James Deen says he's the new sex tape, but we have other theories.
Teen Mom’s Farrah Abraham and porn sweetheart James Deen might be single-handedly killing the celebrity sex tape: Abraham by blunder and Deen by force. In an era saturated with porn that readily identifies as porn and celebrities welcoming us into their inner lives via Instagram, it’s not much of a surprise. The idea of sex tapes having shock value will soon become as outdated at the VHS tapes the phrase initially referred to.
As you might already know, on Monday, word got out that Farrah Abraham and James Deen had an imminently leaking “sex tape.” Camp Abraham denied it, coyly telling truth-purveyor TMZ that she might sue if it got out. She claimed, “If I had my own personal stuff, that’s my own personal thing.” Then she redacted that statement and said she wouldn’t sell the tape for less than a couple million dollars, in a publicity stunt about as subtle as making a sex tape with a huge porn star could be.
When I contacted James Deen, who openly admitted the film was always pornography and never a secret “sex tape,” he said he had, “no new comments” beyond what he has said over the past few days. Why? My guess is that James Deen is really fucking bored of talking about this “sex tape” stuff, because it really isn’t news. For Deen, I imagine, the concept of a sex tape is overdone, oversaturated, and completely fabricated. In interviews this week, he calls upon recent tapes of Kim Kardashian and Tila Tequila as hoaxes that have captured the media’s attention but for the wrong reasons. We should be interested in watching the people we like when they have sex on camera, but we shouldn’t be interested in it based on its source or how it came into the public sphere. That’s because, as Deen makes known, celebrity sex tapes aren't authentic anymore.
Think of Farrah Abraham’s sex tape, which was really a poorly concocted media strategy, dead on arrival. When a sex tape accidentally “leaks,” it’s supposed to be a private, low-quality production that sneakily makes its way into the world, and amongst the shameful gasps and blushing, the whole thing incidentally rockets you into stardom, a la Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. Instead, Abraham was hoping to jettison that whole “mea culpa” part. Her bizarre strategy seemed to be performing the reality star tried-and-true trajectory, but backwards: first, pitch a reality TV show; then, leak a sex tape; and finally, watch as your freshly launched reality show has a million viewers.
After the wildly successful reality show, comes spin-offs, product lines, or singing careers. But Abraham has already starred on popular reality show 16 and Pregnant, landed on spin-off Teen Mom for four years, moonlighted as an unbearable auto-tune songstress, wrote a memoir, and then tried to leak a “sex tape.” In order to get a new show, she might have been better off abandoning Kardashian methods and leaking a photo of her breasts on Twitter.
If we’re looking for a new “sex tape” to fill the void, Instagram might be our candidate.
Today, we’re more likely to have a phone camera in the bedroom than a tripod. The most current illicit thrill in our private lives and in the tabloids comes from a personal self-shot, something intended for individual production and distribution. When everything is out in the open and personal lives are streamlined on social media, what is left to shock and titillate a watching public? Things we never meant to make public, like sexts. That’s what sex tapes first were—embarrassing evidence of our own personal sexual consumption. No self-reflection, no editing, no intention, just a breach of privacy. Scarlett Johansson, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna have all been the victims (or purposeful leakers) of recent self-shots, and the audience for those pictures know best that nothing excites us like something we aren’t supposed to see.
When we grow tired of celebrity shots, the sex tapes that will really shake us will be our own, gone public. Personal photos and videos of our own friends and community have been and will continue to bring about the next generation of a voyeur's shock-and-awe, found right on our Twitter feed. If self-shots of celebrities fail to blow us away, then our own ever-increasingly public embarrassments will. Though it may not be an appealing answer to the "sex tape" gap, our own personal bodies and sexual stories are still charged with possibility and reality, and those consequences still have a profitable interest. Why else would searches for revenge porn and selfies have become more popular?
When asked how he got caught up in the Abraham controversy, James Deen told CNN, “I don't know. Maybe I'm the new sex tape." He continues, “That’s gonna be a good headline,” in a patently Deen meta-comment. And if we’re being this self-aware about a sex tape, what hubbub is there left around it? He might be right. He is the new sex tape. Deen is showing us something that we aren’t supposed to see: sex tapes are a dull concept and hearing about other people's contrived performances of sex isn’t shocking, genuine, and most of all, valued by us anymore. And just like any good sex tape, I’m not quite sure that’s what either partner intended to leak.