After hearing about it for years, I finally got down to the Pegasus Lounge on a recent Wednesday for its infamous weekly Pornaoke night. CL has covered Pornaoke before, and even recognized it with a Best of the Bay award. On the surface, it’s a one-note joke and scandal-bait for prudes. But with around a decade of falsetto and fellatio under its belt (ahem), Pornaoke has become an underground Tampa Bay fixture, the haunt of artists, hipsters, and rockers alike – and even if you’re among the open minded, that’s worth taking a moment to think about.
The Pornaoke concept is so simple it barely qualifies as a concept. DJ Laser Ray, who, in his fedora, mustache, and billowing button-down, looks like a hard-ridden version of Carlos Santana — plays hardcore porn DVDs (yes, actual DVDs) in the background as he runs an otherwise entirely standard-issue karaoke night. He has a pretty good book of tunes (though in the digital age that’s less of a distinction than it used to be), and the sound system is up to the task. There’s no particular pattern or vibe to the thing, except that a pretty lady is pulling a string of pearls out of her vagina while you sing “White Wedding.” Warning: NSFW content after the jump...
But that simplicity belies the maze of reactions and implications you’ll find yourself wading through. First of all, it’s hard not to notice that the crowd is A) pretty evenly split between men and women, and B) lacking in the creepy trench-coat types you might expect. Most are young, gleefully hard-drinking USF students, hamming it up just a few feet away from the deflated, aging, utterly unironic barflies that some of them will eventually become. In Temple Terrace — where the Pegasus sits in a typically terrifying, poorly-lit mini-mall next to a botanica and a hair salon — that ranks it among the most relaxed and positive vibes you can find, and certainly healthier than any given collegiate meat-market nightclub.
Part of the upbeat mood lies in the absurdity of the entire experience. The goofy potential is emphasized even further via the performers; a duo of ladies belting out “A Whole New World” from Aladdin in front of a female . . . um . . . self-touching scene?, giving a whole new meaning to “magic carpet ride”; or a would-be Axl Rose howling “Take me down to Paradise City / where the grass is green and the girls are pretty” as we get a way-too-intimate glimpse of the ‘actress’ behind him, a rather funny sight that also delivers a bit of unexpected commentary on GNR’s fascination with filth and pleasure.
But of course, the sense of an ongoing winking joke masks a lot of weightier stuff. Even if you’re cool with porn, the idea of a bunch of strangers hanging out and watching it in public might make you worry that we’re taking one of the most important and private parts of human life a little too lightly (sex, not porn). And of course, the profusion of young women at the event could lead you to infer something about the compounding effects of social pressure on shifting sexual expectations, boundaries, and safety.
All of that might be true, but still leaves room for something more positive – Pornaoke as a collective kiss-off to the pornification of our lives. A decade ago, it may have still been a confrontational statement about freedom, but now Porneoke feels more like a group performance of boredom with instant-access titillation.
The porn is literally in the background, and everyone in the crowd studiously avoids getting too engaged with it. The second-worst faux pas you could commit at Pornaoke would be to get offended, but by far the worst would be to get turned on. Instead of providing pleasure, the machinic grinding and feigned ecstasy of industrialized pleasure act as a deadened counterpoint to a much more genuine and old-fashioned kind of fun – the fundamental, deep, and lasting joy of singing songs with friends.
Pornaoke starts at around 11 p.m. every Wednesday at the Pegasus Lounge, 10008 North 30th Street, Tampa.