Porn goes mainstream

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Burt Reynolds got an Oscar nomination in 1998 for playing an idealistic pornography producer in “Boogie Nights,” which portrayed in a very unflattering way the so-called golden age of the San Fernando Valley-based porn industry in the 1970s.

Mr. Reynolds had researched the part by visiting the sets of some porno films, and he emphatically told me at the time that the porn actors all wanted to cross over into mainstream Hollywood but that there “wasn’t a chance” it would happen. They had decided to take the low road and could never come back.

Hard as it is for some to believe, Hollywood has always had its standards, but lately they’ve become more like guidelines. Pornography is moving closer and closer to Hollywood’s spotlight.

The most hyped new show on television is “Skin,” airing on Fox and starring Ron Silver as a porn mogul. Ironically, “Skin” doesn’t show much skin, but it does push boundaries that network executives would not have even dreamed about pushing only a few years ago.

Nineteen-year-old Olivia Wilde plays Mr. Silver’s daughter. She has a different impression of the adult entertainment industry than Mr. Reynolds did. She told Variety, “Porn is such a part of our culture that it’s kind of ridiculous that it’s still viewed as an underground cult … consider it like the modeling industry, only more amusing.”

HBO is planning to run a six-part documentary on adult entertainment called “Pornucopia.” Showtime’s “Family Business” will follow the life of porn star Adam Glasser in early 2004. Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing “The Girl Next Door” in March. The film depicts a former porn star and the boy who falls for her.

“Inside Deep Throat,” a documentary, will examine the cultural influences of the most successful porn film ever made. The hit Broadway musical, “Avenue Q,” features a number about Internet porn.

Perhaps porn’s biggest foray into the mainstream comes from porn queen Jenna Jameson, who was described by one Internet porn addict as a “cultural icon.” Her book, “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star,” comes out in May. She recently appeared on the cover of New York magazine and was featured in an E! True Hollywood Story profile in August. Ms. Jameson is on the verge of breaking the Hollywood barrier that Mr. Reynolds said six years ago could never be done. But Burt’s so retro.

Ms. Jameson has signed with the video games division of the Endeavor talent agency, which represents Ben Affleck, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner. Her picture currently graces a three-story-tall Times Square billboard. Abercrombie & Fitch, Pony and Jackson Guitars have used her in ad campaigns obviously aimed at a young demographic.

Network television offered her “Who wants to Be a Porn Star,” a knockoff of “American Idol,” in which she would have played a Simon Cowell-like role. She turned down the gig, citing her concerns about influencing young girls. At least she has higher standards than the networks.

So, what’s going on here? Why the new more tolerant attitude toward porn in Tinseltown? One explanation is money. Web site subscriptions and fees account for $8 million to $10 million. Adult Video News, a trade publication, reported more than $4 billion in film sales and rentals last year.

But “follow the money” doesn’t explain it all. I think moral relativism has never been more, well, relative. I’ve witnessed an unbelievable coarsening of values in the media ever since Monica Lewinsky became a household name.

In the common era we’ll call Before Monica, there were no references to oral sex in prime time or even late-night television. But in the contemporary After Monica era, the floodgates have opened. I remember having a spirited discussion with a mainstream comedian who wanted to use the “bj” word on a late-night show. I suggested to him that the word was inappropriate on national television. He was incredulous, and sarcastically asked me if I had read the numerous newspaper articles about Monica.

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