Turned off

Talk-show producers love to chat me up, but they always leave me high and dry.

Published October 16, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

For the next month, I'm on the road promoting my new book, "Full Exposure," which is about creating your own sexual philosophy and erotic perspective. As I travel across the nation with a trunk full of erotic books and my Hitachi Magic Wand, people who come to my readings ask me a lot of questions. Some queries keep popping up over and over again, so I've been answering them in my recent columns. (Those of you with burning questions who can't make it to one of my appearances -- but please do try, I'd love to meet you -- can drop me an e-mail.)

Here's another one.

Your book, "Full Exposure" is so [relevant/wonderful/nauseating], I can't understand why you aren't more famous. Why aren't you on Oprah? Why aren't you on Charlie Rose? MTV? Is Rosie O'Donnell afraid of you? Are you being censored by the media conglomerates because of your radical sexual views?

I take all these questions as sincere compliments from people who believe my words should find a broader bandwidth. But I also realize that these questions arise from a bit of wishful conspiracy theorizing.

The top reason I am not on the most sought-after TV shows is that there are too many books being published to even begin to showcase all the worthy candidates. This simple fact is then perverted by the ratings game, which rewards shows that dwell on celebrity and scandal. So it's not conspiracy -- it's mere banality. I like seeing my favorite Hollywood actors "up close and personal" as much as the next person, but I have to admit, it's vexing to see them get treated as intellectuals, sex experts or role models, when frankly they may be clueless on all counts. Stars don't get strokes or encouragement for reading, exploring their sexuality or being political activists. They get paid to look good and to shine as bright as they can.

There are some broadcasting stars, like Oprah Winfrey, who have brought enormous attention to books in general and have catapulted unknown authors onto the New York Times bestseller list. I've thought a lot about Oprah's book club, since like every author, I daydream about being "discovered" by a similarly charismatic figure who would recommend my work to thousands, even millions, of readers.

One reason Oprah's book club has been such a success is that she knows how to seduce people who haven't read in a long while into picking up a book again. Winfrey can connect with people who have relied on movies for the storytelling in their lives and yet are disappointed that today's films are not giving them enough of what they want.

Women, in particular, are starved for great romances with memorable characters, female-focused high drama and a strong story with a righteous finish. That moral can be feminist or Christian, but whatever it is, Hollywood is not making this kind of product very often or very well in the '90s.

Books, on the other hand, offer thousands of excellent choices in this vein. Conceivably, one reader can have a vicarious, dramatic, emotionally intense and satisfying experience every day, if she can read fast enough. Oprah's book choices (which often mirror the trends in popular young adult fiction) feature strong heroines who struggle with dysfunctional families and who search for love and integrity. She picks solid narratives with no glaring genre clichis.

Winfrey is also attracted to feminist morality tales -- if they're tempered by a foundation in Christian values. I've always thought that she might be attracted to the feminist aspect of my sex work, but that I would flunk the What-Would-Jesus-Do? criteria.

Now, of course, Oprah is a sophisticated lady -- I'm sure she appreciates the diversity of the world's religions, and would respect anyone she admired regardless of their faith. However, her main inspirations are New Age and feminist concepts, filtered through the influence of her African-American childhood. I don't think she would resonate, as a reader, with an agnostic like me, or even with an author whose point of view doesn't come from Christ's teachings and redemptive philosophy. I don't think my work is a good match for her sensibility. In fact, when I watch the broadcasts in which Oprah and a group of readers meet with the reading-club author of the month, I actually start blushing, I feel like such a heathen and a pervert. What's a kinky lapsed Catholic to do?

Still, I sometimes suspect that incompatibility with the host is not the real reason I don't get asked to be on more TV shows. I'd give my eyeteeth to overhear the conversations among producers (who book the guests) when they hang up the phone after a chat with my publisher and say, "No way are we having Susie Bright on our show!"

Some of them seem to be afraid that if I did appear on their program with my "sex stuff," somehow their personal sex secrets will be unmasked for all to see. It's guilt by proximity. My mere presence, no matter how innocent, is going to insinuate something about them. (God forbid that anyone should find out that they -- unlike the rest of the human race -- are keenly interested in sex!)

In my very first column for Salon, I described the time a producer from Tom Snyder's show called me up to discuss my potential as a guest and soon confessed his repulsion from/attraction to lesbians. He worked himself into such a lather that by the time he'd finished grilling me on the subject, he wanted to wash his hands and never even think of me again. "But I didn't want to talk to Tom about dykes," I moaned; "I wanted to talk about Clinton!"

Insider gossip tends to swirl around every rejection an author receives, and I've decided not to dwell on it. Some sex writers speculate that certain TV hosts are holed up in the closet for the sake of their career, or that others are simply terrified of sex. It's hard to know whether these rumors are grounded in reality or just more paranoia spun by the dozens of authors who've been passed over.

If I become well-known enough on my own steam, then I can escape the desperate "please discover me!" audition phase and instead be courted by the mainstream and curious. This is the path I am determined to pursue, because honestly, it's a lot more fun to make my own Web page, broadcast my own public radio show or cable TV program and do whatever I want, relatively free of commercial backlash, ratings anxieties and the neuroses of the people who staff the major media. The very best media appearances I've done with others have been with broadcasters who forged their own voices and points of view, independent of celebrity hysteria and formulaic pabulum: Michael Krasny (KQED), Larry Mantle (KPCC), Michael Cooper (KPFK), Dennis Cook (KALX), Kris Welch (KPFK) -- all in California -- and former MTV VJ Kennedy, who is now hosting a Seattle morning talk show. It was with Kennedy that I finally got to share my forbidden erotic obsession with Dan Quayle. How wonderful to meet a fellow traveler!

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My new book and audiotape are out -- "Full Exposure: Opening Up to Your Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression" -- and I'll be touring all over the United States through November. I hope I get to meet some of you in person, and connect with old friends. "Full Exposure" includes my stories about what I think it takes to make, admit and live out your own sexual philosophy. Interested? You can read the first chapter here. And when you do read my new book, write and tell me what you think of it.

By Susie Bright

Susie Bright is the author of the new book "Full Exposure" and many other books, and the editor of the "Best American Erotica" series. For more columns by Bright, visit her website.

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