The Economic Necessity of the Personified Porn Star

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Table of Contents

Pornography as a Topic of Discourse
  1. Foucault's Discursive Formations
  2. Foucault's Formation of Objects

Spectacle of the Star
  • Sasha Grey

Myth of the Persona
  • Jenna Jameson

Ramifications of Discourse
  1. Class and Marginalization
  2. Cycles of Manipulation


Works Cited

Pornographic actors must portray themselves as private persons by utilizing mainstream cultural vehicles of dissemination (i.e. news media & Twitter) to perpetuate their status as cultural commodities in order to protect their reality as economic objects. That is, today the porn star is a commodity which has been mythologized as a thoughtful producer and voice of dissension to sexual conservatism, while he/she is, in fact, an economic commodity in persona, in presence, and practice. The Internet has facilitated pornography’s widespread dissemination and decline in value due to copyright violation and the emergence of the self-made pornographer/exhibitionist (i.e. amateur porn). In an effort to maintain validity as professionalism in pornography loses its foothold, porn stars cannot remain stagnant as silent sex objects: they must foster the illusion of the persona and invest in cultural capital. Note: A number of links in this Wiki are Not Safe For Work (NSFW).

Pornography as a Topic of Discourse

Pornography is a viable field of discourse because the actors are objects; that is, objectification is the grounds for discursive formation. I assert pornographic actors are objects of performance. The body is the tool, the persona a means to an end.

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Foucault’s Discursive Formations

“First we must map the first surfaces of their emergence.”(17)
Porn stars have personified themselves as representations of a taboo field, whereas in times past, sex workers (including prostitutes) were referred to as a numerous body of people. There is a difference between Kira Kerner and Lily Thai – prostitution has no face.

“Describe the authorities of delimitation”. (18)
As sex workers, today’s porn stars have largely avoided legal trouble, as the production of a film is not technically prostitution. According to York Justice Budd G. Goodman, “Prostitution is and has always been intuitively defined as a bilateral exchange between a prostitute and a client." (CNN) Pornography is defined as an exchange between producer and actors – the producer pays to have separate entities pleasure one another.

“Analyze the grids of specification.” (18)
This simply refers to the common thread found in the world of pornography. Whether it is BDSM, Mature, Teen, or Interracial, all forms of pornography are classified by the explicit content and intent to titillate. However, this can become problematic when erotica comes into play. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously declared in 1964 “I know it when I see it”, defining pornography in definitive terms may be a source of contention, though I'd argue most Americans can easily identify hardcore materials.

Foucault's Formation of Objects

Whenever one can describe, between a number of statements…an order, correlations, positions, and functioning’s, transformations…we are dealing with a discursive formation….”(Foucault 15)

Pornography is fully realized discursive formation rooted in economic practice. In particular, I am referring to “mainstream” pornography that is studio-backed and regulated by law. Pornography has explicit systems of dispersion: the brand must be sold. Foucault writes, “The rules of formation are conditions of existence (but also coexistence, maintenance, modification, and disappearance) in a given discursive field.”(15) Aspiring porn stars are often signed by production studios, such as Wicked Pictures or Vivid Entertainment, with exclusive rights to material - the porn star’s body as an object. Without the backing of these studios, one cannot move beyond the status of “amateur” porn star and will not receive the widespread recognition often associated with veteran pornography producers.

Spectacle of the Star

In order to maintain the value of the object (the porn star) it must be as a spectacle holding cultural capital through both embodiment and objectification.
The Hardest Working Man in Porn
The Hardest Working Man in Porn

What is a porn star?

Quite simply, it is the pornographic version of a film star. The modern film actor is a spectacle, an object to be fawned over – the modern porn star establishes itself as spectacle by breaking the boundaries of our collective expectations for the product. According to Debord, “The spectacle obliterates the boundaries between self and world by crushing the self besieged by the presence-absence of the world and it obliterates the boundaries between true and false by driving all lived truth below the real presence of fraud ensured by the organization of appearance.” (77)The subjects are physically completing explicit acts of sexuality, unlike the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood films. Although the conditions of pornography are “fake”, the action is indeed real.

In addition to the real sex acts, the porn star builds cultural capitol through the possessed body. Bourdieu writes, “The accumulation of cultural capital in the embodied state…presupposes a process of embodiment, incorporation, which, insofar as it implies a labor of inculcation and assimilation, costs time, time which must be invested personally by the investor. Like the acquisition of a muscular physique or a suntan, it cannot be done at second hand…”(4) Porn stars are their bodies. This is most obvious when a starlet undergoes a cosmetic surgery, such as breast augmentations, and film revenues increase. It is the affirmation of the self, the porn star, as cultural capital embodied.

Sasha Grey - Porn's Intellectual

As cultural capital increases, consumption does also. “Spectacular consumption,” says Debord,” which preserves congealed past culture, including the recuperated repetition of its negative manifestations, openly becomes in the cultural sector what it is implicitly in its totality: the communication of the incommunicable.”(68) Here we find the collective American sexual appetite is stifled under the oppression of “decent” society, causing a cyclical relationship of spectacular consumption. Recently retired porn ingénue Sasha Grey has often stated she joined the industry because she wanted a safe place to explore her sexuality. Her assertion is this: society has afforded me no means of sexuality - therefore I must exist on the fringe to explore what is seen to be incommunicable.

Bordieu would refer to Grey’s seemingly defiant attitude as an example of the objectified state. “Cultural capital in its objectified state presents itself with all the appearances of an autonomous, coherent universe which…therefore remains irreducible to that which each agent, or even the aggregate of the agents, can appropriate….“(Bourdieu 7) As audiences, we are entirely unaware of the methods and tactics taken to maintain a state of objectification and therefore overlook the influences of the objectified. This is precisely why Sasha Grey has remained such a media darling. Grey has been called the “smartest girl in porn” because she often makes references to film masters such as Godard and claims to not know who Taylor Swift is. She recently has released a book, //Neu Sex//, in which she romanticizes and intellectualizes her life as an object - a porn star. Her objectification renders her as a savvy member of the pornographic world, when in reality her arguments are comparable to those made by college students everyday.

On an intellectual level, one can appreciate the remarks of Sasha Grey as a welcome respite from the mindless bimbos that are ever-so popular in mainstream pornography. However, “the object which was prestigious in the spectacle becomes vulgar as soon as it is taken home by its consumer–and by all its other consumers. It reveals its essential poverty (which naturally comes to it from the misery of its production) too late.” (Debord 21) No matter the justification, despite the successful recitation of philosophical arguments, the end product is just as any other pornographic film. The object transmitted is, usually, a means to an end (titillation and the subsequent orgasm).

Myth of the Persona

The formation of a public persona is a myth which distorts the economic truth of the objectified state.

“The fundamental character of the mythical concept is to be appropriated…” (Barthes, loc.252-53)

Jenna Jameson is the porn world’s most famous sellout. In the early to mid 2000’s, Jenna was proclaimed the world’s biggest porn star and sustained a rather successful mainstream media blitz, due in part to her autobiography. In it, she bared the painful details of her past (including sexual assault and drug use) and maintains her rise as a porn star would have still occurred absent the negative encounters. “However paradoxical is may seem, myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear.” (loc. 260-61) Somehow the sordid stories of Jameson’s past, rarely publicly acknowledged with such bright conclusions in years past, are the juicy tidbits that facilitate appropriation for economic gain.

With Jameson’s media blitz, it was hard to ignore her. Even conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly got a visit from Jameson. Therefore, Bathes finds “…The concept appears to me in all its appropriative nature; it comes and seeks me out in order to oblige me to acknowledge the body of intentions which have motivated it and arranges it there as a signal of an individual history, as a confidence ad a complicity….”(loc.315-17) That is, the myth comes to the audience and forces its existence upon the masses. It’d be hard to find an American today who has not, at least, heard of Jenna Jameson. That fame is directly correlated to economic success.

Ramifications of Discourse

The academic gaze upon pornography falsely posits itself as liberated and intellectually superior to the masses. However, I argue this level of discussion only compounds the economic truth modern pornographers attempt to mythologize as autonomous creation and sale of sex.

We want the porn star marginalized, on the fringes of society, so we can protect our detached relationships. We indulge in the stereotype that porn stars are undereducated to facilitate our gaze, in order to feel better that they don’t know better. There is a class distinction involved in the academic privilege of analysis applied to the sex worker. (Finley 79)

Class and Marginalization

Though sexuality is an integral part of the human existence, I continue to be amazed at the American insistence in the continued production of pornographic materials. I believe strongly our need for erotic materials is rooted in our culture of consumption, which is only possible because of our affluence. “When economic necessity is replaced by the necessity for boundless economic development,” Debord states, “ the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-needs which are reduced to the single pseudo-need of maintaining the reign of the autonomous economy. “(14)

Moreover, my ability to intellectualize pornography is a direct result of my privilege in the so-called Ivory Tower. Finely argues, “Porn has always been a class issue. In the same way that the soldiers fighting in Iraq are going to be primarily from working-class and poor backgrounds, so are people working in the porn industry. Both groups are exploited for their bodies and their youth. “(78) As a member of the elite class, I can examine pornography at a distance where I, and my colleagues are safe from the often dangerous inner working of the system, free to hypothesize on the reality of human objectification, commoditization, and mythologizing.

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Cycles of Manipulation

“We can feel good, moral, and self-righteous in applying our liberal gaze, our self-proclaimed empathetic gaze, to porn stars, when in fact we’re creating a place to feel comfortable in our desire,” writes Finely (79) The pornographic industry is aware of our prejudices and marginalization. Creating a false persona and illusion of empowerment encourages our continued gaze and consumption and ensures their livelihood as commodities.

I conclude with the words of Barthes:

Myth does not deny things, on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; simply it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is nor that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact. ( loc. 589-90)


Jameson, Jenna, and Neil Strauss. How To Make Love Like A Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. New York: Regan, 2004. Print.

"Sasha Grey, The Dirtiest Girl in the World: The Story Behind the Story | Rolling Stone Culture." Rolling Stone | Music News, Reviews, Photos, Videos, Interviews and More. Web. <>.

Sauers, Jenna. "How Women Use Sex As A Weapon Against Men." Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing. 30 Mar. 2011. Web. <>.

Twitter. James Deen Twitter Feed. Http://!/jamesdeen.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. "Myth Today." Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Web.

Bourdieu, Pierre. "The Forms of Capital." Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. Ed. J. Richardson. New York, 1986. 241-58. Web. <>.

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Zone, 1995. Web. <>.

Edelman, Benjamin. "Markets: Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?" Journal of Economic Perspectives 23.1 (2009): 209-20. Web. <>.

Finley, Karen. "Make Porn Not War." XXX: 30 Porn Star Portraits. By Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Boston, MA: Bulfinch, 2004. 78-79. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Pantheon, 1972. Web. <>.

Miller, Matthew. "The (Porn) Player." Forbes 4 July 2005. Web. <>.