Tag Archives: big red son

Musings on “Big Red Son” and IJ

The opening paragraphs to “Big Red Son” were so astonishing I actually read them aloud to my house-mates, because I felt the need to share the strange experience of reading them. For me, this was the most startling and repulsive and yet engrossing opening of anything I have heretofore read by David Foster Wallace. And based on the fact that the subject of autocastration never again occurs in the approximately fifty-page essay, I can safely say that that was its basic purpose: to mirror for the reader the atrocity of the AVN Awards show’s effect on Wallace. He practically says as much when saying that after being a judge for the AVN Awards, “We guarantee that you will never thereafter want to see, hear, engage in, or even think about human sexuality ever again” (5). Apparently just watching the show came pretty close to this for Wallace, and the disturbing opening paragraphs of the essay are certainly meant to convey some of this feeling of horror.


In the body of the essay, though, the strangest thing was that I kept finding echoes of
Infinite Jest. Take, for example, the description of one of the male porn stars: “The infamous T.T. Boy is here, standing alone with his trademark glower, the Boy who is rumored to bring a semiautomatic pistol with him to the set . . .” (15). (Not to mention that Max Hardcore declares that he will get a trophy whether legitimately or not [32].) Anyone else get the sudden image of Eric Clipperton? One has to wonder what it is about a gun that helps a guy perform in a porn scene, and how that may be similar to Clipperton’s tennis performance. It didn’t sound like the gun was actually a threat for the Boy; rather, it was just sort of there. Clipperton, on the other hand, had the gun held to his head for entire matches–and the threat was implicating others in his suicide. For the Boy, the short sentence didn’t make it sound like suicide was really a possibility. Truly, though the two both had guns involved in their performances, and I immediately thought of Clipperton when reading this, I’m not sure what their real connection is. It seems like the symbol for the Boy is really just a symbol, but for Clipperton it’s a very real thing.


A clearer connection is made between pornography and the Entertainment, though not by Wallace himself. He quotes David Mura: “The addict to pornography desires to be blinded, to live in a dream. Those in the thrall of pornography try to eliminate from their consciousness the world outside pornography, and this includes everything from their family and friends or last Sunday’s sermon to the political situation in the Middle East. In engaging in such elimination the viewer reduces himself. He becomes stupid” (19). Like the Entertainment, it seems Mura is afraid that the porn “addict” ceases to care about anything outside the world on the screen. He uses the word “stupid” not in the sense of “less intelligent,” but in the older sense of being literally stupefied, falling into a state of stupor–much like the watchers of the Entertainment. It makes sense, since pornography certainly claims to be about pleasure in the various forms of sex, that these two would relate. Moreover, the draw of porn for people like the LAPD detective is the open humanity that sometimes appears (despite the fact these people are actors) as a direct result of pleasure (16); and while the Entertainment does not give pleasure because of sex, it does appear to touch on the basics of humanity.


Finally, the discussion of reality and representations thereof appears in both
Infinite Jest and “Big Red Son.” In IJ these discussions mostly arise from things like the map vs. territory dispute during Eschaton. In “Big Red Son,” we get the porn genre “Gonzo,” which “videos push the envelope by offering the apparent sexualization of actual real life,” “. . . whereas traditional, quote-unquote dramatic porn videos simulate the 100 sexualization of real life . . .” (26). The question of which genre is more real becomes unnecessary here, because people know that neither is. It becomes a question more of truthfulness: the dramatic porn never claims to be real life in the way Hollywood movies never claim to be real; but Gonzo porn is by all appearances real–and yet no discerning watcher would believe that. But then, I have a feeling most people watch porn not to analyze it but to gain some sort of pleasure from it. One has to ask, would any watcher even care?

Critiques (maybe just observations?) of America in “Big Red Son”

           In the opening piece of Consider the Lobster, Premiere Magazine sends DFW to the AVN awards, adult entertainment’s version of mainstream film’s Academy Awards.   The whole article is wrought with Wallace’s trademark humor, which comes at a rate previously unseen in what we’ve read.   This is partly due to the subject at hand, which lends itself well to jokes, but through the filth and debauchery Wallace includes some compelling observations about America and the nature of its modern culture.   Wallace, without breaking stride, exposes just how extreme America’s emphasis on material accumulation, consumption, and especially instant gratification can become.    

                      The first time Wallace turns away from the events of the AVN awards is to describe Las Vegas, and give his impression of the city.   Immediately apparent is the tremendous lengths businesses go to emphasize luxury and pleasure.   Picking up in the middle of his great list of Vegas’s traits, he mentions, “Smoking not just allowed but encouraged… A museum that features the World’s Biggest Coke Bottle… Caesars Palace. The granddaddy.   As big as 20 Wal-Marts end to end. Real marble and fake marble, carpeting you can pass out on without contusion… In Caesars Palace is America conceived as a new kind of Rome: conqueror of its own people. An empire of Self” (9-10).   Wallace here uses the excesses of Caesars Palace as one strong example of the larger American need, or desire at least, for gratification, pleasure, and consumption.   He notes that the AVN awards show has only one logical location: Caesars Palace.   Las Vegas as a city and as a spectacle is a kind of microcosm for the excesses that American culture celebrates and almost deifies, like a classical Roman god or something.   But Wallace never condemns this degradation, or offers any sort of straighter path for our country and our culture.   He doesn’t need to.   Wallace does his best to expose what he believes to be the heart of Vegas culture and by extension American culture.   The rest is up to the subscribers of Premiere.

                      Another instance in which Wallace is able to encapsulate one aspect of American culture is when he is interviewing some of the AVN awards attendees.   He asks, “Q. $4,000,000,000 and 8,000 new releases a year- why is adult video so popular in this country?”   A famous porn actor and a reputable porn beat writer both respond in telling fashion, “A. Veteran woodman Joey Silvera: ‘Dudes let’s face it- America wants to jerk off,'” and “A. Industry journalist Harold Hecuba: ‘It’s the new Barnum.   Nobody ever goes broke underestimating the rage and misogyny of the average American male'” (35).   These two responses both reinforce the American aspiration for instant gratification, be it sexual or not.   Harold Hecuba’s response is notable in that he doesn’t pay respects to porn enthusiasts or perverts, but the average American male.   Hecuba knows where the lifeblood of the industry lies, and simply uses it to his advantage.   Silvera does the same thing.   They both have developed a sense of where American culture can be exploited (as any legitimate businessman would) and have probed and worked until they turn a profit.

                      Both of these instances, describing Vegas and interviewing porn insiders, help DFW unveil some of the more extreme aspects of American culture in the modern technological era.   With such desire for gratification and consumption, it is no surprise that the porn industry thrives as it does, and makes Silvera’s words more true than absurd.