Another Look at AVN: A Response to J. Patrick Coolican

Editor’s note: I recently ran across the article This is not a double entendre, about the recent Adult Entertainment Expo. Having been to the show before and knowing some of the people mentioned, I knew the article was full of misinformation and sensationalism, so I asked Tess Danesi to respond.

As one of the organizers of MOMENTUM Conference, our goals are to make the subject of sex and sexuality part of the mainstream conversation, to promote the fact that a vital, healthy sexuality takes many forms and that sexuality need not be a hidden part of life but should be viewed as another component in what makes us human.

Last week I attended the annual AVN/Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas; part trade show featuring adult novelties and sex toys geared towards industry and press and part adult entertainment show for fans, it’s a dizzying assortment of eye candy – including a clown who sidelines as an escort – of all sorts. With a large group of press in attendance the photos and articles covering the annual show have been popping up all over but this particular article, This is not a double entendre, rife in sex negativity and offensive stereotypes made me feel the need to point out how a vastly different perception of the event.

This is the third time I’ve been to the AVN/AE Expo which brings tens of thousands of tourists to Las Vegas each year, people who pump money into the local economy and, like the participants in the adult industry, don’t deserve to be ridiculed just because a writer wants to appear amusing.

I’m not sure what the intent of this piece was; perhaps it’s written as a ˜color piece’ rather than a true journalistic reporting effort but instead it comes across as reductive and trite while adding to the stigma of sexuality already so prevalent in American media and culture. Making blithe, off-hand remarks from start to finish, the tone of this piece is highly insulting and conveys nothing of the energy, commitment or the normality of people who work in the sex industry.

This is hard work. “I’ve never had my feet hurt so bad, she says.

Mr. Coolican starts out with the above snarky remark and it’s indicative of the piece to follow. Unless you’ve stood around all day smiling, signing autographs, striking sexy poses and making small talk with fans for hours on end, all in killer heels, don’t negate the fact that is work, and hard work at that.

The smell of the Hard Rock is perfectly aligned with this convention.

Momentum’s co-producer, Dee Dennis, said this about the above statement, “After spending a total of six days at the Hard Rock Hotel I am completely baffled as to what Mr. Coolican is referrring to.  We found the Hard Rock Hotel to have that same smell of perfumed covered up smoke that we’ve come to find in every other Vegas hotel we’ve visited.  How this smell fit this particular convention we have no idea but it appears to us that the writer just used this as another way to angle the tone of his article against the trade show.

I have a different, but no less insulting take away from that line. I think that Mr. Coolican insinuates that the perfumed air pumped into the hotel to cover the smell of smoke is an analogy for the glitzy spectacle of AVN covering up the “dirtiness of the industry. Like any other industry, the sex industry has its share of unscrupulous individuals, it also has some of the most idealistic, ethical people who develop products and videos designed to help people have a better, healthier, and more satisfying sex life.

Dee continued, “This author did what I see in most media when they are covering issues related to sex. He sensationalized it. The writer spoke of only the most outrageous products he saw exhibited there and never mentioned any of the more common products that were exhibited.

While choosing not to write about the more “common products is not particularly a shock to me, after all, as writers we want the public to be interested, what I found particularly insulting was the accompanying slide show entitled Porn Expo Oddities. Let’s run down the oddities: three pretty girls wearing 3D glasses, a blonde woman kissing a brown man, a can from a product packaging company, the XXX church booth (I concede that’s out of the ordinary), a guy in a dildo costume (mm, ditto), girls in sexy aviator gear (is Halloween odd?), an insurance company using a naked girl with a sign as an ad (what! sex used to sell products! shocking! NOT), and honey bear bottles of honey oil and lube (creative packaging is an oddity?). Out of eight images, two can be considered as unusual or at least something you’re only likely to see at AVN.

The fans veer from sweaty and awkward to brutish and contemptuous.

Mr. Coolican does a real disservice when he describes only the worst ends of the spectrum and neglects to mention that the vast majority of the fans in attendance were well-mannered men and women. I’m not sure if he includes women in the group of fans he describes as sweaty and contemptuous. Dee noted, “The first day we arrived at the Hard Rock we met two young men from New Orleans who were there for their very first AVN.  They were soft spoken, polite, friendly and nothing at all like what Mr Coolican wrote about when describing attendees. We ran into them again on Friday and while trying to grab a quick lunch and inquired how they were enjoying themselves. These two young men were so far from the mooks, overgrown frat boys who leer and sneer at women described on that article. These two polite and friendly young men, were far more representative of the crowd at AVN than Mr. Coolican’s description would lead you to believe. Most of the attendees we saw and all those we met, despite the way too cramped conditions, were neither boorish, lewd, nor vulgar nor could they be picked out of a crowd of people for being the “type that goes to an adult entertainment event.

I observe that most of these people don’t look very good, with burned-out hair and the makeup of ’70s Times Square trannies.

This statement rendered both Dee and I momentarily speechless. Apparently what Mr. Coolican saw at AVN is exactly what happens when you go into a place with your preconceived notions firmly in place. There is no journalistic objectivity in that statement. There is no objectivity in the entire piece.

Boorish, sweaty men and women with fried hair and bad makeup. Really? Dee and I decided to unwind one afternoon in the spa at the Hard Rock. We found ourselves in the hot tub with a stunning young woman. After wiping a washcloth across my sweaty face, I saw the woman doing the same except that her makeup had remained impeccable. We started chatting about makeup and she was so knowledgeable about the topic I asked if she was a makeup artist. As it turns out, she was Sunny Leone, an adult film star who was hosting the awards show.

She mentioned that she had been part of India’s Big Brother, a show called Big Boss. While in the house she didn’t let people know what she did for a living until they got to know her. At the end of her time in the house, she found herself stopped on the street by people asking to take her photo – often with their children. This is what happens when you don’t have preconceived notions and actually get to know people for who they are and not merely judge them by what they do. You see them as human beings –  just like the rest of us. I’d implore Mr. Coolican to spend some time really talking to the people in the industry. Will he find some dingbats? Indeed he will. But he’ll also find some wonderful, intelligent people who are way more than T&A on a screen.

That he used the very derogatory term trannies is reprehensible and falls way outside the bounds of accepted journalistic practice for talking about transgender individuals, per GLAAD’s guidelines.

A local radio reporter’s questions are supposed to be risqué, the idea being that nothing could be considered inappropriate with these people, so he asks the starlets if they would rather have sex with Hitler or Osama bin Laden.

These people, Mr. Coolican, are our sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews. These people are us. They are not separate. They are human beings with all the flaws and sensitivities we all have. That they choose to perform sex acts on film for money doesn’t make them any less human or any less deserving of respect than you or me.

The article goes on to denigrate sex educator, Reid Mihalko, who often speaks at colleges and universities, in an effort to provide the type of sex education that is sorely lacking in our society. It finally (blessedly) ends on this note:

The winners of the Best Girl/Girl Sex Scene are Belladonna, who has a short, butch haircut, and Dana DeArmond, apparently one of the few stars to use her real name. They aren’t like the others. DeArmond is actually crying upon victory.

A strangely affecting moment, and time to end a weekend of pornography.

They aren’t like the others? Maybe at this point I should be thankful that Mr. Coolican at least allows normal human emotions to be attributed to two porn actors, but frankly, after reading and rereading this piece, I’m just too exhausted.

Note: Good Vibrations is a sponsor of MOMENTUM and both Carol Queen and I will be participating on the keynote panel and presenting workshops.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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3 Responses

  1. amity says:

    What a great rebuttal to a extraordinarily derogatory article. Even after reading your rebuttal, first I was terribly surprised at how… mean and nasty the Coolican piece was.

  1. 01/27/2012

    […] educator Charlie Glickman offers a non-sex-shaming perspective on the AEE show & the AVN Awards in response to a nasty piece of work about the same […]