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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
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Artificial Pornography
by Grant Bailie
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The new building sits upon a crest. The crest is made from the refuse and digested garbage of the city, processed and shaped into a perfect hill. It covers, like a green blanket, the rubble and crumbling foundation of a previous building. Grass grows very well from the shit of this civilization, and the landscape surrounding the new building is lush with flowering trees and well-maintained gardens. A winding path makes its way up to the revolving glass doors of the lobby.
     Inside the lobby, seven massive columns rise up from a marble floor, but end in mid-air, supporting nothing. Above them a glass roof shows a blue sky, sun, clouds, and the feet and underbelly of several loitering pigeons
     There is a circular desk in the center of the lobby, behind which sits a woman.
     She is a very pretty woman, with brown hair flecked with gold and green eyes flecked with brown. Her closed mouth smile is like the smile in certain paintings depicting the Virgin Mary or any number of martyred female saints.
     Do not fall in love with her. She is not real. She is a robot from back in the old days when robots were made to look like people. She cannot even stand up, since most of her workings are contained within the reception desk that surrounds her. Gears turn inside there, light and electricity run along a confusion of wires and circuits, switches click and her every move is a preprogrammed response to something you have said or done. You thought her smile seemed sincere and it is--as sincere as a light being switched on.      Ask her for directions to the office of John Smith and she will point a pretty finger to the glass elevator that will take you to the 42nd floor. Step into the elevator. Ride upward in that glass bullet being shot through the barrel of a glass gun. And when the number dings 42, step out.
     The president and founder of Modern Pornography Incorporated resides here with his various assistants and vice presidents among leather chairs, chrome and glass desks, tapestries and thick carpets. The view is stunning from all the windows. They overlook the city, the ocean, the valley, a neighboring volcano, and all the highways, byways, and monorails that lead to and from this mostly clean and sparkling land.
     How far Mr. Smith has come.
     Ten years ago, in his parent's basement, he began his company with a simple, ingenious concept and slogan: pornography without people. Special effects, prosthetics and computer generations--even the kind that could be easily manufactured and manipulated in your parent's basement--were convincing enough by then to replace the rare, temperamental and hard to convince flesh of real people. No more the need for seducing the pretty and handsome with money, at least not enormous sums of it. People would still be used, at first, for those harder to fake scenes: the shots of the plumber or mechanic entering the apartment, or a blonde woman looking forlornly into her clogged sink or under the steaming hood of her car. All those parts that required bad acting to stumble an awkward plot forward were still less expensively done with real people. But after the set-up, after the woman and man made their idiot faces at each other with raised eyebrows and leering red mouths, after the top button of a blouse was undone and the clasp of a pair of blue jeans unfastened, it was time to bring in the props.
It had only been their willingness to have sex in front of a camera that had ever made such poor thespians a rare and expensive commodity in the first place. Now they could be bought by the dozens for a dime. And those props--the plastic penises and rubber vaginas, the bouncing silicone breasts and thrusting buttocks made from molds in the Smith family basement and then attached to springs, handles, and hydraulics--could be reused. They could be made to look like the sweaty parts of actual humans with the careful spraying of glycerin or water, judicious lighting and skillful editing. And then they could be hosed off and stored in boxes in the laundry room closet.
     The use of technology was kept a secret at first. It does no good to tell the audience when they are being duped. But when certain states and lawmakers began using laws against prostitution instead of obscenity to shut down the porn industry, it behooved Mr. Smith to explain his methods. And so he did, and nearly overnight held a virtual monopoly on the legal pornography market. Within the year he had moved out of his parents basement. Within three years he had the top floors on this newest, shiniest, most sparkling of office buildings. He is the American success story and now there are rows and rows of offices that bare both his company's name and the name of an underling. Behind each door a New World of titillation, lasciviousness, and untrue love is being created from scratch.
     Now technology--with its bytes and pixels--can recreate even the flaws of the real world: the bad acting, the pimpled-ass, the scar, the botched tattoo, the wayward jerk and slip from focus of a badly held camera. And who could doubt that so imperfect a picture could be anything less than real?
     Can you imagine the sort of man or machine that sits at one of those desks in one of those offices? Imagine the sort of conversations that take place around those water-coolers. The new tricks, gags and ideas traded back and forth.
     "I've been working with a new program for creating random dirt on carpet and floor surfaces," Mr. Hellsvig tells Mr. Summers.
     "I still prefer to add the dirt by hand," Mr. Summers says. "Random programs are too…I don't know…random."
     "Well, yeah."
     "But real dirt isn't random. It's tracked in patterns. It follows certain laws of physics and--"
     "This program takes all that stuff into account. Believe me, you can't tell it from the real thing."
     But Mr. Summers is not interested in such short cuts. He takes pleasure in adding a stray thread here, an odd sock there, imagining the reason and history of every scrap he sets down with the click of his mouse. There is certain poetry in the placement of litter, and poignancy to the seemingly haphazard arrangement of small bottles on the bed stand.
     When Mr. Summers sits down to work, he sips his coffee, stairs out the window at his magnificent view and begins to sketch out the typical scenario in his mind.
     It will be about a buxom woman and a well hung man. The woman has just awakened from a dream. No, it will start with the dream. A sexual dream, of course, with all the latest tools at Mr. Summer's command used to exactly imitate the more awkward technology of a previous day: the hazy lens, dry-ice smoke, and soft lighting once used by the lowest of budgets to represent fantasy, imagination, the subconscious or the afterlife. The picture will waver as the woman does what? As what happens? She will expose one breast and fondle it absently. Her other hand will drift beneath the sheets. A man dressed as a burglar will enter through the window. He will stop to watch, rub the stubble of his broad jaw and leer as he sets down his armful of cheap props (a flashlight, a black bag, a gold candelabra). He will undo his pants. His penis will be enormous, but slightly misshapen, and not yet completely erect. All the usual things will happen then, of course, but it was not in these actions, but in the details that Mr. Summer enjoyed his job. The acting would be believably bad, the actor speaking with a slight lisp or stammer, the actress having a nervous habit of chewing on her hair. There would be a coffee ring and cigarette burn on the end table, an odd sock in the shadows beneath the bed, fingerprints on the window. At some point, the man might struggle with his erection and aim; the woman might lose her balance or gag. Perhaps there will even be the faint trace of scars beneath each breast or under each armpit, where globes of silicone had apparently been inserted too make her breasts round and immovable. This is a thought that pleases Mr. Summers: to create the illusion of an exposed artifice in order to pull off the illusion of reality. It is a good and rewarding job he has.      It pays him well, and we are all very grateful.
     Once it was Mr. Smith himself--and not Mr. Summers and his many colleagues--who did the creative work of faking life. Now he practices his putt in an office almost big enough for him to practice his drive. Occasionally he forces himself to review the product his company continues to churn out. He sits in his viewing room on such days, drinks gin and tonic and struggles to stay alert as plumbers seduce housewives, mechanics rescue damsels in low cut dresses, and husbands catch their wives with the woman next door and then join in on the fun.
     He makes notes on a small screen to his left. Less talk. More blondes. Less plot. More blondes.
     When Mr. Summers returns home from a long and satisfying day at work, he enters a spacious, pristine, and sparsely decorated apartment overlooking the park. There is very little dust, lint or even personal effects in this sterile home, and one is tempted to make statements about the ironic difference between this environment and the ones Mr. Summers creates for a living. One is tempted, but in reality there is little to be made of it, or if there is, it is less a matter of irony than logic. In his office he creates only dirt and clutter that makes sense, every stray shoe and shoelace having a clear purpose, their causes and effects intricately worked out in Mr. Summers' mind. An empty can or cigarette butt out of place in that world would upset him as much as an unmade bed or dusty window in this one. You may not trifle with the stains on those walls, or iron out the wrinkles in those pants balled up in that corner just as you may not rearrange the glasses set neatly--in order of size and style--in the real cupboard over this real sink.
Mr. Summers--in pajamas--lays down in the center of his bed, his hands folded precisely across the top of his covers. He closes his eyes and dreams of the world being destroyed in a terrific ball of flame.
     When Mr. Smith returns to his mansion outside of town he is greeted by a robot who takes his coat and shoes and hands him a martini. The robot sings an aria by Puccini while it makes supper and Mr. Smith retires to one room or another to sip his drink and gaze at his many belongings. After he has finished several drinks he might call a friend or two, a relative, a woman whose number he has acquired. If he drinks too much he will dial the number of the pretty cheerleader who sat next to him in Biology 15 years ago and hang up as soon as she or her husband answers the phone.
     What more can I tell you about a man so successful? It is wrong and cliché to dwell upon his apparent loneliness in this world, to make assumptions or connections between his immense wealth and the hollowness of his life? There are shoe salesman and security guards who also spend their evenings like that: drinking too much, seeking comfort in their possessions, and longing for the thing they never had or even reached for.
     But his parents are very proud of him and his achievements. They do not view or think much about his product, of course, but enjoy the extravagant gifts he sends and his not too infrequent visits. They like telling their friends about how this multimillion-dollar conglomeration got its start in their basement, right there in front of the washer and dryer. And their friends will glance sideways into the laundry room tub and try not to imagine how it was once used for washing out latex penises, vaginas, breasts and buttocks.

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