Is sex more exciting in print than in real life? Baron, a cross between N + 1 and Playboy, brings up that troubling question in its debut issue; they quote Andy Warhol, who once said “Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets.” If mediated sex is better than the real thing, then we’re set out to fail every time we undo our pants. But from the looks of Baron, with photo series like “Barely Legal London Girl Zex Gets Banged By Adrian Wilson’s Retina” and essays on “The Pubic Wars: Playboy v. Penthouse in The Seventies”, sex in the bedroom—or wherever you’re willing to take a dick—still has a chance. The softcore sex hidden between its pages isn’t that naughty: it’s a peepshow into the work of several artists and writers making sexy stuff.
The opening essay, Bill Hedley’s “pubic wars” piece, solves one of history’s mysteries by plotting out an exact timeline for how and when full-frontal vaginas were first shown in print. The essay sets the tone for the book by implying that what’s considered sexy isn’t always how much you can show, but how it’s shown. After all, Hedley notes that in “the early days of erotic magazines when any trace of pubic hair was removed either physically or by photo retouching,” Playboy and Penthouse came up with some creative, photographic solutions to make their models sexy, but without showing their sex. Another good instance of writing about sex’s implications, Kevin Soar’s essay on Bruce LaBruce, reveals a political side to the filmmaker’s zombie-porn; LaBruce finds that with gay marriage fast becoming the new normal, “pornography appears to be the last bastion of sexual radicalism.”
Not all of the essays are all that interesting. Rasha Kahil’s “I Fucked No One This Year”, an essay about the one person she fucked all year long, makes reading about sex infinitely boring. The same variable quality can be found in the photo series, where there’s a lot to like: Viktor Hachmang’s comic-book style erotic machine drawings; AIDS 3-D and Anne de Vries’ girl-meets-geometry performance; Pinar Yolacan’s gimp-suited Venus of Willendorf figures; and Blommers and Schumm’s vaginal household objects. Then, there’s the fashion-y spreads, the ones featuring name-brand knickers and pantyhose. There’s already enough weird softcore in VICE, and it can stay there. One of the better ones, Qiu Yang and Laurenz Brenner’s “Semiotics of the Kitchen”—also featured on the book’s front cover—alludes to the oft-overlooked genre of dishwashing porn, but there’s subtle hints of sponsorship here, with credits to M.A.C. for supplying the lipstick. We don’t mind the sponsorship part; publishing a nice-looking artist’s book isn’t cheap.
When a good chunk of the Internet is all about sex, there’s plenty to be said and shown about how it gets mediated. That’s why Baron’s welcome to fill that void; we’re happy they’re trying to capture the age. While the paperback’s still a little on the safe side, we noticed their Facebook page is smuttier. They could take a lesson from their feed. Also, we recommend more dicks—the current issue shows just one, shadowy member—to show smut in all its glory.