to wit, a middle-aged peripatetic shrink undertakes the Great American Cross-Country Road Trip with help from little leaguers, German bikers, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, porn stars and an abandoned brothel, a flock of domesticated ducks, the Department of Homeland Security and the West Memphis police, a decommissioned atomic warhead, some dodgy motels… and a strange rider in the back of a 2013 Ford Fusion.
The Grim Reaper and I pulled into Vegas later that afternoon. Time was of the essence, as there were three stops to make before we departed the following day.
The first was a brief medical meeting that I had planned to attend to get a few credits toward licensure renewal (and to make the trip seem more ‘official’ and not such a lark). Four hours down. Check.
The second was a fast perusal of the annual Las Vegas Antique Arms Show held at the Riviera. It’s a really amazing assortment of the most stunning antique guns and accoutrements that one will encounter outside of a museum. Want a revolver owned by Bat Masterson? How about a Winchester repeater that served in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show? Or a relic from the U.S. 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn? Something carried by Teddy Roosevelt? Or perhaps Pancho Villa’s spurs? All are available… for a price. It’s eye-candy for the collector and historian, and I try not to miss it when I can arrange a trip west each year. Three hours down. Check.
But it was the third that was, er, the most unusual.
The event of which I speak was being held in the convention arena at the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel just off the Strip. This particular gathering was once part of the annual Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Based at the Sands Casino since the mid-1980s, what was once the appendage of the CES grew so large that it eventually went solo, seeking its own space.
When I entered the exhibition hall at the Hard Rock, I first came upon a news reporter in the middle of giving a live update. She was presenting the area’s three day weather forecast, and there was a map directly behind her at which she gestured periodically. The lighting guy and the cameraman were adjusting their equipment as she spoke. The reporter was young and attractive, with a flawless Colgate smile. She looked just like every other lithe and willowy female reporter on the networks or cable these days. Except she was a reporter from Naked News. And yes, she was entirely naked.
Well, naked with very minimal body paint.
Welcome to the AVN Entertainment Expo and Awards.
“Wow, thank you…. Gee, I really worked so hard this year. I think I had, like, 50 movies I was on the cover of, or appeared in. I really feel like this is awesome. I think I’m, like, only the second girl to win both [current award] and Performer of the Year. I just want to thank my fans. You guys are totally amazing, and you make me do what I do. I love [it]. You have no idea. I will [perform] forever for you, and this is just the beginning. Thank you so much!”
~actress accepting film award
‘Habituation,’ also known as ‘satiation’ or ‘desensitization,’ is found in behavioral jargon. The term describes over-exposure to certain stimuli that, with the passage of time, results in the loss of the original degree of impact. One example of this is seen with swearing. Studies have repeatedly shown that uttering expletives when hurt aids with pain tolerance (Stephens & Umland, Journal of Pain, Dec 2011; Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, 2007). But interestingly, the initial analgesic effect is lessened the more the sufferer swears, or if the sufferer has a potty mouth and curses a lot at baseline. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and excessive indulgence here seems to breed lack of potency as well.
I would argue that this phenom occurs in many different ways. Think of female bathing suits; what would get you arrested in Atlantic City in 1920 would be laughably prudish today. Ditto co-ed dormitory arrangements in 21st century colleges. Or suggestive mass advertising. Or late night humor on TV. Or Bob Dole doing ads for ED. Or Clinton and the cocktail party dress. Think of The Graduate. Think of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. For better or for worse, the more our society ‘pushes the envelope,’ and then talks about it, the more those subjects and behaviors that were unspeakable in days past became de rigueur to the younger generation.
Nowhere can this be seen more starkly than at the AVN Entertainment Expo and Awards.
That acceptance speech above, modestly edited due to language? It was given by adult performer Jenna Haze in 2009 as she accepted her Woody – yes, they call it that – for ‘Porn Starlet of the Year.’
Erotica has been around for thousands of years. It is arguably older than organized civilization. Check out early cave paintings. Sexualized depictions of ancient Sumerian and Egyptian fertility figures also prove the point. And just look at many of the frescoes unearthed at Pompeii from two millennia past – go ahead, Google ‘Secret Museum Naples’ and see what comes up. And as for the commercialization of these prurient interests, they don’t call it the World’s Oldest Profession for no reason.
Still, it’s not a topic that has been deemed appropriate for polite circles. For much of its existence, erotica, at least in the Western world, has been relegated to hushed conversations, back rooms, dodgy characters, and the other side of the tracks. Nowhere is this seen more starkly than in the schizophrenic approach to sex found in the Victorian epoch. At the same time that daguerreotypists were first experimenting with their newfangled technology by creating racy boudoir images (in private), the sight of an uncovered female ankle in public could send the weakest into fainting spells. And after railing against moral turpitude, it’s well known that slummy Storeyville had its share of visits from those very same church elders, city councilmen, and Washington powerbrokers when they were in New Orleans on ‘business.’
The moralists continue to rant, but the genre, for better or worse, remains robust, with annual demand in the United States approaching $10B by some estimates. Adult Video News, the sponsor of its namesake expo and awards, is the primary trade publication for those businesses serving adult-caliber amusements in the United States. The New York Times has opined that AVN is for x-rated entertainment what Billboard is for the recording industry. And before you discount this ‘fringe economy,’ adult pursuits have actually exerted more of an influence on the real world than you might assume. Concern about sales of erotica was a major factor in the ‘formatting wars’ that were fought between VHS and Betamax, as well as more recently between Blu-Ray and HDDVD.
Think of THAT the next time you pop a Disney video into your home player!
Anyway, the AVN Expo is set up like any other trade show. Over 30,000 people attend, and more than 350 vendors are registered. There are glitzy booths and lots of business cards. There are displays of new products, many of them ‘nutritional supplements’ or those operated by battery. There are businesses that will make rubber casts of any part of your body. And too many autograph opportunities to count.
[perhaps a leather executioner’s mask is on your wish list, or your horsewhip is too old? Well, Flogger Knows Best will sell you those – and yes, that’s the real d/b/a name of a vendor from Scotland who regularly has a display, brogue and all]
There is a lot of exercise equipment available to custom order… oh wait, that’s not exercise equipment tagged with Fifty Shades of Grey references. Service providers are also in attendance – private investigators are there, as are STD testing companies. Prostitution, while illegal in Vegas proper, is not illegal in the counties, and brothels – the ultimate service providers, I suppose – are working the crowd handing out flyers with driving directions.
Maybe you’re a white collar professional who doesn’t want to sully your hands, or other parts, in front of cameras or dealing with Pacific Rim sweatshops? That’s okay, the AVN has something for you too. Lawyers are giving seminars for other lawyers on how to break into the industry as in-house counsel (I’m not joking, and somehow I missed those classes in law school). Likewise, at least one physician is touting plastic surgery for one’s nether regions (again, I missed those classes in med school).
But perhaps most surprising are the public attendees. There is a smattering of the Great Unwashed as you might expect. But those crusty denizens of the night are decidedly in the minority. There are nerdy-looking collegians. There are nicely dressed middle aged couples, the types you see at PTA meetings. There are grandmotherly visitors. And there are even ecclesiastics who set up a booth in a (futile?) attempt to save souls in this most-Sodom-and-Gomorrah of venues.
Once you’ve tired of the trade show, there is always the awards ceremony that occurs after the expo closes on the last of its four days. The evening is replete with limos, red carpet photo ops, press agents, bling, fake anatomy, and fake smiles. Tickets are available to the public, albeit not cheaply. Once inside, there are speeches and music and retrospectives, plus many tears and hugs. Tuxedo’d announcers ask for “the envelope, please.” There are nearly 100 categories of recognition, most of which are analogous to those in the non-adult film industry. They include Best Video Feature and Series, Best Film, Best Comedy, Best High Definition Product, Best Interactive DVD, Best Foreign Film, Best Amateur Release, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Musical Score, and Best Packaging and Marketing.
There’s also a Best Special Effects Award. I have yet to figure out that one.
And sadly, the Best, er, Safe Activity award was inexplicably eliminated following the 2007 ceremony.
In order to be eligible for a Woody nomination, a title must have been released between October 1st through September 30th of the year prior. According to its press release, the Woody – it’s not a golden phallus as is oft-rumored – is awarded “for exceptional performance in various aspects of the creation and marketing of adult entertainment.”
1999 AVN trophy – pretty cheesy
After some updating the current trophy is in actuality a transparent rectangular Lucite block with a etched silhouette of a couple embracing. The base of the award is then engraved with the year, category, and winner’s name, and is perfectly sized for display on your mantel or bedside table.
The current AVN trophy – much classier
[but what of recognition for those whose contributions to the field transcend even the Woody? Luckily, there is a Hall of Fame in Chatsworth, California]
For victorious and vanquished alike, fear not! There are après-ceremony parties for everyone, the biggest of which is sponsored by the Guccione conglomerate, and all of them last into the wee hours of the morning.
The women’s expensive gowns aren’t much more revealing than what you’d see in front of the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Were it not for some of the categories of AVN recognition – for toys and activities I can’t mention in a PG-13 blog – you’d be hard-pressed to determine which award ceremony you were witnessing. Given these unmistakable similarities, many do refer to the AVN event as the ‘Oscars of Porn.’
All of this is available straight from Vegas for your viewing pleasure at home on Showtime, with only some minor editing for language.
And in case you’re still not convinced and need more evidence of desensitization, many Woody nominees and winners are depicted on – get this – trading cards which are sold in groups as well as handed out individually at the event. Collect the whole set! Babe Ruth is spinning in his grave.
I wonder what my prized 2014 Capri Cavanni is fetching these days?
As a psychiatrist and keen observer of human behavior, I’m glad I saw all of this in person – I’d not have believed it otherwise. But by now it was nearing bedtime, and my late colleague had been in the back seat of the car alone for too long. I didn’t feel like staying for the Best Picture Award, knowing I could always look it up online later.
And besides, we had a long day tomorrow heading for a (nearly) abandoned ghost town in the Arizona desert.
[to be continued…]
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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]