Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.
Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.
Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”
Tabloids and gossip sites are reveling in their usual witches’ brew of judginess and salacious intrigue.
Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.
About that Post columnist:
Ruth Marcus, Old Enough to Be Knox’s Grandma and apparently a freelance psychologist, calls Knox a “troubled young woman.”
If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.
“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.
“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”
Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”
One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.
Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.
Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.
So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”
Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.
Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.
Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.
Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.
When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.
I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)
I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.
One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.
I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.
Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.
If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.
But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.
I thought Manhattan was Long Island.
Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.
The President says it too.
Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.
Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”
Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.
The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.
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