Some time back I was in Las Vegas—a city that cheerfully revels in its own artificiality—writing about a pornographers’ convention for National Review. One of the striking things I saw was a woman breezing nonchalantly past a life-size sex-doll version of herself.
As specific as that tailored porn can be, the sex business still wants to come off the screen and into the world, a fact that comes into very sharp focus as A-list porn star Kaylani Lei totters past a life-sized Kaylani Lei sex surrogate manufactured by Realdoll, the Rolls-Royce of inflatable girlfriends. A normal human being generally cannot walk past a mirror without taking a subconscious glance at it, but Miss Lei is, judging by outward appearances, not a normal human being. I briefly consider pressing her about what it is like to be cast in high-quality plastic as a recreational masturbation aid, until I realize that the question is based on a rapidly vanishing distinction. With her surgical augmentations jutting out perpendicularly, as though resting on an invisible shelf, the main physical difference between Miss Lei and the sex-doll version of her is the percentage of artificial filler.
“Rule 34” asserts that if it exists, there is porn of it. To that, I offer a codicil: If there is porn of it, there is art of that porn.
And opening today at the Jewish Museum in New York, an exhibit of photographs by Laurie Simmons, mainly known to the wider world as Lena Dunham’s mother, inspired not by sex dolls directly but by a subculture of people who like to present themselves as sex dolls. If you immediately assume that this ultimately is Japanese in origin, that is both accurate and fair. (Japan is a strange place.) Simmons already has done a collection focused on sex dolls as such.
From the New York Post:
“Girls” fans may be thrilled to know that Dunham’s mother’s muse was a sex toy — a life-size, latex “love doll” Simmons discovered on a 2009 visit to Japan.
She had it shipped to her home in Connecticut, where her assistants dressed it, circled it with candy and draped it in jewelry — images Simmons chronicled in her 2012 book, “The Love Doll.”
In time, she learned there were people who actually wanted to look like dolls, and others who gave YouTube tutorials on painting eyes on their own lids.
Andy Warhol’s big idea was the image of the image, familiar icons rooted in celebrity and advertising elevated through repetition or scale until they were psychologically overpowering. It was a neat trick, but one that inevitable launched a sort of arms race—in art, popular culture, and the real world, too—an infinite Warholian regression: the image of the image of the image of the image . . .
I have a surprising number of friends who want to share with me photographs of their Sunday breakfasts or cocktails, and there is a certain anxiety in that: If it wasn’t documented for others, it didn’t happen—in the case of “food porn” as in the case of ordinary pornography, the representation of the thing has surpassed the thing itself.
When it comes to sex dolls, I doubt that art, no matter how self-consciously and preciously avant-garde, ever will catch up with reality. The real marker of social change won’t be sex-doll-inspired art exhibits in New York, but when people in Iowa are proudly posting photos of their new sex robots on Instagram. I do not think that that is probably very far off.