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Sex at Yale: from prude to pornography

BY JOEY AX

The common room in Silliman was teeming with Yalies. The familiar Popeye's boxes of rapidly diminishing fried chicken pieces and biscuits covered the small table in the center of the floor, surrounded by students—both male and female—sitting in every imaginable position. Amy Sohn, a reporter from Premiere magazine, sat in one of the few privileged seats on the ratty couch, laughing with the others at particularly comic scenes in the pornographic movie showing on the medium-sized screen in the front of the room. "I had a great time!" she said enthusiastically.

EUGENE WONG/YH

Since The New York Times ran a story in their Metro section on "Yale's oldest chicken-eatin' club," Porn 'n Chicken (P 'n C), and its fledgling pornographic film, The StaXXX, literally dozens of media outlets have requested interviews from members of the Tri-Colored Council, the secret leaders of P 'n C. The New Yorker. Fox News Boston. Hustler. The New York Post. Brill's Content. The Village Voice. The stories have produced three separate discussions about The StaXXX on plastic.com.

The publicity phenomenon has even reached its arm across the Atlantic. Last week, Thomas Amter did a 10-minute segment on Danish National Radio, and an article appeared in the Evening Standard in London ["Yale students prove they have naked ambition," ES 1/31/01].
ERIN I. LEWIS/YH
To find the call number for this reference item, you'll have to use the Internet -- but not Orbis... Seems the stacks are not so stuffy anymore. Now they're just hot.

Why has The StaXXX generated such a media maelstrom? How has the burgeoning pornographic production captured the imaginations of writers and editors everywhere? Part of the answer is what Amter calls the "pornification" of society. As pornography has become more and more mainstream, media outlets have grown more willing to report on stories like this one, to the point that even a standard of news reporting like The Times can treat the story as legitimate news. "We're living in a media world that is sex-obsessed," David Herszenhorn, the reporter that wrote The Times story ["Yale's New Grades: A, B, C, D, and X," NYT 1/26/01], said. "That's obvious."

Sohn agreed. "Porn is not nearly as taboo as it used to be," she said. "People admit to watching it. You have movies like Boogie Nights glamorizing it, you have Juliane Moore getting nominated for an Oscar, you have Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez playing two porn kings [in Rated X]. Porn is very trendy and mainstream in a way that it wasn't 10 years ago."

But the most fascinating thing for the media about The StaXXX seems to be the fact that Yale is the setting. "If you heard someone was making a porno at Brown, no one would blink an eye," Herszenhorn explained. "If someone were making a porno at Harvard, no one would believe it in a thousand years. This is Yale. The governor's [New York Gov. George Pataki, PC '67] daughter goes here, the president's daughter goes here." Indeed, the political connection appears paramount to writers interested in the P 'n C story. Herszenhorn's story began with a mention of George W. Bush, DC '68, Dick Cheney, BK '63, and Barbara Bush, DC '04. The Evening Standard article called Yale "one of the most respected [schools] in America and President Bush's alma mater."

"The fact that Yale has such a blue-blood reputation makes this a funnier, sexier story than if it were at a more liberal school," Sohn said. That reputation, however, may not be entirely deserved. Sohn, who graduated from Brown in 1995, said that her visit to this campus opened her eyes to how liberal Yale really is. Noting that one of the students she interviewed had a gay roommate, she said, "Yale straight men seem much less homophobic than straight men at Brown. The gay presence at Yale is so accepted as part of the community that you have gay men and straight men living together, which you wouldn't see at a lot of colleges, even liberal ones."

Ask the filmmakers, and they will agree that it is the Yale aspect of the story that seems to fascinate most reporters. "This is like the equivalent of Yale pulling up its skirt and showing its panties," Sweet Jimmy* said. "The conflation of high-brow and low-brow is interesting to outsiders."

The Tri-Colored Council has been largely irritated by the media attention, it claims, to the point that it is no longer granting interviews to any outside media outlets. MTV, the New York Post, and the New Haven Register have all been met with silence from P 'n C.

"It's definitely impeding progress with the film," Baby Gristle* said. "The media has sensationalized what we are trying to do. We don't want to corrupt the artistic vision of the film."

The filmmakers are quick to point out that the word "porn" has never been used by them in referring to their project, which they term an "adult film." "Throughout our viewing of the pornographic canon we found that most depictions lacked the complexity and aesthetic beauty of the sexual experience as well as the intellectual aspects of seduction," a publicity statement from the group reads. As Sweet Jimmy told Sohn during an interview, "We're playing with the commonly held conceptions of pornography."

Another concern for the filmmakers is that aggressive reporters will try to contact the actors slated to appear in the film, most of whom do not want their names to show up in print. "We're worried about our actors," Sweet Jimmy said. "The media is compromising the trust in the relationship between us and our actors."

Why, then, have the filmmakers agreed to do any interviews at all? They did grant interviews to both a New Yorker reporter and a Premiere reporter, and they have talked to the Herald on several occasions.

"Rather than let ourselves be misrepresented, we decided to set the record straight," Baby Gristle said. "But now we've stopped, because people can't be trusted." Sweet Jimmy cited both the New Haven Register's coverage and the Yale Daily News' coverage as examples of "derivative" articles written "without research."

Many on campus and off have scoffed at The StaXXX. An article appeared in the New York Observer on Wed., Feb. 7 entitled "A StaXXX Session," which speculated based on one student's remarks that the whole film project is a hoax. The article makes the claim that no one outside of P 'n C has ever seen the now infamous first scene allegedly filmed in December and subsequently destroyed due to a request from one of the actors.

Sohn, however, says she has spoken to a female Yalie who was present at the taping and is not affiliated with P 'n C. And Herszenhorn says he is convinced that the project up until this point has not been a hoax, regardless of whether the film will ever be completed. Tinker Spitz, DC '94, the reporter for the Observer, declined to comment for this article.

Still, the media blitz shows no signs of slowing down. Once the Times article appeared, the story gained instant credibility. Randall Beach, a reporter for the New Haven Register, wrote a front-page feature on The StaXXX ["Yalies' film is rated `X'-tracurricular," NHR 2/2/01], largely because his editor wanted to respond to The Times' coverage of the Register's backyard. "We're supposed to protect our turf, and not have out-of-town newspapers come in and beat us to stories," he explained.

For now, P 'n C plans to continue to hold regular meetings, and taping of new scenes for The StaXXX is set to begin this weekend. The filmmakers have even hired a lawyer to protect their interests. Additionally, several pornographic production companies have inquired about buying the rights to the completed movie. *Names have been changed at the request of students.

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