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NEW YORK -- In the video for her hit single "Hot Spot" on MTV, the
rapper Foxy Brown straps on the persona of a star
of pornographic movies, appearing in a chrome bikini, then a fur bikini --
standard costuming in adult films -- as she pu
mps and postures her way through the rap, touching herself frequently,
shot from below and between the legs.
In Los Angeles, Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, opened
a blond-wood latte bar in December that also s
ells a casual assortment of adult videos and sex toys. Hustler Hollywood
is the prototype in what Flynt says will be a na
tional roll-out of Gap-style newsstand sex shops -- a new one every 90
days, with next stops in Las Vegas and Atlanta.
And in New York art galleries, a school of work is coalescing that
draws from the politics, graphic subject matter an
d hit-and-run production values of adult entertainment. The Paul Morris
Gallery in Chelsea organized a recent show by Ken
Probst of on-set photographs of adult video productions.
"I sold a ton of them to art directors and photographers," said Morris,
whose clients include Tom Ford of Gucci; Mari
o Testino, a fashion photographer, and Sam Shahid, a free-lance art
director. "It's only a matter of time before this wil
l show up editorially."
Pornography -- by cultural consensus underground and off-limits to the
mainstream -- is breaking the surface like som
ething that won't stay buried, appearing at the Sundance Film Festival, on
E! Entertainment Television and in fashion mag
azines and A-list movies.
The 90-second peek released this month of the late Stanley Kubrick's
new film, "Eyes Wide Shut," starring Hollywood's
premier power couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is a master-class
version of the popular Tommy Lee and Pamela Anders
on amateur pornographic home video. Cruise and Ms. Kidman, as husband and
wife, both naked, make love in front of a full-
This is not about "sex sells," in the Madison Avenue sense. It is not
about the continuing push toward more explicit
sexuality in advertisements, movies or on network television. It is about
the appropriation of the conventions of pornogr
aphy -- its stock heroes, its story lines, its low-budget lighting and
motel-room sets -- by the mainstream entertainment
industry, the fashion and fine-art worlds and Main Street itself.
Style front-runners love breaking a good taboo, and pornography is a
great one -- a perpetual renegade.
"It's the only real outlaw left -- that's why it's hip," said John
Waters, the filmmaker who helped pioneer the cross
over between the adult industry and Hollywood, casting Traci Lords, a
popular pornography actress, in his 1990 film "Cry-
Baby." "It's extreme behavior that's in on the joke."
Ms. Lords, who went on to star in mainstream movies like "Blade" with
Wesley Snipes and to produce network television
shows, including episodes of "Melrose Place," is an icon for a younger
generation of filmmakers and viewers.
Doug Liman, who directed the 1996 movie "Swingers," drops Ms. Lords'
name, as well as that of Marilyn Chambers, anoth
er star of the 1970s and '80s pornography world, in his new film, "Go,"
which will open April 9. "Go" follows three teen-
age supermarket clerks who become involved in a drug sting and attempted
murder. They could have been extras in "Boogie N
ights," the Oscar-nominated movie about the adult-film business.
"Pornography was a key part of 'Go,' more than you realize," said
Liman, whose movie includes a lap-dancing scene in
a private party room with dancers Liman hired at the strip club in Las
Vegas where the sequence was shot; a three-person
sex scene in a hotel room, and an invitation, made over a suburban dinner,
to a gay couple to join a husband and wife in
a swingers' encounter. The scenarios are the off-the-rack titillations,
and banalities, of adult films.
An important part of pornography's appeal to filmmakers like Liman is
its look -- a disconnected, disaffected distanc
e between emotional involvement and physical act that prevails in the
faces of the performers; the uncorrected color, and
the bad lighting of the environments. It is modern and bored, false and
funny. It can be scary in a forgettable way, per
fect for the self-reflections of fashion.
"You're seeing it more in art in galleries," said Charles Churchward,
the design director of Vogue. "More than the su
bject material, young photographers are very intrigued by the lighting and
mood, the texture and color. They're trying to
create a new kind of good quality, using bad quality, and where they're
getting it from is the whole look of pornography
Andrew Freiser, who organized "Naked and Famous," a recent show at the
Jessica Fredericks Gallery, said he thought wo
rk by what he called a "new crop of photographers" like Susan Choi and
Malerie Marder, included in the exhibition, employ
ed "porn strategies to emphasize what is revealed and what is not
revealed" in portraiture.
Other photographers, like Jeff Burton, represented by the Casey Kaplan
Gallery in SoHo, have a more literal resume --
Burton's first job was as a still photographer on adult film productions.
The crossover into stylish magazines predicted, with some insider's
assurance, by Morris, the gallery owner, is alrea
dy under way. The spring-summer issue of Vogue Hommes, an international
magazine now on newsstands, includes a fashion sh
oot by Larry Sultan staged as if on the set of a pornographic film, with
couples simulating sex on beds surrounded by men
holding sound booms. The captions detail the clothes -- the crew's, not
Richardson, a new magazine about fashion, arts and amateur pornography,
edited by Andrew Richardson, a New York styli
st, splices photo stories on sex between presentations of clothing,
painting and poetry. It is already a must-see among f
ashion editors and art directors, said David Harris, the design director
of Vanity Fair.
Several years ago, the heroin-chic look similarly raised a sensational
subject to the status of a fashion trend, appe
aring first on the avant-garde edge of the fashion zine scene, before
being more widely embraced. But Churchward of Vogue
, for one, doubts that pornography will be a player on the mainstream
fashion front. "The concept isn't correct for Ameri
can Vogue," he said.
There is also no lack of powerful critics, representing strong currents
in American social mores, who would object to
the style and entertainment industries' taking pornography's private
imagery public. That pornography continues to be vi
gorously argued about -- its critics are vociferous that it is demeaning
to women and corrosive to the lives of those inv
olved in making it -- will keep the bar high and may prevent it from
making the leap into fashionable venues.
One man's hero is another's heinous neighbor, as Hollywood learned in
1997, when a backlash against "The People vs. L
arry Flynt," the docudrama directed by Milos Forman, was set in motion by
Gloria Steinhem, who disputed Flynt's depiction
as a friend of the First Amendment.
But Liman, 32, the director of "Go," who went to Brown University, said
that he thought the mainstreaming of pornogra
phy was an inevitable sensibility for his generation. "It's a rebellion
against '80s political correctness," he said. "Po
rn is incredibly politically incorrect. It wasn't even discussed in
college, wasn't even right for parody. People I know
are fed up with rules -- there are so many rules to being young. You can't
have sex, you can't drink, you can't smoke."
He recalled filming in Las Vegas: "I visited a lot of strip clubs. I
was shocked at how trendy the strip clubs are, a
nd how mainstream, guys and girls of every socioeconomic description.
They're mobbed. They're the place to go at night. I
t weakens the taboo, that you have to be pathetic to watch porn."
Joseph Kahn, 26, the director of Foxy Brown's "Hot Spot" video, said:
"Madonna started it all, with the 'Erotica' CD
and the 'Sex' book, by becoming a porn star. She made herself into one,
and kids picked up on that. There's a huge market
of teen-agers who grew up without the taboos. You're living in a
Alison Maddex, a director of the Museum of Sex, an institution devoted
to exhibitions on sex in culture that is set t
o open in New York at the end of the year, said that pornography may be a
subject ripe for stylish attention because it h
as itself become more purely a matter of style.
"Kids think it's funny, strange," she said. "It's more a pop thing. The
'70s -- porn's huge party decade -- have been
a major influence for 10 years, but it's weird music and clothing, porn
as platform shoes."
In February at Sundance, where the next generation of Hollywood is
born, two of the most talked-about screenings were
"American Pimp," a documentary by Allen and Albert Hughes in which 30
pimps are interviewed about "the game" against a s
oundtrack of 1970s soul and disco music, and "Sex: The Annabel Chong
Story," a documentary about the making of a film in
which Ms. Chong, a gender studies student turned pornography actress, is
said to have sex with 251 men in 10 hours.
Pornography is no longer being viewed in the darkness of a dirty
theater. Someone -- a lot of someones -- has to have
seen adult entertainment in order to understand the fashionable
references to it.
"Sex has gone mainstream," said Fred Bari, an organizer of Erotica USA,
a consumer exposition with more than 100 exhi
bitors, including Barnes & Noble, that is scheduled at the Jacob K. Javits
Convention Center from April 15 to 18. "Sixty-
three billion video dollars, 23 of which is adult -- that's serious sales
numbers. People are tired of keeping it under w
According to Adult Video News, a monthly trade publication, 686 million
adult videos were rented last year. "The Amer
ican public in general is more familiar with what's in porn and who's in
porn than ever before," said Mark Kerns, the fea
tures editor. "When they see the references in other fields, they can
smile smugly and think, 'I know who that is.' The m
ore that happens, the more acceptable it becomes."
Kerns said that the 1998 rental figure was down slightly from 1997,
which he attributed to the interest in the Intern
et, which has made pornography as accessible as telephone service for
those who want it.
Flynt, who is the adult entertainment industry's dean in the debate
over pornography's place in the mainstream, said:
"Contrary to popular belief, the pornography industry is not as isolated
as one would think it is. HBO is using material
as explicit as anything we published in 1974, when Hustler began. Cable,
video and the Internet are creating a new cultu
re. We're witnessing something very profound."
Mark Golin, the editor in chief of Maxim, a magazine for young men, who
is soon to become the editor of Details, its
competitor, said: "There is not a day that goes by that I'm not pitched a
porn story. Porn has become just another thing
that's offered everywhere, that you can purchase as easily as books from
Golin has no big plans for it at his new job. But the March "Mondo
Hollywood" issue of Details, which was viewed in t
he magazine industry as an attempt to imitate Maxim under Details'
outgoing editor, Michael Caruso, is soaked to its soft
core with pornographic subjects.
These include an interview with Julie Strain, a popular pornography
actress, and a profile of Matt Zane, who is the l
eading director of "gonzo porn," a new style of adult movies being
manufactured for Generation X, with the story lines an
d look of music videos and indie films.
Golin said that he thought young male readers were familiar enough with
pornography as mainstream subject to be beyon
d it as a marketing tool.
"We seem to be running out of shocking things," he said. "I think
porn's old hat. Everyone's spent some time checking
it out on line. The sorry few who can't get a date -- let them buy a
drink for their mouse."
-- fortunately, my PowerMac doesn't force me to have patience, tolerance, or willful disregard of futility, it just does shit when I tell it to. in a world filled with MCI commercials and the possibility of the She-Hulk Dole running for president, there's something Good about that. ... firstname.lastname@example.org