MENTAL FLOSS: Covering AEE Without Even Being There-UPDATED

LONDON, U.K.—British expatriate anti-porn activist Gail Dines may have been in Boston (her usual stomping ground) or London (where The Guardian is published) or even Cambridge University (where on Feb. 17 she'll take part in a debate with UK adult director Anna Span over "whether porn does a good public service")—but wherever she was on Jan. 4, two days before the 2011 AEE even began, she had the convention pegged—or so she wanted Guardian readers to think.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

"When I attended the expo," Dines wrote, probably referring to her one experience with the AEE in 2008, which she recounts in her book Pornland, "from sitting in the business seminars it quickly became clear that what excites these guys (and it was overwhelmingly men) is not sex, but money. They spend hours in airless, poorly lit conference rooms discussing niche markets, product diversification, and how to generate website traffic, because, as the expo website says: 'Identifying, selling and marketing the right products for your existing customers and attracting new ones is vital in today's competitive marketplace'."

"Airless, poorly lit conference rooms"? Seriously? The only time they dim the lights in those meeting rooms in the Sands Expo Center is when someone wants to project something on the screen at the front of each room. Aside from that, the light and ventilation are both excellent—but of course, that doesn't fit Dines' agenda of portraying the "business" part of the adult entertainment business as something that happens in back rooms and seedy hotel bars.

The folks who attended the seminar she referenced above are (of course) "predatory capitalists" ... just like the Republicans who currently control the U.S. House, the Wall Street banksters and the executives at the nation's health insurance companies, we're guessing, only not as successful since, as she notes later, they can't even "directly advertise [their] products on television or in newspapers." But yes, people are in the adult business because A) it's a business, and B) businesses usually generate money (Wall St. hedge funds and subprime real estate loans excluded).

But just "a few yards away" from those capitalists, "in a cavernous convention hall, the very people they are analysing are mingling with their favourite porn performers, watching snippets of the latest movies, and eagerly awaiting what the organisers call 'Sexy Stage Shows', where female porn performers simulate sex with each other." (Original British spellings retained.)

Our memories of AEE 2008 may be a bit dim at this point, but the only "sexy stage shows" at the AEE, aside from a few booths where contract players and others posed and tossed T-shirts to the waiting crowd, was one makeshift stage populated by dancers from one of the local adult cabarets—and what they did on that stage was dance, not perform "simulated sex with each other." Dines certainly has a (pardon the expression) vivid imagination when it comes to what she thinks adult movie actors do in public.

Indeed, her imagination was in full bloom when she claims to have "walked around the hall looking at the porn movies on display," and claims to have seen "women being choked with penises till they gagged, being roughly penetrated by men who called them 'slut', 'bitch', and 'cum dumpster', and—in one particularly bizarre case—being anally penetrated while in a coffin." We hate to break it to her, but hardcore displays at the AEE are verboten, so she'd have had to look really, really hard to see the material she claims to have seen. We're guessing she just made it up, based on reading DVD package blurbs.

Likewise, Dines may have seen a VERY few performers "sitting on tables with their legs spread as men lined up to pose with them so their friends could take pictures," but the vast majority of companies discourage that—in fact, there was none of it at this year's Expo—and most of the women think it's pretty tacky as well—but Dines has a mission, and she's not about to let such ephemeral things as "facts" get in her way.

"My interviews with the fans waiting in line revealed that they had bought the official party line: porn was about fun and fantasy, not reality, and we shouldn't take it too seriously," Dines claims. "I wanted to drag these fans over to the conference rooms to show them just how wrong they were: to show them the venture capitalists, producers, directors, and distributors who took porn very seriously indeed."

Well, as previously noted, the adult entertainment business is a business, and the "serious" people who are in that business make money from it—and oddly enough, the fans know that. Even the ones who steal content on the internet know it. The fans also know that the porn they watch in the privacy of their own homes is about sexual fantasies: Good-looking people (and others, depending on their tastes) performing sexual acts that either the fans can't manage to do themselves, or since the U.S. is still a fairly puritanical country, they may not even have thought of to do themselves.

Taking a tip from Phil Burress's Citizens for Community Values, Dines is apparently also against hotels getting a piece of the "adults-only" business, but it would appear that her main reason for making the point that hotels have adult pay-per-view is to rope "bankers, software producers, credit card companies, internet providers, cable companies, and hotel chains" into the "complex value chain" that is the adult entertainment industry. (It's specifically for that reason that the owners of the major cable channels won't reveal what their annual profits are from adult entertainment: They don't want to be tarred as "getting rich from pornography" by jackasses like Dines.)

"It is no accident that the International Consumer Electronics Show takes place in Las Vegas at the exact same time as the expo," Dines writes, apparently unaware that until 1999, CES itself hosted the "adult section" until AVN took it "private" in that year.

"Porn has helped drive the technologies that expand its own market," she accurately states, adding that, "porn has proven to be a reliable, highly profitable market segment that has accelerated the development of media technologies, from VCRs and DVDs to file-sharing networks, video on demand for cable, streamed video over the internet for PCs, and, most recently, video for mobile phones. Video uses vast quantities of data, and the demand for porn has driven the development of core cross-platform technologies for data compression, search, transmission and micro-payments."

In other words, the mainstream entertainment industry wouldn't be where it is today without porn.

Of course, being anti-porn herself, Dines can't seem to appreciate that most people don't share her views—and so the reason there's so much adult content out there can't be because people want it, but rather because porn "has to rely on PR companies such as BSG Public Relations"—you go, Brian!—"to place porn-friendly stories in the mainstream media. There are hundreds of examples to draw from here: Jenna Jameson on the Oprah Winfrey show talking about how empowered she feels from making porn; Hugh Hefner being interviewed by yet another newspaper; an article in Cosmopolitan on how watching porn is a fun way for women to spice up their sex lives; or the popular T-shirts with 'Porn Star' written across the chest."

But for Dines, what that means is that the culture has, to use "journalist" Pamela Paul's term, become "pornified," meaning that "porn images, messages and stories seep into our sexual identities and relationships." This supposedly shows itself in everything from "the ever-higher heels that are now popular with women" (yeah, like they didn't have stilettos in the '50s!); "the hypersexed look of younger and younger girls" (yeah; why can't we go back to the '00s—1900s, that is—when people were scandalized at seeing a woman's well-turned ankle peeking out from under her floor-length dress?); "Miley Cyrus pole dancing, and—in what is probably the most blatant example to date—the popularity of genital waxing among young women."

"This practice [which Dines later attributes to a pubic hair "phobia"] became widespread in porn about a decade ago and now is so commonplace that it is almost impossible to find female performers with pubic hair," she writes. "Meanwhile, shaving has become so accepted among my female students that they tell me they are repulsed by their pubic hair. And so are their sex partners, some of whom refuse to have sex with them if they are not fully waxed. This makes perfect sense, given that many of these men got most of their sex education from porn."

Gosh; is it possible that Dines has never enjoyed the pleasure of cunnilingus? And if so, did her partner(s) never get hair caught in his/her/their teeth? And after sex—which she's definitely done at least twice since she has two kids—has she never felt a little icky from having seminal fluids and sweat caught in her bush? Putting that two and two together doesn't require porn to make four.

But who knew that not shaving or waxing one's pubes was the perfect way to avoid sex?

"This phobia has ironically given women one unexpected, if meagre, weapon in their struggle to maintain a semblance of sexual autonomy: 'The Trick'," Dines claims, casually demeaning the ability of women to make sexual choices on their own. "I learned about it at a college lecture I gave a few years ago. A student in the audience started talking about 'The Trick' as if everyone knew what it is. And, in fact, most of the other women nodded their understanding and familiarity with the practice. Well, it turns out that women who want to avoid sex on a particular night out purposely don't shave or wax beforehand, so that they will feel too embarrassed to participate in casual sex. When I asked them why they couldn't just say no to sex, they informed me that saying no was too difficult, given the pressure to have sex, so they pulled 'The Trick' on the guy. Of course, 'The Trick' really demonstrates just how little sexual autonomy and control the porn culture affords young women."

So ... Valerie Solanas, the assassin of Andy Warhol and author of The SCUM Manifesto, was wrong when she wrote, "Eaten up with guilt, shame, fears and insecurities and obtaining, if he's lucky, a barely perceptible physical feeling, the male is, nonetheless, obsessed with screwing; he'll swim a river of snot, wade nostril-deep through a mile of vomit, if he thinks there'll be a friendly pussy awaiting him. He'll screw a woman he despises, any snaggle-toothed hag, and furthermore, pay for the opportunity"?

Well, certainly not entirely wrong: Most people—male and female—like to fuck, and an informal poll of AVN staffers, all well familiar with modern porn, suggests that the decision to do so rests not at all on whether the woman has a bit of pubic stubble; other factors would definitely be much more in play. And those same staffers have never even heard of "The Trick," so one has to wonder what sort of uptight crowd populates Dines' lectures?

Finally, without the benefit of attending, Dines nevertheless handicaps one of this year's panels, "In the Company of Women," predicting, "I'm sure there will be lots of talk about how women can be empowered by watching porn, because the pornographers, being the savvy businessmen they are, like nothing more than telling women that porn is actually good for them. This is their 'trick', and one we must resist if we want to replace the plasticised, formulaic and generic images of the pornographers with an authentic sexuality based on our own experiences, longings, and desires."

Gee, Gail, thanks for speaking for all women ("we must resist") while simultaneously defining all adult entertainment businesspeople as men (albeit "savvy" ones) and revealing your own sexism by inferring that women can't decide for themselves whether "porn is actually good for them."

In fact, the panel consisted mostly of women—moderated by female college professor Lynn Comella (who also wrote about Dines' "analysis"), with three female panelists (mostly business owners) and one male—who discussed everything from what toys women seem to prefer these days to, yes, what adult movies are most "woman-friendly." (Turns out women like plots in their videos—who could'a guessed? Except, of course, Vivid, Wicked, New Sensations, Digital Playground and a few others.) No talk of "empower[ment] by watching porn," though one panelist, Dr. Carol Queen, recommended that everyone in the audience take a "masturbation workshop." Not much talk of images, "plasticized, formulaic and generic" or otherwise, though producer Diana DeVoe did favor using "beautiful performers" on her sets—a far cry from Hollywood, which as we all know goes out of its way to choose non-beautiful people to star in its movies and TV shows.

So, Gail: Do you think that maybe next time you'll consider attending the convention you want to write about? Or would the reality of how non-threatening adult content is be too damaging to your psyche?