Trends (2004): Gonzo

In celebration of Adult Empire’s 20th anniversary, we look at some of the porn trends and genres that shaped the company’s history. In this edition: GONZO.

Gonzo is everywhere in porn, but it’s not easy to define. “The term gonzo has come to mean very different things for different people,” Evil Angel director and gonzo pioneer John Stagliano said in 2016. To some, including author Shira Tarrant in her book The Pornography industry, gonzo is simply porn without a plotline. That reductive definition is somewhat deceptive, though, and doesn’t entirely encompass the genre’s complexities.

The term itself is taken from writer Hunter S. Thompson, who described his unique style of participatory reporting as “gonzo journalism.” It was first used in relation to porn by AVN’s Gene Ross to describe a genre of adult entertainment that had emerged in the 1980s and early ’90s, most pointedly in Stagliano’s Buttman series. The movies found Stagliano roaming the world in search of the perfect female ass, all in a first-person, quasi-documentary style. While the word “gonzo” has since been applied very loosely to a wide range of movies, Stagliano himself sees the genre in fairly specific terms: “I think that we should only use ‘gonzo’ for those videos where there is recognition that there is a camera there, which means that looking into the camera is also recognizing the cameraman as an entity in the room.”

It changed the face of adult entertainment, shifting it away from the blockbusters of the 1970s to the wall-to-wall sex romps we know of as porn today. It also inspired offshoot genres like reality porn and point-of-view. To this day, gonzo remains one of the standard approaches to porn, outlasting come-and-go trends like parodies, interactive, and many more. (In 2016, it was the top trending porn genre on Adult Empire.)

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Adult Empire 20 Years

Feature (1997) | Shaved (1998) | Interactive DVD (1999) | Contract Girl Era (2000) | Compilations (2001) | Anal Obsession (2002) | Reality Porn (2003) | Gonzo (2004) | Cuckolding (2005) | Oiled (2006) | Celeb Sex Tapes (2007) | MILF (2008) | Parodies (2009) | Firsts/ Doubles (2010) | Rise of the All-Natural Girl (2011) | Family Roleplay (2012) | Threesomes (2013) | Interracial (2014) | BDSM (2015) | Star Showcase (2016) | High-End Erotica (2017)
Additional sources: Porn Studies Volume 3, 2016 - Issue 4