Sam Benjamin: How do you clean up after an “American Gangbang”?

There was something in Sam Benjamin’s Ivy League education that compelled him to be a pornographer. His memoir “American Gangbang” is a thoughtful account of his post-Brown trips through Porn Valley, delivered with about a tenth of the glibness we’ve come to expect from tourists with a safety net.

Instead, Benjamin knew he belonged here, even if he was ambivalent about it.

Rolling ashore in the “irony-free zone” of Santa Cruz in 2000, Benjamin parlayed his Art degree into sporadic employment at health food stores and co-op farms until he happened on the idea of creating something called Porn with Artistic Merit.

Two years later, after becoming an early pioneer of gape pornography working for a site very much like Blacks On Blondes, this son of an east coast psychoanalyst, who had long before determined that Art was not possible when part of his job entailed cataloguing receipts for job lots of douches at Costco, made the first of several trips to Thailand to cleanse his colon of the porn lifestyle.

We are aware from the beginning that Benjamin can’t fall very far with such supportive parents, but that somehow makes the poverty he endures that much more poignant. After exhausting the Santa Cruz area porn scene with homemade pissing and jackoff videos, Benjamin moves to Echo Park and lives off beans and toast, making a single disastrous foray into go-go dancing.

When he finally hits minimal paydirt, shooting interracial threeways for a website, the sudden presence of food is like similar passages in “Little House on the Prairie” after cruel winters. All the while, Benjamin’s parents have been growing more and more concerned, especially after he tells them what he’s really been up to.

I was reminded of the quiet disappointment exhibited by patrician patriarchs in movies like “Quiz Show” every time Benjamin talks with his parents. They can’t disown him, but they are terribly disappointed, especially when he uses “Art” and “porn” in the same sentence.

Meanwhile, he is making money, and he knows he is in the right place, even as thoughts of wasting his education nag at him.

Of Los Angeles he writes,

A thick Calvinistic sense of ambition pumped quietly through the streets

And he says of the decreasing returns on his own artistic ambition,

A bisexual woman had fucked me in the ass [on camera], true, but I could not rest on those laurels for long

Even as he gets the porn promotion and moves to a landscaped villa in Malibu, there to coordinate several genteel interracial gangbang scenes a week, Benjamin straddles the line between embracing his meal ticket and being disgusted by it.

(18-year-olds) radiated this weird false courage that that made me feel sick and broken inside

Yet Benjamin rarely samples the talent’s wares, even as contemporaries chided him it was the expected thing to do. But when he lands a non-performer girlfriend (the seen-it-all secretary of a porn agent), he drives her away by reenacting Brandon Iron’s “Slap Happy.”

“Gangbang” is filled with excellent observations like

“(penises like) veiny sovereign organisms that God had gremlinized and stuck on men’s bodies”

and moments of real despair that even Benjamin’s humor cannot disguise.

His boss, Pitts, is not a bad guy, but when Benjamin reports to him that a female performer has been so broken in her gangbang that she can’t go on, Pitts remarks that the gang can still come on her face without hurting her.

“American Gangbang,” a handsome hardbound volume from Gallery Books, is a well-edited extension of a 2009 paperback called “Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer.” The previous version left off as Benjamin was scrounging pennies, on the verge of his big porn break. The classy update clearly had much more attention paid to it by editors pruning bits of narrative messiness, as Benjamin comes off as less calculating and more the tortured observer.

But porn is messy, and “American Gangbang” resolves a little too neatly.

Because porn changes radically in a space of months, “Gangbang” loses a sense of universality by omitting dates; the quality of Benjamin’s isolation, for example, would have been much different if the people around him were texting and tweeting all the time. We’re also left with the false sense that the Benjamin character—because that’s what he is— is done with the adult business.

I contacted Benjamin about this. While some names were changed and others weren’t (such as those of Belladonna and agent Mark Spiegler), we are not given solid times for when things happened, and that threw me off.

“I’m usually obsessive about putting in dates, but for some reason didn’t include them in this tome,” says Benjamin. “This book covers early 2000 (Santa Cruz), [the move] to LA (Feb 2001) and shot in Malibu from summer 2002 until the end of that year.”

Benjamin went back to school and even shot gay porn for 18 months after the events of this story, but as he says, “that was beyond the scope of this book.”

I wish I did not know this (especially because I asked), as it makes the compelling narrative of “Gangbang” seem more contrived than I’d like. I wanted Benjamin to leave porn for good and marry his colonic irrigationist, like a House At Gape Corner Kenny Loggins.

But Benjamin only left porn for the titillating world of academia, where he is now mediating his experience by presenting a video series called “A Brief History of Porn.”

While I applaud Benjamin for cashing in on his porn travails in the sordid world of academia, “American Gangbang” succeeds in giving voice to that conflicted bunch who are in porn because they want to be.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Adding “Inches” to John Holmes biography; No Sex is the “Neu Sex”
See also: Buy “American Gangbang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *