First-World Problems: Love Love and Porn

Reera Yoo
Aug 28,2015
Cropped image of a young man working on his laptop in a coffee shopCropped image of a young man working on his laptop in a coffee shop

by SUNG J. WOO

From time to time, at a slightly greater frequency than a visit by Halley’s Comet, people ask me what my second novel, Love Love, is about. I usually tell them it stars Korean American siblings in pre-midlife crisis mode. I also mention tennis, since the brother is an ex-professional tennis player. Then I say, hey, it’s about art, too, because the sister is a struggling painter.

At this point the person nods and waits because I’m not done.

“I also wrote about pornography,” I say. Although I mean to mention this without any added inflection or emotion, I usually find that my voice betrays me, so I end up with, “I also wrote about pornography?” Almost as if I’m asking for permission.

Let me just say up front that I’m not a prude. No childhood trauma of any kind, and I was brought up by neither Christian evangelists nor key-party swingers. When I think of sex, the word that comes to me is not embarrassment, awkwardness, shame or anything remotely negative. Fun. That’s my representative lexicon for the very natural coupling of two human beings.

Granted, pornography isn’t sex, nor is it particularly sexy. At least I’ve never found it so. In fact, I wanted to explore this sordid subject because of my rather strong diametrical emotions on the topic. The first is excitement: I am, after all, a heterosexual man, and I enjoy seeing attractive women in the buff as much as the next guy. But this euphoria is almost immediately obliterated when I find myself pulled into the actress’s point of view. It doesn’t matter whether there’s high production value, like some period piece that actually looks like the studio spent some cash making things look pretty; all I can think is, oh goodness, this poor woman. This is her job. This is what she has to do to have shelter and food. And I feel bad for the guy, too. How could having sex in front of a camera be a good thing? I suppose if one were an exhibitionist and a sex addict, perhaps then, being in adult films is the perfect profession. But I’d bet my last dollar that those people do not make up the majority of porn performers.

So, after I got my novel in decent shape, I sent it around to a few of my trusted writer friends for their critiques. One asked, Of all the occupations out there, why the hell did you choose pornography for these characters? He then pointed out, rightly so, that most fiction readers are women, so it probably wasn’t a swift move on my part to write about something that appeals more to males, and maybe not a huge number there, either. According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life project survey, only 12 percent of Americans watch porn.

So more likely than not, I’ve chosen something that appeals to a minority of the populace (if at all). Sigh. But I’m afraid this was the book I wrote. Whether I’m writing a short story or a novel, for me, it all starts with an image. For my first novel, Everything Asian, it was a pile of pills and a paring knife sitting on top of a toilet lid—a suicide attempt. For this one, it was my male protagonist, Kevin, opening up an old manila envelope. In it were two items: an unfinished letter from his mother telling him that he was adopted; the other was a tri-folded piece of paper, a nude centerfold of his birth mother that unfurls before his eyes.

Fiction, as we know, is made up of a whole lot of make-believe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth involved. I don’t mean to describe my writing process as hoity-toity or artsyfartsy or an even more ridiculously sounding hyphenated phrase, but when that image came to me, I felt its validity. I knew that was the book I had to write, and because it had already happened, because it was as solid as a boulder of granite in my mind, I was able to believe in its essential reality to be able to go back to it day after day, year after year. After all, working on a long-term project like a novel is an act of faith, and faith originates from absolute immutability.

So to make a long story short, there’s pornography in my book. I think I should be proud of this. I sort of am. And I sort of am not.

___

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 10.27.25 AMSung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times,McSweeney’s and Hyphen. His debut novel, Everything Asian, won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Youth Literature Award. He will read from his second novel, Love Love, on Thursday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For more information about the book and other stops on his book tour, click here.


This article was published in the August/September 2015 issue of KoreAmSubscribetoday! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/September issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days.)

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