Tinhouse Books: We Did Porn by Zak Smith

I finally got around to finishing reading Zak Sabbath’s altporn memoir We Did Porn. The first chapter of We Did Porn is a fast read and really fun, but, despite loving the beginning, I somehow had trouble reading the rest.

The first chapter chronicles Zak Sabbath (then named Zak Smith) falling for Joanna Angel (weirdly called Joanna Divine for the purpose of this book) while painting her. In the first chapter, Zak describes his date with Joanna Angel with a self-deprecating but knowing sense of humor. He is smitten and she has sex with some other guy in the restaurant bathroom in the middle of their date and then cries at the table and the table is shaped like a bed. New York seems to have weird restaurants where you can spend a Valentines Day in bed at a restaurant. This was a creatively very productive date, as Joanna Angel and Burning Angel got the Fuck Me in the Bathroom DVD and site out of it and Zak got the kickstart for his We Did Porn book out of it.

The books goes on to chronicle what Zak seems to view as his descent into porn. He points out his fine art cred in a way which is funny and entertaining to read, but it also kind of seems like he is trying to suggest he is somehow better than many of the other people working in porn. He credits some porn people as sharing his love of author Thomas Pynchon and stuff like that, but there is the sense that he mentions the exceptions. It is possible that, because his focus is altporn, he really is talking about the exceptions.

It is hard to explain, but it is like the book gets less smart once Zak starts making porn and not just painting pornstars. Like, in the part where he talks about dating Joanna Angel, he has analogies from other forms of media and he seems really self-aware and like he knows what’s what and is speaking to universal truths. In the part where he talks about making porn, there is a lot of stuff which just does not ring true. Like Zak keeps talking about how porn is the biggest business in the whole world, when I don’t think you have to know that much about business to know that can’t be right. Blue Blood‘s Amelia G did a whole comparative breakdown of complex industry benchmarks to demonstrate how wrong it is to say porn is the hugest industry, but, although understanding what a market capitalization is might be over my head, I still knew while reading We Did Porn that what Zak was saying about how rich porn makes everyone had to be wrong. Zak says he is bad at doing porn, so maybe it would make sense that he is not rich from porn, but most of the people he writes about do not seem rich either, so I do not know where he got the idea. Everybody makes mistakes, but, when I see one super wrong thing where someone is supposed to be expert, it makes me question everything else I read there.

I think that the other thing which made the later parts of We Did Porn harder to read was the way everyone had a fake name. I think most porn performers use a stage name or a bunch of stage names to begin with, but Zak calls almost everyone by a second fake name. Maybe the book publisher didn’t want to give like Burning Angel publicity, so it had to be called Divine Things with Joanna Divine or something like that. It makes it harder to read though because every page had me trying to figure out who I was reading about. This is probably not so much of an issue for someone who knows nothing about altporn and doesn’t care who Joanna Angel is or for something who is really expert in altporn, especially video altporn, and can easily tell who all the fake stage names are referring to.

One of the biggest porn films Zak Sabbath performed in was Hospital (called Medical in Zak Smith’s memoir). APN’s Domina Doll wrote up Hospital when it came out. I can’t seem to find much Zak Sabbath porn since Hospital was shot at the end of 2008. I know the title of the book is We Did Porn and not We Are Doing Porn, but I wonder if he quit or was forced into retirement. I am curious as to what the altporn video industry response to the book was. The book was favorably reviewed by Blue Blood, Penthouse, Fleshbot, and Girls Gone Wild Magazine. I didn’t know there was a Girls Gone Wild Magazine. Anyway, of those media companies which gave We Did Porn favorable reviews, none were mentioned in the book and I wonder what the people he wrote about think.

So I am on the fence about this book. Parts of it are hard to read and not very enjoyable and parts of it are easy to read and laugh out loud funny.

we did porn
Tinhouse Books writes:

Q&A with WE DID PORN’s Zak Smith

Meg Storey: In your memoir, We Did Porn, you critique the art world and the alt-porn world. What’s your take on the publishing world?

Zak Smith: I still don’t know much about it. I do feel like the standard “canon” of which books are good is more accurate than the “canon” of what artworks are good. Probably because in literature, authors opinions count for more than critics’ opinions, whereas in art it’s the other way around. I mean, people are going to trust a John Updike blurb on that back of your book way more than the opinion of some guy at Kirkus Review. Another factor might be that it takes a long time to read a book-it’s hard to tell yourself you liked Ulysses if you put in something like twenty hours of sitting quietly and reading and weren’t actually having fun-so if you say to yourself you like it, it means you probably actually did like it. On the other hand, in order to tell yourself you like some stupid Franz Hals or Andy Warhol painting you only have to look at it for like three seconds. There it is, you saw it. So it’s easier for art people to just be posers who just say they like shit for some non-actual-enjoyment-related-reason.

MS: How did this book come about? Which came first, the drawings or the words? At what point did you realize you were writing a book?

ZS: The pictures came first. I usually just draw whatever’s going on around me anyway. I started writing things down long before I realized it was a book. When I did that first movie I just thought, “Every time something strange happens I’ll write it down and write down what I was thinking.” Pretty soon I realized I had three hundred pages…




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