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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