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Her jaunt in porn was merely a subplot of a bigger narrative.
The Last Porn Star
Nowadays, if the internet hasn't brought us anything else, it's brought us a universe of free sextube sites with accommodation for every conceivable fetish. (Sidenote: here's a thought that's been burning the back of my mind recently...not to upset all you parents out there: it's interesting that the younger the user is, the more competency, and thus the more exposure, they have in navigating the internet.) Porn is an industry that rakes in more profit than professional baseball, basketball, and football combined. And the demand is just as impressive as the supply. Every second, 28,258 internet users are watching porn; every 39 minutes, a new dirty vid is being shot, edited, and distributed (it's a wonder homework even gets done these days).
So, who's Sasha Grey? For those of you who may have been living in a celibate bubble for the last five or so years, she's a retired porn actress (among the more uninhibited, to say the least) who rose to the ranks of her industry and then suddenly started showing up in music videos, ad campaigns, HBO's Entourage, and a string of indie films which include directorial guidance from the likes of Soderbergh. It wasn't long before her name became as household as Jenna Jameson's.
The New York Times described her career as "distinguished by both the extremity of what she is willing to do and an unusual degree of intellectual seriousness about doing it." In a way, her jaunt in porn was merely a subplot of a bigger narrative. The title of this article is obviously dramatic. Sasha Grey's not some unicorn or something, and she certainly is not the last porn star. She's actually just like any other intelligent, driven twenty-something; which is my point. But because of her exploration, success, and abrupt career change, she is now perhaps the mark of some transition. She was apart of what was, and what now is. Two different paradigms in the porn world converged, and Sasha found herself right in the middle of it.
Porn is no longer about bad plot lines, cheesy dialogue, overdone implants, platinum blonde highlights, and the BOW-CHIKA-BOW-WOW riffs. Today, sex on tape is geared more toward "reality": a camera-in-hand, POV tactic that includes real situations with real girls. It has become far less dramatic, far more visceral, more than likely changing the way people bump uglies in the current day.
In tandem with Sasha's prominence, we're seeing contender indie films getting more vulnerable and raw. Shame, for instance, directed by British artist Steve McQueen, is arguably the best NC-17 film ever done and it boldly features full frontal nudity from both leads: Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. But despite the film's tastefully executed simplicity of raw, simulated sex, and Fassbender's brazen performance, the film was nonetheless snubbed by the Academy. "In America they're too scared of sex, that's why he wasn't nominated," McQueen remarked on Fassbender not being on the Best Actor nomination list. "It's kind of crazy. But that's how it is, it's an American award, let them have it."
There's certainly still reluctance toward this new aesthetic by the older generations. A glance at the Academy board members will give you an image of predominately white males over 50 (and $100 says 9 out of 10 of them are frequent visitors to pornhub.com). So, while it still holds generally true that America is a nation of closet-nympho prudes (with no qualms about graphic violence), it could also be safe to say that the scales are slowly tipping.
Last week the Hollywood Reporter printed that Bret Easton Ellis has written the screenplay for a new project entitled The Canyons. He wrote the script with James Deen in mind for the lead role. And no, that wasn't a typo, James Deen is a working male porn star among the more ubiquitous. In the film, set in Los Angeles and circling the Ellis-esque themes of youth, glamour, and sex, the leads will "act and be full frontal naked banging girls and guys realistically ," according to the casting call announced by Ellis and director Paul Schrader. The impact of having prominent porn stars in serious indie films will be hard to gauge. Nevertheless, James Deen's career is one of many that have quietly broken into the mainstream, in terms of exposure, and this kind of Hollywood buzz will only bring the transforming genre of porn into the spotlight that much more. It's hard to believe that a guy whose Twitter bio reads "my name is james i am a simple guy who likes to eat sleep and watch tv...oh ya i also bang chicks for a living :-)"accumulates over 41,000 followers, but this is where we find ourselves in 2012.
While Jenna Jameson effectively brought porn to a more mainstream and venture capital level, she is forever known as the godmother of modern porn, and any stab at a serious career outside of that is inconceivable. Sasha Grey, however, got out at just the right time, and she knows it. Along with her expanding portfolio, Vice Books published a racy tome of hers last year, in collaboration with her partner Ian P. Cinnamon, entitled Neu Sex. It's mainly a photography book (a passionate hobby she picked up during her time in porn), intercut with her musings on sexuality, identity, and personal freedom. Our perspective toward porn, and the people involved, is changing right before our eyes. Are we ballsy enough to finally admit it?
Porn used to have its own part of the cultural neighborhood, it was segregated into its own taboo genre and no one ever admitted to watching it. Today, it's hard to go online without, even unintentionally, coming across some ad or link that could get you fired at your job or embarrassed at a coffee shop. The work Sasha Grey is involving herself in, however, is changing the very face of embarrassment, or shame, altogether. "Documenting myself has almost become a necessity," she told Vice Magazine. A quick glance at her website spells out the charming way in which she lays it all out on the table. "With the way social media has progressed," she tells us, "a lot of personalization has been lost."
Her timing is impeccable. We're in an era where the youth culture is one of exhibitionism, laying their lives out online via social networking for the world to see. What's the idea of 'shame' going to mean in ten years? What will the words 'whore' or 'slut' mean in ten years? Looking at any one of these sextube sites, most of these no-name girls who are getting paid to be intimate, dirty, abused, etc. by men twice their age are girls with whom we could have gone to high school (I'm still keeping an eye out). With porn as pervasive as it is online (a new, digital world in which we're inhabiting more and more), and with a former porn star like Sasha Grey showing up in the mainstream limelight alongside A-list talent, America's sex taboo may be at its end.
I mean, sure, there'll always be the Rick Santorums who use the so-called 'evils' of out-of-wedlock sex as a way to get ahead in straw polls when canvassing the Bible Belt. Soon, though, things like incessant nudity and graphic sex will be the norm for a post-9/11 generation.
Brent Smith, Contributing Writer: Brent was born and raised in Los Angeles. He received an MFA in Prose from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado. He lives in West Hollywood. (more...)