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December 19, 2003

Yes, yes! Oh, God, yes, The New Yorker.

Daniel Radosh

Like any Romenskoid, I have been eagerly awaiting New Yorker film critic David Denby's new memoir, American Sucker, ever since hearing that it includes a confession of his addiction to Internet pornography. Sure, I didn't expect it would be as dryly witty as Anthony Lane's confession of porn addiction, nor as reliable as Lisa Schwarzbaum's, as frisky as Nathan Rabin's, or as filled with bizarrely irrelevant pop-culture references as Elvis Mitchell's. But I hoped that, given the nature of the topic, it would still be more exciting than a David Denby movie review.

So I was disappointed when I finally got my hands on a copy and found that the porn section spans a mere three pages (12-14), and is barely smutty at all.

Or is it?

Herewith, Denby's complete PG-13 confessional, annotated for maXXXimum salaciousness. It will not surprise you that most of the links are NOT SAFE FOR WORK, or, if you are David Denby, for anywhere. (You'll notice that I started to run out of steam after the first paragraph, but, honestly, that's about how long the joke is good for; also, some of these links are dead already and may no longer make much sense.)


"For the most part, I stayed home in the apartment that I loved. And instead of going out, I entered in that summer of 1999 a dark and empty tunnel, an enclosure illuminated along the walls by a flash of naked men and women. I had discovered porn on the Internet. In the solitude of night, and in my little study at home, where mighty volumes of Plato, St. Augustine, Hegel, Montaigne, Nietzsche — hardly my regular reading but a recent obsessionloomed over the desk, the kneeling young women awkwardly turned their eyes to the camera. They often had long and beautiful hair that they must have laboriously cared for; they looked for approval not from their partners but from the camera, which I thought was the true object of their desire. They wanted to be seen. And the men, ugly and strong, sullen, tattooed some of them, thick-membered, concentrating on their erection and their orgasm, lest they lose either — they were amateurs, not models, exercising the democratic art form of exhibitionism, with me as their willing audience. They all wanted to be seen, but I didn't want to be seen."

"'The worst thing that can be said of pornography,' Gore Vidal wrote in 1966, 'is not that it leads to ‘anti-social' acts but to the reading of more pornography.' I'm not sure that's the worst thing that can be said of pornography. But I know what Vidal means: Obsession leads not to satisfaction but to more obsession. Pornography is addictive. And Vidal wrote that sentence long before the development of the Internet, which so easily feeds the desire for more that it seems to mock appetite itself. You enter a porn site, try to back out, and get sent not to the previous screen but spilled sideways to another erotic site. Asian Frenzy? Latino Studs? Oh, why not? At least take a look. Even when you get out, mocking e-mails arrive, by the hundreds. The notes were confidential, blunt, chummy. Hello, Fellow Pervs, Kinksters, and Lifestylers… More goodies for you this week. Several new free sex stories are on-line (including part 7 of the My Wife Stella series). Stella! A man who was married to her, or said that he was, shared her with anonymous millions. Did it save his marriage?

"I had no desire to "chat"; I wanted only to gaze. After a while, as I spilled from site to site, I felt not that I was controlling and discovering porn on the ‘Net but that it was discovering me. It was seeking me out, reading me, and it found out things about me that I didn't know. I continued to review movies, I had dinner with friends, took care of the boys when it was my turn. I fed the cat, read the Times and the Journal, but I felt, at times, as if I were breaking into fragments. I had this appetite and that one, but what held them together?

"The Internet is always spoken of as a medium of connection, but it is also a medium of isolation that surfs the user and breaks him into separate waves going nowhere. There was the movie hunger, and the lust hunger, and the early stirrings of the money hunger. But where was the core, reconciling and joining the many elements together? In the tomes above the computer? My book about the classics was devoted to Columbia's version of the "core curriculum." That's why the big boys were up there, in the shelves above the monitor. What would they have said? Plato, observing a man staring at shadows in a cave, would not have been in the least surprised. But Hegel, I imagined, would have been dismayed by the passivity of erotic contemplation, and Nietzsche, I was sure, would have been disgusted by the absence of vigorous, joyful activity — fighting, dancing, revelry, lovemaking — even though Nietzsche, poor crazy bastard, was as terrified of women as any man who ever lived."

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