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BIG RED SON
THE AMERICAN ACADEMY of Emergency Medicine confirms it: Each year, between one and two dozen adult US males are admitted to ERs after having castrated themselves. With kitchen tools, usually, sometimes wire cutters. In answer to the obvious question, surviving patients most often report that their sexual urges had become a source of intolerable conflict and anxiety. The desire for perfect release and the real-world impossibility of perfect, whenever-you-want-it release had together produced a tension they could no longer stand.
It is to the 30+ testosteronically afflicted males whose cases have been documented in the past two years that your correspondents wish to dedicate this article. And to those tormented souls considering autocastration in 1998, we wish to say: "Stop! Stay your hand! Hold off with those kitchen utensils and/or wire cutters!" Because we believe we may have found an alternative.
Every spring, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents awards for outstanding achievement in all aspects of mainstream cinema. These are the Academy Awards. Mainstream cinema is a major industry in the United States, and so are the Academy Awards. The AAs' notorious commercialism and hypocrisy disgust many of the millions and millions and millions of viewers who tune in during prime time to watch the presentations. It is not a coincidence that the Oscars ceremony is held during TV's Sweeps Week. We pretty much all tune in, despite the grotesquerie of watching an industry congratulate itself on its pretense that it's still an art form, of hearing people in $5,000 gowns invoke lush clichés of surprise and humility scripted by publicists, etc.—the whole cynical postmodern deal—but we all still seem to watch. To care. Even though the hypocrisy hurts, even though opening grosses and marketing strategies are now bigger news than the movies themselves, even though Cannes and Sundance have become nothing more than enterprise zones. But the truth is that there's no more real joy about it all anymore. Worse, there seems to be this enormous unspoken conspiracy where we all pretend that there's still joy. That we think it's funny when Bob Dole does a Visa ad and Gorbachev shills for Pizza Hut. That the whole mainstream celebrity culture is rushing to cash in and all the while congratulating itself on pretending not to cash in. Underneath it all, though, we know the whole thing sucks.
Your correspondents humbly offer an alternative.
Every January, the least pretentious city in America hosts the Annual AVN Awards. The AVN stands for Adult Video News, which is sort of the Variety of the US porn industry. This thick, beautifully designed magazine costs $7.95 per issue, is about 80 percent ads, and is clearly targeted at adult-video retailers. Its circulation is appr. 40,000.
Though the sub-line vagaries of entertainment accounting are legendary, it is universally acknowledged that the US adult-film industry, at $3.5-4 billion in annual sales, rentals, cable charges, and video-masturbation-booth revenues, is an even larger and more efficient moneymaking machine than legitimate mainstream American cinema (the latter's annual gross commonly estimated at $2-2.5 billion). The US adult industry is centered in LA's San Fernando Valley, just over the mountains from Hollywood.1 Some insiders like to refer to the adult industry as Hollywood's Evil Twin, others as the mainstream's Big Red Son.
It is no accident that Adult Video News -- a slick, expensive periodical whose articles are really more like infomercials -- and its yearly Awards both came into being in 1982. The early '80s, after all, saw the genesis of VCRs and home-video rentals, which have done for the adult industry pretty much what TV did for pro football.
From the 12/11/97 press release issued by AVN...
* The nominations for the 15th Annual AVN Awards were announced today.2 This year's awards show, commemorating AVN's 15th anniversary, celebrates "History". [sic]
* Awards will be presented in a record 106 categories over a two night period.
* The adult industry released nearly 8,000 adult releases [sic] in 1997, including over 4,000 "new" releases (non-compilation). AVN reviewed every new release in every categroy [sic] this past year, logging over 30,000 sex scenes.
* By comparison, last year there were approximately 375 films eligible for the Academy Awards that these voters [sic—meaning different voters from the AVN voters, presumably] were required to see. AVN had to watch more than 10 times the amount of releases in order to develop these nominations [usage and repetition sic, though 4,000 divided by 375 is indeed over 10].
...The adult industry is vulgar. Would anyone disagree? One of the AVN Awards' categories is "Best Anal Themed Feature"; another is "Best Overall Marketing Campaign -- Company Image." Irresistible, a 1983 winner in several categories, has been spelled Irresistable in Adult Video News for fifteen straight years. The industry's not only vulgar, it's predictably vulgar. All the clichés are true. The typical porn producer really is the ugly little man with a bad toupee and a pinkie-ring the size of a Rolaids. The typical porn director really is the guy who uses the word class as a noun to mean refinement. The typical porn starlet really is the lady in Lycra eveningwear with tattoos all down her arms who's both smoking and chewing gum while telling journalists how grateful she is to Wadcutter Productions Ltd. for footing her breast-enlargement bill. And meaning it. The whole AVN Awards weekend comprises what [a men's magazine reporter's pseudonym -- ed.] calls an Irony-Free Zone.
But of course we should keep in mind that vulgar has many dictionary definitions and that only a couple of these have to do w/ lewdness or bad taste. At root, vulgar just means popular on a mass scale. It is the semantic opposite of pretentious or snobby. It is humility with a comb-over. It is Nielsen ratings and Barnum's axiom and the real bottom line. It is big, big business.
Copyright © 2006 by David Foster Wallace. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.