March 14 / What we like

Bret Easton Ellis, Charlie Sheen & the Post-Empire Porn Star

Bret Easton Ellis is a king of culture; whether he’s detailing the lives of the rich and aimless or breaking down social mores for us plebs on Twitter, he’s always got his finger jammed on the proverbial pulse. And now he’s got a new project in the works that could shake the status quo to its very core. OMG!

The infamous novelist decoded a generation with his affectless tone and unaltered ennui. Worshipped by Gen X-ers, Ellis’ work in the ’80s and ’90s has stood the test of time, with his zeitgeist stories still as relevant today as ever. His most well known book, American Psycho, is considered transgressive art in the way that it purposely violates basic social sensibilities and flaunts its depravity. The book details the life of Patrick Bateman, an ’80s finance guy with too much money and a penchant for creatively cutting up women. Ellis almost always writes in the first person, a tactic that has led many to believe that the stories are at the least semi-autobiographical, if not totally tapping into some terrifyingly violent and misogynistic thing nesting inside the author’s brain. But instead his work is intended satire, a postmodern look at amoral youth culture of obsessive materialism, horrifying violence and shameless sex — all with a surrealistic twist. He’s well known for his depiction of extreme situations, which he recounts in an affectless manner. This scares people. American Psycho, a book filled to the brim with mutilated hookers and bloody sex, got quite the rise out of society with women’s groups like NOW (National Organization for Women) holding open external protests. The noise made it a best seller and it’s protagonist, Patrick Bateman, an absolute cult phenomenon, while also making Ellis a pariah of the literary community. He’s openly discussed his revulsion toward critics and the community as a whole, emphasizing the fact that he really couldn’t give less of a fuck (his words) when it comes to what others think of his work.

Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman & his pop music obsession

Patrick Bateman & his murder obsession

But as the times change, so does his writing. I mean really, 2005’s Lunar Park told the story of a man with a wife and kids living in the country — no celebrities, no poolside lines of cocaine and certainly no Dorsia. His work has taken on a more metafictional quality — the family in Lunar Park is terrorized by a toy Furby that comes to life and wreaks havoc — so it’s clear that he’s tapped into some sort of cultural shift — something is changing. Ellis’ gem of a Twitter account (definitely check it out @breteastonellis) let’s us in on his cultural commentary where he discusses topics ranging from the maintained relevancy of Taxi Driver to the fact that he’s the same age as his boyfriend’s parents. He also throws out some great, unfiltered entertainment industry musings — the months leading up the Oscars were a great read. But the most interesting concept that Ellis frequently discusses is his construction of Empire vs Post-Empire America. He formally introduced the idea in an article he wrote for the Daily Beast entitled Notes on Charlie Sheen and the End of Empire. The idea here is that Charlie Sheen’s mid-life crisis, which took place in the living rooms of thousands of Americans, kickstarted a cultural paradigm shift. Sheen’s transparency effectively slammed the door on the civil, well mannered, please and thank you American celebrity. Audiences aren’t interested in well rehearsed, perfectly plugged interviews anymore. Sheen’s unapologetic way of handling the situation was something we had never seen before. Unscripted, unsupervised honesty in the public realm of celebrity. A novel concept indeed.

The Charlie Sheen interviews weren't particularly easy


Sheen’s first TV interview following the drama (by the way, he passed all drug tests given)

Had to include this-my Facebook status after the 1st TV interview, I was in awe of his honesty

Now, if you were by chance living under a rock in early 2011 we have a little catching up to do. Charlie Sheen, pre-meltdown, was the highest paid actor on television and starred as a watered down, PG-13 version of himself (womanizer, booze hound, all around bad boy) on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. The milquetoast comedy was one of those inexplicable hits and by Sheen’s 8th and final season on it he was earning $1.8 million per episode. The shows long run gained him three Emmy and two Golden Globe noms and despite tabloid rumors everything seemed to be smooth sailing. Until Capri came along. In October of 2010 police were called to an NYC hotel where Sheen was shacked up with porn star (and apparent escort) Capri Anderson. After getting blitzed out of his mind Sheen allegedly began threatening Anderson as he believed she had tried to steal his pricey watch. Like any smart whore, Anderson ran to the bathroom and dialed the authorities while Sheen, still naked, trashed the hotel room.

Two & a Half Men

Capri Anderson: she & many of the other hookers sold Sheen's story to various news outlets

NY Post cover

He was hospitalized for an “allergic reaction” to medication (so Empire). Come January, Sheen took a nice relaxing Vegas vacation full of porn stars, strippers and briefcases full of cocaine, and yet still managed to be in on time for work come Monday morning. Later that month he was hospitalized for abdominal pains from “laughing too hard” and once released began a rehab program — his third rehabilitation attempt in the past year — at Sober Valley Lodge, aka his living room. The show’s production is put on hiatus. Tabloids are running wild. Charlie is running wild. He ends up coming in as a guest on The Dan Patrick radio show where he expresses outrage at the show’s creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre for holding up production. Lorre responds to the rant by airing a sign at the end of that week’s episode that read “If Charlie Sheen outlives me I’m going to be really pissed.” And war is on. Sheen’s next few weeks are filled with nonstop ranting on various radio shows. They are honestly too good to be missed, so below are a few clips from The Alex Jones Show.

About the porn stars selling stories of time spent with him: “If I bring up these turds, these… losers, there’s no reason to then bring them back into the fold because I have real fame, they have nothing. They have zero. They have that night. And I will forget about them as the last image of them exits my beautiful home. And they will get out there and they will sell me and they will lose. Bring me a frickin’ challenge. It just ain’t there.”

About Alcoholics Anonymous: “I have a disease? Bullshit. I cured it… with my mind. it’s all good guys… I can’t use the word sober because that’s a term from those people, and I have cleansed myself. I have closed my eyes and in a nanosecond I cured myself from this ridiculous… It’s just the work of sissies. The only thing I’m addicted to right now is winning. You know? This bootleg cult arrogantly referred to as AA now supports a 5 percent success rate. My success rate is 100 percent. Do the math! … One of their stupid mottos is ‘Don’t be special, be one of us.’ Newsflash: I am special and I will never be one of you. ‘Oh, we have to all sit in here and touch ourselves and frown.’ Well, you don’t look like you’re having a lot of fun. I’m going to hang out with these two smokin’ hotties and fly privately around the world. It might be lonely up here but I sure like the view.”
For the record, Sheen passed each drug test given to him by various news outlets during interviews. He actually was clean.

About his public image: “I’m so tired of pretending like my life isn’t perfect and bitchin’ and just winning every second. I’m not perfect, and bitching and just delivering the goods at every f—ing turn. Because look what I’m dealing with, man — I’m dealing with fools and trolls. I’m dealing with soft targets.”

If you didn’t read up on this mess when it was going on I must suggest that you do so immediately. Sheen spewed a lot of gold — Sheen joined Twitter in the midst of this and broke the Guinness World Record for reaching one million followers the fastest (a little over a day.) Everyone wanted more of Sheen’s golden nuggets of truth. Well, gold to us. But to Chuck Lorre and the head honchos over at CBS he officially branded himself as a liability and a major threat. The remaining four episodes of the season were cancelled and Sheen declared that he would do the 9th season of the show only if Lorre was not involved and if he received a 50% raise (don’t forget he’s the highest paid actor on TV.) How amazing is it that they still hadn’t fired him yet? Incredible. But then, in an open letter to TMZ, Sheen sealed the deal once and for all and got himself fired:

What does this say about Chaim Levine after he tried to use his words to judge and attempt to degrade me. I gracefully ignored this folly for 177 shows … I fire back once and this contaminated little maggot can’t handle my power and can’t handle the truth. I wish him nothing but pain in his silly travels especially if they wind up in my octagon. Clearly I have defeated this earthworm with my words — imagine what I would have done with my fire breathing fists. I urge all my beautiful and loyal fans who embraced this show for almost a decade to walk with me side-by-side as we march up the steps of justice to right this unconscionable wrong. Remember these are my people … not yours…we will continue on together… Charlie Sheen

Many believe that Sheen referring to Lorre by his proper Jewish name Chaim Levine was intended as an anti-semitic jab. As it was the last straw in this epic episode it clearly must have struck a chord with Mr Levine//Lorre. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that this very public meltdown ushered in a whole new world of Post-Empire existence. According to Ellis, Post-Empire is defined by a radical attitude asserting that the lies of Empire do not in fact exist. It is about a new kind of self-expression, one that is raw and undiluted. It is about the very nature of celebrity — because now not giving one single fuck is what matters most, and what will make the public love you all the more. It’s about saying shit just to get a reaction. It’s about reality — warts and all. It’s about being a genuinely interesting and real person. Fame in America is changing, people don’t get famous for their talent like they used to — instead now we are watching a revolving door of extremists, lapping up every thrown drink, side eye and hair pull. Fame has thus become much, much shorter and requires the person to possess something truly captivating, if even for a moment. It is also important to note that a central aspect of Post-Empire celebrity is the acceptance, if not total welcoming, of the media. The days of cursing out photogs are over and punching a paparazzo is so passé. Celebrities have to play by the rules — they have to accept the power of TMZ and realize that public mockery is inescapable. And those who do, ultimately win. Which just happens to be Sheen’s meltdown motto: WINNING!

Video Sheen made with FunnyorDie.com mocking his own antics

The days of successful high gloss PR are over, and that is part of why the Empire TV execs were so threatened by Sheen — he effectively eliminated the public relations taboo. As Ellis succinctly puts it, Sheen falsifies the myth that men outgrow the adolescent pursuit of pleasure, the dream of life with no responsibility. And this made Sheen’s month long conversation with the public that much more irresistible. He had no shame, offered no apologies and made sure to tell each stoic, ultra-serious interviewer that he had one hell of a time.

Sheen's ex Denise Richards and their daughters Sam & Lola Rose

Sheen's ex Brooke Mueller and sons Bob & Max

Sheen's "goddesses" -- porn stars he paid to live with him in 2011

The dinosaurs still trying to pretend they’re living in the Empire world order complain that Post-Empire characters are not likable enough. They aren’t saying all the right things, holding the right diseased babies, kissing the right ass. Sheen’s display of unrelenting transparency and total contempt for Empire standards was the extreme display that has set off an insatiable craving for extremist culture in America. The Kardashians and their every venture. The cast and audience of the absurdity that is Jersey Shore. Gaga and her egg encased entrance to the Grammy’s. Nicki Minaj and her alter egos. John Mayer and that PR nightmare of a Playboy interview where he comes off like an 8th grade douche bag and total pompous moron (but we loved every second of hate-reading it!) Banksy and his every venture — except unlike the Kardashians he’s been actively seeking Post-Empire culture, while they are more just capitalizing on what sells. Eminem and his Marshall Mathers LP. Ellis praises his transparent rage and the fearless faux depiction of his wife’s murder by his own hand. Empire was tasteful, well mannered and civil, but those things have little meaning in Post-Empire life. All the Empire lies we just let slide seem so much more absurd in the Post-Empire context — Britney’s virginity, OJ’s innocence, Travolta’s sexuality, Anna Nicole’s marriage(s), and Michael’s entire life. And let’s not even begin with the politicians spewing PC outrage in order to hide their often oppressive or bigoted true beliefs and motives. The almighty American ego has been shredded, the patronizing political correctness is evaporating and realism is slowly taking over.

Jersey Shore

The Kardashian sisters

Gaga's egg at the Grammy's

Banksy's controversial depiction of looters in New Orleans post-Katrina

Michael Jackson & young boys

So it will be incredibly interesting to see the developments of a new project that Ellis is working on — a film called The Canyons. Tagline: It’s Not The Hills (Empire “reality” at its finest.) He tweeted a few months back that he was beginning work on a micro-budget film noir piece and now it seems the project is coming to fruition with shooting starting this July. The plot revolves around sex, glamour and youth in Los Angeles (surprise, surprise) and will be directed by Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull fame. The totally Post-Empire element of all this is that Ellis wants to cast James Deen as the lead. A controversial choice considering Deen is a hardcore porn actor, but then again Ellis is no stranger to controversy. Ellis actually first discovered Deen when his producer on the film Bait emailed him a few articles about the porn star’s popularity, asking if it was Empire or Post. Ellis’ response? “Totally in the top ten of post-Empire!” Ellis, intrigued, tracked Deen down for dinner and ever since then the two have been engaging one another on Twitter — Ellis explains that the lead “has to act and be full frontal naked banging girls and guys realistically.” Deen responded “Party.” The casting isn’t just to rile up public reaction though. Deen is a phenomenon in the porn world and could be a legitimate actor. He’s 26, 150 lbs, 5’8 and Jewish — the tallith from his Bar Mitzvah still hangs in his bedroom. He doesn’t have pecs bigger than your head, tribal tats or pierced nipples. Ellis describes him as having a “more democratized look.” He holds his leading ladies hand, makes startlingly intense eye contact and has been called a sexual savant for his effortlessly impeccable timing. What really has made him such a big deal though is the fact that his movies have opened up a segment of the market that pornographers never even considered entering: teenage girls. His boy next door appeal, baby blues and fresh faced enthusiasm have made him into a highly unexpected teen heart throb — one who garners Bieber-level praise and pleads from young girls across the country. ABC Nightline did a fear mongering segment about him, warning parents that this sweet little Jewish boy was perverting their innocent daughters. One female teenage fan gushes, “he’s the Ryan Gosling of porn!” Another says, “He looks like somebody that I could actually see at a coffee shop or something and actually approach.” The whole piece revolved around Deen being a threat, which he finds wholly unfair (so totally Empire of them): “”I’m not preying on America’s youth and I’m not trying to captivate that audience so I don’t feel I should be held responsible,” he protests. “I just have a few specific things that are a draw for an underage teenage audience.” Parents watched as reporters slammed him for an appeal he has no control over, while their daughters uploaded more images of his dreamy face (and other body parts) to their Deen devoted Tumblrs.

James Deen

At work

He frequently stars in parodies like this Batman&Robin one, Family Guy, Simpsons, etc

Fan art painting of James Deen's face from Tumblr

American porno is a $13 billion dollar industry and it turns out that one third of viewers are actually female. Within the industry, female actors out number males 5 to 1. There is a movie featuring every kind of girl imaginable, but when it comes to straight men the offering is pretty standard: juice head mastodons who tend to serve as more of a head and torso-less entity, humping away while the frame tightens around the female. After managing to get his foot in the door (sending a few well choreographed dick pics to well connected people can work wonders) Deen successfully carved his own niche by being the guy who doesn’t belong. Not to say that he’s ill equipped for the job, he certainly isn’t, but his presence is often met by some confusion, particularly from men. He claims that of the viewer feedback he receives the majority of the negative is from other dudes — they want him to bulk up because it’ll make the girls “like” him more.

Just a skinny little white boy

Deen represents the dawn of a new porn star and if he does make it into The Canyons this summer it will be a major transitional moment in pop culture. The New York Observer explains that youth today are more sex-positive than ever before — they’re unashamed and have a healthy relationship with sex. Unlike previous generations, they weren’t taught that sex is a bad, dirty thing. Ellis comments, “The dissemination of pornography has been this hugely liberating thing. You don’t go to a movie theater on Vine and sit in the dark by yourself or nervously walk to a newsstand and buy an issue of Hustler. James has grown up with it in a way, so he’s got a casual, comfortable relationship with it. Men of my generation don’t.” Deen is fully representative of this dissemination — he’s wanted to be in porn since kindergarden when he found a discarded nudie mag in the woods behind his house. And his enthusiasm for his work does not go unnoticed. In 2009 he was the youngest actor ever to receive the AVN award for Best Male Performance — and then he came back the next year and won it again. He’s been in the industry for 8 years now, performed in thousands of films and has transitioned to working behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. What’s also interesting about Deen is that he runs a daily updated Twitter and blog (HIGHLY NSFW) chronicling his love of burritos, metal and anal sex. He’s self-deprecating, funny, and a “sensitive boy with closed door swagger.” His Twitter mentions are filled with marriage proposals from tweens and sex wishes from adults, both male and female. His blog details his sexual adventures in a surprisingly accessible, non-creepy manner. Like this, “a few days ago i did a scene for angela white with angela white. it was amazing. she and i are good at banging each other. i had all these awesome pictures but then they all got deleted. lucky for me i did another scene with her today!!!!! boom!!!! more pictures of sexy big boobed angela white!!!” Or this, “today i woke up super early, flew from kink.com to la and then went to set and banged dana dearmond. dana is rad and she and i share a brain. it is freaky, sometimes but also makes for really good sex. after the scene she and i bromanced it up at some french restaurant. le petit something or another… i don’t know. it wasn’t that great. it wasn’t bad either but my standards for french food are pretty high. i expect perfection whenever i eat anywhere with the word le in the title. it was what i would consider “diner french food”. so as i said, pretty good, not great but not bad. just food. yummy yummy food.” He comes off like he would’ve been your best guy friend in high school — non-threatening, sweet as pie and constantly hungry. And it seems that’s just who he is: an awesome guy who loves his job and is really, really good at it. So good at it that he just might make the first ever successful transition to the mainstream, while still keeping his day job.

Fan girl crushes

A teenage girl speaks out on healthy sexuality via Tumblr

This is about as Post-Empire as it gets. Deen stated that he would absolutely continue to do porn if he started getting mainstream movie roles — it’s always been his life goal, why would he give it up? He’s in fact somewhat wary of the mainstream and does not consider him getting into it as the achievement of some sort of legitimacy. He explains, “The only reason I’m hoping to do this film is because it’s with Bret Easton Ellis and it’s something I can really get behind. If it was Steven Spielberg I wouldn’t do it. I’d say: ‘How much are you going to pay me because I have to work harder to do a good job. And I don’t get to have sex.'” I honestly believe that this statement is a bit false though — Deen is open about how shy and neurotic he is (he credits his “Jew brain”) — he wouldn’t even get up on stage to accept his first AVN award because of nerves and the crushing pressure he felt for winning the award so early. Afraid that his career had peaked he sneaked out for a cigarette, leaving a random woman from his table to accept the award on his behalf. But The Guardian (and many other loyal JD lovers) have faith in him, “He is the first porn star to also embody the traditional clean-cut qualities of the romantic leading man – the Tom Cruise of porn. Fans point to a certain courtliness and sophistication in his manners. He looks his partners in the eye, holds their hands, offers direction.” His teenage fans rant and rave about the “flashes of tenderness” that occur in his films, even if he’s doing hardcore bondage//punishment flicks (of which he does many.) There is a versatility about him that makes for a great performance, and it’s something that will hold up even with his clothes on. Deen being accepted into mainstream Hollywood, and not just as a gimmick but as a hand-picked actor to play a tailor-made role, would mean that more substantial change is on the way. A more relaxed, open and accepting attitude toward sex among the general public could mean more realistic sex-ed in schools (no more nonsensical abstinence only), healthier parent//child relationships, less teen pregnancies (one in three American girls gets pregnant before the age of 20) and a society that’s more removed from the politically correct, uptight social restrictions of our Empire past. America, land of the free!

PostScript: After I finished writing this I realized that the evolving nature of porn was portrayed in a dually in this post. We have James Deen on the brink of mainstream work opportunities — an impressive and rare situation — and then we have the porn stars that double as prostitutes for the rich and famous. Girls like Capri Anderson, Kacey Jordan and other popular female porn stars are essentially all on a menu for these men like Charlie Sheen. It’s interesting to see how the industry, like everything else, is experiencing the shift to Post-Empire realism. On the one hand, they are professional actors and if they are talented enough why should there be restrictions on the type of films they’re allowed to be in? And then on the other hand, they are all paid sex workers — and whether or not they’re on film does not change the fundamental nature of their job. So escorting and hooking is no far leap from a regular day at the office. America’s shift in its approach toward healthy sexuality is an incredibly positive thing, and although there will no doubt be harsh criticism from conservatives it seems this shift is real. Doors are opening and things really are changing — it’s an exciting time.

Post-PostScript: I am definitely now going to go through life constantly categorizing and analyzing things as Empire or Post-Empire. Damn you Ellis!

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