Dirty Work

Sleeping Booty. Throbin Wood. Snow White and the Seven Sailors. These were the characters and stories that captivated 11-year-old Andrew Goffman, and, as you may suspect, this was not the stuff of innocent fairy tales—instead, Snow White and her Seven Sailors were engaged in full-blown, hard-core pornography. In his one-man show, The Accidental Pervert, Goffman blends standup comedy with drama to tell his personal story of coming to terms with an (accidental) addiction to pornography. Although he successfully displays his extensive knowledge of the genre while managing to land a number of well-timed jokes, the show fails to deliver on its promise and potential. Instead of delving more deeply into more substantive questions about his addiction and its consequences, Goffman contentedly skims over the surface, reducing the show to a rather sophomoric exercise in easy jokes and bathroom humor.

"None of us start out to be a pervert," Goffman asserts. "It's life that does it to you." Life, in this case, turns out to be dirty videos and a VCR. When his father moves out, Goffman's idyllic family life is shattered. Longing to feel close to his father, he scours his closet, discovering a hidden cardboard box filled with porn. The videos become addiction and escape for Goffman, warping his mind and skewing his expectations of what both women and sex should be.

That pornography has the power to manipulate one's thoughts is hardly new information, and Goffman's retelling of his sexual awakening as influenced by pornography lacks shock value. Instead, his stories are often conventional, predictable, and tiresome. Yes, his mother forbade him to masturbate ("Don't touch yourself down there or your hand will stick to it"). Yes, he played doctor with a young female friend so they could see each other naked. Yes, his first real sexual encounter (at 15) was a disappointment. We've heard these stories before, and we'll hear them again.

Unfortunately, the fresh and potentially enlightening story Goffman could tell is left largely unexamined. When he meets his future wife, Maria, he tells us, he changes from a womanizing, self-destructive cad into a straight-laced, responsible man. And when they have a daughter, Goffman throws away his porn collection for good. Regrettably, he does little to explore exactly why and how these transformations take place. He does tell us that he suddenly realizes the women in the porn videos could be his wife or daughter, but it seems unbelievable that the revelation could be so instantaneous and complete. And why, for example, didn't he have this revelation when he fell in love with his wife (a "good girl," as he describes her)?

While Goffman hits the mark on a few of the more humorous aspects of adolescence and childbearing (his take on conceiving a child is particularly witty), director Charles Messina would do well to excise or shorten many of the silly, protracted porn fantasies and dance sequences in favor of a more detailed exploration of Goffman's choices and character. Surrounded by an old recliner, a large TV screen, and a hefty jar of Vaseline, Goffman makes an amiable confidant. His self-portrayal, however, most often feels paper-thin. Adding dimension and depth to his characterization would make us sympathize with him more (as well as explain why his wife—presumably so intelligent and accomplished—would fall in love with him).

The Accidental Pervert is, as intended, a story about pornography and the dangers of projecting fantasy onto reality. Its noticeable gaps, however, are the most intriguing parts of Goffman's story, and many powerful questions go unanswered. How did his wife react to his obsession with porn? How did his "kinda-sorta" twisted view of women begin to change? How did pornography influence his ideas about manhood and masculinity? And if pornography was a "legacy" or "rite of manhood" unwittingly passed down from his father, what does this say about societal expectations for men?

Raised on Woodcock Lane in Blue Ball, Pa., near the town of Intercourse, Goffman seems almost absurdly well suited to telling a story of unintentional perversion. While at times endearing, The Accidental Pervert is too often cutesy and contrived, and the image Goffman projects is less of a grown man who has dealt with an addiction and more of a mischievous boy who still revels in discussing its depravity. Although he claims to have thrown out the porn for good, you get the feeling he might still have one copy of Sleeping Booty stashed away somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. Accidentally, of course.

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