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967 emails in six years. So who is Brian S Gross, and why does he keep sending me porn?

I decided to open all of Brian’s emails in one go.

Over the last six years I have received 967 emails from a man called Brian S Gross, sometimes up to three a day. I have always liked the look of his name: very West Coast and exotic, a name of matcha lattes and eight-hour time lags. Given some of the subject headings, Brian is clearly involved in the sex industry.

I hadn’t opened them. It wasn’t prudishness that stopped me, simply the fear of being seen in the New Statesman office with a giant, flesh-coloured dildo on my screen. But, tired on press day, I decided to take a break and unsheath the man from the mystery: to learn more about Brian S Gross.

I put his name into LinkedIn. Brian is one of the world’s leading porn PRs; he studied music at Northern Arizona University, and has a shaven head and great teeth. According to Google Street View, he operates out of a large, white, plantation-style civic building on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. There is a financial adviser and a security company on the same premises. I decided to open all of Brian’s 967 emails in one go, to see what I might learn about the colourful world of porn PR.

On 12 February a woman called Chelsea, head of sex toys at the American company Adult Empire, had travelled to Texas to take a trip around the Fleshlight factory, producer of “discreet and portable” sex devices for men. The owner of Fleshlight, Steve Shubin, is a 6ft 4in ex-soldier and former LAPD cop: he originally designed his sex toys in his garage in the 1990s, after getting the go-ahead from his wife. He’d used food-grade mineral oils and thermoplastic elastomers on the early prototypes, which he test-ran on himself. The devices today are made of rubber polymers, “100 per cent phthalates free”. Chelsea saw this material being heated to 300 degrees in a large vat; then it was hand-pumped into molding machines. The products have a variety of different shapes and names, including “the Alien”. Chelsea’s account of her visit is 1,478 words long and quite scientific. By the end, I wanted to know more about her, too.

In other emails, Brian S Gross bounces off the political events of the day. The popular YouPorn-style video site RedTube took a survey of one million users, who predicted that Trump would win the presidency. Later, as Donald struggled with his first few weeks in the job, top pornstars – Mocha Menage, Harmony Cage and more – were asked what advice they wanted to give him. Abortion must be legal and available to every woman, they said. Decent foreign relations should be paramount. Take a lot of advice. Get a good vice president. Prioritise climate change. And free health care for all. Being president required a “low moral compass”, said the young star Georgia Jones – so there’s no way she’d want to do it. You can watch the women putting their ideas to the camera: Brian included a “safe-for-work” link in that particular email.

In another dispatch, Brian explores the widespread trend of porn-viewing in the workplace. The London pornstar Harriet Sugarcookie writes a report revealing that 60 per cent of some 2,000 workers surveyed worldwide had watched porn in the office, some “by accident”. Fifty-eight per cent said they were driven to it by boredom. In January, it was revealed that employees at the Houses of Parliament had made 24,000 attempts to access porn. “The lesson for bosses,” concludes Sugarcookie, “is to monitor stressed employees, give them a break to relax... Perhaps a porn break can get them back to peak performance?”

I cast my eye down the headlines of the 967 emails: “Super Hole Championship!” “Sugar Daddy Dating Sites Promote Prostitution, says Brothel”. Some emails advertise films, a more traditional part of the work of a porn PR: the triple-X spin-offs Tugrats and Bill And Ted’s Sexcellent Adventure, for example, or the new take on the 2014 Keanu Reeves action film John Wick, entitled John Wank.

But engineering, politics, ethics and occupational health are also arriving in my inbox every day, via the world of porn and the emails of Brian S Gross. From now on, I will open them all. 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game

Photo: Getty
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Arsène Wenger: The Innovator in Old Age

As the Arsenal manager announces his departure from the club after more than two decades, the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, appreciates English football’s first true cosmpolitan. 

How to account for the essence of a football club? The players and managers come and go, of course, and so do the owners. The fans lose interest or grow old and die. Clubs relocate to new grounds. Arsenal did so in the summer of 2006 when they moved from the intimate jewel of a stadium that was Highbury to embrace the soulless corporate gigantism of the Emirates. Clubs can even relocate to a new town or to a different part of a city, as indeed Arsenal also did when they moved from south of the Thames to north London in 1913 (a land-grab that has never been forgiven by their fiercest rivals, Tottenham). Yet something endures through all the change, something akin to the Aristotelian notion of substance.

Before Arsène Wenger arrived in London in late September 1996, Arsenal were one of England’s most traditional clubs: stately, conservative, even staid. Three generations of the Hill-Wood family had occupied the role of chairman. In 1983, an ambitious young London businessman and ardent fan named David Dein invested £290,000 in the club. “It’s dead money,” said Peter Hill-Wood, an Old Etonian who had succeeded his father a year earlier. In 2007, Dein sold his stake in the club to Red & White Holdings, co-owned by the Uzbek-born billionaire Alisher Usmanov, for £75m. Not so dead after all.

In the pre-Wenger years, unfairly or otherwise, the Gunners were known as “lucky Arsenal”, a pejorative nickname that went back to the 1930s. For better or worse, they were associated with a functional style of play. Under George Graham, manager from 1986 to 1995, they were exponents of a muscular, sometimes brutalist, long-ball game and often won important matches 1-0. Through long decades of middling success, Arsenal were respected but never loved, except by their fans, who could be passionless when compared to, say, those of Liverpool or Newcastle, or even the cockneys of West Ham.

Yet Wenger, who was born in October 1949, changed everything at Arsenal. This tall, thin, cerebral, polyglot son of an Alsatian bistro owner, who had an economics degree and was never much of a player in the French leagues, was English football’s first true cosmopolitan.

He was naturally received with suspicion by the British and Irish players he inherited (who called him Le Professeur), the fans (most of whom had never heard of him) and by journalists (who were used to clubbable British managers they could banter with over a drink). Wenger was different. He was reserved and self-contained. He refused to give personal interviews, though he was candid and courteous in press conferences during which he often revealed his sly sense of humour.

He joined from the Japanese J League side, Nagoya Grampus Eight, where he went to coach after seven seasons at Monaco, and was determined to globalise the Gunners. This he did swiftly, recruiting players from all over the world but most notably, in his early years, from France and francophone Africa. I was once told a story of how, not long after joining the club, Wenger instructed his chief scout, Steve Rowley, to watch a particular player. “You’ll need to travel,” Wenger said. “Up north?” “No – to Brazil,” came the reply. A new era had begun.

Wenger was an innovator and disrupter long before such concepts became fashionable. A pioneer in using data analysis to monitor and improve performance, he ended the culture of heavy drinking at Arsenal and introduced dietary controls and a strict fitness regime. He was idealistic but also pragmatic. Retaining Graham’s all-English back five, as well as the hard-running Ray Parlour in midfield, Wenger over several seasons added French flair to the team – Nicolas Anelka (who was bought for £500,000 and sold at a £22m profit after only two seasons), Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès. It would be a period of glorious transformation – Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup “double” in his first full season and went through the entire 2003-2004 League season unbeaten, the season of the so-called Invincibles.

The second decade of Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal, during which the club stopped winning titles after moving to the bespoke 60,000-capacity Emirates Stadium, was much more troubled. Beginning with the arrival of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, the international plutocracy began to take over the Premier League, and clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City, much richer than Arsenal, spent their way to the top table of the European game. What were once competitive advantages for Wenger – knowledge of other leagues and markets, a worldwide scouting network, sports science – became routine, replicated even, in the lower leagues.

Wenger has spoken of his fear of death and of his desire to lose himself in work, always work. “The only possible moment of happiness is the present,” he told L’Équipe in a 2016 interview. “The past gives you regrets. And the future uncertainties. Man understood this very fast and created religion.” In the same interview – perhaps his most fascinating – Wenger described himself as a facilitator who enables “others to express what they have within them”. He yearns for his teams to play beautifully. “My never-ending struggle in this business is to release what is beautiful in man.”

Arsène Wenger is in the last year of his contract and fans are divided over whether he should stay on. To manage a super-club such as Arsenal for 20 years is remarkable and, even if he chooses to say farewell at the end of the season, it is most unlikely that any one manager will ever again stay so long or achieve so much at such a club – indeed, at any club. We should savour his cool intelligence and subtle humour while we can. Wenger changed football in England. More than a facilitator, he was a pathfinder: he created space for all those foreign coaches who followed him and adopted his methods as the Premier League became the richest and most watched in the world: one of the purest expressions of let it rip, winner-takes-all free-market globalisation, a symbol of deracinated cosmopolitanism, the global game’s truly global league. 

(2017)

Postscript

Arsène Wenger has announced he is stepping down, less than a year after signing a new two-year contract in the summer of 2017. A run to the Europa League finals turned out not to be enough to put off the announcement to the end of the season.

Late-period Wenger was defined by struggle and unrest. And the mood at the Emirates stadium on match day was often sour: fans in open revolt against Wenger, against the club’s absentee American owner Stan Kroenke, against the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and sometimes even against one another, with clashes between pro and anti-Wenger factions. As Arsenal’s form became ever more erratic, Wenger spoke often of how much he suffered. “There is no possibility not to suffer,” he said in March 2018. “You have to suffer.”

Arsenal once had special values, we were told, and decision-making was informed by the accumulated wisdom of past generations. But the club seems to have lost any coherent sense of purpose or strategic long-term plan, beyond striving to enhance the profitability of the “franchise”.

The younger Wenger excelled at discovering and nurturing outstanding young players, especially in his early seasons in north London. But that was a long time ago. Under his leadership, Arsenal became predictable in their vulnerability and inflexibility, doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, especially defensive mistakes. They invariably faltered when confronted by the strongest opponents, the Manchester clubs, say, or one of the European super-clubs such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

Wenger’s late struggles were a symbol of all that had gone wrong at the club. The vitriol and abuse directed at this proud man was, however, often painful to behold.

How had it come to this? There seems to be something rotten in the culture of Arsenal football club. And Wenger suffered from wilful blindness. He could not see, or stubbornly refused to see, what others could: that he had become a man out of a time who had been surpassed by a new generation of innovators such as Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino. “In Arsene we trust”? Not anymore. He had stayed too long. Sometimes the thing you love most ends up killing you.

 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.