Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's Like a Woman Can't Win

Miriam Weeks (Belle Knox)
In one of those significant circumstances that mystically minded psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity,” porn actresses dominated my news feed this weekend. Nationally, Miriam Weeks, the self-described “Duke Porn Star” who performs under the name Belle Knox, briefly made the news rounds again despite doing nothing particularly new. Simultaneously, the on-air talent roster returned to Kansas City-area radio station 96.5 The Buzz following a million-dollar lawsuit.

Miriam Weeks, a working-class freshman at Duke University, gained national notoriety earlier this year by revealing she covered most of her $67,000 tuition bill by performing in online pornography. Since then, she claims, she’s become estranged from her family and friends, received everything from death threats to marriage proposals, and lost her entire student aid package. National media figures have widely embraced or excoriated her, without getting to know her.

Over two years ago, Afentra and DannyBoi, the mononymic morning drive-time co-host on The Buzz, misidentified a local law student as a “porn star,” based on erroneous listener text messages and a half-cocked Google search. This student brought suit, claiming having her name broadcast regionally undermined her reputation and damaged her mental health. After two-and-a-half years in legal purgatory, the Kansas City, Kansas, federal court awarded damages of one-million dollars.

The Buzz’s parent corporation, Entercom Media, suspended the station’s entire on-air talent stable from Tuesday to Sunday of last week, citing no reason publically, though presumably to prevent anybody saying anything actionable during the suit. Their talent returned on Monday, expressing gratitude to their listeners for continued support.  Their drive-time bush-league Howard Sterns were notably unabashed, though; Tuesday, they spent hours discussing Kansas’ big state-run dildo auction.

(Full disclosure: though I live over 300 miles away, The Buzz is my chosen radio station. I listen daily, and have downloaded music because of The Buzz’s endorsement. Thanks to Internet and smartphone technology, this local radio station now has potentially global reach.)

Afentra and DannyBoi, The Buzz's mononymic (and usually reclusive) morning drive-time DJs

The contrast between the two cases speaks volumes about America’s social values. Not just that one student embraced the moniker “porn star,” while another considered it legally actionable; but the reactions directed by the general public at the respective subjects. Miriam Weeks has attracted scorn, derision, and personal invective for being a porn star. The Kansas law student (who is named, but I’ll preserve her dignity) has received… the same.

Buzz listeners tweeted messages like “This is bullshit” and “If you dont like 96.5 the buzz then you can fuck off” when their DJs got benched. Worse, many directed personal attacks at the woman, apparently a listener herself, who brought the suit. They called her  “bitch,” insisted her suit reflected excessive law school indoctrination, and proved she had low character. Some language got even uglier, displaying vituperation and misogyny.

To their credit, The Buzz DJs rejected such attitudes. They’ve remained gracious, mostly declined on-air comment, and kept focus on their music. When fans attempted to establish a donor-sponsored legal defense fund, The Buzz declined, steering the donations toward a local battered women’s shelter. The on-air personalities themselves have kept professional, avoided stirring controversy, and demonstrated apologetic attitudes when questioned by journalists.

Vocal fans, however, haven’t shared this attitude. Besides slinging imprecations at the plaintiff, they’ve directed personal insults at a local (female) TV reporter for calling Afentra’s program “raunchy,” a not-unreasonable description, considering how they use coarse language and adult themes to court controversy and jack ratings. Though Afentra remains professional, her program’s ribald tone has spilled over into fan comments, some so shocking I won’t repeat them.

No wonder the plaintiff claims, over two years later, she can’t sleep at night. If somebody forced me to accept either the tag “porn star” or the language vocal fans have directed at her, I’d probably squirm in misery, too. Yet, considering the abuse directed at Miriam Weeks, just ignoring the appellation isn’t an acceptable choice either. Apparently, if a woman admits being a porn actress, she’s a bitch. If she denies being a porn actress, she’s a bitch.

It’s like a woman can’t win.

People react badly to change. Even people who believe themselves broad-minded and activist balk when somebody threatens their particular sacred cows. If some teenager rejects my sexual standards, we’ll isolate her. If some older student doesn’t reject my sexual mores, and gets angry at the suggestion, we’ll still isolate her. Sheltered by Internet anonymity, confident we’ll never face consequences for the vitriol we fling, the face we show is ugly.

How much better if we just talk to one another.

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