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The Rise of Gonzo Porn Is the Latest Sign of America's Cultural Apocalypse

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. A visit to a Las Vegas porn convention reveals we are dying now.
 
 
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I reported in my new book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle from the ringside of professional wrestling bouts at Madison Square Garden, from Las Vegas where I wrote about the pornographic film industry, from academic conferences held by positive psychologists -- who claim to be able to engineer happiness – and from the campuses of universities to chronicle our terrifying flight as a culture into a state of illusion. I looked at the array of mechanisms used to divert us from confronting the economic, political and moral collapse around us. I examined the fantasy that if we draw on our inner resources and strengths, if we realize that we are truly exceptional, we can have everything we desire. 

The childish idea that we can always prevail, that reality is never an impediment to what we want, is the central motif of illusion peddled on popular talk shows, by the Christian Right, by Hollywood, in corporate retreats, by the news industry and by self-help gurus. Reality can always be overcome. The future will always be glorious. And held out to keep us amused and entertained are spectacles and celebrities who have become idealized versions of ourselves and who, we are assured, we can all one day become.

The cultural embrace of illusion, and the celebrity culture that has risen up around it, have accompanied the awful hollowing out of the state. We have shifted from a culture of production to a culture of consumption. We have been sold a system of casino capitalism, with its complicated and unregulated deals of turning debt into magical assets, to create fictional wealth for us and vast wealth for our elite. We have internalized the awful ethic of corporatism -- one built around the cult of the self and consumption as an inner compulsion -- to believe that living is about our own advancement and our own happiness at the expense of others. Corporations, behind the smoke screen, have ruthlessly dismantled and destroyed our manufacturing base and impoverished our working class. The free market became our god and government was taken hostage by corporations, the same corporations that entice us daily with illusions though the mass media, the entertainment industry and popular culture.

The more we sever ourselves from a literate, print-based world, a world of complexity and nuance, a world of ideas, for one informed by comforting, reassuring images, fantasies, slogans and a celebration of violence the more we implode. We ask, like the wrestling fans or those who confuse love with pornography, to be fed lies. We demand lies. The skillfully manufactured images and slogans that flood the airwaves and infect our political discourse mask reality. And we do not protest. The lonely Cassandras who speak the truth about our misguided imperial wars, the global economic meltdown and the imminent danger of multiple pollutions that are destroying the eco-system that sustains the human species, are drowned out by arenas full of fans chanting "Slut! Slut! Slut!" or television audiences chanting "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!" The worse reality becomes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it and the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo-events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip and trivia.

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice by an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy. Those who do not grow up in times of despair and turmoil inevitably turn to demagogues and charlatans to entertain and reassure them. And these demagogues, as they have throughout history, lead the crowd, blinded and amused, towards despotism.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter II of Empire of Illusion, where Hedges attends an enormous porn convention in Las Vegas:

The largest users of internet porn, which is slowly draining away profits from magazines and DVD sales because so much of it is free, are between the ages of 12 and 17. And porn producers know their market is increasingly underage. "The age demographic has moved downwards, especially in the UK and Europe," explained Steve Honest, the European director of production for Bluebird Films. "Porn is the new rock and roll. Young people and women are embracing porn and making purchases. Porn targets the mid-teens to the mid-twenties and up."

There are some 13,000 porn films made in the United States a year. According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs and the ever-expanding E-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That's more than the revenues of the leading technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink. Annual sales in the United States are estimated at $ 10 billion or higher. There is no agency that does precise monitoring of the porn industry. And porn is very lucrative to some of the nation's largest corporations. General Motors, for example, owns DirectTV, which distributes over forty million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T Broadband and Comcast Cable are the currently biggest American companies accommodating porn users with The Hot Network, Adult Pay-Per-View and similarly themed services. AT&T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers.

Ariana Jollee, 21, is sitting in a motel room, beside a particleboard desk and a bare white wall giving a pre-film interview for the DVD 65 Guy Cream Pie, a gangbang film produced in 2004 by Devil's Film. In the film she has sex with 65 men who stand in two lines, their pants unzipped, on either side of her. She is smiling at the camera. Jollee has sleek dark hair with bangs, a tribal armband tattoo around one bicep, and wears jeans and a loose black tank top. She has rounded arms, full cheeks and a slightly heavy chin. Jollee started doing porn in 2003 when she was 20 in a film called Nasty Girls 30. She has done hundreds of films and is one of the industry's premier "gonzo" girls, purportedly enjoying extreme abuse. Jollee tells her audience that she performed in a 21-man gangbang on her 21st birthday. She says she is looking forward to doing the same now with 50 men, although this number climbs to 65 on the set. "Cream pie" refers in the world of porn to men ejaculating on a woman's anus or vagina, rather than ejaculating into her mouth or on her body.

"I'll be banging fifty guys - fifty, fifty, fifty! Maybe more even. That'd be cool. So I'm like really excited."

She laughs and plays with her hair. "And it just so happens that all these guys are going to be coming IN me." She looks coyly at the camera. "In the ass and pussy," she grins, wrinkling her nose. "See I like it in the ass the best. I wanna find the biggest pervert and get him to suck all fifty loads out and spit it in my mouth." She reaches up and fiddles with her bangs. "That'd be so good. That'd be fucking hot. It'd be disgusting." She giggles. "I get off on that." She runs her fingers through her hair, fanning it out behind her.

"It's a big, big fantasy, always been a big fantasy of mine to be with more than one guy at a time. Many women have that fantasy" Her voice drops to a whisper. She wrinkles her nose and narrows her eyes. "You have all these men, and they all wanna fuck you, and they're all there, and it's just like, cock, holy shit. It's so good. So good. Now I'm getting wet," she complains, giggling. Her feet are up on the seat of her chair, and the camera pans down briefly to the exposed crotch of her jeans. She demurely pops her thumb in her mouth, still smiling, gazing at the camera.

"If you're watching this before the scene, you're in for a fucking treat. Each one of those motherfuckers is gonna, you know, it's gonna be the ride of their lives." She nods thoughtfully. "But, who knows," she throws her hands in the air, "maybe they'll fuck me up. Maybe they'll really, like, teach me a lesson." She throws a small smile at the camera. She scratches her knee absently. "We'll just have to wait and see. Maybe I'm not as insatiable as I think I am. We'll see. I'm excited."

She concedes that when it is over she will "look like shit" but will be "well fucked." The interviewer asks what condition her vagina and anus will be after having sex with that many men. She speaks of her body parts in the third person: "They can take it. They want it. They like it. They go back to size after. Pussy's tight. She always goes back to size." The degradation she endures has turned her body into something she no longer consciously recognizes as herself.

She talks briefly about her private life in the interview. She says that before she did gangbangs in films she once had sex with 12 men on a fire truck. She does not say how old she was at the time, but her remarks suggest she was a teenager. "It was so good," he says. "I will thank that man who took me there every day for the rest of my life. I still talk to him; he's a really good friend of mine. He's a pervert but I love perverts. I like free people."

Her enthusiasm, as she relates this story on the fire truck, momentarily fades. There is a brief tremor that crosses her face, an almost imperceptible sign of ambiguity or doubt. The fleeting impression when she falls out of character is that the experience of being taken to a fire house by a friend who is "a pervert" and having sex with 12 men on a truck was not sexy or exciting, that for a teenage girl the experience was perhaps not the result of being free or the product of sexual desire. She quickly snaps back into the pornographic facade. She says "I hope everyone gets off. I plan on cumming."

Copyright 2009 -- Nation Books: Reprinted with permission.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, is a Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
 
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