Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This Is Not What You Want to Be When You Grow Up

Back in April, blogs were buzzing with the news that Justin Sisely, an Australian filmmaker, was filming a reality show on which contestants sell their virginity to the highest bidder. Each virgin would be paid $20,000 plus 90% of their, um, sale price. The other 10% would go to the brothel where the show is filmed, of course. You know; that’s how all the brothels do it. When the Australian government got wind of the plan, they told Sisely he’d face prostitution charges if he filmed the show there. Fortunately, the good old USA came to Sisely’s rescue -- with Nevada, where prostitution is legal. So, Mr. Sisely and his pack of virgins hopped a plane and set up “shop” at a Nevada brothel. As far as anyone knows, they are still there, auctioning off and filming the cast’s first sexual experiences. When you hear it all laid out like this, it sounds rather vile, right? It’s “absurd and disgusting,” as Australian politician Steve Fielding put it.  Yeah, it’s pretty gross. I’ll tell you what it is NOT, though: surprising. Or illogical. I mean, if one looks at what’s happening in pop culture news, it is evident that prostitute is the new “It” job. Only we’re calling it something else: mistress.

In the last year, three notable mistresses have found fame and fortune through their occupation. Certainly there have been more than three women – and men, for that matter – who have had affairs with wealthy partners in the hopes of financial gain; that story is as old as affairs themselves. Three mistresses, though, have elevated the profession to a new level. There is the most recent inductee to the thinly-veiled sex trade All-Stars, Oksana Grigorieva (Hey, hey, hey – don’t get twisted. I am not blaming Oksana for Mel’s revolting and inexcusable behavior, so take it easy. We’re all friends here.); there is Michelle “Bombshell” McGee of Jesse James’s naked Nazi tattoo party; and then there is the queen, Rachel Uchitel, who was the first of Tiger Woods’s special friends. These three women have two very important things in common. All three had affairs with famous, wealthy, married men, and all three have made a lot of money as a result of their affairs. Oh, wait, I almost forgot; there’s one more important similarity. All three were in love with the men and never after the money, according to the women themselves. I forgot about that part. Probably because it’s not true.

Let’s look at Rachel’s story first, since she is the master. Rachel carried on a long-term affair with Tiger until the National Enquirer caught her on film leaving his hotel room in Australia. She denied it. And then she hired Gloria Allred, which was the equivalent of writing “Rachel loves Tiger” in the sky over his house. As the rest of Tiger’s mistresses came tumbling out of his metaphoric closet, Rachel kept silent. Later, it was reported that Woods had paid her $10 million for her silence. Ten. Million. Dollars. Ten million dollars not to tell us what we already knew! Months later, Rachel announced that she would be posing for Playboy, and yesterday it was reported that she had joined the cast of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” to treat her…wait for it…wait for it…addiction to love. How much money and attention does one woman need? A lot, evidently. And what is she willing to do to get it? Carry on an affair with a married sex addict, strip, and fake an addiction, to be precise. You say tomato, I say she’s a prostitute.

Rachel, Oksana, Bombshell, Hailey…the list goes on and on. Women are being paid a hundred different ways for sleeping with married men and then talking about it -- or in Rachel’s case, for not talking about it – no matter how gory the details. Oksana Grigorieva turned down $15 million to keep the Mel tapes under wraps. If you think it’s because she wanted revenge more than money, well, that’s a slightly less disturbing theory. But I’ll bet any one of you $15 million that she’ll have made more than that from this tragedy once it’s over and forgotten. As for Bombshell, Hailey, and the rest, their profits might not be as staggering as Oksana’s and Rachel’s, but it’s all relative. Rachel and Oksana already had pretty impressive bank accounts before they cashed in on their intimacies, unlike the others. Point is, every one of them had an affair with a married man (each of their men was married when the affairs began), every one of them made a lot of money as a result, and every one of them is now a household name. So, now that I’ve carried on it about it for so long, you might be wondering, “What’s the big deal?” I’ll tell you what the big deal is. Girls in this country are going to grow up thinking that their bodies are currency and that selling one’s dignity is the American Dream.

We used to teach young girls not to “give it away,” but “giving it away” referred to sex without love, not sex without money. We told girls that they would have healthier self-esteem and healthier relationships if they valued themselves and their bodies enough to share them only judiciously. I think we still teach that on paper. The media, unfortunately, follow quite a different lesson plan. The women who get the most attention lately are those who make money from selling themselves and the stories of their very private lives. Of course, plenty of people shake their heads at all of it; it’s not as if the public treats Rachel Uchitel like a role model. But we buy the magazines and we watch the shows; we pay their salaries. So while I don’t think for a second that anyone -- or the media  -- is actually suggesting that young girls consider prostitution and/or extortion as career choices, I know that we reward those choices. And no matter what we say, our actions speak louder -- cliché though it may be, it's true. The choice isn't always as extreme as Rachel's or Oksana's. Sometimes it’s a more subtle sale of self, like Kendra or Kim Kardashian, both of whom have popped up on this page in the past. It’s all on the same spectrum. But now we’re at the end of that spectrum, the scary, scary end, where women make a better living from affairs with married men than from almost anything else and there are reality shows that auction off people’s virginity. Just read that sentence again. What's next? How much worse can the message be? When the producer of a reality show recruits contestants with a headline that reads "Virgins Needed" (yes, he did), I'd say not much worse. Just say no, people. We're the johns now -- just say no.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Original Title Was "TMI"

Kendra Wilkinson Baskett is an author. That’s right. She was a stripper. Then she was a Playboy bunny. Then she moved in with Hugh Hefner as the third of his “girlfriends.” Then she was the star of a reality show. Then she was the star of a very personal video. Then she was the star of another reality show. AND NOW SHE’S AN AUTHOR. Sorry to yell, but, come on. Why do reality stars write books? Listen, we already know too much about you from that reality TV show you’re on, okay? There was no reason at all for me to care about Kendra's book. I wasn't planning to read it. I hadn't thought much about it. As far as I was concerned, there was every reason to laugh and scoff at Kendra’s book, but no reason to pay it any mind.

I really wish I hadn’t paid it any mind.

I read a lot of blogs. It’s part of my job. I read, and I write. So when something happens that catches the attention of celebrity bloggers, I usually read about it multiple times. Different writers have different information, and it’s always interesting to get different points of view on an issue or event. Today I read probably five articles about Kendra’s book, Sliding Into Home; evidently she started her press blitz this morning. As a result, today I read, probably five times, Kendra’s very direct description of her first intimate encounter with Hugh Hefner, an experience she shared with a group of girls. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the story is haunting me. And I'm not haunted by what you might expect. It's not, “Eww, Hef is old and gross and I don’t want to think about that.” I mean, yeah, that, too, but what really gets me is Kendra’s very matter-of-fact description about a group act designed to initiate women into some sort of…job. Right? I mean, that’s what happened, isn’t it? It gets worse when Kendra explains how she decided to “go upstairs to Hef’s room” that day. “It seemed like every other girl was going, and if I didn’t it would be weird,” she writes. Well, Kendra, actually, what’s weird is being intimate with a dozen women and a much older man you’ve just met for a job interview. Kendra wants us to know, though, that where some might see sexual harassment, she saw bliss. "The next morning…I felt special, loved, and pretty. Isn’t that all a girl really wants out of a boyfriend?” she writes. Sure, Kendra. That’s all.

The Hef “party” story is clearly every blogger’s favorite salacious excerpt from Kendra’s tell-all tome, but it only ties for the title of most depressing excerpt. It shares that crown with Kendra’s description of how she went from drug-abusing mess to happy, healthy, confident Kendra. She was saved from a life of abusing herself by…wait for it…stripping! She writes, “For the first time in my life I felt sexy and powerful. I was the top earner in that club. But I thought I’d do even better if I were bigger…I had my dream boobs and business was good!” Dream boobs, people. Dream. Boobs. Once you read this excerpt, the other makes perfect sense, right? I mean, when one’s first experience of being sexy and powerful is working as a stripper, then the most logical career choice is, in fact, concubine.

To be fair, I haven't read the book. But the excerpts scare me. It scares me that the book is being presented as a juicy memoir when it sounds more like a sad story that perpetuates dangerous ideas. Plus, the book's release comes only weeks after Kendra's video scandal died down. On top of the fact that the moral of her story seems to involve prostitution making dreams come true, it's Kendra overkill. It's just too much of one person to be put on public display. It's creepy, people. Think about it.
 I’m not saying that Kendra should be ashamed of her past, and I am not asserting that she is a bad person. Kendra, you seem like a nice enough girl, but, come on. Don’t glorify stripping and selling your body. That's not good for anybody. At the very least, spare us the naked Hef stories, okay?