Jenna Jameson has sad, old and unsmiling eyes, which for all of her sex film glory, stare back from the bookjacket of her best-seller with an ironic dearth of spark and flame and the heat of life. The surgeon's knife has not been kind, "fixing" a weak chin and over-amplifying the already well-endowed assets on which she bases her fame. In interviews, the 30-something porn star talks about the quiet life, her now-limited on-screen appearances, her business plans, and her ideas about love and retirement.
Jenna may not be 100% real but she's 100% mainstream, a business story from the Wall Street Journal, the living embodiment of the acceptance of porn in middle America, and of the hypocrisy of the so-called cultural backlash against liberalism. As Frank Rich points out in his Oscar telecast preview in today's Times, the same media companies that shill for Bush and the social right also make hefty margins on pornography; this reminds me of the British Admiralty's attitude toward English pirates during the rise of the Empire: when the sea-borne brigands brought profits for the crown, swash-buckling letters of marque were just fine. When it wasn't convenient, the Tower and the block also worked. (You know, invade a pushover Iraq regime while giving North Korea a pass, no matter the warheads trained on Oakland. Same deal). Whatever is expedient and profitable.
Funny that Rich's column today deals with the hypocrisy of our public media mores, because it's a roiling undercurrent on my favorite blogs of late (I'm sure Frank follows my blogroll when trolling for weekly ideas - he'd be stupid not to). To Rich's mind, the moralist view is winning elections, but losing mainstream America, led by big business:
The power of the free market, for better or worse, will prevail, and the market tells us that it is still the American way to lament indecency even while gobbling it up. This is the year that Sports Illustrated for the first time published the number for its subscribers to phone if they wanted to skip the swimsuit issue - and almost no one called.
The Federal Communications Commission campaign for decency is flaming out, leaving pathetic, smoking embers and the tatters of Michael Powell's reputation. Funnyman shock jock Howard Stern sold the rights to his programming - which features porn stars and little else these days as his originality fades into mere immitation of himself - for half a billion dollars to Sirius Satellite Radio. Said Sirius boss Mel Karmazin in today's NYT: "Our brand awareness is at an all-time high and much higher than before the announcement." Of course it is.
Jeff Jarvis is a big Stern fan and his diatribes against what he calls the "prudes" of the Bush Administration, coupled with a couple of hilarious FOIA requests that showed most FCC complaints were dirty little chain letters, are justly praised. Funny then that my compadre Jason Chervokas (he and I ran @NY back in Silicon Alley days) slams Jarvis in his fascinating post on the nature of pornography and our growing willingness to undergo public media exposure:
Is there anything more tiresome on God's green Earth than Jeff Jarvis? J-Lo is less exposed. Like Dominique Wilkins was "the human highlight film," Jarvis is "the human sidebar." He's everywhere, all the time, on TV and radio, answering the ubiquitous sidebar question. Or he's blogging about answering the ubiquitous sidebar question. Does Jeff still have a day job?
This cracked me up, of course; Jeff does turn up everywhere! But Jason and Jeff share a Stern passion and a strong disdain for enforced community sexual mores, even if Jeff's more conservative than he thinks he is these days. And I think he'd agree with Jason's central point: that amateurs are everywhere in media these days, from blogs to reality shows to porn. Self-made media is growing, not shrinking, and the line between professional and true amateurism is growing blurry - and this is a 20-year trend, not some big-bang blog emergence mushroom cloud. Jason is entirely right when he says that the most successful blogs are done by under-employed writers and media hounds (like he and me) just like the semi-pro, under-employed videographers who create "amateur" porn flicks. Hell, old Josh Harris did his insane but brilliant WeLiveInPublic.com Website experiment with his reluctant girlfriend after Pseudo blew up - and that was like five years ago.
Lance Mannion picks up on this semi-pro media movement by contrasting his brief experiment making films with nudity back in college to today's more free and easy amateurism - when "live college girls" may actually be the real thing. After all, real college from Boston University girls (and boys) are behind a new, explicit sex magazine called Boink (knowing that makes its mildly shocking cover much more appealing than anything in Jenna Jameson's long career; its editors and publishers are its models). Lance's memoir shows how much things can change in 20 years - and got guys like Lance, and Jason, and me that 20 years is really the entire history of the self-created media movement, that is we witnessed the whole thing as semi-professionals:
Outrage and a convenient memory are useful in helping one not mind so much not being young anymore, not to mention in helping to disguise a voyeuristic tittilation. And of course jealousy, voyeurism, and prurience disguised as moral indignation are useful politically. Students nowadays may be wilder and less inhibited than we were. They may be a whole lot more strait-laced in their way. I wouldn't know.
Yeah, we wouldn't know - but we're all consumers. And many of us are also producers. Used to be a tiny percentage of the populace created movies and magazine and books for the great masses. Now we're all creators. Sure, the money will still be made in (mostly) professional productions and (very) professional distribution. But we're approaching an equilibrium between the creators and the consumers, and between the private and the public.
Turns out, Josh Harris's crazy experiment with Web-connected cameras in his New York loft was prescient. And it lives in the very public life of Paris Hilton - star of the most popular sex flick in recent years, a purely public face and body and sex life that belongs to everyone. This week, the contents of her digital PDA turned up online and suddenly, Eminem's cell phone was ringing off the hook with calls from all the little people. You know what? They felt entitled - entitled by The Apprentice, by Dirty Debutantes, by porn producer Jeff Gannon nee Guckert in the White House, and by bloggers like Jeff Jarvis. Perhaps they were right; perhaps there are no more stars, no lives that are mysterious and larger than life in America. Pay attention the the Oscars tonight. Are these people stars anymore? Aren't they just reality show extras who make movies?
Because these days we all live in public. And fame is more fleeting than ever.
UPDATE: Mannion follows up on Jason's piece (I love creating a web of thought like this) about the triumph of the semi-professional, while Wolcott, in his link to this post, makes a great point about it:
This phenomenon was brilliantly anticipated and analyzed by the late Albert Goldman, whom many regard and will forever despise as the Anti-Christ because of his biographies of Elvis and John Lennon. The result is that his pop journalism remains criminally underrated; and like so many scattershot geniuses (Seymour Krim, Lester Bangs, R. Meltzer, Nick Tosches), his best work was often done on the fly or for zero-prestige rat-bag publications.
Following the blog trail on this post further yields this insightful thought from Michael Hussey:
...Americans talk about moral values as they head to the adult video store to make a purchase. If the country was really as prudish as the conservative gatekeepers like James Dobson claim then Jameson would not be a celebrity.