MARCH 26, 2008
This was not what Patrick Cordova had bargained for. The Stanford junior, a member of the school's student government, had wanted to host a lecture on sexual health. And he figured that a provocative and fun way to tackle the issue would be to bring a prominent pornographer to speak on campus. So Cordova sent out some invitations. The first person he heard back from was Michael Lucas—longtime porn actor and director of such films as Hunt & Plunge, The Bigger The Better, and Fire Island Cruising (editions one through eight). A fixture in New York nightlife and head of his own production company, Lucas is one of the biggest names in gay porn. His 2006 epic La Dolce Vita had a $250, 000 budget, which Lucas says makes it the most expensive porn film in history. The movie garnered best-picture honors at the annual GAYVN Awards, the Oscars of gay porn. (It also garnered a lawsuit from the company that controls the rights to the original Fellini film.) New York magazine has dubbed him the “last of the New York porn moguls.“
Lucas—a staunch advocate of safe sex who, unlike some porn directors, uses condoms in his movies—sounded like exactly the kind of guest speaker Cordova had in mind. “We were hoping that people would embrace his ideas on sexual identity and sexual health,“ Cordova told me. But, after Stanford had already booked him, controversy erupted. Some students felt that Lucas shouldn't have been invited to lecture. By the day of his speech, the storm surrounding Lucas had made its way into the pages of The Stanford Daily, where organizers found themselves defending the invitation against the protests of their outraged peers.
What had provoked such heated debate? It wasn't Lucas's porn. It was his politics. Lucas, it turns out, is a fervent supporter of Israel and a harsh, often offensive, critic of the Muslim world. He has called the Koran “today's Mein Kampf” and regularly inveighs against Muslim homophobia and anti-Semitism in less-than-charming terms. “It totally escapes me how gay people can side with burqa-wearing, jihad-screaming, Koran-crazed Muslims,“ he opined last year. At the talk itself, which took place this past Valentine's Day and drew an audience of about 50, Lucas stuck to his guns. “What's the point to respect their culture, or supposed culture, when they have a strong contempt for mine?“ Lucas asked. And he wasn't content to leave it at that. The day after he spoke, he published an op-ed in The Stanford Daily responding to the charge that he is racist. “I never in my life said or wrote a bad word about Arabs—go read any of my articles,” he explained. “My criticism was always addressed towards the religion and ideology of Islam. So I would like to ask Stanford students not to exploit the word 'racism' at their own convenience.“
The Stanford controversy wasn't an isolated incident. Over the past few years, Lucas has developed a side career in political commentary to go along with his more lucrative day job. He frequently updates his blog with thoughts on world affairs, writes a regular op-ed column for The New York Blade (a gay newspaper), and has feuded with the popular, liberal gay blog Queerty. “I would be better financially if I didn't open my mouth,“ he tells me. And, yet, Lucas can't seem to help himself.
BORN ANDREI BREGMAN TO A secular Jewish family in Russia, Lucas is a graduate of Moscow State Law Academy. But he always craved celebrity, and the allure of fame enticed him to Berlin in 1995 to work as a model and prostitute. He came to the United States in 1997 and founded Lucas Entertainment the following year, eventually earning enough to move his parents and grandparents from Russia—“the putrid country of my birth“—to New York. Ever the resourceful entrepreneur, he put his father to work as a set constructor on his films.
I had read about Lucas in gay magazines like The Advocate and Out, and had met him when he gave a talk about the porn industry at Yale, where I was a student at the time. But it wasn't until last spring—when Lucas began writing his column for the Blade—that I realized how obsessed he was with international affairs. To be sure, Lucas writes about other topics as well. On his blog, interspersed between hard-core photos, he comments on everything from professional boxing (“I would not be surprised if the majority of boxers are repressed gay or bisexual men“) to the dumbing-down of society (“half the people you speak to think Pol Pot is something you buy at Home Depot“). But it is Middle Eastern politics that captivates him most.
When I called Lucas to arrange an interview, he said he was a longtime subscriber to The New Republic, and, arriving at his Manhattan office, I found The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times of London spread out on his glass desk. (I couldn't tell if the papers were there to impress, were film props, or were actual reading material.) When Lucas, who turns 36 this month, does wear clothes, he tends toward the form-fitting, and he sported a sharply tailored suit for our interview. He has a strong Russian accent, which is very much on display in his films. As we spoke, he occasionally paused to yell instructions at his publicist. Meanwhile, models entered and exited the room, slamming doors in search of sex toys.
You wouldn't know it from watching his movies—which are apolitical—but Lucas has opinions on everything. He is a fan of David Brooks and the late Oriana Fallaci (though he acknowledges her homophobia), thought the Iraq war was a bad idea (“the wrong target“), considers the press soft in portraying Islamist terrorism (“it's very upsetting that they don't allow people to see the beheadings“), loves Nicolas Sarkozy (“I think Marc Jacobs told me that Sarkozy went to synagogue“), and hates Jimmy Carter (“this fucking peanut farmer“). While he originally disagreed with Russia's brutal policies toward Chechnya, he now believes that America could learn something from Vladimir Putin. “The American Army can't take Fallujah?“ Lucas asks me, incredulous. “Level it!“
He criticizes Republicans, whom he calls “homophobic and anti-Semitic,“ while labeling ultraOrthodox Israelis “anal warts on the body of Israeli society.“ But the true objects of his ire are gay liberals whom he sees as overly sympathetic to the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Like many Russian Jews who were forced to repress their identity under Soviet rule, Lucas's Jewish heritage is the anchor of his worldview. He visits Israel annually. Not long after touching down there last month, he penned a manifesto on his website titled, “I stand with Israel, I stand with Jews.“ Shortly after the Lebanon war in 2006, he put on a live sex performance in a Tel Aviv nightclub where IDF members were given free admission (“in the tradition of American USO-style shows,“ as a Lucas press release described it).
“He's so deeply invested in, and in love with, his roots and his people,“ says Heather Fink, a former publicist for Lucas who is writing a memoir about her experience working for him. But, she adds, “I think it's very hard for him to empathize with Muslim people, and he does sometimes write them off.“ That's a gross understatement. Last year, in his Blade column, Lucas hailed gay artist Charles Merrill's decision to burn a rare copy of the Koran, estimated to be worth $60,000, and, in a subsequent radio interview, called the Koran an “absolutely evil book.“
Sometime after visiting Lucas, I received a package from his company. Expecting it to be Lucas's latest cinematic masterpiece, I instead found a copy of Lee Harris's The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the West.
Like the Stanford students who thought they were putting together a lecture on safe sex only to find themselves embroiled in a controversy over Islam, members of the porn community have learned a lot recently about Lucas's views on international affairs—probably more than most of them care to know. Unlike Stanford, however, the porn world is a place where people say and do outrageous things for a living. No wonder that, according to most of the porn community insiders I spoke with, the industry seems to be greeting Lucas's emergence as a pundit with a collective shrug.
These insiders tend to view Lucas's punditry as a mere extension of his brash personal style—a style that has led to frosty relations with other pornographers. Several years ago, Lucas told sex shop owners in New York that he would stop distributing his movies to them if they continued to stock those of a rival, a former Lucas actor with whom he had fallen out. “The entire industry is terrified of Michael Lucas,“ an employee of a competing studio tells me, before politely explaining that's all he can say. “He's from the East Coast,“ says Mark Kernes, a senior editor at Adult Video News. “Us people on the West Coast are more laid back.”
Lucas's website describes him as “the epitome of the American Dream,” and, in some ways, that's true. Americans, particularly immigrants, are experts at borrowing from different cultures in order to create something new. In the end, that capacity for borrowing may help explain Michael Lucas: He has married the pornographer's taste for the outrageous to the brash self-assuredness of an immigrant entrepreneur to the ethnic nationalism of a Russian Jew to the subject matter of Bernard Lewis. And if the results are sometimes ridiculous or noxious—well, that's the American way.
James Kirchick is an assistant editor at The New Republic. This article appeared in the March 26, 2008 issue of the magazine.