I have this porno flick that was made in 1983. I'm not going to tell you the title. Let's just say it's 55 minutes of pretty plain-jane, standard-issue pornography, and if you Google the title (I just tried it), you get hits for a site about prostate cancer, a Texas-based oil conglomerate, and the homepage of a well-known luxury department store.
Standard issue porn for 1983, of course, is fairly removed from the modern canon. Condoms weren't really in vogue yet, and a reasonable quantity of body hair was certainly fair game. The guys are more raw-looking, and the set that we're asked to believe is a college dorm room is clearly a suite at a Comfort Inn located near the interstate (you can hear trucks down-shifting on the off-ramp).
The film opens in what appears to be the parking facilities at Los Angeles International Airport, where a poofy young Frenchman has just arrived as part of a student exchange program. The filmmakers spend a full 20 minutes on long shots of him retrieving his luggage from the baggage claim, reading a map, and purchasing a baseball cap from a cashier who takes his money, counts it, opens her drawer, counts his change and hands it back to him, all unedited.
Fast-forwarding through all this irrelevance, it strikes me that this movie was made before the popularization of VCRs, and that most of the people who saw it were sitting in a darkened theater, quietly pumping away. Some semblance of a plot must have seemed necessary to justify theater viewing, and the more intricate the plot becomes, the more I realize I'm enjoying it. Who is this young Frenchman? What is it exactly that makes his clock tick?
Strangely, in all these years, I've never seen the end of the film. I like to imagine that the kid discovers a passion for the arts and sciences, inspiring professors and a love of sport.
Last Saturday, I saw Inside Deep Throat, the documentary about the 1972 adult film starring Linda Lovelace. It was a matinee, and perhaps because of the weather, the theater was completely full. It was the same morning that Christo and Jeanne-Claude unveiled their massive public art project, The Gates, in Central Park, and also the same morning that the newspapers all ran banner headlines announcing that an unidentified gay man in his mid-forties had been diagnosed with a new, drug-resistant super-strain of HIV in New York City.
Other details included the fact that the man, in the past several months, had had unprotected sex with hundreds of partners while high on crystal meth, and that he would likely live only a few months. The ever-sensible New York Times ran pull quotes to the effect of, "Medical experts urge calm on discovery." The New York Post, which normally appears cracked out on speed itself, emphasized that hundreds could already be infected.
I'm inclined to go with Rupert Murdoch and his ridiculous tabloid on this one. My boyfriend and I spent the afternoon walking through the park under saffron-colored fabric and discussing the merits of Linda Lovelace's ability to deep throat a gigantic penis, and the notion of fucking hundreds of people in the span of a few months without a condom. We both felt a bit uncomfortable, like moralists condemning the gay man who'd fucked hundreds, latex-free. Yes, he endangered the lives of many, and his irresponsibility probably meant a death sentence for at least several, but he probably had some sort of psychological problem that stemmed from a childhood swabbed in homophobia and repression, which makes it not really his fault.
Yet there's a dark part of my liberal bleeding heart that wants to see his face on page one of the Post under the headline "I KILLED DOZENS." I know it's not fair. It's a visceral reaction, exactly the kind that papers like the Post want you to have. I argued to my boyfriend that had this man hijacked a bus full of people and driven it off a cliff, he'd receive no sympathy whatsoever. Carl responded that the man is only half guilty -- he knew he could potentially be spreading a deadly disease, but those who caught it from him had also green-lighted the barebacking.
Point taken. Linda Lovelace slipped through the condom-free '70s and '80s and died in a car crash. The Frenchman, odds are, died of AIDS before the nineties made an appearance. The superstrain host isn't expected to make through the year.
I think it's worth noting at this juncture that jerking off to porn is not only safe sex, but also that select scenes in porn films now actually show the two actors who are about to engage each other taking steps to protect themselves. Though the condom often appears seemingly out of nowhere, since by the time it's required neither character has pockets available, the very fact that the unwrapping and sheathing process isn't left on the cutting room floor is significant.
Personally, I think there's something erotic about a condom, about the act of producing it from thin air like a coin from behind an ear. I've always thought that the moment when a guy slides open his nightstand drawer is nothing less than Pavlovian. You know, at that moment, what's about to happen. Latex has become such an ingrained part of sex that the sight of surgical gloves feels like impending intercourse. Tearing open the foil with your teeth comes highly recommended. So does the Comfort Inn.
Will Doig writes from his exile in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.