Oh, pornography. Progressives still get turned around. Does it victimize women? Reinforce impossible sexual expectations? Cheapen intimacy? In his new book, We Did Porn, Zak Smith cuts to the crux of the confusion: "The most hideous thing about pornography, of course, is that it works. On you."
The memoir/art book We Did Porn is not an apologia. (Nor, despite the rather outrageous claims made on the book's cover—"will do for porn what Hunter S. Thompson did for motorcycle gangs and Tom Wolfe for psychedelica"—is it a radical gonzo interpretation of the way porn is created or consumed.)
It is, however, just the sort of thing that those progressives who do enjoy entertainment of the naked variety occasionally require in order to validate their consumption habits: An intelligent, funny, and self-aware reminder that intelligent, funny, and self-aware people do in fact choose to work in the porn industry.
Smith is an artist best known for an installation for the Whitney Biennial that consisted of illustrations of every single page of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Then he moved to LA and started doing alt-porn. We Did Porn makes the transition between the New York art world and the LA porn world seem unnervingly seamless.
Smith's main function as a narrator is to report, and to occasionally say something weighty. On Los Angeles: "The learning curve for properly grasping human behavior and therefore the world's workings is that much more difficult in any environment where the answer half the time is 'Why? Because drugs.'" Stylistically, he specializes in paragraph-long sentences punctuated by snappy one-liners, and wading through his willfully convoluted prose can be nerve-wracking at times—wondering if he'll arrive, grammatically intact, at the point for which he set out. (He mostly does.) The best parts of the book are anecdotal ones, like his hilarious summation of porn star Sasha Grey's appearance on the Tyra Banks Show. "Tyra asks [Sasha] why there is something cold, hard, and distant about her... This, coming from Tyra Banks, is really, really, really, really funny."
There's sex, too, lots of it; and musing about why some people like rape fantasies, and bitching about the art scene, and explaining what can and does go wrong on a porn set. It is all incredibly interesting and entertaining. If you're into that kind of thing.