“The medium is the message.” The influential communication theory philosopher Marshall McLuhan has said that time and time again. This adage couldn’t be more applicable for the adult entertainment industry.
Stigmatizing the industry as a business of physical superficiality, society often stereotypes adult film actors as brainless or egotistical. But does this stereotype apply to Ron Jeremy — the most influential celebrity of the porn industry?
For someone who has made a career out of exploiting sexual intimacy, it is surprising how Jeremy’s persona contrasts the aforementioned label. Wearing a faded olive shirt and dusty Crocs when he visited USC on Thursday to speak on the “An Evening with the Adult Film Industry” panel, Jeremy communicated with personality, humor and modesty as he spoke to the Daily Trojan about himself, his life and his work.
Daily Trojan: Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography by saying “I know [obscenity/pornography] when I see it.” How do you define pornography, and do you agree with Stewart’s statement?
Ron Jeremy: It’s a media that is not [there] to give you a storyline, but it’s supposed to get you excited. It’s a socially defined value, as in the Miller Test. What could be perfectly normal in New York would be offensive in Alabama.
With the Internet, the community has gone crazy. Stewart’s definition cannot be applied through the Internet, as how can it be persecuted. It’s hard to say; one man’s pleasure can be another man’s obscenity.
DT: Is there a difference between performance art and pornography?
Jeremy: Not necessarily. Pornography has this negative connotation to it. A lot of filmmakers in porn do not like the word “pornography.” They call it adult material or entertainment.
I don’t really care. Again, I would call it both. … If performance art involves watching people cook, obviously it is not pornography. If a performance art involves genitalia to give you a boner, then that’s performance art with a dash of pornography. It works.
DT: Your career as an adult film actor began in the late 1970s. In your view, how has the porn industry changed in the last 30 years? Has it improved or has it worsened?
Jeremy: There’s too much to tell. It has worsened since there are now all these tests we have to take for every disease known to mankind. Back in the old days, HIV didn’t even exist. It [was a] fun-loving, hippy-dippy freedom-loving, sexual revolution, Woodstock, anti-Vietnam kind of attitude; it was part of the ’60s. As Richard Belzil said, ‘If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t really there.’ It got better because it became legitimate. Girls like Jenna Jameson made $17 million selling her company to Playboy.
Girls realized that this could be a big business. That was a good thing; it became big money. In Deep Throat, the actors made $16,000. Girls have gotten prettier over the years, since more girls want to do it. With that comes selectivity; girls only want to work with their boyfriends or girl-to-girl. Business has gotten a lot more technological. I saw the birth of VHS, then the DVDs, CD-ROMs; I’ve seen porn enter the modern age of technology.
DT: Throughout your years working in the adult film industry, what has been your best experience? Is there anything you would like to have done? Do you regret anything?
Jeremy: Working with Tabitha Stevens, Christy Canyon, Taylor Wane and Sunny Lane. They really enjoy the performance and make me feel really special. I don’t regret being in the industry — I’ve had a good time. Although I wished I would have checked my blood pressure enough, then I wouldn’t have had an aorta dissection.
Jeremy is highly aware of contemporary social issues and public taste. Fans and peers respect Jeremy not solely for the longevity of his career but for his desire to openly discuss his profession. His candor and willingness to engage in meaningful conversations and understand a differing opinion make him stand out among his peers.
Say what you will about pornography, but Jeremy, who stands tall (at 5’6”) is proud of his accomplishments.
And there is something to be said for his willingness to embrace his career and controversial profession.