Porn, Identity: Chad Kultgen on the Dirty Digital Age





Do you know where your children are? This menacing, and once-ubiquitous, mantra of an overprotective age has been rendered obsolete by the Internet. In Chad Kultgen’s Men, Women & Children (Harper Perennial), junior high school kids are safe in their bedrooms, but instead of doing biology homework, they are browsing an endless array of extreme online porn. And their parents have equally secretive and often destructive sexual lives. Kultgen brilliantly weaves into the familiar fabric of suburban preteen existence and parental watchfulness, sexting, World of Warcraft addiction, prostitution, and extra-marital affairs. On a planet ruled by smartphones, where the majority of interpersonal interaction takes place alone in front of a computer screen, the ways we seek physical release and human connection are rapidly changing. Kultgen perfectly captures this scandalously normal new era. We chatted with Kultgen (not via IM!) about his own experiences with porn, what it means to come of age in cyberland, online bullying, trannies, and what to look forward to in the future: Twitter chips implanted in our brains.

ROYAL YOUNG: What was your first experience with porn?

CHAD KULTGEN: [laughs] I was over at a friend’s house and we were looking at comic books, I was probably in seventh grade, and out of his little cardboard comic book box, he whipped out a Playboy and we were like, “Holy shit!” Actually, when I was a tinier kid, I was a super nerd and I was way into Dune, you know that Frank Herbert Sci-fi series?

YOUNG: I know it well.

KULTGEN: There were a few passages in the first book that were sexually explicit. I don’t know if that’s actually pornography, but I remember reading that and being like, “Oh! This is interesting!”

YOUNG: I think Dune totally counts as porn. In comparison to that, the first experiences your characters have are so explicit. You have this great bit where you talk about one of the fathers remembering coming across his dad’s stash of Playboys versus coming across his son’s stash of I’m wondering what the difference is and how that shapes the sexual lives of people?

KULTGEN: Certainly the era is gone when a kid has to go to their parents to seek out introduction into anything sexually explicit. Now when you are hitting that age where you’re going into puberty, you can Google whatever you want and you have a million videos of the most depraved shit you can possibly imagine on the Internet. I can’t say psychologically that I know what it’s doing to these kids. It would seem that it would make it certainly less taboo.

YOUNG: One of my first experiences with porn was on the Internet, and it was totally explicit. I was in sixth grade, and I definitely think it took a lot of the intimacy out of sex.

KULTGEN: My first Internet porn experience was when I was in high school. The Internet didn’t really exist, and I remember I was over at my friend’s house and he’s like, “Check this out man, we can download something on my computer,” so we go to the bulletin board and there weren’t even thumbnail images, just a list of text names. “A Naked Girl” literally took overnight to download.

YOUNG: Do you think people’s sex lives should be transparent or secretive?

KULTGEN: Well, it’s whatever they’re comfortable with. Whatever you’re into, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. If that’s putting pictures of your penis on the Internet, so be it. Twitter seems like a precursor to a giant hype line, where every thought every person has is going to be transmitted to every other person.

YOUNG: And I guess if that’s the case, we’re all going to be privy to each other’s depraved thoughts.

KULTGEN: Yeah and guess what? Once you are privy to everyone’s thoughts and everyone has some depraved shit going on in their mind, it’s not as depraved anymore.

YOUNG: [laughs] Absolutely. Why are some parents so afraid of the Internet?

KULTGEN: The generation gaps are becoming more and more extreme. It used to be a generation gap would be 20-plus years. Now, because technology and specifically communication technology is changing so rapidly, you have generation gaps that are like five years, ten years. Why parents are afraid of all this stuff is because they didn’t grow up with it. It’s so completely foreign to them, to text message and do all this other stuff instantaneously. They don’t know how to handle it.

YOUNG: And I think going back to something you were saying earlier, it’s also a fear of being replaced. Kids don’t come to their parents anymore to talk about sex, they’re going to YouPorn, they’re going to Google.

KULTGEN: Absolutely.

YOUNG: How do you feel about online bullying?

KULTGEN: When you bring in little kids, who are right at the beginning of adolescence, and you add the ability to relentlessly bully someone on the Internet, it’s terrible. It’s a much easier venue for one person to pick a beef with one other kid and get the entire school to be posting messages 24/7; it seems much easier to rally that hate.

YOUNG: I’m so glad I’m not in high school right now.

KULTGEN: No, it wouldn’t be good.

YOUNG: What is up with the straight male attraction to trannies?

KULTGEN: Is that a thing?

YOUNG: Yeah.

KULTGEN: I don’t know, I’m only aware of Eddie Murphy. [laughs]

YOUNG: [laughs] One of the characters in your book really gets off on tranny porn.

KULTGEN: Oh the little kid, yeah, yeah, yeah. For him, I was really researching what I thought to be the most antithetical porn interest to what you would think a young 13-year-old boy would be into. I assumed it would be the big-boobed, Playboy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed chick, and this guy kind of spirals off into his own, what he feels ashamed of and certainly what he doesn’t want to talk about with his little junior-high girlfriend. This area of sexual arousal that is to some degree taboo, or at least I thought it was. [laughs] But throughout human history, there’s obviously all kinds of homosexual attraction, heterosexual attraction and all things in between.

YOUNG: Do you think what the Internet should be used for is forming a connection?

KULTGEN: Yes, certainly that is one aspect of it. But there are so many other aspects of it, limitless, I think. And it’s a weird thing now, that we are in an era where you will interact with more people on a daily basis and more people will know you from your online persona than they will from you as an actual person. How many Facebook posts do you read and make a day? How many people interact with you on Facebook versus how many interact with you face to face?

YOUNG: I’m thinking about it right now and it’s terrifying.

KULTGEN: Yeah, your Facebook persona is you.

YOUNG: [laughs] That’s horrifying to me.

KULTGEN: [laughs] See, it is not horrifying to me. It’s the next step of whatever we’re going to become as a society. Eventually you won’t be able to turn off Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever it becomes. There will be a chip in your head broadcasting and receiving everyone else’s feed.

YOUNG: [laughs] Well, I’m half scared and half can’t wait.

KULTGEN: I can’t wait. I’ll be the first in line.