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Monday, April 12, 2010

Porn Parodies: A Recent History (Part 2 of 3)

The legal issues, for one thing, are far more clear-cut. Thanks to Larry Flynt’s own landmark Supreme Court case against Jerry Falwell, well-publicized and romanticized in The People vs. Larry Flynt, parody was legally guaranteed protection under the First Amendment. If you were a public figure or celebrity, you were fair game to be copied, no matter how unflattering the terms. This meant that lawsuits for defamation and loss of revenue, etc. are much harder to prosecute now – Tiger Woods will just have to deal with “Tiger Woods" banging a golf groupie on the ninth hole, for instance, as part of the price of his fame and glory.

The other issue is the sheer mass of porn out in the pornosphere. Again, thanks to the internet, there is a daily flood of amateur sex tapes, pro and semi-pro performers, and hundreds if not thousands of independent entrepreneurs who have inundated the market with product. Just looking at the DVD market, last year there were around 19,000 videos released. That’s about 50 a day. Making any flick stand out enough to capture a big enough audience to bring the big profits everyone seeks is difficult. So the industry is returning, once again, to parody to try to catch some attention. Luckily, the American porn consumer seems to like what they see.

The big difference between the porn parodies of 2010 and their predecessors is the attention to detail the producers are lavishing on the productions. Since the internet makes everyone an honorary nerd, half-assed productions that didn’t do justice to the original shows they were parodying won’t cut it for the fans. You can’t just throw a blonde, a brunette, and a straight-guy-pretending-to-be-gay in any old apartment set and expect Three’s Company to emerge. With that in mind, porn parodies today take great pains to not only ensure smokin’-hot sex, but also to casting reasonable doubles for original cast members, into building similar, if not identical, sets to the originals, and including elements in their storylines that borrowed heavily from what made the original show popular.

Take This Ain’t Star Trek XXX, for example. When director Axel Braun wanted to make the flick for Hustler, he knew he couldn’t half-ass it – Trekkies would revolt (or worse, not buy it) if it wasn’t a reasonable facsimile of the show. And as one of the most widely (and poorly) parodied TV shows of all time, fans were used to seeing their hallowed show brutalized not by raw sex, but by inaccurate translation to the screen. So Braun wisely paid meticulous attention to the construction of the bridge set and the casting of the show. He even convinced star Evan Stone to cut his signature long flowing hair for the part. He made certain that there was a reasonable stab at the plot, encouraged Stone to over-act ala Shatner, and included enough in-jokes to please the rabid fans. (It didn’t hurt that he also cast superstar Jenna Haze in the role of a hot alien chick, Jada Fire as Uhura [who else?] and Aurora Snow as a comely yeoman. YUM!)

The result? A credible homage to the show, strong sales, and a hit sequel.

The This Ain’t Married With Children XXX parody was another strong hit. Featuring new “it girl” and contract star Kagney Linn Karter, it delightfully re-created the stereotypical set that we all grew to love in the 90s. The first installment was so popular that it got the actor who played Bud Bundy in the original, David Faustino, to take a secret tour of the set during the filming of the sequel (considering his character’s propensity for our industry, it’s too bad he didn’t stick around and do a little commentary for the behind-the-scenes, but . . . ).

There are . . . less well-done parodies, as well. The less said about them, the better. That being said, there are some dreadfully-painful-but-still-hot-and-entertaining parodies out there . . . Star Wars fans were shocked by the treatment Private gave to their award-winning Porn Wars trilogy, including as it did heavily-accented Euros, dogfights between rip-offs of Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship One, and clumsy lightsaber battles. But they still bought it, out of morbid curiosity, and they weren’t disappointed by the sex. It helped that it was parodying the less-popular prequel trilogy, rather than the venerable classic -- but the original Star Wars hasn't been spared the porn treatment one bit. And that’s the great thing about parody – even when it’s dreadfully bad, it can still be good.

NEXT: Part 3: Why is parody so damn popular right now?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Porn Parodies: A Recent History (Part 1 of 3)

The explosive popularity of porn parodies in the last two years has been staggering, and several folks have asked me to address this since I'm the Big Time Porn Guy And All Around Sex Nerd. Are they worth watching? Are they any good? I've had dozens of inquiries about them, and so I decided to look at the porn parody phenomenon in detail.

After enduring an artistic (and commercial) bout of ennui, the industry hit upon its “next big thing” after the release of Hustler’s Who’s Nailin’ Paylin?, perhaps the most influential porn video of 2008-9. While the actual trend towards parody had begun a year or so before, arguably with That 70's Ho or This Ain't The Munsters, the fact is that Hustler’s Larry Flynt, the Godfather of the porn industry, mixed traditional parody with political satire when he found a perfect porn double of Sarah Palin, the deliciously MILFy brunette Lisa Ann, and rushed a well-done flick to market mere weeks before the election. Buoyed by nation’s partisan feelings at the time, the genuine lust for the intrepid GOP VP Candidate in the souls of American men of both parties, and an uncanny instinct for innovation, Hustler nailed it with Who’s Nailin’ Paylin? While actual sales figures are unknown, I have it from a reliable industry source that they’re at least in the six digit range – and not the low end.

There’s nothing new about porn parody. It’s a perennial favorite, a well of creativity to which the industry has returned again and again. Its popularity has always been the same: to see popular and familiar entertainment augmented by sex. Often (inadvertently) funny, sometimes erotic, the degree to which porn parodies have been commercial successes has often depended as much on the public mood of the time as upon the length and degree to which the producers and directors are willing to go to adhere to the show or movie which inspired it. Fear of legal action by the original show’s cast and producers, the expense of essentially re-creating the elements of a show, and (quite frankly) the limited pool of talent upon which the industry had to choose from made parody a hit-or-miss thing, at best.

There have been really bad porn parodies (Spermbusters, a weekend wonder homage to the Bill Murray flick, remains a stain on my brain) but also some really notable porn parodies in the past – a personal fave is the 1976 ode to Charlie’s Angels, A Coming of Angels. Apparently aping a T&A drama wasn’t too much of a stretch for the industry at the time. But that factors into the equation, as well. With the explosion of VHS in the 1980s into the mainstream market, and the reduction of the cost-of-entry due to the switch from film to far-cheaper video tape, coupled with the loosening of obscenity standards due to landmark legal cases, made low-budget “gonzo” style sex shoots much more profitable than expensive parodies, and new companies specializing in the quick-and-dirty business of four hour stroke-a-thons began leaving the more-traditional porn houses in the dust. Today there are only a handful of companies that even attempt to wrap any kind of story around their porn, and even those are often considered “loss leaders”.

Then came the Internets. Just when the industry was beginning to artistically stabilize in the early 1990s as the insanely profitable DVD market was peaking and attention started to turn once again to parody, the explosive popularity of the internet and the illicit pleasures available therein provided a whole new type of competition, even as it provided a vast new market. Only now, when the novelty of the internet has begun to fade, have the big production houses tried their hand at parody again – only this time, it’s different.

(Continued In Part 2)