Entertainment

01.22.14

My Night at the NSFW Oscars

Remember when porn meant something? At the lackluster 2014 AVN Awards, an event long-billed as the Academy Awards for the adult industry, things got a little weird.

Porn’s current “It” girl, twenty-year-old Bonnie Rotten, takes a single hit off a joint. She passes it on to a man who admires her lipstick traces on it. He then jokes about the legal risks of keeping the butt as a souvenir for back home.

It’s Saturday night in a suite at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, a few moments before the AVN Awards start downstairs. Rotten is expected to win Performer of the Year, the most coveted prize at the show.

“Tonight her life is going to change,” porn legend Joey Silvera says. “She doesn’t have the traditional look. Tattoos used to be a small audience thing. But when I shot her that personality is so strong. The moment you deal with her you don’t see the tattoos. Just her.” I keep staring at the tattoo of Frank Sinatra on her leg. That says something about her personality.

Silvera doesn’t even know how many awards he’s nominated for this year. “A few years ago before the business died we could kid ourselves that we were growing into something big like the Oscars. For me, this isn’t going to change anything. But there is still enough magic left that the awards can make a difference for Bonnie if she wins.”

Though long-billed as the Academy Awards for the adult industry, few take that label seriously anymore. The mighty corporate and cultural juggernaut that was the porn industry of the 2000s, back when every mall had suburbanites wearing “porn star” t-shirts, is gone. The massive decline in the porn industry’s fortunes thanks to regulatory challenges and piracy and the infinity of sex offerings on the Internet have left the remains of the mainstream porn industry closer to the cheesy and sleazy parody of the other Hollywood that defined porn’s golden era of the ‘80s.

Indeed, one of the biggest trends in porn now is creating endless knock-off sex versions of mainstream reality shows, scripted shows, and movies. With Miley Cyrus and her ilk all around the fascination with porn stars as taboo breakers by the mainstream has ended. Porn is clearly having an identity crisis.

“Every year it has gotten smaller and smaller,” veteran Jesse Jane tells me after walking the red carpet. “It is still fun, and so I just think of it as being more intimate with your fans.”

Dozens of people are spread about, some dressed, some not, some bowling, some engaging in sexual contact.

This year no big name talent from the world of real celebrity is here. The musical act is midlist rapper Machine Gun Kelly and longtime porn aficionado Dave Navarro presents an award. The host, comedienne Rebekah Kochan, almost makes me walk out when she jokes that she had killed more Jews than Hitler thanks to her abortions. This is like one of those television Dean Martin roasts milking the last laughs from the living remains of fame. Pop culture has moved on. Ask yourself two questions:

1.     Do you watch sex on the Internet?
2.     Can you name a single working porn star (besides James Deen)?

The awards drag on for nearly three hours (some categories have a dozen nominees). Many porn stars decide drinking at the bar in the back of the room is more exciting. Seeing my press badge one drunken porn star grabs my arm and asks to be interviewed.

Neither her name nor her nemesis are among the slurred words I can make out. But she wants the world to know another porn star had slept with her boyfriend and she was the one paying the rent and the “bitch” also stole one of her favorite jackets on the way out the door. “That’s disrespectful,” she says. Then she turns around and makes out with another woman. The impromptu audience applauds.

In past years, I always squirmed during awkward moments of rambling winners offering uncomfortably personalized thanks to parents upon winning a prize, say, for best anal sex.  Now, most offered perfunctory thanks to fans, company, agent, and scene partner.

Joey Silvera wins another batch of awards, though he has already left the show.  Bonnie Rotten wins Performer of the Year. I find her a few minutes later heading back to her seat. She’s ecstatic. She doesn’t know how the win will change her career. Since she’s only 20, she isn’t allowed to go to the casino nightclubs like everyone else.

***

There was a time when the AVN Award after parties spread all over Vegas, but this year most of the action is at the many bars and venues of the Hard Rock. Big name stars like Jessica Drake host soirees in the casino nightclubs including Vanity and Body English. But most of the fans, performers, and industry folk keep away from the loud nightclubs, preferring an evening of schmoozing.

Drinking at one casino bar after the awards, Luke Mason, who runs the adult IAFD.com (the porn version of IMDB), explains to me that it isn’t just mainstream culture that has moved on. The fans are less interested in famous porn stars than popular camgirls and other Internet sex that isn’t traditional porn.

“A girl now will shoot a movie for Evil Angel or Jules Jordan [two big porn companies], just to get her name out for cam work,” Mason says. “That is why the industry no longer has the big names like Jenna Jameson. The girls and the fans are moving to cams. You become popular on cams but you don’t become crossover famous like on the cover of Rolling Stone or a music video or a mainstream movie. I only watch DVD porn now for my database.”

Despite losing all seven of her nominations, Ashley Fires is in a giddy mood after the show, hanging out with industry peers Missy Rhodes and Ed Powers near a bank of slots. A little drunk while teetering in heels, she says, “This is what I am like after only three hours sleep over two days. I live a very isolated life in New Hampshire and this is where I get to be an extrovert.” Fires then breaks off to hug a fan who explains how he has been getting so excited watching one of her scenes that he can’t get to the end of it. “Me too!” she says. She hugs him again, and says in his ear: “Us super perverts have to stick together.”

Over at the Hard Rock’s coffee shop, Fuel, Caroline Pierce (who the night before was inducted in Erotic Legends Hall of Fame) hangs out with a bald man all in black with a cut on his head. She tells me the man is involved in a site connected to necrophilia. “I do not want to be in your story,” he says. His voice is creepy, too. I immediately move on.

By 2 a.m. as things begin to break up, I am invited up to a private suite party for “unicorns.” I have no idea what this means.

The suite is large, with a bowling lane and a hot tub. Dozens of people are spread about, some dressed, some not, some bowling, some engaging in sexual contact.

“You don’t need to wear an ID here,” a woman tells me. Her husband is renting the suite. I tell her I’m a reporter and ask what a unicorn is.

It turns out that I am at a swinger party. The “unicorns” are the unattached, attractive women roaming about the room. Perhaps the name “unicorn” tells you how common it is for women to swing with couples. But here, there are a few, along with some porn stars and Vegas escorts.

The wife of the suite owner tells me she’s 53 and can sleep with anyone here. But she doesn’t feel like it tonight. “My husband has three girlfriends who are all in their twenties.”

She asks me what famous porn stars I’ve met and I run through the list ending with Bonnie Rotten.  She doesn’t recognize any of the names. “Why watch when you can do yourself?” Fair enough. I take it as an invitation for this observer to leave. 

At the door a couple is entwined on the floor blocking my departure from the suite. Adjustments are made to let me out. The man: Ron Jeremy. “If you write about this,” he says, “make sure to mention her screams and moans.”