Book review: Porn from Andy Warhol to Xtube

The other day I did something that I hope other people do as well; I googled myself to see what comes up. To my surprise, up there in the search results was a review I wrote in Amazon.com in April, 2011. It turns out the review is one of the most read reviews for that book in particular and one who most customers found helpful. I decided to include it here for posterity's sake with a few edits.

A vintage image from the early years of modern day porn,
unfortunately the book doesn't contain that many more.

Great on Style, Weak on Substance (2 out of 5 stars)
If it wasn't for the title denoting something more than a vanity project for studio-produced porn stars I would not be as 
This book is filled with beautifully printed full-page photographs depicting some of the better-known porn stars of the past 30-odd years, however if you are interested in a book whose title suggests to be ABOUT porn rather than a book OF porn, you will be left disappointed. This is far from a pictorial investigation or a truly historical account of male erotica, it relies too much on the obvious and popular porn stars of the 90s and hardly illustrates more important images from the earlier period as the book's cover suggests. The book is divided categorically with certain eras of the genre, but it is far from being developed analytically. Case in point is how the anemic amount of text (which is really half of what it appears to be since the other half is simply its German translation) is saved for interviews of distinguished directors in the field, yet the questions directed to them are equivalent to "Who is your favorite porn star?" causing it to read more as a superfluous magazine interview than anything else.

From the book's front flap and throughout, the author and his sources repeatedly cite porn as being reflective of society it was produced, yet no one bothers to extrapolate how or why this may be the case. Yes, we know that the mustachioed hairy-chested macho man of the seventies gave way to the smooth athletic jock of the eighties, but was this a reflection of the cultural shift of the decade or a reaction to the rise of AIDS? It would have been interesting to note for example, the first film to incorporate safe sex (considering how the gay  porn industry led the way in promoting it more than any government agency) or maybe investigating whether porn's mimetic use of popular Hollywood movies (i.e. Saving Ryan's Privates) is an act of subversion or an attempt at inclusion (porn movie plot lines and fantasy is never addressed by the way)? Instead the author glazes over interesting observations and concentrates too much on his biased interpretation. For example, he includes Tom Bianchi's work in the mix. Everyone can agree that Bianchi's photographs are beautifully executed manifestations of male desire, but would one call it pornographic? And if we are to use that broad description wouldn't we also need to look at his equally important and successful contemporaries such as Christopher Makos, Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber. Isn't Weber's image of the Olympic athlete just wearing a pair of white Calvin Klein briefs towering over Times Square an important breakthrough of male erotic objectification into mainstream culture, certainly more so than Bianchi. Or even Robert Mapplethorpe, whose controversial work was important in contributing to the discourse between art and porn.

Of course, I am the first to admit that while perusing through this book and its images, the furthest thing from my mind was wondering what lies behind the popularity and demand of certain porn stars (is it aggressive marketing or synchronistic desire?). However, considering there is a unified voice in this book in depicting the subject as culturally relevant, one is simply left to wonder whether porn is imitating life or is life imitating porn? Perhaps pornography may forever be relegated to its intended goal but considering how it has been the only true narrative for gay men, it would be nice to see someone attempt to treat it as a source of collective self-reflection rather than a glorified skin mag.