Notes On The Celebrity Backdoor Porn Industry

We were watching the first minutes of a pornographic film: the part where the actors both begin to do and yet coyly dance around the reason we’re all here. “We” was me and someone in another borough that I’d conscripted into helping me make sense of what’s about to happen.

Something is off. The male performer is listless and having trouble staying aroused. His female costar’s ministrations are halfhearted and her eyes are vacant and she insists on calling him “baby” in a high-pitched squeak and he can barely hide his contempt at her convoluted story about underwear shopping when she abruptly announces that the anal portion of the show will begin before they’ve even properly kissed.

“This isn’t arousing at all,” my friend said.

“It’s not supposed to be arousing,” I said.

Farrah Abraham’s storylines on MTV’s “Teen Mom” were always surprisingly devoid of sex for a show ostensibly about the repercussions of that act. The father of her child died in an accident during her pregnancy (a harrowing fact kept largely hidden from the cameras until the show’s later seasons). On her episode of “16 & Pregnant,” she apologized to her gynecologist for “having to look at this,” this being her vagina, which she cannot bring herself to name. She only dated a handful of men during “Teen Mom”‘s four seasons, none of them ever serious enough to merit the title boyfriend or the all-important show-filmed birth control conversation. She spoke of loneliness but didn’t seem to talk much about romantic love. Her first, after all, had been cruelly taken from her; how quickly can an 18-year-old with a child be expected to both process and progress, alone or in front of a camera crew?

Imagine my surprise, then, when a breaking news alert from TMZ told me that in a matter of days, I’d be able to watch each and every one of Farrah’s orifices be penetrated by none other than James Deen, a porn star so likable he was profiled in a “Nightline” segment about teens and adult films (teens watching them, not teens in them) and turned a role in the Bret Easton Ellis/Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Canyons into legitimate mainstream success.

Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom‘s origin story is murky. Were she and Deen dating? They were not. Was the tape stolen? It was not. Was this, as she told Dr. Phil, a private video made for her own enjoyment, to celebrate her young, nubile body and eroticism co-opted by pornographers looking to make a quick buck? Does that even make sense?

Farrah was rumored to have been paid $100,000 before the tape was filmed (It’s not unlikely that Deen’s base rate was no higher than his standard, which, as of a year ago, was roughly $800 to $1000 a scene), plus a cut of the profits. It’s still unknown whether she approached Vivid or they suggested the idea to her, though paparazzi photographers did spot Farrah and her father entering the company’s San Fernando Valley offices a few times in the lead-up to the release.

And what a release it was! Backdoor Teen Mom crashed the Vivid servers—it was downloaded more than 2 million times during the first six hours of its availability, crushing the record set by Kim Kardashian: Superstar (all of Vivid’s “celebrity” videos add the dubious “superstar” designation to their titles), but by whom? Who wanted to watch a young mother be sodomized by a bona fide sex professional? Who wanted to see Farrah’s breasts in all their immovable (seriously, they don’t move) glory? Who wanted to watch her be pressed up against the wall, Deen’s hands between her legs manipulating her until—oh, I can’t even say it!

Which brings us to the point, I suppose: Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom is the only piece of cultural detritus released in 2013 that really, truly shocked me, not because of the acts (while graphic, Farrah and James go through the standard hardcore script familiar to anyone with an Internet connection), but because of who it’s really for, why it exists. It’s not an arousal product. It’s a public stoning.

Farrah takes off her dress (there’s nothing underneath) in order to put on a matching bra-and-panties set. She tugs at Deen’s waistband, telling him she wants “that” as she flicks his general crotch area with her fingers.

A minute later he’s pantsless and she’s performing oral sex whilst trying to maintain eye contact with the camera and highlight her best angles. Neither of them appears to be having an especially good time, and when she asks him how he’d like her to do it it sounds less like a question from a considerate lover and more like she’s asking: no, really. How do you do this?

While Deen is barely tumescent, she leaps off the bed and disappears in search of lubricant. He sounds incredulous when she tells him what it’s for, but upon her return dutifully sodomizes her while she moans and seems unsure of what to do with her hands, her face, her hair. Anyone familiar with Deen’s work knows he’s a talker, engaging in banter meant for the audience at home and whispers directed only at his costar. Here, though, he’s noticeably reluctant to say anything beyond a basic set of “yeah, babys.”

I wonder about this until I realize: he probably senses Farrah wouldn’t know how to respond.

They go through the standard routine, he having to take short breaks to maintain arousal, her looking directly back at the viewer with an expression best described as vacant. Deen is a veteran of these scenes (it’s tame for him, really) but Farrah is not, and it shows. In trying to look like a seasoned sexual performer, she reveals her own vulnerability—being watched engaging in intimate acts does not come naturally to her, nor can she seems to make the fans believe she’s actually having a good time.

That’s why it’s startling when she has what appears to be a real orgasm. Much has been written on the subject of orgasm and the gaze of the Internet, but it’s safe to assert that if you are not starring in pornography, it’s a moment most people you know won’t ever see. And would you want them to? Your nakedest, truest face? The point at which the mind is wholly overruled by the body is exquisite and exquisitely private and to see it on the expression of someone like Farrah, someone who hasn’t already constructed an identity centered around sharing this sort of thing with the world, is jarring until you remember that she has constructed a public face centered around her body and what goes in and out of it. We decided that this moment would happen, had to happen, the first time we saw her having an ultrasound in her high school cheerleading uniform.

I guess I just didn’t think she’d actually go through with it.

It helps that Farrah was never anyone’s favorite of the teen moms—she was too comfortable to be a hard-luck case that we wanted to root for, too solitary (she had little in the way of friends or boyfriends during her time with MTV) to create interpersonal dramas worthy of primetime, and above all, too whiny to be tolerable. She did a few photo spreads for In Touch magazine detailing her plastic surgery and how excited her new body (breast implants, some kind of chin procedure) made her feel about the future.

Farrah did two sets of press for the tape: one, in the adult world, where she had her vulva modeled for a male masturbatory aid and woodenly told shock jocks about how much she loved doing anal, more than she loved doing any other kind of sex act, really.

The other was in women-centric tabloid media: “Entertainment Tonight” (in which she denounced Deen for speaking to the press, even though his only comment was to deny that the two had ever been in a relationship), Dr. Phil (to whom she infamously insisted she wasn’t a porn star, because porn stars “dress sexy”). It was during a viewing of the latter that I realized this video wasn’t for dudes, it was for women. It was a $29.95 (actually, I think it was only $4.99) copy of a tabloid magazine. It was TMZ: After Dark, a theory cemented by the closeness of Vivid honcho Steve Hirsch with TMZ’s Harvey Levin. One can imagine a conversation between the two during the time of the tape’s conception (word choice deliberate), Levin convincing Hirsch that his site’s readers will hurriedly click over to a darker part of the internet if they’re promised the sight of a person 2 million of them (the average number of people who watch “Teen Mom” every week) have watched refuse to name her own anatomy drop to her knees and invite Deen to ejaculate all over her heavily made-up face.

Sound bites from Farrah’s interviews and stills taken from the tape itself appeared on a number of websites in the week or so following the release, with Abraham being savagely mocked for shooting a pornographic film and then insisting that she hadn’t, in fact, shot a pornographic film. Curiously absent from the skewering is Deen, who manages to make it through the whole sordid mess remarkably unscathed. He’s just doing his job, after all­. He demurred when Farrah told TMZ the size of his manhood left something to be desired, and expressed seemingly genuine concern for her well-being when she was spotted conspicuously purchasing a pregnancy test. Women of my acquaintance felt sorry for him, for having to spend even an hour with her and for being on the receiving end of what looks like a truly depressing blowjob. This is curious not because Deen doesn’t seem like a nice person (he does), but because the abjection that is Farrah Superstar requires not just his complicity but his active participation.

In a GQ profile of Deen from last year, author Wells Tower happened upon an ugly moment on the set of a pornographic film: a young actress casually tells the assembled cast and crew that she’d been performing sexual favors in exchange for money or drugs since the age of 9, and delights in an older lech’s idea that they photograph her fellating him, so that they might text the image to her mother. Later, both Tower and Deen express discomfort. Deen, (whose girlfriend, incidentally, is the adult film star Stoya, who got her very own Village Voice cover this summer while penning thoughtful columns on sexual politics and feminism for Vice magazine), acknowledged that the that the industry does, in fact, attract some girls and women who’ve been dulled by a series of debasements small and large.

Tower will reference the set visit again later in the piece—it’s a blemish he can’t forget. Deen, after the appropriate amount of consideration, moves on to the next topic of conversation, leaving unspoken the most important fact: this girl? The one who flung her damage messily in the face of anyone who’d listen? In the end, he gets paid to fuck her anyway. He fucks Farrah anyway, too.

I wondered the other day what feminists of the second wave might have done with Farrah. Would they have pointed to her, to the video, as proof of why pornography is not, cannot be good for women? For in addition to seeing her give birth, we also saw another side of Farrah’s life on MTV. In her episode of “16 & Pregnant,” her mother slaps her, hard. Between the first and second seasons of “Teen Mom,” police were called to the Abraham’s Iowa home when Farrah’s mother threatened her with a pair of kitchen knives. During a visit to a counselor, we see Farrah admit that physical and emotional abuse was not a recent development but instead something she’d been dealing with her whole life. If Farrah Superstar doesn’t prove Andrea Dworkin’s thesis that pornography exploits already vulnerable young women, what does? It’s not hard to imagine Dworkin and her comrades turning Farrah into a modern-day Linda Lovelace, making the talk show rounds and leading protests outside Vivid’s headquarters.

Farrah also licensed the size and shape of her regions, so that you may purchase a mold of some amount of Farrah Abraham’s lower half. And if you’re lucky, you might catch her at an Adult Exxxpo, signing copies of her tape and posing with luminaries of the XXX world.

If neither of those are your bag, you might instead look for Farrah on the new season of VH1’s “Couples Therapy,” a grim “Celebrity Rehab” spin-off in which C-and D-listers air their relationship grievances to a staff trained in the Dr. Drew style of lizardlike hyperattention. Farrah, according to the tabloids, tried to find someone to pose as her boyfriend for the show, but will be appearing alone, trying to figure out why she can’t maintain healthy connections to other sentient beings.





Angela Serratore spends her days at Lapham’s Quarterly.