(The Forward) For nearly four decades, Karen and Barry Mason owned Circus of Books, a book and video store that was considered Los Angeles’ “center of the gay universe,” and later on they became one of the largest distributors of gay pornography in the America:
Now their lives are the subject of a documentary dropping on Netflix on Wednesday, “Circus of Books,” made by their filmmaker and artist daughter, Rachel Mason. “It’s a good film,” Karen Mason said. “I just wish it were about someone else…”
“Never in a million years did I think she’d make anything the least bit mainstream,” said Karen, who had long preferred people not to know what she did for a living. “Had I known this, I never would have done it.”
But now, she’s making peace with being recognized, while her husband Barry thrives on the attention, happily schmoozing with whomever talks to him.
As the film makes clear, for most of their childhood, neither Rachel nor her two brothers had a real handle on what their parents did for a living, other than that they owned a book store. And that’s how Karen preferred it. Karen was raised in a Conservative Jewish home, and raised her children that way, too.
The Masons didn’t set out to work in the adult industry. It was just a way to provide for their family. “We always thought something else would show up and it never really did,” said Karen.
Karen started her career as a journalist and Barry was an inventor, but they each quit those professions for different reasons. When Barry took a gig distributing porn magazines for Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, he quickly recognized a lucrative opportunity when he saw one.
It was a different time, pre-Internet, when the gay scene was much more underground. The first bookstore opened in West Hollywood, the center of LA’s gay life. Later Circus of Books expanded to Silver Lake and, briefly, Sherman Oaks. The stores functioned as popular and safe meeting places for gay men. The Silver Lake store closed in 2016. When the West Hollywood location closed in 2019, it was a front page story in the Los Angeles Times.
…Karen Mason’s going public about her profession is just one part of the journey she goes on in the film. The other is related to her faith, and saying more about it here would reveal a major spoiler, but let’s just say she’s an expert in compartmentalizing between those she deals with professionally and the members of her own family.
Meanwhile, Rachel Mason hopes others can relate to her mother’s struggles, and that this film will be able to open people’s minds. At the end of the day, porn stars are just people who clock in and clock out, she said.
“You can find the dark, horrific stories to tell in any industry, and the adult industry is often painted that way,” said Rachel. “I really wanted to show that you can work in this industry and be a person of faith, and love your children, and love the people around you, and none of that is at odds with your religious values.”
So there you have it: there is no apparent conflict between their Jewish ‘faith’ and being the largest purveyors of gay pornography in America.
This, apparently, illustrates how Jews ‘heal the world’ through ‘tikkun olam‘.
Gay porn is just all about loving your family and friends, according to the Masons.
No doubt their promotion and ‘normalization’ of the gay lifestyle contributed to the explosion of AIDS in California in the early 1980s, but who can blame them?
They were ‘just trying to make a living’ after all, and gay porn was as good a way as anything else.
Just ignore the fact that porn also been linked to the psychopathy of serial killers, like the homosexual Jeffrey Dahmer.
And notice the wife, Karen, was raised in a “conservative” Jewish family — which shows just how nebulous the whole concept of ‘faith’ is to Jews in general.
But it’s not as if the Masons are anything out of the ordinary for Jews who come from the middle class — whether the pornography is gay or ‘straight’, Jews in America have controlled and dominated the porn industry from its very beginnings, a fact that they are not shy boasting about.
And the fact that Netflix is now airing a documentary about this ‘nice Jewish couple’, gay porn will hopefully become as American as apple pie.