by Rich Moreland, January 2014
During this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE), I interviewed four girls who represent one of the industry’s leading companies, Digital Playground. An unexpected opportunity opened up and as you shall see, there is more to porn than money.
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Thursday, January 16
The Digital Playground booth is ready for its fans. A few media types hang around, including my photographer Bill and me, awaiting Digital’s PR person who is moving things along with precision. Likewise, Digital’s stars are arriving to get their interview and signing schedules.
In truth, the convention is a hectic four-day affair in which everyone’s time is limited and under high demand. With warm smiles all around, girls meet industry people and fans, do media interviews, and attend promotions and parties without letting platform heels and fatigue get in the way.
Today’s interviews begin with eleven-year vet, Jesse Jane, whose southwestern roots are integral to her friendliness. Jesse is a contract girl (she shoots exclusively for Digital Playground) and has built a reputation as a woman who works tirelessly to brand her name. Next is twenty-three year old Selena Rose, also a contract girl. Selena lives in Miami, flying west once a month to do scenes. She did her first porn shoot at nineteen. Rikki Six, who currently maintains her residence in Southern California, entered porn in 2012 at age twenty-one and is not a contract girl. Finally, the youngest of the group, Jessa Rhodes, is twenty and a native Oregonian now residing in Southern California. She’s been in the industry for a year and a half and has does not currently have a contract with Digital.
The first issue (the topic of this post) raises the question of respect. Porn girls are valued as commodities in the business, but do they feel respected? The second, safer sex and its relationship to escorting, an undeniable form of prostitution, stirs up divisive opinions within the industry. What responsibilities do performers have for each other? This subject is covered in the next installment of the interviews.
Women Drive This Industry
With an understated tone, Jesse Jane declares that porn moguls “obviously value us as performers” because “we’re the ones that make the industry . . . women drive this industry.” Directors, producers, company owners “know they need us,” she adds, because women cultivate the fan base (the market) to create the revenue stream. Unfortunately, there are some men in porn who “think women can’t run a business or be a businesswoman,” Jesse points out. Having sex is “all we are good for” in their view, she says, quickly admitting that’s very true in the case of some girls. “But there are quite of few of us who know how to run this industry,” Jesse declares with a smidgen of self-satisfaction.
A daughter of the military lifestyle, Jesse Jane has survived over a decade in a tough profession. She is well-schooled in how to brand her name, something many girls have no interest in doing because their goal is “the fast cash,” she says. Making porn into a career or a business is not on their radar.
Jesse offers a dose of reality for all porn girls. Have a plan because the future can be uncertain.
“If you are not going to save your money and make something out of it, [there are consequences]. Once you step into this career path it’s hard to do something else,” she warns. “You’re labeled.”
Like the famous logo of World War II’s Rosie the Riveter flexing her biceps, Jesse Jane’s final comment is a powerful statement. “The guys need to acknowledge that there are some of us girls that know how to run this industry inside and out.” In fact, the Oklahoma resident suggests, “technically” women are already doing it and some men” just don’t see it because they’re so arrogant.”
Selena Rose sees respect as an expression, or reward, of individual effort. “I am respected,” she says emphatically, citing her “high standards” which dictate how she presents herself in the industry. “I make sure that everybody treats me well because I treat others the way that I would like to be treated.”
I press Selena to extend her thoughts on respect to broader society. In doing so, she nears what Bobbi Starr calls the “stereotype trap” that porn girls industry-wide create for themselves. It’s a self-limiting personal view that perpetuates, and is perpetuated by, the porn girl image.
Selena says, “You know, me as a porn star, of course males respect me less but I don’t go out being like super slutty and skanky and making myself look trashy.” She understands what she needs to do for success and with Digital Playground she has placed herself in the right situation to make it work. “I try my best to make men treat me well,” Selena says.
Rikki Six is straightforward on the respect issue. Yes, she’s seen a lack of respect for girls “from time to time” and decides it is best not to name names or recount situations. I ask if she has ever felt disrespected within the industry. Not really is her response, but she does feel typecast, referring to the scenes she shoots. “They always give me the same script, so they think of me like that person [someone who is not very smart],”she says. Does level of smartness determine respect?
Playing a part can perpetuate an image that may be far from reality. Even in Hollywood, actresses tire of typecasting because it can assume a life of its own. As for her typecast role, nothing about Rikki leads me to regard her that way. In fact, though she may not be a wordsmith, she impresses me as thoughtful with a hint of adorable shyness.
If Selena and Rikki are still negotiating the parameters of respect, Jessa Rhodes is taking command of it.
“Women in this industry like myself who fight for their rate and for what they will and will not do and don’t take shit” Jessa says, “are making a difference.” “Ultimately the women [in the porn business] have the power, they just don’t know it,” she announces in a fist-pounding manner. These are validating words I’ve heard from porn’s self-identified feminist veterans Nina Hartley, Dana DeArmond, and Bobbi Starr, and the youthful newcomer, Tasha Reign.
Self-assured and alive with energy, Jessa Rhodes has an interview presence seen in a select few performers (Chanel Preston and Bobbi Starr come to mind). Explaining that she personally stays away from situations where she might be disrespected, Jessa has “a very short list” of people to work with. Only men who appreciate and value her make the cut.
Looking beyond her own personal empowerment, Jessa Rhodes is adamant about women controlling the business. She exclaims, “I wouldn’t say that this business is run by men at all. Vagina rules!”
I Can be in Control
During our conversations, the topic of agents arose. Are they good for the girls and the industry?
Though Jessa Rhodes does not have a positive view of agents (“agents have fucked up this business completely”), she points out there are a couple of good ones. But overall there is too much “tugging and pulling” to please a middleman who is generating a girls’ work. She’s opted to become independent because she is “strong willed and opinionated” and “better off without having a middleman in-between trying to make everyone happy.” Now she is solely responsible for her job satisfaction.
Jesse Jane has little to say about agents. “They’re in it for themselves,” she comments. “Nobody has your back in this industry, you look out for yourself.”
After some soul-searching, Rikki Six views free agency (working without an agent) as the tonic she needs. “Just recently I left my agency so I’m booking myself now so I can be in control of my career. My name is a brand and it’s a business. I wanted to be in control more . . . control only the things I wanted to do, not what someone told me to do.”
Sounds very much like Jessa’s proclamation that women can call their own shots and place themselves in front of the camera on their own terms.
Selena Rose talks of past experiences with agents, leaving the impression she does not currently have one. This does not mean the Floridian disdains licensed reps. Reflecting the voices of respected feminist veterans mentioned above, Selena reveals the wisdom of a girl whose been around the block. Listen to her advice for new girls.
Hopeful starlets need to get real representation because pimps or recruiters can pass themselves off as agents and a girl “could end up doing things she doesn’t want to do.” If a girl opts to sign with an agency, make certain of its quality, she warns. Selena’s red flags shoot skyward if certain precautions are not observed. A newbie must make sure she is safe and doing what she wants to do, Selena points out, because once the agent contract is signed, a girl can be pressured into uncomfortable situations. “You got to do this if you want more work,” is typical agentspeak.
Though this Latina beauty reminds every porn performer, “you don’t have to do anything,” the message doesn’t always hit home. Girls come into the industry “young and naïve,” Selena Rose says, and think, “I have to do this” to get hired again.
When that happens choices evaporate; girls become discouraged. Maybe that is part of the stereotype trap Bobbi Starr sees so often.
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The second installment of our discussions will involve safer sex and escorting.
[Special thanks is extended to Christopher Ruth of FineAssMarketing (FAM) and Jeanette Li of Digital Playground for setting up the interviews. They were conducted on Thursday, January 16, 2014.]