Is this porn star dangerous?

Adult film actress Joanna Angel and adult film actor James Deen  at the 27th annual Adult Video News Awards.

Adult film actress Joanna Angel and adult film actor James Deen at the 27th annual Adult Video News Awards. Photo: Ethan Miller

Is a terrorist less frightening than a charismatic male porn star with a devoted female following? Judging by what happened last month at California's Pasadena City College – where I've taught history and gender studies since 1993 – the answer is yes.

In the past 20 years, I've brought dozens of guest speakers onto campus to address my own classes and the broader community. Many have been extremely controversial, like the late Irv Rubin of the Jewish Defence League. (Just months after speaking to my class, Rubin was arrested for plotting the murder of a US congressman; at the time he spoke, he was already on the State Department watch list.)

The college, committed to academic freedom and the cherished notion of open discourse, never challenged my choice of speakers, nor those of my colleagues. At least, not until last month, when porn superstar James Deen came to speak to my class and the broader community.

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I hadn't foreseen trouble. I'd invited female porn performers such as Jessica Drake and Alana Evans to address the college and the class in the past, and their visits took place without incident or controversy. (My guest speakers aren't just drawn from the porn business; I also invite the industry's critics, particularly those who come from a feminist standpoint, to come and share their concerns.) I filed the same forms I always file, reserving the same campus meeting space I usually reserved.

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On Tuesday, February 26 – the day before Deen was to speak – I was called into an emergency meeting with the college's vice-president for academic affairs and the campus counsel. I was told there was a danger of “violent protests,” even though neither I nor Deen's management team had received a single threat.

The administrators told me the event would have to be moved to a smaller classroom with only my own registered students invited; the public and the media (who normally attend these events) would be excluded.

Predictably, the cancellation of the public portion of the event generated intense controversy. Though the college eventually relented and permitted the media to attend, it was too late to undo the public perception that the administration considered a male porn star to be uniquely dangerous. Deen's lecture, which was slated to receive coverage from only the local paper, ended up attracting a huge national media presence. The violent demonstrations that the administration predicted never materialised; the only demonstrator was a single evangelical Christian man who stood silently in the college's quadrangle with a sign reading “Porn Harms”.

As my students and fellow faculty members pointed out, it was difficult to escape the conclusion that the college cracked down on Deen's speech because he did present a very real threat: not to public safety but to the myth that women aren't also sexual beings. The old claim that “women aren't visually aroused” is belied by the statistics suggesting more and more young women are watching porn, and by the meteoric rise of the young man from Pasadena.

As, Jen Vuk wrote for Daily Life last month, “if you haven't heard of Deen, chances are you aren't a female in your 20s … who counts online porn as a pastime”.

In the past, the porn industry didn't take women's desires seriously. The archetypal male porn star of an earlier era was Ron Jeremy, a jovially hirsute, chubby man whose appeal was as much comic as erotic. Deen's boy-next-door charm may not be every woman's cup of tea, but there's no missing the reality that his primary audience is female.

While parents, as Vuk writes, may be particularly anxious about his popularity among teen girls, plenty of other adults are scared by the reality Deen embodies: lots of women look. An older generation can acknowledge (often with mixed feelings) that men like porn; a female star with a heterosexual male fan base may raise eyebrows as a classroom speaker, but she doesn't threaten traditional assumptions about desire.

I asked some of my students if they'd be willing to share their reactions to having Deen come to the class. I was deluged with responses. Most reported being both intellectually and physically turned on by Deen's hour-long talk.

“How could you not be aroused by such a cute and charismatic young guy?” one student asked rhetorically. “I'd tap that in a second,” said another of Deen.

While many praised his “relatability” and his lack of affectation, most mentioned his sex appeal as well.

“It felt really good to be in a classroom where we could openly acknowledge that women get horny too without it being unsafe or weird,” one wrote in an email.

“What I got out of his talk was encouragement not to be ashamed of ourselves,” said another student. “We fear living out our true desires, and we fear the shame that will most likely shadow us if we do. Our college's reaction to James Deen shows us exactly how much they're still invested in perpetuating that shame … at least for women.”

It would be wrong to equate criticism of the industry that has made Deen a superstar with a refusal to accept that women are visual creatures, too. It's possible to be against both porn and shame. At the same time, there's no denying that Deen's meteoric rise reflects a cultural shift towards acknowledging that young (and not so young) women are as hungry for sexual pleasure as men.

As the unprecedentedly nervous administrative reaction to Deen's appearance on my campus showed, that shift is profoundly threatening. When men realise that women aren't just sexy, but sexual in their own right, the fear of not being able to live up to female demands can become overwhelming.

The more we deny and shame women's libidos, the more we insulate men from the pressure to satisfy them. That's what makes Deen such a destabilising, even dangerous cultural figure.

In its official statement, the college explained that the cancellation of the public event was due to a lack of proper paperwork. Yet I filed the same forms for Deen that I've filed for countless other speakers over the years, including female porn stars. It's difficult to escape the conclusion that the campus administration was troubled less by Deen's profession than by the identity of his most ardent fans.

 

56 comments

  • Interesting article about how women’s sexuality is dismissed as “shameful” or as having little importance.

    Women are “sexual beings” and are also “visual creatures”. Unfortunately, it is sad — and sometimes downright dangerous — to acknowledge that; often it is associated with being “easy”, or “fair-game”, and so forth. Women need to feel safe (free from shame or retaliation) to express themselves sexually, which is why addressing these issues in university forums shouldn’t be hindered but encouraged (it shouldn't matter if one of the guest speakers happens to be a porn-star).

    EDUCACATION is the only way that women's sexuality will be understood, addressed, RESPECTED, and acknowledged. But above all, it will place women and men on an even keel, regarding their dimension as sexual beings.

    Commenter
    MainSail
    Date and time
    March 21, 2013, 7:54AM
    • Educacation is seldom the answer. Education, on the other hand, can be.

      Commenter
      Malik the magic sheep
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 9:10AM
    • EDUCACATION?

      Commenter
      Mofflin
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 9:16AM
    • MainSail are you aware that this guy is currently the biggest star in the world in bdsm pornography.. watch him and 10 other guys beat up Princess Donna in a recent Film and you will get some idea why there might be controvery around this speech - other than it being a witch hunt against porn stars..

      I say this is as someone whose morally neurtal towards bdsm and realise it is sexually gratifying to many men and women.. but personally the debate over men and women liking porn is now old hat.. we are way past that.. the debate here should be over some of this guys actions.. which could be seen as socially dangerous for young people with such easy access to violent porn.

      Anywhoo debate that.. the author above has really ignored the majoy issue.

      Commenter
      Princess Donna
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 9:48AM
    • Princess Donna
      It's all make-believe. Fantasy. Very little of it is real. Or do you believe that all those Stormtroopers died on the Death Star? That Arnie really did survive a detonation by an alien predator?

      If you want to say that Deen's films cause some sort of harm then you might want to look at the ridiculously over the top opening scene in Expendables 2. You will realise that your argument is quite spurious and alarmist to suggest that porn causes harm but action movies, comic books, rom-coms cause no harm. Moreos considering studies have disproven any link to violence. Often quite the opposite.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 10:21AM
    • @ Malik the magic sheep / @ Mofflin

      I stand corrected: EDUCATION ...
      Ironic: from all the words I could've misspelled ! ... "education" — LOL + embarrassment :D

      ---------------------------

      @ Princess Donna

      Hugo Schwyzer mentioned that in the past, porn-stars have been speakers at Pasadena City College but no controversy surrounded their appearance.

      But in the case of James Deen, according to the article, the controversy wasn't about the fact that he was a porn-star, instead, Hugo Schwyzer attributed to the fact that it represented an acknowledgment that women also were "sexual beings" with sexual desires.

      From this perspective, I don't think that his "professional" activities were very relevant — that's what I understood from the article.

      Commenter
      MainSail
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 10:23AM
    • @MainSail - in his films he actually hits the female pornstars in the face, slaps them seriously hard, I'm not talking about simulated violence like in hollywood films ( as Bender contends), he chokes them till they are bright red, eyes bulging.. in the film with Princess Donna she is in tears as he leads 5 other guys to hit and choke her and anally penetrate her as hard as they can. (princess donna takes on james dean- you might want to watch the film to give this some context if you are game).

      Its not even my contention that such behaviour is wrong, Princess donna for one is an actress in these films and she enjoys the activities that go on - and is also articulate about her passions. I'm just saying this isnt any other porn star.. its an attractive one mainstreaming a sexual culture violence and abusive bheaviour.. that might be sexual to women and part of there fantasys - But obviously this will come with debate and protest.. the author doesnt even acknowledge the nature of whats at dispute (which frustrates me as hes putting it out there for public consumption).
      @everyone - are we seriously still contending that female sexuality is a disputed notion?? most young women watch porn. Everyone has sex. Everyone enjoys it.

      @Bender - I'm not arguing that people can't freely involve themselves in violent sexual fantasy's or that said fantasys are wrong.. however anecdotal evidence is showing porn is changing men and womens desires and can be addictive when coupled with individual tendencies towards anxiety and depression, which can cause addiction and affect peoples abilities to be intimate.. As such it is different to people who want violent films. I dont think either alone cause Harm.

      Commenter
      Princess Donna
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 11:01AM
    • to highlight the how far this article misses the point is that bdsm is about the right to consent to harm.. so the question of whether james dean is redundant.. Is the article was addressed is it ok for a porn star to consent to advocating harm, between consenting adults and further is it ok to film such activities, and popularise them through attrative stars..

      As I've said earlier I'm actually not opposed on a moral level.. just frustrated by articles like this that don't highlight what is really going on, yet try to make clever points about 'female empowerment', when the reality is far more murky.

      Commenter
      Princess Donna
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 11:44AM
    • @ Princess Donna

      According to Hugo Schwyzer, both the college's vice-president for academic affairs and the campus counsel only stated that "there was a danger of 'violent protests' ", but they didn't explain the reason — and neither did Schwyzer.

      So I can only assume that Hugo Schwyzer may have left it out on purpose and used the controversy with James Deen as a backdrop to introduce the topic of women's sexuality.

      PERHAPS it was an unfortunate election of "backdrop" to introduce a topic regarding women and their sexuality.

      Commenter
      MainSail
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 12:30PM
    • I'm not sure I am buying the fear of women's sexuality line. Who was planning to protest? I would have assumed feminists.

      Commenter
      missminute
      Date and time
      March 21, 2013, 12:36PM

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