Jason Pettus, of the CCLaP, wrote about American Gangbang recently. Below is the full review.
American Gangbang: A Love Story
By Sam Benjamin
Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster
So before anything else, let me get a big disclosure out of the way: that about a decade ago, I did some writing and design work for the website JewishCheerleaders.com, online home of the now defunct alt-porn production company once owned by Sam Benjamin, although let me make it clear that I’ve had no contact with him since those days; and that’s important when it comes to this review, because his hilarious, filthy and touching new memoir on the subject, American Gangbang: A Love Story, is not really about Jewish Cheerleaders per se (although bizarre stories about its formation make up the bulk of the book’s first third), but rather how this quest to make smart alt-porn eventually led him to working full-time in the legitimate mainstream porn industry, waking up one day to realize that he was now living in one of the bedrooms of a Malibu mansion that served as a 24-hour drug-filled shooting location for the production company he was now making tens of thousands of dollars a month from, his personal life by definition now becoming complexly intertwined with the abusive interracial group-sex scenes he was now in charge of organizing and shooting on literally a daily basis.
And indeed, in a larger sense what this book is really about is the grand tragedy of the entire “alt-porn” industry of the early 2000s in general, and the dispiriting lesson that nearly all of us who were involved with it back then eventually learned — that no matter how noble your intentions, no matter how refined your pedigree (Benjamin, for example, had studied semiotics at Brown before getting involved in the industry), the combination of drugs and cash and douchebaggery and exploitation and desperation that automatically comes with any instance of sex being exchanged for money is bound to dirty and sully anyone who comes into contact with it, no matter how peripherally they’re involved or how little that person thinks they’re being affected. And so in Benjamin’s case, as he found himself surrounded more and more by the kinds of deeply dysfunctional fringe dwellers who normally populate the trillion-dollar adult industry of southern California, he also found more and more of his hipster postmodern high-mindedness slipping away from him, slowly turning more and more into the kind of person he used to make fun of and with there being an increasingly blurry line between his fantasy life, the outrageous concepts being created for his porn shoots, and the way he dealt with women on just a day-by-day nonsexual basis.
I mean, not that this is a dour book by any means; in fact it’s laugh-out-loud funny for nearly its entire length, with Benjamin having the courage to cast himself as the self-deprecatory foil of most of his own anecdotes, whether talking about his disastrous night while young and broke as an unpopular go-go dancer at a gay club, starring in a strap-on reverse-bisexual shoot for revered San Francisco company Good Vibrations simply for the hell of it, or later darker stories of becoming obsessed with ultra-abusive “gonzo” porn and having it bleed into his non-porn love life. And make no mistake, Benjamin puts his college degrees to good use here (he also has an MFA in Critical Studies from the California Institute of the Arts); this is not only one of the best-structured personal memoirs I’ve ever read, but Benjamin pulls off the neat trick of giving his stories a general appeal precisely by making them so specific, making this not just a naughty tell-all about sometimes some fairly famous people in the industry (although it’s that too) but also a bigger and grander examination of an entire sorry little era in Generation X’s history, when literally thousands of spoiled, overeducated young intellectuals thought they could change the very essence of exchanging sex for money simply because they were determined to, only to have the entire effort mainly end up biting them in the ass. I’m obviously too personally associated with the proceedings in this case to give anything even close to an “objective” review, which is why American Gangbang is neither receiving a score today nor will be eligible for CCLaP’s best-of lists at the end of the year; but it nonetheless comes strongly recommended, one of the best historical documents out there to help future generations understand (for example) how a place like Suicide Girls could go in a single decade from a darling of third-wave feminist hipsters to a nearly universally reviled codeword for misogyny and cruelty. When read in this spirit, I’m confident that most people will find it utterly riveting.
Recently, I did a really fun interview with Freddy and Eddy (Ian and Alicia Denchasy), an awesome married couple who run a sex-positive review and toy site. The link below will bring you to the podcast - I encourage you to check it out for both the content we created and valuable resources that are on their site.
The interview is also available on iTunes; to listen, click here and look for “American G******g.”
I was a guest on Emily Morse’s show, Sex With Emily, this Friday, February 24th, and had the best time.
How could I not, with this hottie?
You have to watch out for Emily - she reminds me of Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City: just less self-obsessed, and more fun.
I felt extremely welcomed by Emily and her right-hand woman, Kelsi, and we did a super-fun podcast where I got to talk about anal sex, handmade pornos, narrative in smut, and why gonzo is always superior.
I’ve gotten really lucky recently - getting to hang out with the likes of Jamye Waxman and now Emily Morse - grown up, sexy women who are out there using their minds and good spirits to educate us folks, and pass along the sex-positive vibe.
To listen to our show on ITunes, click here.
Or check out Emily’s entire site at www.emilymorse.com.
I first met Sam Benjamin back in 2009 at Audacia Ray’s Sex Worker Literati. He’s smart, charming, uses big words, has a great smile and knows how to write. His story at SWL (now the Red Umbrella Diaries) had me laughing really loud and hard. I wanted to get to know him better, but alas I was moving to LA, he had just moved to NY and so it goes. And now, I moved to SF and he’s living in LA, but I finally got a chance to sit down with him and chat it up.
This week’s podcast is not only about his wonderfully engaging and oft time hilarious memoir, American Gangbang: A Love Story, it’s also about his life as a go-go dancer, porn as art, condoms in porn, the best porn directors and performers in the world (think: Belladonna, John Leslie, Stagliano and more), and what it’s like for two of us..nice Jewish kids from the east coast, who got to working in the adult entertainment industry.
I had a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy listening too.
And if you’re in SF, Sam and Richard Pacheco will be talking porn TONIGHT, 8PM at the Center for Sex and Culture.
American Gangbang: A Love Story (Gallery Books, 2011) is a wickedly funny book chronicling Sam Benjamin’s journey from Brown University, where he studied postmodern theory and media, into the world of pornography. Benjamin and Winston Len met up over coffee in the West Village recently to discuss his experience.
Winston Len (Rail): In the book, there’s a scene where your then-girlfriend Liz said she thought you were a sweet guy who stumbled into the wrong job, to which you replied, “exactly. That’s what I am.” Now that you’ve some perspective about your experience, do you still think that’s true?
Sam Benjamin: No. I think that, in the book, I was trying to make her look at me, trying to joke with her. I definitely got into porn on purpose. I mean, there was a huge element of luck in it, too, yet it played out like that. It’s always a mix. It’s actually a mix for the performers, too. For the girl to get into porn, she has to be a total mix. She’s gotta be good looking enough to do it, for one thing, so that cuts out a big portion of the population, and she has to be in the geographically correct zone. It’s not like a lot of women are planning to do porn—maybe some are—so she has to meet the right people, and then she has to decide that it fits her. So, I think it’s kind of an interesting occupation because a lot of people kind of stumble into it.
Rail: I found it interesting how you tried to intellectualize your curiosity and involvement in porn initially. You wanted to make an art form of it. Now that you’re out, is your intellectual curiosity back or did it never go away?
Benjamin: I thought there was great potential to make porn films that were way better than what was being produced, and that had narrative. When I was faced with the actual challenge, I came across a lot of problems. One was that I don’t think I had the chops as an artist to create a really good film, whether it had sex in it or not. There are also the needs of the genre. Fifty to 75 percent of the movie is going to be sex, so it’s really hard to pop a narrative in there. There are other problems, like the talent pool; they’re not really actors [laughs]. I definitely wasn’t up to the challenge, and I gave up. Now, I’m interested in porn as a genre, but I’m not waiting for the next great director to make an awesome porn movie that we can all watch for its plot. I don’t think it’ll happen.
Rail: What about the dark side in you? Now that you’re out of the industry, do you feel like you’re clean again?
Benjamin: No, I’m still a degenerate. I think a lot of people are, and are happy to be like that. But I’m more interested in doing that in a private way. At the time, I wanted to be public, you know, put the worst side of me in a public forum for some reason, to kind of figure out a way to define myself. You could say I’m less exhibitionistic—especially about my negative side. I just didn’t have a lot of good role models there, particularly sexual role models. It was just kind of like, “explore your dark side all the time!” I don’t really do that anymore.
Rail: What’s the biggest insight you came away with?
Benjamin: I definitely came out of it feeling like what you do doesn’t necessarily define you. I’m not proud of everything I did, but it gave me the chance to step away and be like, “okay, I’m the dude who steps away from the bullshit parts of me.” The porn industry is useful because it offers you opportunities—it literalizes, in a certain sense, these conflicts of aggression. It’s an avenue through which to explore things like aggression or sexism or capitalism. You’re like this player in a video game or something.
Rail: In the book, Pitts, who ran the business, was laser-focused on website traffic and subscriptions. He seemed willing to do anything to make money. In the financial crisis we saw how the subprime lenders regarded their customers as numbers as well. Do you think that kind of dehumanization is a function of the data-driven world that we live in?
Benjamin: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. You know, Pitts was a pretty ethical guy when it came down to it. I don’t know how I portrayed him in the book, but he wasn’t a bad guy to work for. Honestly, the porn industry can be pretty heartless—just like all other industries. I think what makes it stand out in relief is that you’re dealing with something that probably shouldn’t be humanized. Sex in a capitalistic context looks pretty grotesque, but it’s treated, you know—the business model is like Blockbuster.
Rail: In that context, what do you think is the relative morality of pornography versus other forms of exploitation?
Benjamin: That’s a good question. Personally I don’t find it more amoral than any other. It is voluntary. It’s a little bit shady because a lot of the people who get into that industry come from tough backgrounds—you know, family problems—and then they’re engaging in the type of behavior that—you know, it’s kind of a reiteration of the traumas that they grew up with so it’s pretty dark. However, is it amoral? I don’t think so. I don’t know. My own moral compass is pretty unpredictable. I just think it’s interesting when it sways into those areas. We live in this hypocritical atmosphere when people are willing to lie and cheat and engage in fucked-up behaviors in a private form. Pornography is interesting because it’s all of that in a public way. In that way, it’s always felt like a breath of fresh air to me—this honesty of how dark things can be.
Rail: There are large portions of the book that read like a confession. What has the feedback been from your family and former coworkers since the book was published?
Benjamin: While it’s embarrassing for my family to sit around Thanksgiving and everybody’s like, “hey good job with the book, but we’re not gonna talk about the content of it,” I think my family feels good about me succeeding in the field that I’ve been wanting to, regardless of content. Liz has mixed feelings about it. I divulged a lot and I feel bad, but I tried to write the book without her and the book sucked. Writing about our relationship was super important to me because, honestly, that’s what helped me understand that I was kind of going down the tubes as a person. I sent a copy to Pitts also and he’s been cool about it—really cool about it—and I saw Timberlake, too, all these people I haven’t talked to in like five years.
Rail: I know you’re doing a lot of visual and music performances to help promote your book. Were those ideas that you came up with before you got the book published? Or were they something that you thought of as part of the publicity of the book?
Benjamin: A little bit of both. I’ve always been interested in multimedia. When I was at Brown, I was studying video in a production way and that’s what led me to doing porn, but I was also writing and I have an interest in sound. When I was at Cal Arts, I was trying to explore sound documentary. The thing that I’m most interested in now is my lecture series called A Brief History of Porn where I take non-explicit clips from adult films over the last 50 years and use them to talk about the trajectory of the genre and how they relate to other types of film.
Rail: To quote another line from the book, “the real story is always now.” How has your life changed since the book?
Benjamin: I’m still dedicated to the same kind of ideals that led me to the porn industry, like exploration. I am getting older. I’m 35 now, so some of my behavior is more appropriate for a 21-year-old boy than it is for a 35-year-old man-boy, but I’m still on the same trip. I would love to do more participatory journalism or first-person stuff. I’d like to write another memoir where I put myself in an intense situation, something anthropological, akin to the porn industry but definitely not the porn industry.
via Tits and Sass
by Audacia Ray
1. Because this is the first time in more than 20 years that the U.S. has hosted the event. The IAC will take place in Washington, DC from July 22 to 27. The conference will feature both formal meetings and presentations (with a registration fee) and a Global Village with cultural and activist events (free admission). Interested in pitching an abstract for the conference or a cultural event for the Global Village? Learn more here. The main deadline for abstracts is February 15.
2. Because although Obama lifted travel restrictions against HIV positive people in 2009, there are still travel bans against sex workers and drug users. This means that people who have sold sex or used drugs, even if doing so is legal where they live, are not allowed to enter the United States.
3.Because the sex workers who won’t be allowed into the U.S. are counting on us to make some noise in DC. There will be an international gathering of sex workers happening at a hub conference in India, and we’ll be able to connect with them digitally before and during the conference to share resources and strategies.
4. Because sex workers are flagged as one of the key populations at higher risk for HIV transmission. The other populations in this group are intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men (MSM) – global health groups often problematically include trans women in the category of MSM. Some of our lives intersect with more than one of these categories.
5. Because on top of having our own problems the U.S. exports terrible policies and strings-attached funding that harms sex workers. For example the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which funds international organizations, include an anti-prostitution clause in contracts with grantees. American sex workers must stand up to our government and denounce PEPFAR and similar policies that harm our brothers and sisters around the world. The IAC is an important forum for us to make our voices heard.
There is some organizing happening already around the conference, but the more the merrier. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal for either a presentation at the conference or a cultural event at the Global Village, be sure to do so before February 15. If you want to show up, demonstrate, and represent sex workers, start planning, and start talking to other sex workers who might be interested in going. If you’re never done activism beyond your city, state, or the U.S., the IAC is a great opportunity to learn from and interact with sex workers from around the world.
“went to short dogs house,
they was watching Yo MTV
Yo MTV RAPS first aired:
Aug 6th 1988
Ice Cubes single “today was a good day” released on:
Feb 23 1993
”The Lakers beat the Super
Dates between Yo MTV Raps air date AUGUST 6 1988 and the release of the single FEBRUARY 23 1993 where the Lakers beat the Super Sonics:
Nov 11 1988 114-103
Nov 30 1988 110-106
Apr 4 1989 115-97
Apr 23 1989 121-117
Jan 17 1990 100-90
Feb 28 1990 112-107
Mar 25 1990 116-94
Apr 17 1990 102-101
Jan 18 1991 105-96
Mar 24 1991 113-96
Apr 21 1991 103-100
Jan 20 1992 116-110
Dates of those Laker wins over SuperSonics where it was a clear day with no Smog:
Nov 30 1988
Apr 4 1989
Jan 18 1991
Jan 20 1992
“Got a beep from Kim, and
she can fuck all night”
beepers weren’t adopted by mobile phone companies until the 1990s. Dates left where mobile beepers were availible to public:
Jan 18 1991
Jan 20 1992
Ice Cube starred in the film “Boyz in the hood” that released late Summer of 1991, but was being filmed mid-late 1990 early 1991 and Ice Cube was busy on set filming the movie Jan 18 1991 too busy to be lounging around the streets with no plans. Ladies and Gentlemen..
The ONLY day where:
Yo MTV Raps was on air
It was a clear and smogless day
Beepers were commercially sold
Lakers beat the SuperSonics
and Ice Cube had no events to attend was…
JANUARY 20 1992
National Good Day Day
Let me take a moment out from blatant self-promotion to blatantly and lovingly promote a very fine author friend of mine, David Henry Sterry. He’s got a book out called Confessions of a Sex Maniac, and, as with everything he writes, it’s crackling with wit, ferocity, and graphic electrical muckraking genius.
"When David Henry Sterry writes about sexuality, it’s like a chef writing about food.”—nerve.com.
Resident genius Mark Allen recaps the amazing and seriously PLEASURABLE December 1st Pitch! show, which I was super proud to be a part of!
Also, here’s some video from the show.
By the way … Mark Allen made some headlines recently by tweeting “Rick Santorum has Dan White-eyes.” (He does!)
If you follow that link, please check out the looney comments - they’re the best part. God Bless America.