A few weeks ago, while attending the XRCO Awards, someone decided to run a preview of a documentary film entitled “After Porn Ends“ right before the start of the show. The night was supposed to be a celebration and a chance to honor the performances of the past year and the performers as well, but the silence that descended on the room was akin to someone making cocaine overdose jokes at this year’s Grammy Awards. This was a case where people looked around at each other and mouthed the words ‘what the fuck is this?’. It was a stupid way to start an award show, and while it made people in the room aware of this soon to be released film, it did so in an entirely inappropriate manner. Imagine showing a documentary about baseball’s steroid era to a room full of former and present day major league ball players, where (according to Jose Conseco) 80% of the players have used steroids in one form or another. Yeah, dumb.
Documentaries about the porn business are notorious for being ‘Debbie Downers’. The general public may be interested in what a documentary film about the porn industry may has to say, but not necessarily so for the industry itself. Films like this shows us our scars. It disembowels us as we relive the pain we have all endured and try to forget and hide. It’s tedious work to put on a smile and act as if whatever the events the person on-screen is speaking about only happened to them and didn’t happen to us; as if we were above it all.
I loathe watching documentaries having to do with the porn business. They make my stomach turn. It’s like watching the 9/11 news footage over and over again. Because I know the ending, the angle, the parting shot. While it may present itself as a cautionary tale, it fails to dig deep or at least examine the stimulus that made each person choose to enter the business. Why they chose to use their sexuality as a currency in exchange for ‘fame and fortune’.
I was very resistant to watching this documentary “After Porn Ends”. Because inevitably, what happens is that the film becomes a pain fest, a ‘whoa is me’ diatribe. Not through any fault of the participants but through the inadequacy of the filmmakers to find the real story, the compelling elements. They fail to properly follow the hero’s quest (or in this case the person being interviewed), and thus the film is somehow hobbled in a weak attempt to present something that is missing a key element; conflict. Conflict with oneself and conflict with others. That is what drives us to relate to a character; the conflict they endure and how they overcome it. Joseph Cambell wrote about why certain stories resound with us for generations in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and what key elements are hit on that makes the story full and satisfying.
When I first started in porn, I was more than happy to talk to anyone who was doing a documentary on porn. Even with print interviews, I saw an opportunity to peel back the cloak of mystery about us as performers and the business as a whole. I liked being honest and truthful about what exactly the business offered me. The good and the bad.
That changed over time. I eventually refused to participate in these documentaries because I didn’t agree with the intention of the projects.
And I soon learned that many of these films never saw the light of day. Also, that the directors or producers had their own agenda regardless of how open and honest someone was who had been interviewed. “How can we capitalize on this business and make some money? I know! Let’s tell a sad story.”
In all the years I’ve been around, I’ve seen many attempt to capture the essence of the porn industry and its performers. Many times it ends of being a flat note of ‘see kids? you don’t want this to happen to you.”
This film speaks with over 14 former performers in the business (Asia Carrera, Randy West, Tyffany Million, Nina Hartley, Seka, Houston, Raylene and others) and former porn industry critic/blogger Luke Ford and industry historian Bill Margold. Interestingly, they speak with only three male performers, all three having their heyday back in the 80’s; Randy West being the only one who continued performing into the 90’s. (Notoriously absent were Jenna Jameson, Jesse Jane, Sasha Gray, Tera Patrick; girls who have been the most recent names to have crossed over and experience mainstream media exposure due to TV shows like Entourage, films like The Girlfriend Experience and Private Parts and Jenna’s book.)
This was the first time I had an interest in seeing a film where I knew and had worked with the women interviewed.
One of the things that became abundantly clear was the fact that they had expected ‘acceptance’; they thought they were entitled to it because they were now on TV. As Bill Margold puts it, “They were looking for credibility, validation and recognition through the porn industry.”
Being on TV, at one time, meant you had talent, looks and people were drawn to you as a person. And as there were only three networks up until the last 25 years or so (and before cable television), if you were on TV, you had been chosen from a very small group of people to be the face of America.
But now all that has changed. To be on TV doesn’t mean the same today. Anyone who can be ‘entertaining’ seems to on TV now.
Everyone who grew up watching TV, thought that as they were on TV themselves, they were as successful as the people they saw on TV before, and as talented as well. But I think we’ve seen enough ‘Behind the Music’ type shows to know this is hardly the truth with famous people. Their success was subjective.
I won’t spoil the film but there are some interesting things I noticed. One, many talk of their children as saving their lives. Family seems to be a grounding element in each person’s happiness. Two, while some were able to look at the good and bad parts equally and just observe that part of their lives, some were still ‘in’ their story and seemed to fall back into a cycle of ‘look what happened to me, isn’t it sad?’.
Not to take anything away from the people interviewed. Their story is their story. But some ‘were‘ the feelings they felt as opposed to separating themselves and being able to acknowledge the feelings without ‘being‘ the feeling.
One poignant comment by one interviewee was how they “missed the affection of sex” and ” how they didn’t know how to act on a normal date”. Another says “she lost that hope” while performing in front of the camera.
Randy West speaks honestly about what the business gave him and Nina Hartley makes a great observation about who is really suited for work in the professional job market.
“When your involved with this industry, you lose your humanity.” Luke speaks about the negative aspects of the human condition as if it only applies to people who work in the sex business. I think it can be applied to any line of work. Politics, law, medical practice and others have all lost a certain amount of humanity simply because they are industries unto themselves and the bottom line, the profit, is the main and only concern.
Losing your humanity is something that occurs when we lose sight of what makes us truly happy. Some recognize it immediately and change while others do not. In the end, it depends on one’s expectations and whether or not the path you’ve chosen will reap the benefits you expected.
I’m curious to know what other documentaries or books about the adult business you’ve watched or read and whether they gave you a better insight into the world of porn. What are some that have been enlightening?