By Chuck Strouse
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An intense game of naked Twister is the best way to describe the scene unfolding inside the bathroom of the South Beach nightclub People's Lounge. Technically speaking, Monica Mayhem and Joey Ray are having sex. And if director Kris Kramski -- wielding a tiny hand-held digital video camera with gynecological intimacy -- does his job right, unscripted sex will be the main impression viewers have when Hustler'sDJ Groupie hits store shelves this summer. Right now, however, the three are plotting out physical positions that would impress any Olympic gymnast.
"I've done that a lot," Ray responds to one of Kramski's suggestions. "It looks really good with the feet up." He points to Mayhem's stiletto-heeled, knee-high white leather boots, the only article of clothing between them: "But you can't do that with these shoes." A new plan of attack is agreed upon, and they're off, with Ray pausing only to plant his bare feet carefully amid the several dozen candles arrayed around the small mirrored bathroom for "artistic" effect.
If you close your eyes and ignore the soft moaning, panting of breath, and slapping of skin against skin, you could almost imagine you were at any modeling shoot on the Beach. Up to a point, the spoken direction sounds eerily similar. "Stare into space. Yes, baby, so I can see your eyes," Kramski coos to Mayhem as he zooms in with his camera. "Keep the energy going; bring your head up."
Ray suddenly curses: "My legs are cramping!" Mayhem slides off him as the director offers some sympathetic words: "[That move] is much easier in the privacy of your own home." Mayhem begins laughing and shakes her head incredulously: "Who does all this stuff in these positions?"
That's a good question, and a reminder of the disconnect between fantasy and most folks' private bedroom antics -- even those of porn actors. Still the ten-billion-dollar industry catering to that disconnect has never been larger or more visible than it is today. If pop music is any societal barometer, porn's increasing mainstream acceptance is readily apparent: Adult film starlets have popped up in everything from heartthrob Enrique Iglesias's latest music video to the CD cover of the wholesome punk outfit Blink 182, promoters of abstinence.
Hustlermagazine has decided that aesthetic co-optation is a two-way street. In February its video line released Snoop Doggy Dogg'sDoggystyle, featuring the hip-hop impresario rapping to scenes of explicit sex filmed around his Los Angeles mansion. "Snoop came to us," notes Jimmy Flynt II, the magazine's director of marketing and public relations, and the end result already has sold more than 30,000 copies, making it one of Hustler's strongest titles. That success also encouraged the company to travel to South Beach for last month's Winter Music Conference and, with Flynt acting as producer, to film DJ Groupie, an adult picture set within the world of electronica, a genre Flynt sees as the nexthip-hop.
Even more dramatic is porn's acceptance within the boardrooms of corporate America. Through judicious editing, two versions of DJ Groupiewill be issued: one hard-core and the other -- sans graphic penetration shots -- soft-core. This latter cut will be distributed to satellite, cable TV, and pay-per-view providers such as DirecTV (a subsidiary of General Motors), EchoStar (owned primarily by media titan Rupert Murdoch), and the Hot Network (owned by AT&T). Together these Wall Street mainstays earn far more from screening Hustler's films for their paying customers than Hustler reaps from its own retail video sales. Just don't expect the corporations to discuss that relationship. As an AT&T official told the New York Timesof his company's growing share of the adult film business: "It's the crazy aunt in the attic. Everyone knows she's there, but you can't say anything about it."
Further adding to industry jitters is the ascension of John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General, a figure who actively campaigned as an anti-pornography crusader while a Missouri senator. After the benign neglect the adult-film business received during the Clinton administration (what were L'affaire Lewinsky's late-night pizza delivery, thong-clad intern, stained dress, and roving cigar if not vintage porn plot devices?), everyone, it seems, is waiting for the wind to shift.
In the meantime Jim Gunn recommends keeping a low profile. A photographer and one of the few adult filmmakers based in South Florida, Gunn says shooting explicit sex falls into a "gray area." Although it's not illegal, "if the police show up, you never know what will happen." He recalls one shoot where, alerted by neighbors, police arrived only to decide the situation was nothing more than amusing. On the other hand, he's had colleagues who've been hauled off to jail. Indeed in February officers came crashing through the front door of DudeDorm.com, a Tampa home whose Webcams streamed the daily sexual frolics of its half-dozen male roommates to thousands of Internet subscribers. The dudes' crime? Operating an adult business without a permit.
Back on DJ Groupie's set, Mayhem and Ray are taking a short break, gulping down some water and stretching out. Mayhem, an Australian native, has only been in the United States for the past three months -- specifically to star in adult films. Ray too is similarly ambitious, and far from embarrassed about what he sees as his calling. "I fuck for a living," he declares proudly.
Up until a year ago Ray lived on South Beach, picking up gigs as a fashion model. "But it wasn't steady work," he complains. As a porn actor in Los Angeles, he says, "I can work every day, week in, week out," earning an average of $600 per scene. Pay for females is significantly higher -- Mayhem will receive approximately $1000 for the same scene. (Top stars with name recognition and a fan base can earn far more; many sign exclusivity contracts with individual film companies in a move reminiscent of the old Hollywood studio system.)
In the past year alone, Ray has appeared in several dozen adult films, from The Sopornos #2to Charlie's Little Devils. The secret to his prolific career? He pops 50 milligrams of Viagra just before a scene. "Resting up the night before doesn't hurt either," he adds, leering sideways at Mayhem, who shrugs and cheerfully admits she spent the entire night having sex with a friend of Ray -- a Miami sports figure -- and now has several small bruises on her thighs to prove it.
If there's a sore spot with Ray, it emerges in discussing his former occupation. "Modeling is a walk in the park!" he snorts. "This is a much more difficult business for a guy." He explains that porn actors have to remain in a state of active arousal for hours, with lights and cameras often only inches away. "A lot of people can't focus and do it."
A note of irritation creeps into his voice as he continues: "Mainstream people think they're better than us. They're no different than we are. They're doing drugs, getting prostitutes behind closed doors. But just because we make these movies...." His voice trails off. "Look, who do you think is watching this stuff at home?"