AVN's Response to "Neither Adult Nor Entertainment"

In its September, 1998 issue, the mainstream movie magazine Premiere ran a twelve-page article on our little awards show (Neither Adult Nor Entertainment). It has been suggested that the piece was written by award-winning author David Foster Wallace, with some help from Premiere editor Glenn Kenny.
Contrary to our best information, Hustler Erotic Video Guide editor Mike Albo vehemently denies having acted as a source to Wallace and Kenny. "I didn't have anything to do with that piece," says Albo. "You guys must feel pretty stupid."
While hysterical, the piece contained factual errors and was so colored by obvious editorializing that several of us here at AVN felt compelled to respond. Paul Fishbein's letter has been promised space in an upcoming issue of Premiere, and we're including Mark Kernes' and Kensington Smith's letters here in full. Enjoy.

August 14, 1998
James B. Meigs
1633 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Meigs:

First, thank you for devoting approximately 12 pages of your high-profile, mainstream magazine to our Adult Video News Awards. Unfortunately, your funny and beautifully-worded article is also a shoddy piece of journalism, rife with errors and innuendo.
Bad reviews are part of the game; it could be argued that we here at AVN give bad reviews for a living. I do feel compelled to point out that AVN is a trade magazine for the adult industry: producers, talent, manufacturers, wholesalers, cable television buyers, foreign buyers, etc. Similarly, the AVN Awards are for the adult industry. We do not market tickets to consumers, so commentary about the show aimed at consumers is pointless.
The writers imply that the AVN Awards are rigged. Could this be libel? Your reporters seemed bent on damaging AVN's reputation; a reputation we have earned over fifteen years of service to the adult industry and the video retail community. News publications such as U.S. News and World Report, The L.A. Times, Time, Newsweek, Variety, and The New York Times have cited AVN sales charts and consulted with AVN editorial staff members. However, your reporters did not consult any of us. Not even about AVN itself. Had they asked us about the voting process, they could have learned that the ballots (all signed on every page) are available for inspection for a year after the awards ceremony. Had they called us for information, or indulged in some simple fact-checking, they could have inspected every ballot and recounted votes themselves. They could also have found out that Ellen Thompson uses her real name when writing regular reviews and articles, and the name "Ida Slapter" for her fetish-oriented copy, and because of this we included both names in the program booklet; but every writer has only one vote, as the ballots can testify.
Instead, the main sources for an article on our Awards show are two "experts" whose names no one in the industry seems to recognize.
The errors in the piece are too numerous to list here. But a few could easily have been avoided:
Page 91: Evil Angel's Jeff "Hatman" Marton, of the goatee and trademark fedora, is incorrectly identified as director Greg Dark, who did not attend CES this year.
Page 92: The Sands Casino, referred to as being "just outside [the CES]" does not exist. The Sands Hotel was razed in 1996 - and this includes the bar where Tom Byron supposedly held court nightly, as averred on page 100.
Page 93: This report has Jasmin St. Claire - with dyed (?) black hair- signing at the Xplor booth. Jasmin signed exclusively at Impressive.
Page 100: Suggesting that our awards trophies are stolen, or purchased "hot," is mystifying. Is there some big "hot trophy" market we're unaware of?
Page 102: Gene Ross is a 12-year employee of AVN, a senior editor and vice president; he is not, however, a co-owner.
Page 103: Security at the AVN Awards is mentioned in light of "problems with unauthorized Caesars employees sneaking in to catch the gala" the year before. Last year's show was held at the Riviera Hotel; not an impossible trek from Caesars, just unlikely.
Page 104: Robert Black did not win the AVN Breakthrough Award. Steve Orenstein of Wicked Pictures did.
I could go on, but the point has been made. Bad reviews are one thing. Bad journalism is another. And a brazen attempt to hurt someone else's reputation is something else entirely.

Sincerely yours,

Paul Fishbein
AVN Publications

All at Premiere,
As a target of what amounts to an unsubstantiated attack on an already marginalized industry, I take issue with the gross, sensational Neither Adult Nor Entertainment, September, 1998. Is this the analog of responsible journalism at Premiere?
I find it reprehensible, your thesis statement about the Snuff Film being the guide for modern porn (page 106, capitalization the authors'; it's interesting to note that the "snuff film" is considered to be a myth by both law enforcement and industry professionals). It is exactly this kind of moralizing attitude which degrades the performers in porn, not the fact that pornography is becoming more acceptable all the time. Porn doesn't thrive because it's taboo; it thrives because humans have sex drives, and in our culture - thanks to the myopic, church-elder agenda of pieces such as yours - honoring one's sex drive is an act of subversion. It is this kind of "reportage" that puts the adult industry, sex work, rights for women, sexual equality and understanding, free speech, freedom from repression and guilt, and simple safety for sex performers back in the gutter - where these things "belong," no doubt. You must be so proud.
Speaking of suffrage, thanks for broadcasting your condemnation of our industry under the banner of "Feminists of all stripe" (page 92). You are the righteous defenders of helpless females everywhere! Wish you'd called any of the women on staff (like Ellen Thompson, so you could actually get a quote, rather than attributing to her something overheard - what is wrong with you people?) before damning pornography from the self-congratulatory high ground of "feminism." Have you ever heard of (and my apologies to those I haven't room to list) Annie Sprinkle, Susannah Breslin, Susie Bright, Tristan Taormino, Carol Queen, Betty Dodson, Candida Royalle, Gloria Leonard, Kathy Acker, Jane Hamilton, Pat Califia - your ignorance (or was it flat out ignoring to gird your point?) of this wave of pro-porn - and if I may, much more rational and humanist - feminism is unforgivable. Shame on you.
Finally, on your choice to let two juvenile sniffers ("mook"? In my four years writing about the industry, I've never heard that one - except from the pages of Hustler, hint hint) give reign to their adolescent prurience in the guise of reporting: I know plenty of writers with access to as many three-dollar words who can leave their repression at home when taking on the delicate, multi-dimensional task of reporting on the already stigmatized sex industry.

Rebecca Gray
a.k.a. Kensington Smith
Associate Editor
Adult Video News

Dear Mr. Meigs,
Although my employer, Paul Fishbein, has also written to you concerning the article "Neither Adult Nor Entertainment" in your September issue, I am writing with somewhat different concerns; namely, the anti-porn agenda which the article's pseudonymous authors have brought to your readership.
To be sure, "deGroot" and "Rundlet" simply echo sentiments which can be found in hundreds of other publications, from the American Family Association newsletter to the New York Times. I had hoped, however, that Premiere's writers would be a little bit more incisive and inquisitive. I am disappointed to see that that was not the case.
My colleague Rebecca Gray has addressed the problem with "Feminists of all stripe oppose the contemporary adult industry... " so I won't reiterate what she wrote. But the authors' suggestion, through the quote from David Mura, that looking at pornography is equivalent to drug use, is beyond the pale. Mura claims masturbating to porn is "a way of numbing psychic pain," but the vast majority of porn viewers experience no "psychic pain" - simply horniness, which masturbation quickly relieves.
Mura further writes that "Those in the thrall of pornography try to eliminate from their consciousness the world outside pornography, and this includes everything from their family and friends to their business deals or last Sunday's sermon to the political situation in the Middle East. In engaging in such elimination the viewer... reduces himself. He becomes stupid."
I wonder how the studio executives at Paramount or Touchstone would react if the titles Titanic or Saving Private Ryan or Armageddon were substituted for the word "pornography" in the above quote? The purpose of art is to enthrall the viewer; if it doesn't, the piece is, to that extent, less successful. That writers for a movie magazine like Premiere failed to realize this speaks more to the writers' agenda than Premiere's dedication to objective reporting.
Further, the writers' attempt to defame porn and its workers becomes clear with descriptions such as the one of Jasmin St. Claire as "a very expensive thoroughbred being led onto the track under a silk blanket." Or that "the woodmen all avoid cameras like Mafiosi." One supposes they could have said, "like Alec Baldwin," who recently won an anti-paparazzi suit, but that simile wouldn't have fit the agenda.
Or consider, "The gynecologically explicit sexuality of Jenna, Jasmin, et al seems more than anything like a Mad magazine spoof of the 'smoldering' sexuality of [Sharon] Stone and Madonna and [Pamela] Anderson Lee and so many other mainstream iconettes." What's laughable about this is that none of the "mainstream iconettes" (with the exception of Pam Lee's inadvertent sortie into porn with husband Tommy) are explicitly sexual, yet to "deGroot's" and "Rundlet's" twisted sensibilities, people who can be seen having sex on camera are somehow parodies of those who can't!
The writers' problem is made clear in the paragraph, on page 93, beginning, "For a regular civilian male, hanging out in a hotel suite with porn starlets is a tense and emotionally convolved affair." It is a sorry commentary that those who cannot adjust to porn stars' open and relaxed sexuality seem duty-bound to defame it, as if there were something rational about being sexually repressed.
Even plainer is the statement in footnote 36 that "The psychology of porn seems always to have depended on a certain degree of shame, self-loathing and perception of 'sin.'" It is apparently inconceivable that actors could appear in porn movies simply because they are somewhat exhibitionistic, they like sex, and have managed to throw off the stifling hang-ups which all-too-many "normal" citizens learn by osmosis in American society! And their unfounded assumption that porn somehow thrives on unacceptability, when anyone who has cursorily studied the subject knows that "acceptability" is exactly what the industry is currently fighting for, only leads them deeper into the mire of idiotic statements like "the star that late-'90s porn is steering by is the Snuff Film." How ludicrous!
Perhaps the writers' problem is made more clear in the homo-panic statement (on page 104) that "the urge to look over/down at [Alex Sanders' and Dave Hardman's] penises is so overwhelming and the motives behind this urge so complex as to cause anuresis (which in turn ups the trauma)."
Much as they talk about "not wanting to go into it," understanding "complexity" is certainly not your writers' strong point. I only hope that they someday can come to the porn industry with open minds, and leave their "sin" concepts at the door.

Yours Truly,

Mark Kernes
Features Editor
Adult Video News

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