At the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show held in the Convention Center late last year, pretty young spokesmodels in long dresses stood on revolving platforms and recited scripted accolades about the cars next to them. But the models weren’t really selling cars. They were selling sex to a predominately male audience, which, the marketing experts believe, in turn sells cars. This past weekend at the Convention Center, where the Erotica Los Angeles expo was held, was just like the Auto Show, minus the cars and the dresses.
The mainstreaming of the “adult” industry in recent years is no secret. But the size and extent of this business in Southern California was vividly revealed at Erotica LA, billed as the largest erotic expo in the U.S. During the 3-day event, over 300 companies rented exhibit space to sell DVDs, sex toys, fantasy clothing, and other items to over 40,000 attendees. According to the Free Speech Coalition folks who ran a booth at the expo, the companies represented here are part of at least a $4 billion per year business in California alone. Another entrepreneur nearby estimated the figure to be $12 billion worldwide. This doesn’t even take into account numerous ancillary businesses — printing shops, stiletto heel makers, the Duracell company — which provide millions of dollars of goods and services to the adult industry and its customers.
But enough of the clinical business analysis. On to the show and its highlights (as tastefully as I can present them):
This sign prohibiting “flashing” threw me for an ironic loop. First, I thought they were talking about flash photography. Turns out they meant the other kind of flashing. Isn’t that what the expo was all about?
This industry is now so mainstream, even Darryl Hannah was there signing autographs. Oops, wrong Darryl Hannah.
What are these scary-looking contraptions? Some kind of high-tech sex toys? Hardly. They are teeth whitening machines. For just $100, you could belly up to the Bright Bar and get your own porn star-shiny chompers courtesy of a guy in a white coat, who I assume was a real dentist rather than a porn actor.
Ron Jeremy, one of the most famous porn stars of all time, was this year’s Erotic LA ambassador to the expo’s “Sexopolis Rock Arena” section, which had live acts such as pole dancing and autograph signings by various porn actresses. Ron looked pretty serious and businesslike as he began his autograph session, but in fairness, this was during the final hours of a three-day show, and he may have been a bit burned out. After a career like his, wouldn’t you be too?
The most interesting conversation I had was with Brandon Piety (he says it’s his real name), who runs xxxchurch.com. Brandon says his church tries to help porn stars and others leave the grips of the porn industry, and he seemed to coexist peacefully with the industry heavy hitters who were literally surrounding his booth. It can’t be easy. While I was talking to him, the woman from the Scores booth next to us grabbed my ass from behind and tried to give me a free pass to her club, but said that I needed to bring “around $1,000” for tips. According to Brandon, “we’re a niche within a niche of porn.” I credit the XXX Church with taking its message directly into the belly of the whale, and with having one of the best slogans I have ever seen: “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”
Talk about niches within niches:
On the other hand, the name of this company probably represents the way many people feel about much of the “erotic” industry.
Angelinos can debate whether various segments of the “adult entertainment” business are harmless fun or unhealthy, and whether they form a sensible basis on which to pin a sizeable portion of Tinseltown’s economy. At least at Erotica L.A., the people who run the businesses are honest about what they sell.