The business of 'leaked' celebrity sex tapes truly is an interesting social phenomenon. The murky industry has turned unknowns into major stars (think Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian), and revived many a flagging careers (think WWE female wrestler Chyna and playboy bunny Shauna Sand). The business has been fueled by the onslaught of reality television that has allowed regular Joes to turn themselves into cottage industries. You can get on camera, make an idiot out of yourself, upload the video, land a lucrative deal and make a nice living 'being you'. Talent no longer needs to be spotted. It just has to be uploaded onto Youtube.
The leaked sex tape business differs slightly in that the content doesn't go viral first, but the principle remains the same. You make a controversial video, then make a ton of money when it goes viral. Back in the day, the sex tapes gained attention because they were either genuinely leaked, or the 'stars' went to great lengths to pretend that murky figures were plotting to ruin them. The relentless social climber Kim Kardashian made her name by hanging out with a sex tape celebrity (Paris Hilton), then leaking her own sex tape with generic RnB singer and fellow social climber Ray J (who has also made his name from the tape). The video was a hit, largely due to the fact that Kardashian pretended she didn't want it coming out. The business model has been highly successful (see Kendra Wilkinson's deal), and there is now a standard protocol that goes something like this:
1. Have sex with a willing partner on camera
2. Go to a porn production company with the footage
3. Receive an offer
4. Accept offer
5. Pretend you didn't know it existed to the press
6. Threaten to sue porn company if they release it
7. Don't sue porn company, watch as tape is released
8. Receive check
It isn't a difficult script to stick to, and doing it properly obviously leads to great fame and riches.
The problem is, the upcoming generation of reality television stars are so incapable of paying attention to, well, anything, that they are having a hard time getting their story straight. Take the latest celebrity sex tape controversy with MTV's 'Teen Mom' star Farrah Abraham. The 21 year old's story about her sex tape is so ridiculous that it makes OJ Simpson's story telling look believable.
Abraham claims that she had sex with famed male porn star James Deen, paid a camera crew to film it, and wanted it only for personal viewing. As distributor Vivid stated:
"She [Abraham] decided to celebrate the end of her 21st year by making a personal tape that would forever capture her beauty and sensuality at this time in her life."
Abraham, who appears to have the brain power of dead goldfish, has denied the existence of the tape, then admitted it, then claimed it was a set up, and now signed a million dollar deal with Vivid to distribute it. If ever there was a 3 minute video clip that summed up the vapid, greedy culture that permeates western society, TMZ's footage of Abraham and her mother at LAX airport discussing the sex tape would be it. In the ludicrous clip, Abraham and her mother (who went with her to sign the deal) pretend that the whole thing was a set up. Abraham at first admits she hired a film crew to shoot the video, then moments later her mother (who in fairness appears to be strung out on oxycontin) tells the reporter: "Did someone tell her that they were making a video? Do you know what I mean? Don't someone tell her that this was what it was about? I don't think so."
It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry when watching the above footage. Obviously their combined stupidity and shallowness makes for funny viewing, but thinking about the type of household Farrah Abraham was brought up in is actually pretty sad. Abraham is too young to fully understand what she is doing, and her parents are enabling her in order to cash in on her 5 minutes of fame. Once the sex tape is out there, it stays out for good. The young woman's four year old daughter will know pretty soon that her mother is a porn star, and given the household she is growing up in, it doesn't bode too well for her future.
While the democratization of content publishing has given us many benefits, it has also spawned a dangerous explosion of deeply damaging garbage that exploits people too young or too stupid to understand what they are getting themselves into. Reality television is bad enough, but the internet is providing rocket fuel for a new generation of 'stars' that make the veterans of the sex tape industry look like prudes.
Abraham's parents are the product of a generation brought up on shitty television, relentless consumer marketing, and capitalistic greed. They have raised a daughter who has assumed those values and channeled them into the new world of mass media - one where narcissistic sexuality grants power and wealth almost instantaneously. Abraham is about to make a catastrophic mistake that will most likely haunt her for the rest of her life. She's earned herself a good chunk of change, but in return, she has sold her dignity to an industry that won't pay her any attention when her star power fades.
And if we think Abraham's story is tragic, God knows what will happen to the next generation of sex tape celebrities. As the stars get younger and the platforms of distribution ever more powerful, it can't be good.