Media Circus

By Jack Hitt

Published July 10, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

Halfway through the video, even the natural allure of seeing naked people thrashing about fades when you hear cunnilingus reduced to something akin to the operating instructions of a jigsaw: "Continue downward with the tongue, then back up, circle the clitoris, begin the cycle again.", then a big chiming stroke on the harp. (That's it: ice-cream-truck music. These people

are bent.) There are precise exercises that one must do that literally involve hanging a small towel over the gentleman's erection and trying to get it to wave (helpful later for hailing a cab?). All the positions you've ever imagined are broken down into taxonomic categories for easy reference and occasionally flashed on the screen -- "male superior (missionary)," "kneeling positions," "female superior (opposing)," etc. Locating the controversial G spot is painfully rendered with detailed diagrams and ludicrous cartographic instructions ("the G spot is a patch of erectile tissue on the anterior of the forward wall of the vagina about three finger widths below the belly button behind the pubic bone"). And if that's doesn't help you find it, you can order a "specially designed G-spot vibrator -- a phallic device with a 45-degree hook on the tip." (Note to future sex-tape producers: When discussing vaginas, the word "hook" is best avoided.)

Remove all the sexual terms in these videos and replace them at random with words like "ball peen hammer" and "needle nose pliers" and "wing nuts" and "flat-head screws" -- throw in a voice-over by Bob Vela or Norm Abrams -- and you could air it on PBS on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This is the ultimate home-improvement video. This tape should be called "This Old Pussy."

How fitting, though: Today's videos are the perfect sex manuals for a neo-prudish age dominated by a need for advice amid the constantly shifting mirage of "choice" in a marketplace. The same crew that produces a Louis Rukeyser video on buying low-risk mutual funds or a Graham Kerr tape on concocting a no-fat hollandaise sauce has set up a Beta-cam in the bedroom. They describe the most banal, comfortable same ol'-same ol' in nasty-free words that should send any sentient libidinous soul screaming from the room in search of old-fashioned, all-American, money-shot porn. They are to sex what a Time-Life video series is to history. These tapes will eventually age and go on that crowded shelf, alongside all the other tomes from the Kama Sutra forward -- an emblem, for a certain middle-class consumer, of a cautious and terrified time when the last refuge of private anarchy had been executive-produced, rehearsed and repeated into something purported to be wicked and forbidden but about as safe and certain as next season's "groundbreaking" television series. The most boring possible sex commodified and sold as a cutting-edge lifestyle choice. Marketers, never stop experimenting.
July 10, 1997

Jack Hitt is a contributing editor to public radio's "This American Life."

Jack Hitt

Jack Hitt is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and PRI's "This American Life."


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