The Urge to Merge

Joe Zigfield
If Coke and Pepsi can place their products in mainstream films, why can't an adult marketer? Wicked Pictures scored priceless exposure gratis when the makers of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" shot the protagonist enjoying himself in bed watching Stormy Daniels in Wicked's "Space Nuts." It's the latest sign that, despite the far right's wet dreams of an adult-industry Apocalypse, porn and pop culture's urge to merge is stronger than ever.

Even that arbiter of highbrow amusements, The New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, ran a story in August on Vivid's upcoming remake of "The Devil in Miss Jones" with Jenna Jameson and Savanna Samson. The tone was straightforward, as if The Times were covering the latest Spielberg release: "Marketing plans call for simultaneous release in the United States and Europe [in five languages] and a billboard in Times Square."

It wouldn't be Jameson's first billboard in Times Square, which was another milestone on the industry's path to legitimacy. Clearly Jameson's been a key catalyst in this trend and probably its biggest beneficiary. But this continuing cultural shift means opportunities for adult visionaries across the board.

Mary Carey's Big PR Coup
In a dazzling PR coup, Kick Ass Pictures contract girl Mary Carey's California gubernatorial run vaulted her from obscurity to media darling. "Mary is arguably the second most well-known porn star in the world," Kick Ass President Mark Kulkis says. "That translates to when people go into a video store. They're like, Oh yeah, I remember seeing that girl on 'The Daily Show.'" So they're going to be curious to see what she looks like taking cock." Carey and Kulkis' controversial attendance at a recent White House fundraiser also generated plenty of press.

In an industry built on sex appeal, deploying attractive spokeswomen to charm reporters and radio hosts should be a no-brainer. They might not take Carey seriously as a politician, but her looks and exuberance have drawn A-list media, including "The Tonight Show," "The Howard Stern Show" and "Entertainment Tonight." Kulkis emphasizes that a girl has to know how to talk on camera. "That's a real special skill that, frankly, most girls in the business don't have," he says. "If the interviewer throws you a zinger, you have to be able to give a good response instead of being flustered and going 'umm umm umm.'" After Carey, however, there's little novelty in an adult performer using politics to gain visibility. The challenge is to find other angles that capitalize on mediagenic entertainers.

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is doing well at the box office. That, and the lack of any major outcry over its "Space Nuts" segment, could help foster new relationships between Hollywood and the adult sector. Now might be the ideal moment for adult deal-makers to network with their Hollywood counterparts.

The TV hook-up show "Blind Date" is another interesting venue. Adult entertainers Jodie Moore, Ava Vincent and Dave Pounder have appeared on it. Porn actress Daphne Rosen just issued a press release about doing an episode. The show's lust for adult film stars is apparently boundless. Adult agent Mark Spiegler says that in the past month, four of the show's producers contacted him within the same week seeking girls.

Late-night cable has become an infotainment "Pornucopia" (to borrow the name of an HBO special). Forget about softcore movies or pay-per-view. Reality shows about the adult industry are a genre unto themselves. The documentary series "Real Sex" has been an HBO (or HBHo, as crossover phenomenon Ron Jeremy calls it) staple for a decade. In recent years, HBO has gone from airing shows about strippers ("G-String Divas") to Porn Valley ("Pornucopia") to a half-hour interview in August with adult actress Katie Morgan. Nevada's Bunny Ranch brothel has an entire series —"Cathouse" — dedicated to it. Even shows that don't directly deal with the industry crave its trappings. Digital Playground contract stars Jesse Jane, Teagan Presley and Devon spiced up a recent episode of HBO's comedy series "Entourage." (A few years ago, the network's "Six Feet Under" reached into porn's past, casting Veronica Hart as an aging sex siren who's accidentally electrocuted by her cat.)

Showtime is finishing production on the fourth season of "Family Business," the reality series about gonzo pioneer Adam "Seymore Butts" Glasser. Thanks to the show, Glasser's colorful "Cousin Stevie" has become a celebrity in his own right. He notes that "Family Business" seems to have broad appeal: "Eighty, 90-year-old women have approached me and said they love the show." This former tech-industry executive from Brooklyn has channeled his notoriety into creating a hardcore video line, "Pussy Party," now in its eleventh volume. How does he account for the industry's mounting impact?

"I think adult entertainment is educating, or empowering, especially for women," he said. "Years ago, if a woman was a squirter, she'd be embarrassed. Today she says, 'Oh, I saw that.' It's natural. The same with anal. It was always taboo. Today people talk about it over dinner."

This evolution probably owes just as much to those who've traded off their mainstream fame for adult immortality, taking the reverse route of a Jameson or a Jeremy. Only in hindsight will the industry be able to truly gauge the singular contribution of gold-plated, white-trash princess Paris Hilton to the convergence of adult and mainstream.

Some friction, however, is inevitable in the bonding stage. "One of my biggest peeves is there are different standards for 'Family Business' than for [HBO Western series] 'Deadwood'," Cousin Stevie says. "I love 'Deadwood,' so I don't want to knock it, but it airs 9 or 10 p.m. We've never been on before 11. Yet 'Deadwood' shows drug use in conjunction with sex. Or violence against women, which we never show. Or do."

'Cathouse' Ratings
Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof sees benign neglect in the network's attitude toward "Cathouse." Hof has complained to the press that HBO, fearful of a conservative backlash, is doing little to publicize the series. He's considering offering "Cathouse" to other outlets that would be less shy about trumpeting it. His friend Ron Jeremy notes, "The big joke — it was in the New York City papers — was that they have an $8 million advertising budget for 'Entourage' on HBO. 'Cathouse,' which beats 'Entourage' in the ratings, has a budget of zero. Dennis Hof flies himself to New York to promote the show and buys his own pastrami sandwiches."

Of course, even without promotional support, a weekly platform on a premium cable channel is a brass ring that few adult marketers will ever touch. But the list of mainstream vehicles with a proven appetite for adult infotainment keeps growing: Everything from books and adult comics, to hip-hop and rock's ongoing love affair with the sex industry, to podcasting and other online innovations, to emerging media like satellite radio and wireless.

It's also worth keeping an eye out for the next Paris Hilton. "The line between pornography and mainstream entertainment will continue to blur," says Jay Clarkson, who teaches a course at the University of Iowa examining porn in popular culture. "There will probably be a larger number of stars that crossover between adult and mainstream media." But, he adds, he worries about a "boom in D-list celebrity sex tapes. Paris Hilton may be making money, but I can't imagine people are going to download a Star Jones honeymoon video out of anything but morbid curiosity."

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