Jenna Jameson is the world’s first true "porn star". Most of the women who are in pornography do not make a lot of money and have short careers in that industry. Due to the fact that their market value as "Fresh Meat" declines rapidly, their "shelf life" is brief. Thus, the "Porn Star" image is usually a myth. Of course there have been other famous female pornography performers, but Jenna Jameson broke into the mainstream in a way never seen before. She wrote her best-selling book How to Make Love like a Porn Star (notice the oxymoron in the title: pornography is not about love); she appeared on television and got famous throughout popular culture; and she has a great deal of fans both inside and outside the pornographic world.
However, the world's first true porn star has more than a few tragic stories to tell. The story of how Jameson became a porn star -- told in merciless detail in her book, co-written with Neil Strauss, a former New York Times journalist -- is one of astonishing pain and brutality:
"[W]hen Jenna was three, the family was shattered by her mother's death from melanoma... The cost of the cancer treatment bankrupted [her father] Larry and he moved into a trailer with the children. Soon afterwards he gave up his job in television, joined the Las Vegas Sheriff's Department, and embarked on a one-man, anti-corruption crusade. The mob tried to dissuade him by attempting to kidnap his children; he fought off one night-time assault on their home by chasing the assailant with a submachine-gun; Jenna and [her elder brother] Tony were put under police protection. In the end, the family left town and embarked on a series of moves. When Larry ran out of money, they returned to Las Vegas and moved in with his mother. Emotionally incapable of family life, Larry spent all his time at work, and Tony and Jenna were left to fend for themselves.
"Shortly after beginning high school, Jenna began taking acid and cocaine with her brother; by the time she was 17, their father was taking it with them...
"[B]y the time she was 16 -- when Larry moved the family to a cattle ranch in Fromberg, Montana -- she had filled out in a way that attracted attention. She had also begun dressing in the briefest, tightest clothes she could find. And while that was fine in Las Vegas, the other girls in the tiny midwestern town didn't like the way their boyfriends looked at the new arrival. The beatings she sustained at their hands persuaded her to make friends elsewhere. Which is why, after a football game one day in 1990, she found herself hitching a ride home in a pick-up truck with four boys from a neighbouring school's team. It was a mistake: they took the truck down a dirt road and gang-raped her.
"They repeatedly knocked her unconscious and when she came to hours later -- covered in insect bites, her clothes in tatters, her head resting in a puddle of her own blood -- she realised that they had left her for dead...
"[S]he was raped a second time when she was still only 16 -- this time by the biker uncle of her first long-term boyfriend [the uncle denies it]. She then prised the braces off her teeth with needle-nose pliers and successfully auditioned to become a stripper, making thousands of dollars a night. She was spotted by a scout for pornographic photo shoots, which led to her having sex on film for the first time. She was 19 and became an immediate sensation in the small world of the porn industry.
"But there was another problem: Jameson had acquired a devastating crystal-meth (amphetamine) habit. It nearly killed her. Rescued by a friend, she was sent back to her father to recuperate: she was so emaciated that she had to be put on the plane in a wheelchair, and when he came to meet her at the airport, he didn't recognise her."
In a 2004 CNN interview, Anderson Cooper asked Jenna Jameson a question. She was especially blunt at answering it:
"COOPER: ...[I]f you had a daughter, if she came to you and said that she wanted to get into that [porn] industry?
JAMESON: I'd tie her in the closet. Only because this is such a hard industry for a woman to get ahead and get the respect that she deserves. I fought tooth and nail to get to where I am, and it's not something that I would want my daughter to go through. It's not something that any parent would choose for their child."
In the same CNN interview, when Cooper asked her: "[Y]ou had a really tough background, which you write about in the book a lot. I mean, you know, you were abused as a child, you lost your mom at an early age. I mean, did that in any way play a part? Because there are those who say, look, you know, young people who experience abuse often gravitate to the porn industry.", Jameson replied: "Right. Absolutely. It's something that I've thought about a lot, and I can't really say for sure if that is reasoning behind why I've gotten into the adult industry."
"[In her book, Jenna] Jameson presents life in the [porn] industry as marked by violence and violation: She tells us she was beaten unconscious with a rock, gang-raped, and left for dead on a dirt road during her sophomore year of high school; she was life-threateningly addicted to drugs before she was twenty; she was beaten by her boyfriend and sexually assaulted by his friend. She also writes, "To this day, I still can't watch my own sex scenes." [...] If she feels so powerful as a sexual being, why can't she watch her own sex scenes? If her work environment is so satisfying, why does she say that if she had a daughter, she would lock her in the house before she'd let her get involved in the sex industry? [...] Jameson, like most employees of the sex industry, is not sexually uninhibited, she is sexually damaged. She has had the grim misfortune to be repeatedly and severely traumatized, which she tells us plainly enough."
-- Ariel Levy, in Female Chauvinist Pigs (2005).
"Look at the industry’s biggest star, Jenna Jameson, who appears to control her business life. However in her book she reports that she was raped as a teenager and describes the ways in which men in her life pimped her. Her desperation for money also comes through when she tried to get a job as a stripper but looked too young -- she went into a bathroom and pulled off her braces with pliers. She also describes drug abuse and laments the many friends in the industry she lost to drugs. And this is the woman said to have the most power in the pornography industry."
-- Gail Dines and Robert Jensen, Article Pornography is a Left Issue (2005).
Jenna Jameson’s life differs from that of most women in pornography only in that she made it to her 30th birthday not only alive, but rich and famous. The vast majority of the women in pornography, who get used and discarded by the industry, do not get such a stardom and wealth. Nevertheless, the mainstream media continues to promote the "Porn Star" myth by portraying the average female pornography performer as being a happy powerful sexual being who makes a lot of money, rather than an adult survivor of child abuse, who has very confused views of sexuality, is in economic needs, and uses the psychological process of "dissociation" -- as best as she can -- to be able to survive the brutal commodification and abuse of her body. Also often missing in the mainstream media's "Porn Stars' Stories" are the regularly violent and degrading acts, the misogynist insults, the body-punishing sex, etc...
Mainstream media outlets typically point to the few "Jenna Jamesons" of the world, the few "porn actresses" who "made it to the top", while ignoring the overwhelming majority of women who appear in video and Internet pornography and who don't get that chance. No wonder that some young women get into the porn industry aspiring to become "the new Jenna Jameson". The mainstream media glamorizes the "Porn Star life" so much.
Perpetuating the "Porn Star" myth is essential to keep some porn consumers -- who would otherwise feel guilty about using pornography (given the inherent misogyny and abusive characteristics of its content) -- comfortable and at ease, and thus make more money. Pornography and the mainstream media are inextricably connected.
Many of the women who enter the pornography industry, aspiring to be a "Porn Star", are just 18 years old. We also have to wonder: At just 18, are they mature enough to make this type of "choice", which is most likely influenced by sexual abuse, unhappy childhood, economic difficulty, lack of meaningful opportunity and education, and/or mainstream media con?
Copyright 2008. Maggie Hays. All Rights Reserved.
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