The Accidental Voyeur: This Time, It’s Personal

0
566

All good things must pass, and I’d like to thank the more faithful among my readers because my three-year relationship with AIP ends with this column. I’m calling time because I need to start work on a new book (partly based on these pieces) but as my swansong I’d like to riff on the brouhaha over last month’s announcement from Playboy, that it would be shelving nudity from its print edition because it simply can’t compete with the more sexually explicit stuff on the Internet.

What’s all the fuss about? In my opinion, Playboy had hinted at this back in its own March 2002 issue, stating the inflection point quite clearly in “Wired,” its tech news section, which featured an image of a handheld device bearing the sultry visage of Vivid contract girl Briana Banks. The headline was “Porn to Go,” and it revealed how the porn companies are “gearing up to deliver XXX-rated images to personal digital assistants and cell phones equipped with wireless Internet access.” Fast forward a dozen years and what was then a potential novelty has become an inevitable reality. Should anyone be surprised?

On one hand (so to speak), it’s now impossible to compete with all fifteen volumes of Jules Jordan’s Ass Worship that you can easily download, though in my humble opinion the first one from 2001 is still pretty hard to beat. The DVD, which I still have, remains worth watching for Jade Marcela’s scene alone, given how she elevated to new artistic heights otherwise boring porn conventions like the anal creampie and, as only she can do, the fine art of swallowing sperm from glass receptacles after those gooey gobs had been collected dripping from her nether regions, thus achieving levels of shock value then seldom seen (and that scene received an AVN Award nomination but eventually didn’t win!)

I also speak as a Playboy alumnus, although I was a music critic back in those days so my contact with the Playmates was (sadly for me) only social. I hung out at the Playboy Models studio on the top floor of the Playboy building at La Cienaga and Sunset, and still have a soft spot for Ava Fabian, Miss August 1986 (photo above) whom I met in 1992 when she was about to open her own nightclub in West Hollywood. I recall her dusky Greek-Italian visage and dulcet whiskey voice as she told me about her plans, years before she married and then dumped Neal Schon, the guitarist from Journey. (Ah, Ava, if only you’d chosen me!) Even more sentimentally, I have a photocopy of my first paycheck from Playboy, dated April 25, 1988 and signed by Christie Hefner.

My tenure lasted a mere four issues before Penthouse hired me to actually write about hardcore (though the checks from “General Media Communications” didn’t have quite the same ring as those from “Playboy Enterprises”), but the magazine did inspire me to evolve my own ecology of sexual imagery. All that airbrushed pulchritude wasn’t really porn but it was my starting point. As a sage once said, at the end of a journey one should return to the beginning to see it as if for the first time, so I can declare that I still love the very notion of a parallel universe where women are placed on a pedestal as a form of goddess worship, akin to the temple harlots of the bygone pagan age before Christianity crashed the party and spoiled the fun.

Simply put, your personal choices are your private concern, regardless of how tame or explicit the imagery. My own favorite Playboy pictorial didn’t even involve any Playmates. From the issue of October 1977, I beheld ten pages of photos by Robert Scott Hooper accompanying a long essay written by John Bowers (17 pages in total, which would never have happened today) entitled “Ladies of Joy,” depicting real women from the world’s oldest profession. There was Alison Long from California and Sally Keoth from Oregon, who both worked in (of course) Nevada, and even an Asian girl from Berkeley named Linda Ching, who had screwed her way through ten films with the infamous John Holmes, now seen with her eyes on fire and her legs spread, her clitoris very visible –a radical departure from the “girl next door” image Hugh Hefner had so painstakingly cultivated.

Such was my first visual appreciation of sex workers openly acknowledging their profession in 70’s America, which subconsciously stirred my interest and eventually led to my writing two books on the secretive world of escorting, so it would be an understatement to say that Playboy profoundly changed my life. It also did in another way in 1994, when I was set up on a blind date with a young woman who had just test-shot for Playboy but didn’t make the centerfold. We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew I’d written for the magazine and hoped we’d connect given the mutual ground, but we actually combusted and didn’t last beyond a few dates. She was a gorgeous Jewish girl from Los Angeles but we had no real chemistry, though I loved hearing her tales of striving for the coveted centerfold.

It was, she told me, about her need to learn about herself, about finding the courage to overcome her fears. By disrobing for the camera, men (and women) could venerate her as a sex object and while she ran the risk of social censure, that was exactly what she wanted. I admired her vulnerability and cheered her attainment of this personal benchmark in her young life, even though she didn’t get stapled at the navel in the end. That contrasted severely with posing for Penthouse, which really upted the ante. Bluntly put, you were expected to expose your vagina (often microscopically), thus entailing much deeper levels of motivation.

A friend of mine, a former Penthouse Pet who started in a glamour modeling before performing in a few adult movies, saw it as her way of transcending her difficult relationship with her emotionally-remote father. By gaining the rapt attention of men, she believed she could secure the approval she never had while growing up. She also told me she liked the implicit anonymity, the sheer thrill of knowing that countless viewers whom she could not see were self-pleasuring to her: “They can think whatever they want. I don’t care if they masturbate to my picture. I mean, it’s normal — everybody masturbates. I am glad I can help them with their fantasies. If they want to see me as their sex icon, why not?”

That was in 2004, when I was her ghostwriter/editor for her personal website, and she gave me a precious gift because she knew I’d like it – a set of color photos from different shoots, of her own vulva being parted by her long, elegant fingers (“close-ups of my pussy!” she exclaimed proudly) — and I still cherish it today amid my prized collection of erotica. Well, what’s the point of anything if, ultimately, it’s not personal? I’m writing this, I guess, in the hope that you yourself will find, and curate, your own ecology of erotica. It’s my way of gently saying goodbye.