In Praise of Indecency
Smut--Still Dirty After All These Years
This past February USA Today made the startling observation that "mainstream bookstores also are finding erotica attractive." The Feb. 21 article, titled "Romance novels for women get frankly sexual," also claims that--youíll be shocked to discover, no doubt--customers buying such books donít fit a stereotype. Now, noticing the so-called mainstreaming of porn has been going on now for a few years; ditto the fact that almost everybodyís credit card record probably has some evidence of a naughty purchase on it somewhere. But if there is any bigger evidence that America is finally admitting that it thinks a good deal about fucking than it being written about in the USfreakingA Today, people, we donít know what it is.
With this yearís Big Books Issue weíd like to join the ranks of the people who, quite frankly, feel that pornography is getting way too acceptable. Not biting any feeding hands here. Given that "nonsexual" ads help publish this very paper, weíre not saying that itís wrong, amoral, or whatever. Weíre merely taking umbrage at the fact that good, old-fashioned filth is in danger of losing its uncleanliness.
Fortunately, smut retains the fleshy messiness that long ago got tanned, waxed, toned, and bleached out of pornography. Classic smut--from Victorian spanking novels to todayís gadget-happy leather escapade serials--makes room for all body and kink types. It even sounds and looks blunter than the scientificish "pornography": smut--U sandwiched in between S&M and a cross.
Smut, however, isnít less socially acceptable erotica. Smut welcomes all those things that donít get talked about in polite society, be they transgressive, subcultural, politically radical, druggy, personally candid, or just odd. Itís a literary grab bag best represented by Grove Pressí output out from the 1950s to the early 1970s. In this issue, Byron Coley profiles Barney Rosset, the man behind Grove Pressí remarkably fecund years. Elsewhere, Bob Massey talks to Dian Hanson, the sex editor of lavish lifestyle coffee-table books imprint Taschen Books. Rahne Alexander surfs through the online explosion of queer/sex-positive smut. Local African-American erotica novelist Petula Caesar writes about being a black woman writing about sex. Timothy Kreider explores the unsettling world of splatterspunk author Edward Lee; Kreider also dives into The Lost Girls, the new erotic comic-book opus from Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. And Wendy Ward reports back from a week shacked up with a stack of one-handed reads, during which times she laughed, got a little exhausted, and maybe even got a bit turned on.
Such is smutís gift--it offers more than a means to come. Not even pornography is that giving of itself. In fact, about all the mainstreaming of porn has achieved is successfully turning peopleís sex lives into marketing niches to be satisfied with more products. Whether it be a mature, European BBW smoking cigarettes or an oral-friendly amateur Asian shemale, there is somebody, out there, willing to take your money to give you that and nothing more.
Smut isnít just about making the proverbial buck; it always offers something more. Itís funny. Itís psychologically probing. Itís bizarre. Itís unsettling. Itís decadent. Itís narratively inventive. Itís surreal. Itís dangerous. Itís scary. It may even be titillating. Sometimes your response to it is so visceral that it reminds you why it used to be kept behind the counter and wrapped in brown paper. It makes you feel dirty--and, really now, why is feeling dirty supposed to be a bad thing in the first place?
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