Wednesday, March 12, 2008

And around the blogs today....

The big sex work news of the day was, of course, anti-vice New York Governor Elliot Spitzer being caught with his hand in the very same honey-pot he crusaded so publicly to keep a lid on. Of course, Bound, Not Gagged is all over it, and providing some excellent coverage and commentary. Also with spot-on commentary is this post from our own founding henchwoman Renegade Evolution, and this from Susie Bright.

Since this scandal hit the news, the media has been all over contacting high-profile sex workers for their perspective on the sex industry, especially the high-end call-girl/powerful client end of it. There was a very good interview with Audacia Ray on the New York City public radio Brian Lehrer Show. (I also have quite a bit to say in the commentary thread following the audio of the post – shameless self-plug.) However, much of the desired level of conversation by members of the mainstream media hasn't exactly been so high-minded, and in at least a few cases, the interviewers have essentially played the role of cheap johns, wanting simply some salacious statements to sell copy, and barring in advance any discussion of the bigger issues. (Readers of this and other porn and sex work blogs may recognize a pattern at work here when it comes to the relationship between sex workers and the larger media and entertainment industry.) In a rather exemplary display of principle over publicity, Audacia Ray writes that she turned down an interview with MSNBC for this very reason. Audacia, you rock!

On another topic, "Thomas", a guest blogger on Feministe has just posted on the death of Shannon Wilsey, aka Savannah. (No, its not an anniversary of any kind, just a subject he felt like talking about.) On one hand, he's pretty right on the money with his pointing out that a lot of the male celebs who she played around with couldn't be bothered with her when she was in need during her life, nor even bother to show up for her funeral after her death. (Exception: Pauly Shore, of all people – otherwise, a variation on the same pattern of behavior toward sex workers as I was talking about earlier.) The flip side of the piece is a certain moralistic tone the piece takes "These were young women with few prospects. The patriarchy dangled a wad of bills in front of them if they would put on sexual performances for men. Then it treated them like shit when they took it. Sex objects, objects of curiosity, objects of scorn. To which I would add, "objects of pity and condescension for feminists".

First, she was not completely alone toward the end of her life – she was actually pretty close to a number of other porn performers and people in the industry. (Albeit, quite a few others despised her as a prima donna.) The Feministe piece ignores this in favor of the "exploited by the porn industry she hated" angle. Second, for all of the very real demons Shannon Wilsey clearly had, the whole passive victim of The Patriarchy script we see at work here really doesn't do her story any justice. For better or worse, Shannon Wilsey played a very active role in remaking herself into Savannah, first as a celebrity groupie, then as a top porn star. Shannon/Savannah was someone with great sexual charisma, an exceptional "hottie", and like anybody with an exceptional ability or gift, had a lot of her self-image wrapped up in that. In the end, probably too much, but nonetheless, she was who she was, and those who dismiss her as a mere victim of male objectification or empty hedonism and little more do nothing to honor her memory.


  1. yeah, that was so fucked up I didn't even respond on the thread. My own blog is a different matter. Man people annoy me.

  2. His quote pretty much sums up why people have such a narrow view of sex workers:

    "I never knew the woman. She was a porn performer, best known by her stage name, Savannah. I have never seen one of her films. But a cable news show ran a feature on her suicide, and it never left me."

  3. If I may, I'll cross-post what I wrote about this on Ren's blog here.

    One of the many things porn, and often its small band of defenders, lack is the advantage of institutional memory. People come and go here, some remembered and some forgotten, but due to the paucity of reliable, unbiased journalism devoted to porn, or to any dedicated attempt from within the industry to keep its own history intact, candid and coherent in some form, those of us who were present when important events happened are the only links to a past often overlooked, distorted, revised and reinvented to serve the purposes those who come later.

    As one of those old timers (25 years in this business now), I try to keep the oral tradition alive as best I can, which is one reason I had to take time out from a very busy day to respond to the screed linked from Ren's site that tried to hang Shannon Wilsey on the cross of Evil Porn once again. Here's what I had to say:

    This one really made me queasy.

    I did know Shannon Wilsey, though not well, but my S.O. of the time was about as close to her as anyone in the industry by that point. They shared the same agent, a woman who was really there for Shannon as much as anybody could be.

    When APF's suddenly come up with roses for the grave of a dead porn star over a decade after her funeral, you can bet it isn't out of sympathy for the deceased, despite whatever saccharin, hand-wringing displays of condescending pity they may layer over their real intentions. They're exploiting her in death as they claim the sex entertainment business did in life, adding a quick drive-by for her celeb booty calls in passing.

    Shannon was a person whose problems began long before she got in this game, and would probably have claimed her life had she chosen a different branch of the entertainment industry to pursue. Many insecure, lonely, angry people are drawn to trades that they must hope, somehow, will provide them with the validation they never found in their private lives by way of some form of public recognition.

    Hollywood eats up many of these people, not just porn stars. Someday, just to jab this point home, I'm going to start a dead non-sex performers' Web site. There are far more of them than there are dead porn stars, but their deaths evidently don't prove a political point, so who cares? Certainly not the author of the maudlin tripe we're shredding at the moment.

    Many lies have been spread about Shannon since her death - that she killed herself because her car accident had "disfigured" her so she couldn't work anymore (and was thus tossed on the ash heap by heartless porn barons) for example. Or that she was hopelessly strung out on drugs or that she was broke and desperate to restart her career and wasn't wanted anymore.

    All perfectly believable, but wrong. Shannon's wreck did bruise up her face a bit, but it wasn't the grisly thing others have made of it. The truth, which is pathetic in its own way, is that it did more damage to her expensive, new car than it did to her and she projected a lot of her distress onto the car as a sort of sad metaphor for the wreckage of her life. She had certainly struggled with drug addiction, but the worst of that was largely history by the time she took her life. And there's no doubt she was having money problems, in large measure of her own making.

    Shannon liked to live big and her earnings couldn't keep pace with her spending habits. There was a reason for that too.

    Shannon was not an easy person to work with, and that's being very charitable. She made no secret of her disdain for the porn biz and her complete lack of interest in her work in it, which was evident in her notoriously low-energy scenes. There's an infamous example in which she plays with the leaves of an artificial plant on the set while getting fucked from the rear. Her opinion was that, given her superior looks, she didn't have to invest any energy in her performances and generally didn't. She pretty much viewed porn as a Mcjob to support her various habits and bring her into the orbit of the famous personalities whose notoriety she coveted.

    Over a period of time, her weak work on camera, coupled with an explosive temper, a reputation for no-shows on shoot days and her surly demeanor on those sets where she did appear had limited her employment opportunities severely. She'd burned enough producers and directors in various ways that, by the end, work was hard for her to come by. That she was scheduled for a shot at a comeback star-vehicle probably contributed to her depression, as she undoubtedly saw little cause for celebration in coming back to doing something she never really liked in the first place but still needed for purely economic reasons.

    Almost all suicides are terrible mysteries that leave survivors with nothing but painful questions. What could/should/would we have done that might have saved this person? Since every suicide is very much an individual case, there are few answers to be found.

    But there are clues. Shannon claimed to be completely indifferent to the nasty crap thrown at her by porn biz reviewers and gossip mongers, but she kept a bulging scrapbook of every negative thing ever written about her. Now why would anybody engage in such an exercise in self-flagellation? Again, I have no answer, but it certainly points to a deep rage directed against herself as much as against those who threw spit-balls at her.

    She did have a warm, funny and generous side that a small number of people ever got to see, but she was pretty much pissed off all the time, and even when she was at the top of her game, she never seemed comfortable in her own skin. She didn't like the life she chose, but she couldn't seem to leave it alone either.

    There were many times, including at the end of her lucrative association with Video Exclusives, and its owner Marc Carrier, who was generally a fairly dreadful person but apparently treated Shannon surprisingly well, when she could have taken a hike on this business and done something else with her life, but she kept coming back, wanting something it couldn't give her.

    That same story goes for so many entertainers of all types the fact that Shannon's particular job description as a porn star hardly seems relevant. Like so many who come out here seeking fame and fortune, she got a bit of each, but not enough of either to placate her inner demons, which ultimately claimed her.

    And as to the small showing at her funeral, which is cited again and again as an example of the callous nature of porn and those who make it, Shannon's family, who hated what she did, made it very clear that no one from the industry, or from her personal life of celeb-culture partying, would be welcome. People stayed away out of respect, not indifference. I can tell you her death shook this industry to the foundations. It was heavily covered in the X-rated press, and while there were some cruel and stupid things said, there was also a genuine outpouring of sympathy from many quarters for a troubled young woman who just couldn't see a way out of her misery.

    Given what I know about her, and what I know from personal experience as a survivor of vital depression and a friend to many who did not survive it, I think Shannon would have ended up with a gun in her hand in a garage somewhere no matter what she had done for a living. She was a tortured, enigmatic soul who could find no peace in this world, and for her to be made a poster child for 'victims of porn" would have garnered a typically cynical eye-rolling snort from her if she could have known about it. Just more misuse from yet another bunch of parasites who she believed to be taking advantage of her in one way or another.

    One thing of which I'm certain is that she wouldn't have wanted their "sympathy" in the slightest.

    Oh, and one more thing from reading the comments over where this discussion originated. Tracy Lords had a valid U.S. passport when she came into the business. A highly competent PM I know at the now-defunct Western Visuals was the first to see it and it was clearly the real thing. If her fake I.D. was good enough to fool the State Department, it's hardly surprising that producers accepted it at face value. The suggestion that producers knowingly used under-age talent, which was just as much of a felony back then as it is today, is just ludicrous.

    Nina worked on a set with Lords once and reported that she was all-business, highly professional and behaved in no way that would arouse suspicion regarding her true birth date. She's much disliked in the industry still for having perpetrated a fraud that endangered everyone she worked for and resulted in significant economic harm to companies that had to recall every product in which she appeared. That she's gone on to bash porn repeatedly in interviews since her departure may have done her lusterless career some tiny bit of good, but it says more about her personal duplicity than it says about the people whose money she eagerly took when it suited her.

    Not all women in porn are victims and not all victims in porn are women. Whatever her age - and lets not forget that our legal system does hold people her age accountable for criminal wrongdoing - she committed many counts of fraud and then built a career on blaming others for not calling her out on those frauds at the time. Some people may think it's a sort of victory for a cunning grifter to get over on a bunch of sleazy pornographers, but if so, it's hardly a glorious triumph founded in personal integrity and courage.

    4:57 PM

  4. Ernest, I find myself drawn to your writing and I wonder how you can weave things so complex into something so easy to understand and yet not comprimising its depth.
    Ren, you are a true ass kicker.
    Between the two of you, you have it covered.
    Humm, sex industry workers and depression and addiction. I will admit, that I have had my struggles but I am all too clear that the industry had nothing to do with what was going on in my head or what chemicals I was putting in my body. Frankly, where ever I go, there I am.

    R.I.P. to who ever could not stay for this trip, for what ever their reasons.

  5. Thank you, Lisa. Writing on this blog, Ren's blog and is therapeutic for me. I do a ton of writing on the job, both as an editor and as a producer/director, but very little of that is personal to me in any way. In these posts, I get to speak my mind and heart, and for someone who once dreamed of writing in this way full-time that is more rewarding than I can ever express.

    This was a sad topic, but it needed attention, not so much because of the circumstances surrounding this particular tragedy, but in response to the way it is exploited over and over again, like every bad thing that happens to a sex worker, by people who claim to be sympathetic when they're really just using the event as yet another cudgel with which to bash what we do for a living.

    For all the crocodile tears these cranks shed over the dire fates of poor, poor sex workers, they really don't give a skinny rat's ass about the individual humanity of the real people whose histories they've misappropriated to ends abhorrent to those for whom they claim to speak. It's convenient when the "victims" aren't around to contradict the lies and distortions spread in their absence.

    I recall one particularly vicious troll who haunted our Web site under a bunch of different user names until eventually located, unmasked and blasted to electrons by our admins. Among this fuckhead's claims was that Shannon had committed suicide "because she couldn't stand the shame of what she was doing anymore." Like this asshole could have known what was going on in the head of someone whose name he couldn't even spell correctly.

    Whatever Shannon's many problems may have been, those who knew her will tell you that shame was not among them. Insecurity, oh yes. But that insecurity was as unrelated to her working life as most of her other concerns. She was always stretching for the brass ring our whole culture dangles out of reach, and porn was just the wobbly perch from which she ultimately fell.

    Cynical anti-porn propagandists strip their "examples" of humanity in a way far more calculated and loathsome than anything of which any pornographer might rightly be accused. Using a dead person to score cheap rhetorical points behind the maudlin guise of sorrow and mourning is despicable and if Shannon could rise from the grave, knowing just how much she hated being treated with condescension and dismissed as just another typical anything, she'd kick these fool's asses in a heartbeat.

    But she's not here, so I'm making my best effort to do the job for her. Like so much anti-porn agitprop, the original post that started this discussion reflected much more about the morbid obsessions of the author than about any realities of the trade Shannon practiced in life. It was a sickening exercise in political necrophilia by someone who clearly finds sex workers more appealing in death than in life.

    Every day we go on living and working and being happy and successful, we show them all up for the dishonest-to-the-bone hate-mongers they are.