The porn 'Oscars' celebrate an industry built on cruelty, abuse, and vicious misogyny

The red carpet was down, the cameras were flashing. As the guests began arrive, the mood was one of preening self-congratulation. Within the darkened function room at the four star hotel, the air was thick with aftershave, perfume, and cries of “awesome.”

But for all its superficial glamour and professional boasting, this event could hardly have been more tacky. The annual XBiz Awards, which I attended as a journalist in Los Angeles, is regularly portrayed by its organizers as the “Oscars” of the porn industry. Indeed, it has many of the trappings of the renowned Hollywood ceremony, including the long catalogue of nominations, the gushing acceptance speeches, the jokey host, and the frequent movie clips.

But there the similarity ends. Degrading, trashy, and vulgar, the XBiz awards are a world away from the Oscars. They are a celebration, not of any real creative achievement, but of the ruthless exploitation of women for financial gain. Red carpet and lists of nominees cannot disguise the reality that this is a sordid industry built on the cruelty and abuse, no different to prostitution. As I saw in Los Angeles, the porn producers and distributors are just pimps in bow ties.

The entire event was a grotesque parody of a real awards ceremony. At times, it seemed like a bizarre amalgam of a mafia convention, a lapdancing club, and a provincial conference for insurance sales staff. Apart from the top money men in black tie and their less wealthy colleagues in cheap suits, there were also characters who looked just like extras from the gangster movie Goodfellas, complete with shades, pork pie hats, and winkle pickers. Most of the female porn performers tottered about in the uniform of barely-there dresses and impossibly high heels. Silicon breasts, tattoos, and glazed expressions completed the look. In response to the noisy demands of some cameramen, one woman on the red carpet lifted her skirt to reveal that she was wearing no underwear, giving a new definition to the term flash photography.

It is a myth that the porn industry is dying because of the deluge of free content on the internet. In fact, there is more money to be made than ever because of there are so many new platforms on which to spread the degradation, thanks to the growth of technology. But the obsession with profit means that the pornographers are incredibly mean, as reflected not just in the poor pay of performers but also in the penny-pinching ceremony. The XBiz Awards might call themselves the porn “Oscars,” but the organizers were so tight that the tables in the room just had a few dips and bowls of peanuts, while a grossly over-priced cash bar operated throughout the evening.

It has become fashionable to downplay the darker side of this industry, and to pretend that modern pornography can be a liberating force for women. But the XBiz Awards expose the complete nonsense of such claims. This is a trade that is controlled by men and glories in vicious misogyny. Far from “empowering” women, as its cheerleaders say, porn humiliates and dehumanizes them. That was all too literally true in the case of XBiz Awards’ sponsor, a company called Fleshlight which manufactures anatomical sex dolls based on real porn stars. Such dolls, which have removable orifices, are a perfect symbol of the entire nature of porn: crude physical gratification which clearly mirrors the male porn consumer view of the women in porn as subhuman. .

I asked one young female performer if it was the money that motivated her “We’re in it for the fun,” she told me unconvincingly, as if spouting industry propaganda. But a male porn actor was more honest, especially about the degrading sex scenes. “The women don’t enjoy it. They have to take a load of painkillers. Yes, they just do it for the money.” The sense of debasement is also reflected in the contest and titles of the films, which are often nothing more than the enactment male fantasies about rape, girl-on-girl action or anal penetration. “Gang Bang Me” was one such production. “Perfect Slave 4” was another. “Evil Anal 20” implies that there have 19 previous films in the same series. There is even a genre called “Gonzo Porn,” which makes no pretensions to any plot or character, but instead just features endless sequences of aggressive sex.

But none of the producers or directors seemed willing to acknowledge their role in degradation. I spoke to one, who, with his heavily hooded eyes resembled someone out of the Godfather, and asked him about the association between pornography and cruelty. “Hey, none of the women get abused on my set. We don’t put their heads down the toilet. We don’t gag them. They have fun.”

That says it all. The absence of torture is meant to be a sign of progress. In fact, what was striking about the XBiz awards was the absence of any shame among those that peddle and profit from porn. One older woman told me with pride that her own daughter was up for an award, having designed a “gay-friendly” sex toy, rather like one of those inflatable space hoppers that used to be around in the 1970s. I was also amazed to hear how Max Hardcore, a performer known as the King of Gonzo because of his brutal lack of restraint, is actually as a hero in the industry, for supposedly pushing back the boundaries of taste. In any other commercial field, this figure would be a pariah.

As the XBiz awards show, the industry is riddled with contradictions. Pornographers make their money out of abuse, yet they have hijacked the language of social justice and freedom. One producer boasted to me about the progressive, innovative nature of his inter-racial gay porn. Whereas most videos in this genre have featured white domination of Asian youths, he explained, his material sometimes show the young Asians – or “bitches” to use correct vernacular – in the dominant position.

Just as in prostitution, there is a lot of talk about “sex workers’ rights” — the awards even had a category for “Feminist Porn Release of the Year,” which is akin to having a vegetarian meat dish. I noticed, though, that in his world of twisted ethics, one of the demands of the sex workers’ rights lobby is that the requirement to wear condoms on set should be lifted because it allegedly infringed on personal choice. In practice, this would mean that women’s health would be put even more at risk. The pornographers also trumpet the expansion of a new genre celebrating older women – the MILF (“Mom I’d Like to Fuck”) movies, which are now apparently becoming big business. But this is nothing to do with combating age discrimination. It is just another way of extending the shelf life of the porn performers, whose physical and mental health will have already been badly damaged by their mid-twenties through the pounding they receive.

But perhaps the biggest paradox about the awards is that they were so dull. An industry that allegedly thrives on stimulation turned the ceremony into one long, dreary, anti-climactic performance. The host, by the name of James Deen, was woefully inarticulate and, in front of an increasingly bored audience, every one of his jokes fell flat. Just as unfunny were the desperate attempts at humour in the parodic film titles – such as “Game of Bones” or “The Whore of Wall Street” — or in the male performers’ stage names, like “Everhard.” Nor did the thank you speeches make any more impact, most of them sounding even less sincere than the Hollywood versions.

One of the prime reasons for the tedium of the ceremony is that there were so many awards in so many different categories. Almost everyone in the industry seemed to be a recipient, even the sponsor Fleshlight. In all, 150 awards were dished out. The whole process was the ultimate expression of the edict from the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, that “all must have prizes.” So, alongside the predictable “best producer” and “best picture” categories, there were awards for “best girl-on-girl scene,” “most innovative sex toy of the year”, “best Gonzo release,” and “best BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism) scene.”

It might be said that this incontinent distribution of prizes devalued the whole industry, but that would imply that there is anything worthwhile in pornography. But in truth, how can there possibly be any measure of quality control in productions like “Anne’s School of MILF 2” and “Ass Worship 15.” The self-serving approach to the awards also illustrates how incestuous the porn industry is. I think I was one of the only journalists present who was not actually connected to the trade. Unlike any normal business, this is a sector without morality, boundaries or independent scrutiny.

During the evening I chatted to one female, who was perfectly friendly until her boyfriend interrupted us. “She’s my slave,” he said, explaining that they were both in the sado-masochist scene and he was her master. Without any guilt, he said that he would often put a collar on her and retrain her with a leash. If she was bad, he added, she had to sleep outside in a kennel. His tale could be a metaphor of the entire porn industry. This is a culture that normalizes the systematic oppression of women. Relieved to get out of the ceremony, I returned to my own hotel, where I had a long shower and a large drink.

Julie Bindel is the author of Straight Expectations: What Does It Mean To Be Gay Today?

A shorter version of this article appeared at The Spectator.

 

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  • Meh

    This was such a great article – thank you!

    “Ceremonies” like this demonstrate – with incredible clarity – just how fucked up our (by “our” I mean Western, porn-saturated culture) understanding of “sex” and “sexuality” really is.

    I mean, really? Slave/master relationships? That’s so cliche and pathetic. If it wasn’t so violent and disturbing I’d be laughing my arse off at how stupid they all are.

    And also: I’ve fucking had it with women doing the whole, “OMG I JUST LOOOOOOOOVE BEING BRUTALISED!” shit. Enough. Fucking hell.

  • Meh

    Oh and P.S. The reference to the whole “mafia-esque” facade of these wankers is hilarious. They think they’re such tough guys. Pindicks lol

  • Henke

    Thank you for writing this Julie. This is indeed a horrifying industry.

    I would like to add though that the category MILF has been around for years and is not “new new”. It is based on the male myth that a woman who have had birth, becomes “ugly” and/or “damaged goods”.
    So MILF (Mother I liked To Fuck) means a woman who have had birth that men still find sexually attractive. That is the whole deal with the category.
    It’s yet another category of pornculture tapping into yet another degrading myth we men have about women.

    • MILF was coined in one of those horrible comedies about horny teenager boys. In the film (I was told by someone who thought the whole storyline to be incredibly funny) on of the boys DOES in fact “fuck” the “sexy mum” (Hilarious, huh? I can barely type, I am so convulsed with laughter). This film, the name of which I do not recall and don’t want to, made millions of dollars and enjoys a prominent position in the annals of American comedy.

      At the end of the day, all oppression of women and girls leads to more money in the hands of men.

      • The MILF is played by Jennifer Coolidge, which is about the only thing that could make it ok. I’m not sure why someone her age would want to have sex with a young man, but apparently there are a few real cougars out there. The MILF ends up with someone’s dad in a later film. (I’m embarrassed that I know this.)

        What really annoys me is that after you get to be a MILF, you get to graduate to raunchy grandmother. Do we never get any time off at all?

    • I think the whole MILF idea may be based on a desire to overpower older, yet not eldery, woman who may otherwise have some amount of power over younger males. The message is that even woman who are older, wiser, more experienced and have some amount of power over others (i.e. their children) should submit to twenty something year old males, with less life experience and usually far less sense.

      It also may be a result of the desire to “push the boundaries of sex” and be “subversive” for the sake of being subversive. Who cares if twenty something year olds have little in common with middle-aged women who have had children and thus probably would not enjoy being in sexual relationships with each other? It’s “subversive”, ergo it is good (in pornland at least.)

      There may also be an element of innocence corruption to it. Mothers are not virgins, but they are expected to be selfless fountains of love and care. I think pornographers like the idea of corrupting that. Furthermore, pornographers and their defenders believe that opposition to pornography comes from “sex-negative” mothers wanting to control their husbands and male children for the sake of controlling men and boys. I think they like the idea that all mothers are secretly into pornographic sex acts and thus their opposition of pornography is hypocritical. That’s probably why they are so obsessed with the fact that mothers are reading and watching you-know-what.

  • Thank you Julie Bindel for having the intestinal fortitude to witness and report on this. The work of staring this shit in the face and naming it on behalf of all women, including those in denial, is incredibly important and I am very grateful to you for do so. A long shower and a large drink indeed! I wish I could buy you that drink plus a few more! Cheers!

  • “Pushing the boundaries”: pornographer/BDSM/rapist talk for ~edgy~ and ~subversive~ rape.

    I know wishing death on someone is out of line but I’m willing to make an exception for James Deen and Max Hardcore (and their ilk). I remember this documentary about a woman who was new to pornography and goes to “shoot some scenes” with Max Hardcore. Suffice it to say that the only reason he isn’t openly referred to as a rapist with a capital R is the fact that he hides behind a guise of respectability and calls himself an “entrepreneur”.

    • bella_cose

      From what I’ve heard, James Deen isn’t one of the bad ones. I mean, he does bdsm, but I think a lot of industry women actually like to work with him, because he doesn’t like to injure women. I’ve read a couple of interviews with him, and he comes off as being not terribly bright, more than as a misogynist. Max Hardcore on the other hand is a cowardly, sadistic, shit, who figured out he could make money torturing young women on film. He should be in prison (or worse) for what he does.

      • Henke

        Correct me if I am wrong here but isn’t the whole point of the S that one enjoys inflicting pain and dominating others ?
        Here is what the web says:
        “Sadism involves gaining pleasure from seeing others undergo discomfort or pain. Individuals possessing sadistic personalities display recurrent aggression and cruel behaviour. Sadism can also include the use of emotional cruelty, purposefully manipulating others through the use of fear, and a preoccupation with violence.

        Sexual sadism is the condition of experiencing sexual arousal in response to the extreme pain, suffering, or humiliation of others.”

        That don’t exactly come off as a gentle, nice, loving human being to me. In fact it sounds like a man such as Max Hardcore.

        I’ve thought of BDSM on and off in my life trying to wrap my head around it as a sexual practice and have had a few conversations with former BDSM practitioners (both women and men) and it seems like a common things they all have said is that it really is a ‘sexual paradise’ for these kind of rather bizarre personalities (mostly it is men too).

        My point is not to defend BDSM as a practice that “if you are not a sadist get the hell out” but rather to spin it around and ask, is it a practice invented by actual sadists to legitimate their cruel behaviours ?
        And now when it has gained reputation and has been, for quite some time now, pushed in mainstream media as something “fun and adventurish” to “spice up your sexlife”.
        This can (and most likely will) end up with many broken souls that entered this practice thinking it is all about good fun and ended up meeting one of these terrible human beings.

        Maybe my post is just rambeling nonsense here…

      • I know he does BDSM. I’ve had the “luck” of seeing some gifs where he does his thing with women. Not to mention that he made a joke on twitter about how he will be “ass raping” twelve year old girls when they reach the age of consent.

        The only difference between him and Hardcore is the fact that Deen goes on and on about consent, i.e. your typical BDSM verbiage. In all honesty, I could respect Max Hardcore more than Deen because H. is honest about his hatred of women and his desire to rape them. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat it. Deen on the other hand will pretend to be “female-friendly” first, that’s why he has that reputation.

        • bella_cose

          My point wasn’t to defend Deen, or agree with what he says or does. I just don’t think he and Max Hardcore can be Putin the same category. When Deen started in porn, it was as an actor, being paid to do what other men wanted him to do to women. I’m not saying he bears no responsibility for his actions. It’s also interesting to note he became famous because female porn consumers liked him, although I can’t fathom why. Contrast that to Hardcore, who created the porn he starred in, and became famous because men like to watch him abuse women.

          • I didn’t think you were defending him (I would have been surprised, to say the least, if you had).

            It’s just that… how should I put this… well, I hate his guts.

  • purple sage

    “Tacky” is such a perfect word to describe these porn awards ceremonies.

  • em em em

    Julie Bindel is always unequivocal in her analysis, and brilliantly funny too. Thank you Julie.

  • FrustratedRadFem

    Where do I begin? They make more than the actual film industry and couldn’t be bothered to provide something nicer than beer nuts not even an open bar? Not only are they misogynist bastards but they are cheap bastards. The propaganda that the sex industry is glamourous is such a lie. They use and abuse these women and don’t even want throw a decent party? I’m sorry but I’m pissed off it’s not really about the party it’s these stingy assholes don’t want to give the women any real benefit I’ve had better parties being a volunteer.

    That man who is abuse a woman as a slave needs to go to jail. I’d ask why none of the people in the industry stop this but we all know why. I swear I don’t understand why pro porn ‘feminists’ defend porn when the pornographers and male porn stars are so openly misogynist. The men described in this article are the kind of men women make fun of all them time. Do pro porn ‘feminists’ not know who they are defending?