I attended the AVN Awards show for the first time ever on Saturday night, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The AVN Awards are, as I’m sure you’re aware, like the Oscars of porn: the most prestigious awards available to performers, directors, and others in the porn industry. There are lots of other awards given out every year, but the AVNs are The Big Deals. For mainstream pornographers, there are no higher honors for achievements in the field. As such, being privy to the awards ceremony itself was an interesting experience for me.
In many ways I was pleasantly surprised. The show was run smoothly and professionally, the awards were given out in true Hollywood glamor style, and everything was glittery as could be. John Stagliano was given an award for his service to the industry, and hearing his speech about the importance of protecting the First Amendment was inspiring. Some of the jokes were fairly funny, and of course Lupe Fuentes was adorable and Evan Stone was funny. But as the evening wore on and my large cup of whiskey slowly worked its way into my gullet, I started noticing some of the flaws in the night’s events. There were many. And they reflected some very serious flaws in the porn industry itself.
First of all, despite the fact that there is an award given out for just about every imaginable type of sex scene, many of them were not given out during the ceremony itself. Categories celebrating African American, Latin, Asian, and Transsexual performers and scenes were glossed over in favor of presenting awards for Interracial Scenes, and even in that category there were no female African American, white male scenes. They were all black men with white women. There WERE no awards given out for Queer or Bisexual or Male Gay scenes, much less BBWs, even on the roster, let alone given out on stage. Any sexuality outside of male heterosexuality and female standard bisexuality was roundly ignored. While there was an award given for best Oral scene, the nominees were all women who gave blowjobs: there was no award for gay blowjobs or for cunnilingus. There was an award given for best DP scene, but the men were not included in the award itself. And despite the hugeness of the prestige associated with winning a “Best Male Newcomer” or “Best Unsung Male Performer,” none of the lesser male awards were given out during the ceremony. All the female awards were.
I’m not surprised by the narrowness of the ceremony, really. After all, the list of nominees on AVN’s website was SEVENTY-FIVE PAGES long. The ceremony would have lasted all night if everyone had been equally represented, and since it didn’t even get started until after 10 pm, cutting out a few of the presentations was really the right thing to do for the sake of everyone’s sanity. And of course it bears mentioning that as far as the fans who pay to get into the ceremony to see their favorite stars are concerned, watching the male performers parading across the stage isn’t what they’re there for. They want to see the women with their sparkly dresses and low-cut tops. And I guess it’s fair to cater to them.
But I can’t help noticing that, despite the presence of hundreds of fans up in the nosebleed section with me, the entire evening was an industry-catered event. Most of the people there were part of the industry. All the jokes were tailored to industry people. All the jargon was for industry specialists. The female performers with the blond hair and the big boobs get all the glory all the rest of the time: can’t the guys get a corner of the spotlight for just one evening when most of the people in attendance should be the people who appreciate what they do more than the rest of the world? In case any of you missed my “how to be a male porn star” Dr. Lags post a while back, it’s not easy to be a male porn performer, and I think they deserve a whole lot more recognition than their own industry gives them. (Thankfully, the lovely people over at Fleshbot were sweet enough to spend their entire time at the AEE convention hunting down male stars and giving them thank-you notes for their hard work–the videos I’ve seen so far were frickin’ adorable. You’d think nobody had ever mentioned to these guys before that they’re amazing… oh, wait.)
But more than just the overlooking of the men in general, I found the absence of heterogeneity in the awards and on the stage appalling. Again, I understand that the fans want to see their favorite starlets and think about their favorite sex scenes in which those starlets perform, but the entire evening was so heavily hung on fake breasts, bleached blond hair, tan skin, and blue eyes that it was almost laughable. Sure, Lupe Fuentes was a presenter, and sure, her sweet Spanish accent was highlighted. And yeah, ok, Prince Yahshua and Lexington Steele both appeared on stage. And yeah, Asa Akira got several awards. But come on, people, Lupe may be adorable, but she is FAR from the only hard-working starlet who speaks Spanish in this business. What about all the Latina stars, for whom an entire category was set aside? What about the African American performers? Nyomi Banxxx was nominated for Female Performer of the Year, true, but she didn’t win and she didn’t get up on that stage. What about the Asian performers? Sure, a transsexual star did help present one award, and made some cute jokes, and all that, but what about the rest of the trans community in attendance? What about the trans men, who hardly even exist in the queerest of queer porn? What ABOUT the queer stars? What about the legions of BBW beauties and men who work so hard to have a voice in the industry, but who are apparently not heard? Where were all they? A sprinkling of brown skin here and there amidst the glittering assemblage is all well and good, but what about the other skin we never get to see?
I suppose that, in my Aquarian mindset, I often forget that the most oppressive of oppressors are often the oppressed themselves. I like to imagine that in an industry that the rest of the world likes to smirk at instead of taking seriously, in which literally every one of us is living somewhere out on the fringe of social acceptability, every shade of skin, every hue of freakishness, every imaginable sexual preference and act and paraphilia (well, maybe not EVERY imaginable one, but you get the idea), would be represented with as much excitement and appreciation as every other. But it’s not so. To my mind, when you already make your living by creating images and films that a good proportion of the rest of the world finds objectionable, what value is there in discriminating against anyone who does something similar? How does promoting the Barbie and Ken aesthetic to the exclusion of those with plumper bodies, less heterosexual preferences, or darker eyes or hair help any of us? It doesn’t. In dark days such as these, when profits continue to fall and piracy continues to bamboozle, when the AIM Healthcare clinic is under fire and government agencies sniffing around looking for excuses to further persecute an already persecuted group, what the porn industry needs is not exclusionary tactics. It needs to have its own back, to have the backs of everyone among its ranks and those of anyone who supports it. The industry, as a family of freaks and beautiful perverts, should look to open its arms to more freakish freaks and enfold as many people as it can with love, support, and the workings of a close-knit, supportive family. The more we stick together, the harder it will be for anyone or anything to pull us apart. But the more we ignore the people who don’t look like Gina Lynn and Jesse Jane, the more we fail to reward those who might enjoy BDSM and bisexuality and fisting and lactating and all other manner of fringe behavior, the more fractured within will our community become, and the easier to topple will be our attempts at cohesion.
There’s a lot to think about wrapped up in this rant, so I’ll cut it off here, but this may be an ongoing theme for a while: how is the industry that should be the most open-minded of them all still so astonishingly narrow?