Internet Pornography: Burt Reynolds, the BangBus, and Emotional Contraband

I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw pornography, maybe four or five. I was in Denmark staying at my grandparents’ house during the summer and my older brother had managed to infiltrate the neighborhood kiosk to get his hands on what would have been contraband in America.

While the grandparents were taking an afternoon nap, he went into the bathroom and reached his hand underneath the tub, elevated a few inches off the tiled floor by brass claws. He produced a pack of cigarettes and a porno magazine with a Burt Reynolds impersonator on the cover.

BurtReynoldsButt

I remember wondering how a magazine editor could have convinced Burt Reynolds to pose for pictures while having sex. My brother chastised me for my gullibility. “That’s not really Burt Reynolds, stupid.”

In 1995, I got access to the internet for the first time in my life. My friend P had just bought an expensive new computer (a Pentium 386) and had free AOL hours. The first thing we did was look for the Playboy homepage and waited anxiously for each picture to load on the screen in a slow cascade of pixels.

In 2001, I was working an office job at a big company, the first job I’d ever had with high-speed internet access. I worked long hours, coming in at 7AM most days and staying until 9 or 10PM, often even later when things were busy. One of the guys I worked with had figured out a way to hack porno sites and once people left the office we would gather around his monitor with a few of the other guys from the floor and marvel at BangBus and Joe’s Apartment.

Women were still mostly a puzzle to me and it was surreal to watch some camera-wielding boors convince women on the sidewalk to have sex with them in vans. “Could it possibly be real?” I wondered, simultaneously horrified and amazed.

A friend of mine in San Francisco has a bumper sticker on her car that says, “I value women’s lives over pornographers’ rights.” There has always been a dual perception of pornography in my mind. I admire it in spirit and openness, working as a crass counter-balance to the puritanical bloviation sex gets in our cultural commerce. It provides direct argument against the Vaseline on the lens and the slow fade as the camera pans shyly off into a corner.

On the other hand, I’ve always recoiled at the impersonal gutter fucking that porn offers. I never felt I had to hide my Hunter S. Thompson books or my Dead Kennedy’s tapes while I was growing up, but pornography was strictly contraband. The only people who could know I had a Hustler tucked away under my bed were my guy friends, and we all understood innately what physical and metaphysical purpose it served there.

What exactly that metaphysical purpose is, and why it so uniquely applies to men, is still vague to me. When I was growing up porno disturbed me with its violent collisions and the cold details of naked, adult bodies. And still, I had an instinctual reaction, a force beyond my own choosing would accelerate my heartbeat and make my special purpose sit upright like a dog hearing the far-off clanking of a leash.

nycskyline

Sex pervades everything. I think about it all the time. On the subway, walking down the street, writing emails, reading the news, while I’m playing games. It ebbs and flows, sometimes a huge focus and other times a subliminal blip. Walking around New York, it’s impossible to avoid the phallocentricity of the city. Skyscrapers dominate the skyline in the same way that their fleshy dopplegangers create the foundation of most porn.

This all passes as subliminal, unspoken in polite circles, lower primates gathering together in social groups negotiating manners and projecting identities while the inner animal parts slumber in the dark trousers.

I remember being stunned when I lost my virginity. All of the positions and motions I had seen in pornography were there in some mawkish form; though I have no doubt my approximations were so much more gangly and awkward. What I hadn’t expected was the degree to which I was still conscious and in possession of my own thoughts. I had expected the process to be some kind of tidal wave, starting in my crotch and crashing over my entire body in a crash of spastic urgency.

I thought I would start speaking in tongues and roll my eyes back in my head like a horse galloping for the horizon. I didn’t understand that was a choice that two people make together, something born out of trust in another person. Which is maybe why porn is so commonly derogatory to women and so predominantly consumed by men. Pornography is not simply a stand-in for sex in times of scarcity. It’s a psychic crutch that makes it easier to avoid the fear of having to be vulnerable with another person, of willfully choosing to let go of yourself and trusting that person will go along with you on some parallel high.

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One thought on “Internet Pornography: Burt Reynolds, the BangBus, and Emotional Contraband

  1. “It’s a psychic crutch that makes it easier to avoid the fear of having to be vulnerable with another person, of willfully choosing to let go of yourself and trusting that person will go along with you on some parallel high.”

    That is an incredibly insightful sentence. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone put the issues wrapped up in pornography so clearly and simply before. It encapsulates my own experiences. Very good post.

    I’m all about people’s legal rights to do what they will. Even so, I believe pornography to be wrong, or at least “wrong” in so many words, though it is more complicated than that word. I label it that way in my mind because, as you mentioned, the way it devalues women, and the way it devalues the bond two lovers share.

    It’s amazing how something so distasteful to my moral sense can be so enticing, driving and overwhelming at the worst of times.

    What I hate most is how it infiltrates other aspects of my life. There is no reason for me, a man committed to a serious relationship, to fantasize about other women, both strangers and friends. But it happens, and it is hard to deal with.

    Thanks for this. Consider my thoughts provoked.

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