Jason Bitner's looking to make Dirty Found about more than just intercepted porn.
By David Marchese
There are few feelings as alternately strange and thrilling as finding someone else's porn. Absently stumbling across your dad's or brother's stash meant you could never think about them in quite the same way again. (Don't even mention Gramps.) Sure, you still went to ballgames together and shared meals, but now you knew (and could never forget) that in their secret moments they were gawking at naked ladies. And that just goes for the folks lucky enough to find run-of-the mill nudie mags such as Playboy or Penthouse. What about the poor bastards who found something more outre like Juggs, Over 50, or even worse, homemade smut? No matter what, things were different afterwards.
Jason Bitner might as well be a pro at mattress checking. He's the editor of Dirty Found magazine, a publication that prints reader-mailed dirty letters, scandalous photos, and salacious items found on the street, in e-mail inboxes and between the pages of used books.
"We normally only have access to the lives of ourselves, our friends and our family," says Bitner, who founded the magazine with his friend Davy Rothbart to create a repository for all the "strange, hilarious and heartbreaking things" they had noticed that their friends had stumbled across through the years. "When you have a remnant from the world, it gives a more detailed understanding of other people's lives," Bitner says.
Still, it's hard to say exactly what understanding can be gained from the porno Polaroids, horny letters, and raunchy doodles that somehow, someway have spilled into Dirty Found. The finds are too diverse and too disconnected to do anything but remind us that people think about sex a lot. It's hard to know what else there is to say about a 40-year-old virgin's lamppost ad for a woman, or libidinous text messages, or a picture of a man decked out in almost medieval enema gear, other than that we want to get our rocks off and we like to do it in a multitude of ways.
Nor is the magazine really all that titillating. Although images of cartoon man-roots, spread-eagled glamour poses and the occasional threesome carry an initial charge of transgression, that feeling, exacerbated by the fact that these images are apparently floating around waiting to be found, soon fades to a strange kind of curiosity, rather than any kind of peeping tom horniness. Bitner wanted it that way. He sees Dirty Found as less an expression of lust than an invitation to imagine.
"When we only have little pieces, people want to fill in the holes. That's one of the things that's fun about reading the magazine." Indeed, Bitner and company leave plenty of room for fill-in-the-blank back story. Just what is that old lady doing in the room while the dude is cupping his balls on the bed? Why doesn't she look more surprised? Who took the picture? The presence of that kind of surreal image suggests that Bitner is sincere when he says his mag is about something other than arousal.
"We look at it more as smut than porn. Porn is intended to get someone off. There is very little in Dirty Found that actually does that. It's not material to get people to jack off. It's more just about people's lives."
And sometimes that stuff is more affecting than a pair of naked boobies.
"We make the magazine funny and goofy but there's a lot of really tough stuff in there," Bitner continues. "There's an application for an adult movie star and then there's a Polaroid of her and you can see her wedding ring and a list of what she would or wouldn't do. It's heartbreaking. On the checklist all the classic intimacy things aren't checked off. You can imagine her parsing this stuff out in her head. It's upsetting to think of her filling out this application in some cheesy L.A. office."
Or maybe she was fulfilling a life-long dream. For every plausible connection or seeming insight, there are an equal number of alternate possible explanations. With that being the case, the best Dirty Found can do is allow a slightly more educated guess about the proclivities of the family down the street. That being said, it's not as if Bitner purports to be giving his readers a complete picture; the man has come across material that even he, in all his curiosity, doesn't see as fit for publication.
"As an editor, I've learned what my boundaries are. There's a close-up post-enema Polaroid. There's another picture that involves auto-fellatio . . . and that's totally eclipsed by what else is going on in the picture."