wasn't bad. If you saw "Rabid", the David Cronenberg horror film, would know that while she was no Judy Dench, she could actually act a little. I remember when I started questioning Porn. I'd always been kind of neutral to it, enjoyed it like most guys I knew. Then one day I was at a bachelor party, and they showed an XXX movie. The girl in the movie could act a little, and it took me by surprise. "Hmmm," I thought. "I wonder if she wanted to be an actress? I wonder if she came out to Hollywood with a dream..." and as I watched the young lady in question practicing bedroom gymnastics, suddenly I started to see her as a little girl, a real human being and not just a shadow-play on the screen. It was very hard to imagine that she, as a child, wanted to end up like this. And I started seeing her as someone's sister. Daughter. And I felt just a little sick at myself.

I didn't feel exactly like that with Marilyn Chambers, who somehow seemed to radiate that she really enjoyed this. Whether she did or not is another question: if she had been able to make equal money without exchanging body fluids, would she? I can't say.

When I heard that a couple of years earlier she had been the Ivory Snow girl, and that the soap company was hugely humiliated when the public became aware, and pulled her boxes off the shelf, I ran out to a local market where their stock was old, old, old...and there on the back of the shelf was a box with her face on it. I bought it, and have it sitting in my office to this day. There was something just so sick about it all that I couldn't resist. Why? I don't know. I really don't. I heard that she had won a role in the off-Broadway play "Deep Throat" before she was found dead in her trailer. It just feels a little sad. A life wasted? Geeze, I don't know. I just know I wouldn't want Nicki to do what she did.


A guy named Wayne Anthony Ross has been named AG by Sarah Palin. Huffington Post had an article blasting him for defending a student's right to create and display a KKK statue. Apparently, a black student was quite offended. This looks like something worthy of blasting, until you read the part about the fact that the art student was fulfilling an assignment to create a statue of "a monster." Excuse me? I'm not sure what there was to protest here. Presenting a KKK member as a monster sounds pretty good to me. And the psych student clearly was having a visceral reaction that overloaded her logic circuits, as if the KKK is so powerful and dangerous that depicting their images in any way whatsoever would blast the soul. Oh, please. Actually, I kinda like the idea. Palin may have lotsa negative stuff to point at, but I fail to see how this is one of them.


I was at the Norwescon science fiction convention last weekend, and in-between lecturing, signing autographs, or hanging out with friends I had the chance to talk with young writers about the path ahead. All of them are filled with hopes and dreams that their stories will be the ones that touch a deep well of human emotion, changing the world, changing lives, and filling their bank accounts with loot. Sounds good to me.

The trick, of course, is that there simply isn't room for everyone at the top. That means that not everyone can be at the top of the NY Times bestseller list--there is only room for fifty-two number one hits in a single year. If you define success too narrowly, you simply bash up against the numbers, and miss the secret altogether. The secret? For a writer, the secret is that, in all probability, you didn't start writing to make money. You started writing to express yourself, to share something, to show the world how clever you are, or to get dreams and nightmares out of your head. If you remember this, then money becomes an interesting and valuable way to keep track of your ability to communicate with audiences, but NOT the primary purpose of your writing.

Making money is a matter of marketing, learning how to tap into the cultural zeitgeist. It is discipline and hard work and finding ways to get the media to notice you. And all of that is necessary. After all, publishing is a business. But you are the one who will have to get out of bed day after day and spill your guts onto the page. Every day, you have to motivate yourself, motor past the first, obvious ideas to the later, deeper ones. Deal with the negative voices and fears, defeat your laziness and dishonesty. Read everything you can get your hands on, and live life to the absolute full.

And you just can't motivate yourself to do that with money alone. You will need to tap into the deepest, realest parts of yourself, the most passionate. It will take a commitment to being the very best you can be in this lifetime, and allowing your writing to be one of the windows in on that excellence.


Anonymous said...

>It was very hard to imagine that she, as a child, wanted to end up like this<

You ever eat at a restaurant?

Virtually every one has employyes who's sole job is to wash dishes.

Called “dish pigs” because they have their hands in human leftovers all day, restaurant dishwashers have a horrible job. They scrub burnt saucepans, dip their fingers into corrosive cleaning solutions, inhale chemical solvents and, worst of all, empty fryer grease into a “grease pit” that smells somewhere between vomit and rotten meat. Dishwashers also work in high-stress conditions with wait staff and cooks putting constant demands on them for everything from cutlery to pans. They can also be easily injured, cutting or nicking themselves with knives, and scalding themselves on hot pans. But Band-Aids and gauze don’t help because they have to plunge their hands right back into dish muck. Of course, this guarantees their infection. So, what do they get for their toil at this horrible job? They don’t clean up at all, making around 17K a year.

How many dishwashers dreamed of being a dishwasher when they grew up?

You ever take a dump?

How many sanitation workers dreamed of dealing with poop all day when they were kids?

Ever go to a doctor and get a blood sample?

How many kids dream about boiling bags of medical waste when they grow up?

Ever eat chicken?

Of the people who slit the throats of chickens for eight hours straight, how many of them wanted to grow up and be that when they were kids?

I've had sucky jobs when I was young - and surprise surprise they sucked and felt really degrading (besides the ever present threat of being mugged).

The fact of the matter is that there are tons of crappy jobs out there that people didn't want to grow up and do, but every day they are being done. I'll only accept that argument for porn if it's also applied to every other shity job on the planet.

If you actually _look_ at the people who are doing most of the unskilled labor in our society (yea, except for the big stars porn is mostly unskilled labor), how often do you see someone who is glad where they ended up in life?

Unknown said...

I've had sucky jobs when I was young (including washing dishes), but, a) they were sucky jobs that I had when I was young, that I could get out of and go on and do something else, without someone slapping a stigma on me for doing the job that would follow me and keep me from transitioning to the non-sucky jobs that I ultimately wanted, and b) they were sucky jobs that were the byproducts of things people need to survive (gotta eat), rather than sucky jobs I was doing to fulfill someone else's desire for entertainment.

There's also the matter that I consider having sex under conditions where it really sucks and I don't want to do it worse than doing other things - things that I kind of expect to suck and where it doesn't matter if my joy in them is marred - under conditions where they suck and I really don't want to do them. I've read some bloggers who are in the porn business who say that they feel very differently from how I do about emotionally disconnected sex; for me the thought of being penetrated by someone other than the particular person I want (and with that person actually liking me in an ongoing way) makes me scrunch up inside; they say they're not wired the same as me and are OK with it being all in a day's work. And maybe they're right about themselves. But it's in the nature of work that people don't only take the jobs they like and are suited for; sometimes they take the jobs they hate and still need to get by. So I can't escape the feeling that, if I were to watch a porn video, I might be getting my entertainment from someone who is wired pretty much like me, really hates the job, and somehow got stuck in it anyway. I don't want the work super-stigmatized precisely because that makes it all the harder for people who don't want to be in it to leave and do other things. But I couldn't bring myself to watch it.

Christian H. said...

I can't really comment on porn as I really hate it. It has become a contest to see who can damage their sphincter the most and still smile.

Sex in mainstream cinema to me is like a gateway drug. There are probably 1000s of young women who ended up on the wrong side of the Valley simply because of misogyny and insecurity on the parts of males.

I look at every actress like she was a little girl with no knowledge of glass ceilings, etc.

I wouldn't even want my sister in something like Observe and Report- which was complete with a date rape. Or any other movie that glorifies body parts over talent.

My favorite actress has trouble getting roles because she does no nudity or sex scenes. While rappers and singers are cleaning up - though they couldn't act there way out of something that isn't there.

It may be a conscious effort to keep the masses in their place, but it seems more to be appealing to the perverse and immoral among us.
That seems to be self-defeating but what the hell, we're all going to die right?

Marty S said...

I don't see the concern for adult consensual porn actresses. There are approximately 60 million married couples in the U.S. I've seen estimates that as high as 21% of married women don't enjoy the sex they have with their husbands. I suspect that this causes much more serious psychological problem to these women then being a porn actress does to someone who chooses to pay the bills that way.

Anonymous said...

>rather than sucky jobs I was doing to fulfill someone else's desire for entertainment.<

For what it's worth, going to a restaurant is entertainment. People do it because it's fun and enjoyable, ie entertaining. And a huge part of the restaurant biz is built on the backs of poorly paid unskilled labor doing crappy jobs.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but feel that the women who "choose to pay the bills that way" have been taught that being objectified is not only ok, but the normal lot in life for females, so they may as well capitalize on it.

Well, objectifying women and girls is not ok, and should never have become as normal as it is getting to be. Little girls as young as 4 are already absorbing the message that the most valuable aspect of themselves are their looks, and that the best way to compete in life is to actually encourage males to objectify them and "work it".

'I have a dream' too, that someday our daughters will be judged, not by the size of their bra cups, but by the content of their characters.

Dr. King's dream is still unrealized in so many ways, but it's a dream of being taken seriously as a human being instead of being categorized at a glance and hamstrung by stereotype. All people should have the dignity of full personhood in others' eyes. But from Smurfette to Bratz, a person who is female is depicted as though, by being female, there is nothing more to be said or known; her only role and interesting aspect, is the fact that she is female and the degree to which that is flaunted.

Although I will add that in porn, the male actors are as dimensionless as the female, and seem to be on a pretty equal footing as far as being valued only for their body parts and nothing else. So perhaps porn is one of the more egalitarian crappy jobs? Equal opportunity to be treated like a meat puppet?

Christian H. said...

Welcome to my world Steve. Enjoy your stay.

Anonymous said...

Having washed glasware (test tubes, petri dishes, etc.) for nurshing classes at a Community College, I had a brief taste of the Dish Pig's lot back in the late 80's. Nearly 20 years later, I still remenber the days with my rubber-seithed hands in warm water for 5 hours at a stretch, with the steam from the sink bathing me in the stinky-sweet dying gasps of the likes of athletes foot and gangrene.

As for porn stars: True, few little girls dream of becoming porn stars, but many adults thrive in vocations they had no inkling existed as kids. While it's arguable that some porn celebrities are socially coerced into the industry by sexist barriers to conventional acting jobs, the fact remains that sex performers CHOOSE their vocation. Despite its "hardships" (lol) porn acting presumably beats available alternatives. Further, I suspect many porn stars LOVE their work. Imagine a career that awards celebrity and wealth for the "price" of endless orgies with attractive partners. And porn stardom nourishes the ego like few other careers! Imagine some successful porn starlet beaming as she spies horny jocks salivating over her pictures and realizing she's the desire of men the world over. How easily the talented sex celebrity wins fame and adulation that’s the envy of gold medal athletes, Nobel laureates, prophets or aspiring Caesars! Given the multitudes of kids who aspire to the glamorous life through movie stardom, a young girl gifted with prescience might well dream of becoming a porn star.

Mike R said...

For what it's worth, I am currently in a career that I veminantly swore that I would never be involved in when I was a kid.

And you know what? I don't mind it, and at times I even like it.

The adult is not the child.

Christian H. said...

For what it's worth, I am currently in a career that I veminantly swore that I would never be involved in when I was a kid.

And you know what? I don't mind it, and at times I even like it.

The adult is not the child.
So how was your last A2M?

Unknown said...

For what it's worth, going to a restaurant is entertainment.Sure, and that would be why, for example, I wouldn't cross a picket line to go to a restaurant, but a hospital union would never dream of demanding that people show solidarity by staying away from the ER.

My own dishwashing job, though, was college food service, so pretty non-optional eating was involved.

And a huge part of the restaurant biz is built on the backs of poorly paid unskilled labor doing crappy jobs.And if the working conditions of those jobs reach an unacceptable level of crappiness, that's a reason to improve those working conditions (whether through OSHA rules, unions, or people selectively patronizing those restaurants that treat their workers better). It can't be a reason not to care how crappy people's jobs are at all.

Despite its "hardships" (lol) porn acting presumably beats available alternatives. Further, I suspect many porn stars LOVE their work.See, this is, to my mind, what needs to be true for watching porn to be OK. It has to be the case that the normal state for porn actors is to be fine with their work (as I gather Marilyn Chambers said she was), rather than very much not OK (and Linda Lovelace reported being).

I also think that there are two questions: 1) Are porn actors actually working sufficiently non-crappy jobs, and 2) Can you, personally, watch a porn movie and feel that the actors are doing something you can imagine them actually enjoying. If the answer to either question is no, then the appropriate thing to do is not to watch porn, even if the answer to the other question is yes.

So, for example, Christian Howell thinks even R-rated sex scenes are degrading; I don't. If he's right, in the sense that movie actors generally experience the scenes that way, then I shouldn't watch R-rated sex scenes either. But even if his views don't match those of the actors, he shouldn't watch R-rated sex scenes, as long as that's how he perceives them. I'm not OK with X-rated sex scenes, and that, by itself, means I shouldn't watch them, even if it should turn out that the actors don't in fact, as a general rule, feel about the scenes the way I can't help imagining them feeling (the feelings, that is, that I feel I'd project onto such scenes, if I had to watch them).

It's possible that most porn actors are, in fact, happy enough in their work. I can't imagine liking being in a reality TV show, either (at least not of the "you're constantly under observation" kind), but there seem to be enough people happy to volunteer for those, under no particular duress. Maybe porn manages to recruit the right personality type. But then again, maybe a lot of people wound up there out of one or another variety of desperation, and aren't especially suited to it. And since all I've ever heard from are individual, not necessarily representative, porn performers who differ from each other, I really don't know the frequency of each experience. It's certainly not inherently obvious that sex under those particular circumstances would actually be pleasant.

Marty S said...

The same questions being asked about the porn industry can be asked about any job. Steve's previous post is an example. Steve's project was rejected because the movie would be too Black centric and wouldn't draw enough of an audience. Steve was definitely unhappy about this and we all believe that this situation is at least disturbing if not absolutely morally wrong. Does this mean Steve should stop writing for the movie industry and we should all stop going to the movies.

Anonymous said...

Horsess for courses? I've done worse professionally - hell, recreationally - than unskilled labor, and had fun; most people would disagree, but the tournaments stay full of players and the stores stay full of barbells, so I'm clearly not the only one.

Examples of friends' X-rated professional fun might hurt someone's feelings, so never mind, but I'll note that it's important to find your niche, but it's not at all important - perhaps inversely important - how popular that niche is.