Friday, March 14, 2014

Thoughts on Duke's student-porn actress

References to the Duke student who has been making porn films under the name Belle Knox (and who was outed by a fraternity brother who recognized her from watching the films, and initially promised to keep her secret) keep popping up in my news feed.  Honestly, I'm not sure what to think, but here's a start:


--Although she has vehemently objected to being called naive, I think she was pretty naive, about everything from the nature of the porn industry to her ability to keep her real-life and porn identities separate to how everyone from her classmates to her parents would react.  She also seems a bit confused about whether the main purpose of her acting career was to make money, or advance the cause of sex-positivity, or a bit of both (I'm all for sex-positivity, but I'm not sure making mainstream porn is the best means to that end.  On the other hand, porn is pretty much a fact of life, so there's probably an argument for making better porn, or at least porn that avoids some of the exploitative pitfalls of mainstream porn. There were some female filmmakers trying to do that when I was in grad school, and I remember attending at least one lecture/film showing at the time, but, being a scholar of a another era -- and being the stereotypical female who's more into words than images -- I haven't kept up with developments in that realm).





--While I'm skeptical of her "how else could I cover my tuition?" stance, I'm also skeptical of those who insist that sex work is absolutely, unquestionably, inevitably more degrading than any other kind of work a woman can do.  I'm pretty sure that most (though not all) women would choose another line of work if they had other options that offered equally good pay, hours, etc., but I think that should be up to the individual woman to decide (preferably in a situation where sex work is legal, making some degree of worker protection possible).  I also can't help noting that the male UNC-Chapel Hill students who performed an extreme version of masculine gender roles in public (i.e. played football) in exchange for educations they didn't actually get -- in some ways an equally exploitative exchange -- seem to be getting much more sympathy, or at least a pass on the scorn; interestingly, the actual players and the decisions they made are mostly absent from that discussion, perhaps because they're long-(supposedly)-graduated, and/or perhaps because we seem to accept that athletes in marquee sports are often infantilized by their coaches, agents, etc.  Maybe that's the male version of the naivete narrative.

--The hypocrisy of the reactions from some Duke students (apparently both male and female) is breathtaking.   Apparently it's just fine for Duke fraternity brothers to be familiar with the films in which their fellow-student acted, but she, by acting in them, has besmirched the good name of Duke, and deserves scorn, harassment, threats, and banishment by means of all of the above (since she hasn't actually broken any rules, and so, inconveniently, can't be officially expelled).  I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the nastiness, given some of what Ben has turned up on twitter, but at least I can explain student reactions to professors to myself as (extremely inappropriate) expressions of extreme anxiety at a time when the world does, admittedly, look pretty scary to even well-educated, relatively-privileged 18-22-year olds.  Maybe I should be applying some of the same thinking here (are the critics afraid that they, literally or metaphorically, may end up prostituting themselves in the future?), but mostly I see very old-fashioned ideas about virgins (or at least "nice girls") and whores, and keeping each in their place (and, although I realize this thinking goes on everywhere, I can't being reminded that Duke is located in the Old South, and wondering whether we're seeing remnants of the extreme polarization of female stereotypes that operated under, and helped to undergrad, slavery).   I'm also betting that that Princeton mom who keeps lecturing her son's female fellow-students about getting married is very glad she didn't send her son to Duke.  Bottom line: the sexual double standard is alive and well, and being expressed in really disgusting ways.  Ugh.

--I hope she'll be safe, both physically and psychologically.  I hope she'll be able to finish her education at Duke, or another equally challenging school.  I hope she'll get a chance to reflect on her experiences (both of working in the porn industry and of others' reactions to the revelation that she works in the porn industry) and make informed, nuanced, decisions going forward.  I fear that she will, instead, be pushed to extremes (and I'm guessing that, unless her family succeeds in persuading her to give up porn work, she's going to end up being pushed in the direction of being a bigger star/spokeswoman/sex-positive martyr; in fact, her "revelation" of her "porn name" has a whiff of marketing about it that leaves me a bit uneasy.  Hmm.  Maybe she's less naive than I think.) 


Contingent Cassandra

2 comments:

  1. Duke in the news, yet again. Makes me wonder how they maintain their fancy reputation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmmm. Many toughts, little time. I read the article linked at "the reactions from some Duke students" to see if there was any intelligence there, and do find some.

    I don't understand the "slutshaming" that is being heaped on her. There will always be porn. Acting out negatively and publicly against a single person making porn is like pissing in the ocean: it won't stop the waves of porn from reaching the shore. People who think that shaming the individual is a good approach to shutting down the industry should instead consider that they have the choice as individuals to choke off demand for porn by simply not buying or watching it and by finding "more worthy" ways of spending their time. They could expand their approach by encouraging fellow citizens to do as they do. The industry would shrivel and disappear if nobody were willing to buy its product, and that will happen in approximately... never.

    Do the shamers not understand the Streisand Effect (google it) they are creating? Undoubtedly some of the allure of porn is that people think it is "naughty". The public shaming not only keeps this motivation quite alive and well, it also usually provides some good specific examples of porn for people to seek out. Compare also to "murder porn", "train wreck porn", "car chase porn", etc. And yeah, I think atheletes beating each other up in front of an audience is a varaiation on the theme, with institutionalized exploitation abounding.

    Now, I don't know how much Belle's prospects for a "socially acceptable" career are going to be helped by her 15 minutes of fame. I think she may have been naive if she thought that she could avoid the backlash and that her options would not be limited in light of it. Part of the wisdom behind the saying "don't shit where you eat" is that you will probably be negatively affected by not being able to easily escape interacting with people who strongly disagree with what you're doing, as well as others who might not abhor the act but nevertheless question the motivations of the actor.

    ReplyDelete