Thursday, October 21, 2010

Semantics Session: Celebrity and Pornography

This is a post that I think I might turn into a regular segment. There are too many words in the English language that we use very willy-nilly without knowing what they mean. "Willy-nilly" might even be one of those words. I'm not sure what it means. But it’s definitely time for me to again take a look at some words that people are using while not properly understanding their true meaning. Perhaps I should explain why we need to re-define the two words that are the topic of today’s session. There are few things more intriguing than celebrity pornography. Sex tapes are all the rage these days.

However, what really gets pop culture horn dogs going is when long-buried tapes of early smut films starring the rich and the famous surface. Classic. So you can imagine my delight when I saw a teaser for a story on The Smoking Gun’s website that told me a 10-year old porn film had been found that starred not one, but two, female celebrities. I wondered who it could be. What comely young upstarts had been into porn a mere 10 years ago? Evangeline Lilly and Zooey Deschanel? That would be so legal and so hot. Maybe it was Elizabeth Mitchell and Elizabeth Banks (whose real name is Elizabeth Mitchell) who each broke into the industry with small parts about 10 years ago (Frequency and Shaft, respectively). Needless to say, I was excited. I needed to know. Who are we talking about? What were they doing? How can I get my hands on said tape? So I visited the link and I cannot remember ever being more disappointed. The celebrities in question were Joanna Krupa and Sarah Kozer.

If you just said “Who?” then please join most of America in your confusion over why these two are being touted as celebrities. Now I did know who these two were because I like to consider myself a pop culture God. I am also not complaining about their hotness because I even included Sarah Kozer in my Hot 100 for 2009. This does not mean that these two are celebrities. The word celebrity implies a level of recognition that these two have not earned. I think that the word celebrity is thrown around too freely. Which is why I am going to break down for you what a celebrity actually is. Let us have a look-see:

Ce-leb-ri-ty (suh-leb-ri-tee) Noun:
  1. a famous or well-known person
  2. fame; renown
Yeah…this definition isn’t going to cut it. It is too vague. There needs to be rules, guidelines, and a clear-cut place where a line can be drawn. I can almost smell celebrity theory coming up…wait here it comes…The Pyramid of Celebrity!!!
First, let us break down some tell-tale celebrity characteristics of celebrity. And let’s do it Jeff Foxworthy-style:
  • If you can type your first name and last initial into Google and it doesn’t auto-complete it for you…you might not be a celebrity.
  • If you can consistently go out for dinner without being recognized or disturbed…you might not be a celebrity.
  • If anybody who has ever appeared on the Real World is considered more famous than you…you might not be a celebrity.
  • If you can't get seated right away at the Olive might not be a celebrity.
  • And, if you're fat and strung out and neither Celebrity Fit Club nor Celebrity Rehab would have might not be a celebrity.
Here you can see the 10 levels of Celebrity.

The top level is the A-List celebrities. Celebrities can generally be sorted into four distinct categories: Actors/Comedians/Magicians, Musical Artists, Athletes/Sports Personalities, and Power Brokers. Here are some A-List Examples:
  • Actors: Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, and Will Smith
  • Music: Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Bono, and Mariah Carey
  • Athletes: Peyton Manning, LeBron James, Derek Jeter, and Tiger Woods
  • Power Brokers: Bill Gates, John McCain, Stephen Spielberg, and Oprah Winfrey
A-Listers are studs. You know who they are and they know you know who they are. They have the Midas touch. Any project they are involved with is automatic gold. And if they were to disappear right now, we would still remember their contributions in 50 years. This goes for former A-Listers who are no longer doing what they do. Harrison Ford, Larry Bird, Paul McCartney, and Jimmy Carter…these guys are still A-Listers and they always will be. Anybody worth their salt can spot an A-Lister a mile away and know exactly who it is. They possess a necessary swag. There is no je ne se qua about it.

The next is level is the B-List celebrities. Once again you should note a few examples:
  • Actors: Renee Zelwegger, Viggo Mortensen, Kate Hudson, Ted Danson
  • Music: Jason Mraz, Nelly, Nicki Minaj, Michelle Branch
  • Athletes: Brandon Roy, Novac Djokovic, Philip Rivers, Landon Donovan
  • Power Brokers: Mark Zuckerburg, Joe Lieberman, Peter Boyle, Harvey Weinstein
B-Listers are highly successful and require no assistance from A-Listers in order to facilitate their success. They are self-sufficient but can be hit-or-miss at the box office, iTunes, or on the field of play. It is permissible for a person to not recognize a B-Lister, though you really should know who they are. They can rise to A-List status during a particularly successful stretch but this will usually end with them reverting to B-List status within a year or so. They cannot maintain themselves on the A-List stratosphere. However, this is not true of generational A-Listers who are also included on the B-List. Generational A-Listers are people who are considered A-Listers by people within an age demographic but not widely enough to be true A-List material at this time. A-Listers for tweens and teens (e.g. Taylor Lautner or Selena Gomez) do stand a chance of rising to regular A-List status, whereas A-Listers for the elderly (e.g. Lawrence Welk or Raquel Welch) were once A-Listers that have fallen from that status.

The next level is the C-List celebrities. Here are some for your perusal:
  • Actors: J.K. Simmons, Amy Acker, Gary Cole, Alan Rickman
  • Music: Rivers Cuomo, Ingrid Michaelson, Hurricane Chris, Colby O'Donis
  • Athletes: Shane Battier, Jeff Saturday, Samantha Stosur, Jason Lezak
  • Power Brokers: Sander M. Levin, Fernando Meirelles, Abigail Johnson, Barry Weiss
C-List celebrities represent perhaps the most significant drop in celebrity among actual celebrities. Many of them have less general name recognition than D-List celebrities: the difference is that C-List celebrities are still very relevant within the industry. The population at large is less familiar with them but their names open a lot of doors and everybody within the industry knows who they are because they hold the industry together. They are highly successful and hard-working and are an integral part of the success of their endeavors but they rely on collaboration with A-Listers and B-Listers in order to get their accomplishments noticed. The public often recognizes them but not by name. They are known by Joe American as "That guy who..." or "That girl who played...".

The final level of celebrity, above the "Threshold of Celebrity", is the D-List Celebrities. They include:
  • Actors: Erik Estrada, Brigitte Nielsen, Corey Feldman, Tawny Kitaen
  • Music: Vanilla Ice, Courtney Love, Mindy McCready, Sinead O'Connor
  • Athletes: Joanie "Chyna" Laurer, Jean Van de Velde, Floyd Landis, Bill Buckner
  • Power Brokers: There is no such thing as a D-List power broker
D-List celebrities are fairly well-known but they are known more for their failures than they are for their successes. Their best days are behind them and most of them are clinging desperately to ways that they can stay above the dreaded threshold. This often involves them bouncing around degrading celeb-reality programs and trying to interest publishers in memoirs that are ten years too late to be relevant. They will never claw their way back to the B-List or C-List status that they once held, but at least the majority of the populous knows who they are. However, unlike the above celebrities...the majority of the populous also thinks that they are better than them.

There it is. The line has been drawn. We have reached the Threshold of Celebrity. If I will be discussing you in a paragraph below this line you are not a celebrity and I would prefer if people did not include you in discussions with the tag celebrity as it will only confuse me. Here are the non-celebrity categories.

The most famous of the non-celebrities fall into the category of Person of Interest.
Further classifications become irrelevant at this point so here are some examples:
  • Reality Show Contestants - If you appeared on Survivor, Big Brother, The Real World, or The Bachelor you are merely a person of interest. However, there are exceptions. Reality contestants can spin their fame into varying degrees of actual celebrity such as: Kelly Clarkson of American Idol (A-List), Kristen Wiig of the Joe Schmo Show (B-List), Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Survivor and Jacinda Barrett of The Real World (C-List), or Jon and Kate Gosselin of Jon and Kate Plus 8 (D-List). This is the proper place for Sarah Kozer from the top few paragraphs.
  • Close Friends and Family of Actual Celebrities - If you are solely known as being associated with a more famous person then you are merely a person of interest. It doesn't even matter if that person is Oprah: Gayle King and Stedman Graham are not celebrities. Neither are Jesse James (Sandra Bullock's ex-husband), Elisabetta Canalis (George Clooney's girlfriend), or any of the Jolie-Pitt children. Again, you can start off in this position and then rise to celebrity. Jaden Smith isn't a celebrity because he's Will Smith's son. He's a celebrity because he's started putting out #1 films.
  • People with Smaller Speaking Roles in Mainstream Media Productions - Congratulations on your big break. You're a Hollywood actor or actress now. This doesn't mean you are a celebrity. You might even be a relevant part of pop culture...this still does not a celebrity make. The actor who played the Soup Nazi, or the cop who got his face cut off by Hannibal Lector, or the woman who wanted what Meg Ryan was having in When Harry Met Sally are not celebrities. They, along with every other movie's bartenders, cab drivers, and pharmacists are just working actors.
  • Celebrities in Other Countries - Just because you're relevant in another country does not mean that you are a celebrity in the United States. I dare say that in most cases you aren't. Oftentimes, you have to come to our shores and impress us here before you can claim celebrity status. Bollywood actors and actresses are not celebrities. And neither are most British tabloid fodder. Jade Goody may have been a huge deal in Britain. People on this side of the pond don't know who she is. Sarah Harding was Britain's Caner of the Year (the American equivalent of Lindsey Lohan) and has had over 20 top 10 hits on the British music charts. Well, she has no Top 100 hits on the AMERICAN music charts. Sarah Harding? More like Sarah Hardly Know Who The Fuck She Is. This is one of the two classifications for Johanna Krupa from the top few paragraphs.
  • Second-tier Models - There are a lot of super-hot women out there who take up modeling. Some of these women become super-models. Some such as Cindy Crawford will ascend to A-List status. Many others such as Elle McPherson, Gisele Bundchen, and Heidi Klum will reach B-List status. Supermodels are celebrities. Tyra Banks and Kathy Ireland are celebrities. However, the vast majority of models are Persons of Interest. If you aren't on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue or pushing a clothing line as its cover girl you belong here. This is the other classification that fits Johanna Krupa.
  • Mistresses and Scandal Makers - You can be involved in some pretty big stories and still not be a celebrity. Many people probably remember the name Devine Brown. She is not a celebrity. Everybody knows the name Joey Buttafuoco. He isn't a celebrity either. No woman that has slept with Tiger Woods is a celebrity. Not even Elin Nordegren under the Close Friends and Family rule. Scandals also extend to crimes. Famous criminals are usually not celebrities. Joran Van der Sloot and Timothy McVeigh are not celebrities. OJ Simpson is a celebrity but only because he was famous before his murder trial. This is somewhat of a common sense category but I think most people can make this determination properly.
This is maybe the trickiest category with a lot of gray area but there is one steadfast rule that you can use to definitively banish somebody to Person of Interest status. If a moderately famous person is associated with a single achievement or accomplishment and that is what you think of when you think of them...then you better think of them when you think of that event or work or else they are NOT a celebrity. For instance, Jennifer Schefft is solely associated with the reality program The Bachelorette. However, when you think of the Bachelorette...Jennifer Schefft is not the first person who comes to your mind. Therefore, she is not a celebrity. She is a person of interest. Some persons of interest may have large names. This doesn't matter. Celebrity also depends on status and renown. Others have to want to collaborate with you. It also depends on visual recognition. If somebody that falls into this pile has a face that is famous enough to be as identifiable as an A-Listers...then we can consider them a celebrity. Osama Bin Laden is not a person of interest. He is a celebrity. Although his infamy and lack of regard push him to D-List status.

Below the Person of Interest we have the often maligned Internet Person of Interest.
This classification refers to people whose limited fame is valid only on the internet. Here are some examples:
  • Subjects of internet memes - I don't care if they had a Web Redemption on Tosh.0. That doesn't mean they've broken into TV stardom. Anybody who has had people laugh with them or at them on Youtube videos is down in this category no matter how many millions of hits they've had. I'm talking to you Jay Maynard (aka Tron Guy) and you Tay Zonday (aka Chocolate Rain) and you Paul Vasquez (aka Double Rainbow Stoner). You are not celebrities. You are not even Persons of Interest. You are Internet Persons of Interest. That being said, Internet memes that revolve around celebrities do not demote those celebrities to Internet Persons of Interest. So don't worry Rick Astley and Chuck Norris, you're still celebrities...C-List celebrities.
  • Podcast hosts and stars of web-based shows - As opposed to the above classification, I actually like a lot of these people. That doesn't mean that they're any more celebrities though. Frank Prather has an interesting podcast but he isn't a celebrity. Bill Simmons has a great podcast and online column and he is bordering on celebrity due to TV appearances. However, he isn't going to get there just be people listening to his podcast. Jessica Lee Rose is hot but the star of web-series Lonelygirl15 is not a celebrity. Adam Carolla has the top-selling podcast on iTunes, but he's only a celebrity because of his TV and movie career.
  • Internet comedians and sketch artists - I'm a big fan of several of these people as well. Mark Douglas does a great job with The Key of Awesome, but no matter how great of a job he does or how many hits he gets he won't be a celebrity unless it gets picked up by TBS. Rachel Bloom is a great comedian with some hysterical internet videos but she is not a celebrity. She is just another Internet Person of Interest. The same goes for The Gregory Brothers of Autotune the News regard. However, they have hit the Billboard 100 charts. If they hit it a few more times and hit it a little higher they will ascend to celebrity status.
  • Esteemed bloggers and Twitterattis - That's right. Despite the fact that I myself am a blogger, I never aspire to become anything more than an Internet Person of Interest. There are literally hundreds to thousands of great bloggers out there, but the only ones that are celebrities are the ones that are already celebrities, blog or no blog. There are no esteemed Twitterati. And Twitter followers, like Facebook friends, is just a shallow number that means jack shit in the celebrity game.
On the lowest rung of what some people would consider celebrity, we have the Local Person of Interest. These are people whose influence is regional and contained to a certain area of the country. They include:
  • Local newscasters - Just because your face goes out on television to all of the Greater Durham area does not make you a celebrity. If nobody outside of your metro region knows who you are or has cause to care, you are not a celebrity.
  • Local Radio DJs - While major radio show hosts in the Monster markets of New York and Los Angeles can apply for regular Person of Interest status, hosts in cities like Cleveland, Nashville, and Dallas are strictly Local Persons of Interest. If you are nationally syndicated like Howard Stern then you could very well be an actual celebrity.
  • Mayors and Other Local Politicians - Michael Bloomberg is the only mayor who has attained Celebrity status. This is also due to the fact that he is a fucking mega-billionaire, but seeing as Rudy Guiliani is a celebrity it is likely that just being the mayor of NYC will do that for you. The ever-annoying Antonio Villiaragosa (Los Angeles), the suave Adrian Fenty (Washington D.C.), and the hostile and crotchety Richard M. Daley (Chicago) can apply for regular Person of Interest status. A Local Person of Interest + an Internet Person of Interest might equal a Regular Person of Interest. In which case Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory would also be eligible seeing as the video of his inability to throw a baseball has tens of millions of hits on Youtube.
  • Minor League Baseball Players - Speaking of baseball...If you're not in the big leagues you're not a celebrity. This doesn't just go for baseball goes for all sports. D-League basketball players, Arena League football players, Minor league hockey players...none of them are celebrities. They can either get the call up to the big leagues or settle for Local Person of Interest status. This does not apply to Major League players who are rehabbing in the minors. They maintain their celebrity status based upon what their accomplishments are at the Major League level.
The next level on the Pyramid of Celebrity is Popular People. These are people that walk amongst you and I on a regular basis but are just more popular and more in the know than us regular people. They include:
  • The starting quarterback of the High School football team
  • The Prom Queen
  • The local pastor
  • The owner of the local bar or popular restaurant
  • The Grand Marshal of your town's parade
  • The funny guy in your office
These people have no relative fame outside of the sphere that sees them on a regular basis, but people take more notice of them. They have established a small cult of personality within their community. They don't have the uber-substantial amount of charm, skill, or money that it takes to advance them further up the pyramid. However, they do have enough to lord over the proletariat that lives around them as a sort of person of power.

The penultimate level of the Pyramid is the Regular person. This is me and this is probably you. This is 90% of the World's population at least. I would say it's closer to 97% but the people in the lowest level are a little hard to count. Most people you know fall into this category. Therefore, I don't feel that it requires any more explanation.

Which brings me to the lowest level of the Pyramid: The Walking Invisible. This concept has been theorized before...most notably by Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the episode "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." I am conjecturing that there exist people who are so anonymous and so ignored by society that they now walk amongst us as invisible specters. It's a lot like that theoretical question, "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?" Well, if a person is born and nobody ever takes notice of them, do they really exist? The laws of physics state that perception can shape reality. Therefore, if enough people perceive somebody as not being relevant or "invisible"...they might actually become invisible. I thought I should watch The Invisible to better hone this theory but it was just about out-of-body experiences so that was a waste of time. But don't take my word for it. Ask one for yourself...I think there is one sitting next to you right now.

So there you have a better definition of celebrity. Any questions?

This means that we can return to our original problem and sort out the other issue that is plaguing this alleged celebrity porn film. With Joanna Krupa and Sarah Kozer appearing in a porn film together, you don't have celebrity porn but the door is still open for great regular porn. However, that was not the case with this video. This video which featured these two Persons of Interest going by the names Cindy and Regina wasn't even a pornographic film. It featured the two of them dressed as nurses tickling each other. What. The. Fuck. There were no breasts to be seen. No bodily secretions of any kind. There wasn't even girl on girl kissing.

This was a "fetish video". It was made for people with medical fetishes, foot fetishes, tickle fetishes, and possibly bondage fetishes, as the article implied that there were light restraints. This may be kinky. It may be something you don't want your 12-year-old to see. But that does not make it pornography. If over 80% of men (including me) could watch something and not be aroused then it isn't pornography. I mean for Christ's sake I get aroused when they open a suitcase with a big number on Deal or No Deal! Arousal cannot be the defining factor in judging pornography. If it exists there is somebody who has a fetish for it. There are furries out there who get aroused whenever the Oregon Ducks mascot has to do push-ups. Does that make college football pornography? The official Supreme Court stance on pornography is this: "I can't define pornography, but I'll know it when I see it." Not. Good. Enough. I can define pornography. Does that make me smarter than the Supreme Court Justices? Maybe. We need to put some rules on what is and what is not pornography. We need to properly define it. So here we go...

Rule 1.1 - There should be exposed nipple.
This is the first litmus test for porn. It tends to be a good indicator. That being said, not all nipples are porn and not all porn has nipples. This rule only serves to help cross off the pretenders. The Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue is not pornography no matter what your uber-Christian mom/uncle/teacher told you. The same applies to the above "tickle video". Since the females in question were fully dressed the entire time it stood very little chance of being considered legitimate pornography. Women can be in various states of undress, but no matter how skimpy a thong bikini might doesn't become porn until we see that nipple. Also, not all nipple equals porn. Especially male matter how wet girls get when they see Taylor Lautner's rippling chest, they still aren't looking at porn.

Rule 1.2 - In the absence of nipple, there needs to be penetration.
You can have porn without nipples. Two people can be wearing shirts and hoodies, and if they're still banging like jackrabbits then you still have porn. The penetration can be oral, vaginal, or anal. It's safe to say that if an erect penis makes an appearance, or a lubricated vagina, you're probably looking at porn whether there are nipples present or not. Rules 1.1 and 1.2 are kind of an either/or thing, though traditional porn will feature both. If both are not present then there are several other qualifiers that are still necessary to establish whether it is pornography or not. If you have both human nipples and human genitalia you are more than 95% likely looking at porn.

Rule 2.1 - There has to be intent to arouse or seduce.
Tara Reid, Kirsten Dunst, Penelope Cruz, Courtney Cox, and Janet Jackson have all had publicized nipple slips. Four out of five of these were unintentional and none of them constant pornography. Sure they may have turned some people on, but I have to hold pornography to a higher standard. We all need to hold porn to a higher standard. There has to be a legitimate attempt made by porn to turn you on. Just because a nipple accidentally slips out of a blouse or swimsuit or just because a fading celebrity wants to get some shock value gossip points doesn't mean that which was witnessed was porn. It's just like with murder. You need to have intent to charge somebody with first degree murder. Intentional nipple slips are only second degree smut and unintentional nipple slips are only third degree smut. Pornography has to be first degree smut.

Rule 2.2 - It must accomplish this objective on some level.
It was asked earlier, "If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?" Good question. I don't know. "If somebody gets naked and nobody is even slightly aroused, is it porn?" No. No it isn't. Not all arousal stems from pornography but all pornography must elicit arousal from at least 3% of the male population. If it can't deliver on that with all of the perverts that we have out there (myself included), then it has very little business referring to itself as pornography. Porn needs to have semen on screen. Not within the semen...on my side of the screen. Anything that is too fringe to produce a decent erection from 3% of the male population doesn't qualify. Of course these percentages are based on the target population. If it is gay porn it need only arouse 3% of gay men. If it is straight porn it need only arouse 3% of straight men. There is no such thing as porn that arouses women and not men. This concept was explored by 30 Rock with their "talking porn for women" but that isn't really porn so it's a moot point.

Rule 3.1 - There can't be extraneous artistic value. There are several major motion pictures that showcase nudity and sex. These pictures are aiming to arouse and oftentimes they achieve arousal. Still, they are not pornography. True Blood is not pornography. Entourage is not pornography. Weeds is not pornography. Even movies with heavy nudity such as Spun, Blood Hunter, Hostel II, and Lust, Caution are not pornography. The Brown Bunny allegedly features Chloe Sevigny actually giving a blow job to another actor, and it isn't porn. Anything that is produced for a broader audience with a plot that has grander aspirations than to sexually stimulate its audience gets a pass on being pornography.

Rule 3.2 - There has to be extraneous artistic value to avoid the porn label.
There is a flip side to the coin that makes up the previous rule. No matter how artsy and intriguing the plot is of a movie whose main intention is to sexually is still pornography. I'm not saying that pornography can't also be art, but just because you spend in excess of million dollars, write a snappy script, and provide period appropriate costumes that doesn't mean that your porn film isn't still a porn film. The 2005 adult film Pirates was still pornography and if Digital Playground or Adam & Eve studios hire Stephen Spielberg to direct one of their scripts, that will still be pornography as well.

Rule 4.1 - There cannot be significant educational value. Every self-respecting junior high in the country offers sexual education to its students. For these sex ed classes, companies produce hundreds of sexual education videos. Many of these involve people demonstrating sexual acts. None of these are porn. They are meant to inform. Even if somebody makes one that is meant to arouse as well, if the main objective is to inform then it isn't porn. Likewise, National Geographic takes pictures from all over the world. Many of them are from African countries of native women in all their nude glory. This is not pornography. This is simply a photo editorial meant to enlighten you towards other ways of life, be those ways naked or clothed.

Rule 5.1 - There must be a human party involved.
Animals having sex is not pornography. However, humans having sex with animals is most certainly pornography. Inanimate objects that engage in risky behavior is not pornography despite what the purveyors of furniture porn would have you believe. Think I'm making that up? Click HERE and scroll through a few. In case it wasn't covered under the animals clause, dinosaurs having sex is not porn. However, a velociraptor sodomizing a woman is porn. That also exists on the internet somewhere but I won't be linking to it.

Rule 6.1 - When in doubt...perform the library test.
There might be some things that have slidden (is that a word?; probably not) through all of these rules without giving you a clear notion of whether they are porn or not. Take these things to your local library. Set up shop in plain sight and view them intently. Don't gauge the reactions of passersby because your local library is probably filled with prudes. Instead gauge how filthy or uncomfortable you feel when watching them in public and let that inform you on whether or not they are porn. And that's why I have a criminal record.

I hope that this has been informative for you and maybe even transformed your personal definitions of the words involved. Start using them properly and you will be doing an invaluable service to modern American lexicon. I am considering making Semantics Session a regular segment on this please let me know if there are other words that you would like me to define.

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