The Boyfriend Experience: Can Bret Easton Ellis Mainstream Porn Star James Deen?

In defense of the not-so-nice Jewish boy.

tumblr lls2prkgdv1qgwlyuo1 500 The Boyfriend Experience: Can Bret Easton Ellis Mainstream Porn Star James Deen?The first time I met James Deen was in a co-ed bathroom. I couldn’t tell you where. He was in the middle of a foursome, having sex with a sweat-soaked blonde propped up against a porcelain sink who looked like she’d just swallowed all the MDMA in L.A. A friend told me one way to spot fake college porn is by the extras the producers hire to stand around and pretend to be students. Sure enough, a group of guys who might have trouble spelling the word “campus” were watching, slack-jawed, from the doorway. I was watching too, except from my MacBook in Brooklyn.

As even the intermittent online porn viewer might admit, an endless cavalcade of uploads means scenes that are initially titillating can quickly become trite. “It’s like with puppy videos,” a girlfriend explained. “Now I need a puppy, spooning a panda bear, hugging a sloth.” Next to the usual staged moaning and manufactured filth, the couple by the sink offered the same kind of novelty. Mr. Deen, credibly unaware of the cameras, splayed his hands in her hair and whispered something imperceptible. Whatever he said, it was working.

I’m hardly the first XX chromosome to have noticed. In a $13 billion industry driven by the single-minded pursuit of the solitary male orgasm, Mr. Deen has made a name for himself by appealing to the opposite sex. In the past six months, his allure has become something of a pop culture curiosity, a cipher about female desire that isn’t actually that hard to decode. The first real test of his crossover appeal, however, may come via one of his more literary admirers, Bret Easton Ellis, who wants to cast Mr. Deen in his new micro-budget noir movie, The Canyons. The project, which starts shooting in July, will be directed by Paul Schrader, the screenwriter and director behind Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and American Gigolo.

But before I could parse Mr. Deen’s mainstream potential, I had to figure out his name.

“Brown hair, kinda cute, really wants to get the girl off?” I asked my friend. “Oh, I actually know who you’re talking about. And he’s Jewish!” she squeaked, as though her Bubbe would approve. We were at a Korean restaurant in the East Village. She grabbed my iPhone and pulled up a lengthy profile in Good magazine about Mr. Deen. Before the banchan arrived, I Instapapered the story for the subway ride home. I was 27 when I swapped out erotica for something more visually stimulating. According to Good, many of Mr. Deen’s teenage fans are much, much younger.

After the article wound its way around the web, Slate was left squinting its eyes at “Porn Women Like to Watch,” as though it were a novel concept. Nightline followed up this February with an obligatory finger-wagging segment about Mr. Deen’s underage enthusiasts, as though he were a gateway drug to Rick Santorum’s worst nightmare. The Nightline segment in turn prompted sex toy company Doc Johnson to mold a nine-inch, life-sized latex tribute targeted to Mr. Deen’s “very enthusiastic fan base.”

Although the latest Nielsen ratings reveal that a third of the visitors to porn sites are female, apparently, it hadn’t occurred to anyone in the San Fernando Valley that girls might want to fantasize about the dude next door too.

At 5′ 8″ and 26-years-old, Mr. Deen is slight of build, fresh of face, and looks like that cute boy from your high school Spanish class. A little bro-y, maybe. Sophomoric, definitely. But he has a surprisingly witty Gmail handle and a sly sense of humor. He could be your boyfriend, if your boyfriend knew his way around a ball gag and just when to pull your hair.

“He doesn’t look like those mastodons with their bleached hair and their waxed pecs flexing,” Mr. Ellis explained by phone from his Los Angeles apartment. “It’s a more democratized look.”

Mr. Deen taps into a female fantasy that hasn’t seemed to interest porn studios much: a sensitive boy with closed-door swagger—the flip side of a good girl with a dirty mind. Onscreen he seems to exhibit savant-level responsiveness to his partner’s cues, anticipating (correctly, by the sounds of it) when she’d like to be kissed and when she’d like to be slapped.

His facility with the latter has incited a rising heart rate of moral unease, even among some of his co-stars. Mr. Deen, who has recently broken into directing, films about a scene a day—roughly one bondage and S&M scene for every three straight ones. Online, his teenage fans tweet and tumble and make gifs about his devastating eye contact—even as his co-stars lie bound and gagged at his waist. “There are these weird long flashes of tenderness that you don’t really see in straight pornography,” noted Mr. Ellis.

“I’ve been into rough sex pretty much my whole sexual life and so I’m not, like, bad at it,” Mr. Deen told me by phone last month, on his 26th birthday. “I don’t know how to say it without being a hideous prick, but I’m pretty good at having rough sex. It got to the point where a lot of girls who aren’t into that type of sex were afraid to work with me because they thought I was going to slap them in the face or something.  But I only do that if the girl is into it. There’s no reason to choke somebody if they don’t like getting choked. Then you’re basically being an asshole.”

When the two finally met, Mr. Ellis filed that type of misunderstanding under something they had in common. “We chatted amiably about the unearned feminist hysteria we both received at certain points in our careers,” Mr. Ellis happily tweeted out to his 250,000 followers in January.

Mr. Deen has spoken publicly about abandoning certain “porn star punishment” sites for what he called “weird and sort of preachy reasons.” The sites he works for now, like Brazzers.com and Kink.com, make girls sign “limit sheets” that rate their comfort level on “every sort of sexual thing you can imagine,” he said. “Everyone has to sign it, the director, the top, bottom, everybody.

“It’s not like I’m beating women or sending messages that it’s okay,” he added. “Actually the opposite. Why don’t we just say it? The submissive is always the dominant party.”

On the blog A Feminist Sub (as in submissive), the twentysomething author analyzed her “crush” on Mr. Deen last June. “His scenes show how sex can be ‘degrading’ without being for-real degrading,” she wrote. “He does a lot of BDSM porn, and plays the dominant role, but is not a prick about it.” She also noted his exuberant approach to oral stimulation, which rarely gets as much screen time as when the genders are reversed, pointing to a particularly stirring 20 minute session, during which Mr. Deen was moved to “growl.”

There does seem to be something in Mr. Deen’s approachability and eagerness to please that makes conversations about pornography—and how women consume it—suddenly permissible in polite company. Of course, not everyone thinks inspiring girls to talk about porn, often with each other, is a good thing. Just ask Nightline.

Comments

  1. Good web site. On your blogs quite interest and i will tell a friends.

  2. Admiring the hard work you put into your blog and in depth information you present. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material. Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.