As many readers know, I was flown out to New York last week to be on a taping of the Tyra Banks Show. The video summary (with my green room and hotel footage) is here. You could always just watch this instead (but it’s giving me nightmares of grand mal seizures interspersed with wigs on sticks barking “that’s FIERCE” every four frames). The main points read as follows:
* Tyra (the person) read my Oprah article and based a show on it. That’s the first thing she said to me. Onstage. (Tyra does not mix nor mingle with the
* Tyra (and TyraShow) gravely underestimated Oprah.
* TyraShow hates tattoos, even ones you can’t see.
* I was threatened in increments five different ways to cover the tattoo on the back of my neck.
* I was told I was going to be the show’s for-women, “porn expert”. I was thrilled. But no one would give me segment specifics for talking points.
* When I was about to go onstage in front of the studio audience, a staff member presented me with a list of pre-planned questions they’d had all along.
* The answers to all of those questions — my answers — were also included. The staff member who had me review them confessed to having cut and pasted the responses from my Oprah article. I said, “I know. I can recognize my own writing.”
* The segment notes included showing me a clip of “porn for women” — from a movie made in 1997.
* Onstage, Tyra didn’t ask me the scripted questions, but instead asked me about how I review porn, and then the most bizarre question I could ever imagine being asked by a supermodel on TV.
* After the weird question, she abruptly changed the segment.
* By the time I got back to the green room, I saw on the monitor that she was then telling the audience what she loves about being famous.
The whole story is after the jump. My conclusion: the segment should set women and porn back about ten years, nicely.
* * * * * * *
The Tyra Banks show staff contacted me a while ago to have me come on, after they’d read (and really liked) the article I wrote for O (The Oprah Magazine) about women’s porn watching habits. The article was pretty honest and I was quite surprised that Oprah — as a mainstream media rep — would be brave enough to feature it (so hugely), and its inclusion of things like my writing for Fleshbot, and my book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn. Tyra’s people tried to fly me out for a last-minute gig on another sex-related topic but I declined until they gave me specifics.
They were never clear with me about what my talking points were going to be. But they told me I was to be the porn expert for the show, that (in a separate segment) a group of “diverse” women were going to be shown regular porn, and then porn made specifically for women, and their reactions would be drawn out, and I would respond to them onstage.
A week ahead of my scheduled flight, I got an email from Candida Royalle, thanking me for getting her on the show — which altered me to the fact that her and Nina Hartley were also going to be on the show, facts I was unaware of. When their producer contacted me last minute for ideas for a separate segment that would be “just me”, I suggested discussions with a few female porn bloggers, online porn and women, (and nothing personal to anyone, but) anything featuring younger women currently making or performing in porn, or even a right-wing anti-porn woman for me to talk to. I could already kind of see where they were going with the theme of older housewives combined with the first generation of female pro-porn mavericks. But, hey — I was picked up in a limo, put up in a nice hotel, and treated well.
Still, it was really nice to see Nina in the hotel lobby when we were picked up for the show, and meeting Candice (Royalle) was fantastic — I love the hip, alt direction her company is currently going, and she makes some damn good vibrators.
Once inside the studio (shared with Martha Stewart, past smackdowns aside), we were put in our green rooms and made to sign contracts — specifically a big one agreeing to any “surprises” and humiliation, defamation, degradation and more, which I read aloud for the video. Tyra is, after all, *all* about empowering young women.
Tyra doesn’t visit her guests, nor does she appear except in a puff of wig glue and couture right as she comes onstage; any hopes of all my friends madly texting me on my Ocean of actually exchanging a word with the top model were dashed upon the rocks of feeling like her harried help. Every time I saw a producer’s assistant, I asked what was up for the show, and got a different answer. Then, in hair and makeup, the makeup woman saw the tattoo on the back of my neck and said, “oh, we’ll cover that up.” I said, ‘no. you’re not covering up my tattoos.’ She told me she’d get yelled at, and I told her to tell them to talk to me, and say it was my decision.
I felt ambushed at the last minute to change my appearance — especially for a tattoo that was on the back of my neck, and on principal. This is me. I was next pressured, and then threatened, in a variety of ways. She reapproached me and told me it was for their sponsors, that I had to look like an “expert”. Then that she’d get fired, then, finally, that I would not be allowed on the show. (I was already okay with that.)
The wardrobe guy came in and told me I had to be changed to fit the “look of the show” while muttering under his breath, “oh, the tattoos.” I think then I became what Hacker Boy has now dubbed me, the “introverted diva”, and calmly told makeup and wardrobe I’d be happy to compromise with long sleeves and a hair change, but no makeup to hide the tattoos unless I spoke with a producer and was told the *exact technical reasons* my appearance needed to be changed. I was told the producer was in a meeting. I politely said I’d wait.
The side note here is this: it’s just a daytime TV show. As I told the producer (who I saw quite quickly), I will not lie about my appearance or who I am, for anyone or anything. It does my readers, my listeners, my viewers, my friends and the sex-positive, non-judgmental message I bring and represent a disservice to lie. And, I told her, I have to look at myself in the mirror when I wake up the next day and look at myself. Would she have me change my appearance to look “less Asian” to seem more of an expert? (We should ask Margaret Cho, who also sports my tattoos.) Granted, my tattoos are my body modification choice, but if Tyra wanted the woman who wrote the O article, they’d have to be least as honest as O was about *who I am*.
While all this was going on, a friend (Top Model fan) who runs a prominent blog texted me, “omg r u with tyra right now?” I texted back, “they tell me I cant go on unless I hide my tats.” he immediately fired back, “fuck her. fuck her show. u get more pageviews.” I was feeling the love.
Meanwhile, I watched the show on my green room monitor. Tyra sat between all the women who’d watched the porn, the ones who liked it and didn’t and watched her egg the women on to fight about it. One woman said it was disgusting and degrading, another opposed her and said she thought it was healthy, especially since she came from an abusive home and had never had a long-term relationship. Tyra pushed the women, until they were calling each other names, and I was just groaning inwardly that I’d agreed to participate in a message like this. I turned to the sound guy and said, ‘too bad the one they picked to be pro-porn is so broken. it’s so much more than that.’ When they were really going at it onstage I asked him, ‘you think they’ll keep fighting in the hall?’ He sized them up and said “No, I’ve worked on Povich, that’s much worse. They’re not the type to keep it up after.”
I watched as the show evolved into a giant ad for Candida Royalle’s films — which is great, except the underlying message was, in repetition, that women who watch porn want romance. And romantic porn. That porn made for men is icky and dumb, and women don’t like that. (…so, if we do, then we should be ashamed?) No mention was made about any other kind of porn, or that the women watching porn (and getting off to it) are watching *all kinds* of porn, showing how empowered we women are to now really finally be asking for what we want (to see, and do) sexually. To Royalle’s disservice (though she came off terrific), only Candice’s older, more romantic, nay, softer films were showcased.
I was waiting for my chance to talk about the wider range of women and porn — like I did in the O article — when they walked me to the stage. I had put on a black jacket. I let them put my hair down in the back. But no Dermablend. They walked me backstage, and showed me a long list of typed up interview questions — and I don’t know if I was as angry about the premeditated script they’d kept from me, as much as the fact that my *expected answers were already written in*. I was being given a moment to review what I was supposed to say, when the guy told me he’d taken my answers from my article. I marveled that there was a porn clip to show me for me to comment on as an example of ‘porn for women’ — it was, no shit, The Bridal Shower, circa 1997.
Onstage, I surveyed the carefully selected (and in some cases pre-miked, planted) studio audience. Tyra came out, sat next to me and we shook hands — she is indeed rail-thin and bewigged, btw. She told me she’d read my O article and that’s why she wanted to do the show. I thanked her sincerely, told her my gay friends all said hi, and then we were rolling. She said, “So, you’re a female porn reviewer. How exactly does someone review porn? How do you rate it?”
I answered, ‘well, it’s not like I give it a something-up, or a something-down,’ and the audience laughed. She said, “But your reviews can make or break a film, isn’t that true? Your reviews are pretty powerful. What do you rate them for?’ I told her that rather than the (ahem) up or down of a thumb, I rate adult films for their quality, context, chemistry, cinematography, attention to female pleasure, authenticity, and especially for the inclusion of female orgasms. And if the performers are too scary looking, like if their boobs look like Alien face-huggers about to burst out, I stop the film. The audience laughed, and she asked me, “So, do you even watch the films for the plot?” I responded, ‘you know, I find myself sometimes fast-forwarding through the sex to watch the plot.’ Then Tyra asked,
“So how can you tell when a woman is really having an orgasm?” I said, ‘well, you know, there are physiological signs.’ She urged me further saying, “I mean, we all want to know so we can fake it better.” She looked around the audience and the audience laughed. I was really supposed to respond — so I explained, ‘well, if you really want to know, a flush spreads across the face and chest, certain areas become erect and others swell, and there are muscular contractions that, with porn’s obsession with close-ups, you can usually, actually see.’
Tyra stood up abruptly and said, “Let’s take some questions from the audience.” Two questions later* and she walked off set, sending her staff scrambling to figure out exactly what had happened and what was going on next. They didn’t know if it was a scene change or what, and as I walked to the back, her staff asked me for porn recommendations. Asked me if I liked the films of Andrew Blake, and I said yes, have you seen his new one…? And they told me, “This is normal, she changes her mind like this all the time.”
Back in the green room on the monitor, I waited for them to fetch Hacker Boy from the studio audience — and saw that Tyra was taking questions from the audience, about herself. The question I walked in on: she was explaining what she loves about being famous. I’d had enough of daytime TV’s artifice. I bemoaned the fact that women and porn was being presented in the safest context possible, and about ten years behind, at that. No mention of female sex bloggers, no Tristan Taormino and her kickass Chemistry series, nothing but a romance novel with the dirty bits left in and housewives from New Jersey calling each other “sluts” or “frigid”.
(You’ve come a long way, blogger. But looks like there’s a long way to go.)
Afterward I rousted a few very hearty souls who wanted to stay up late and drink heavily with me in SoHo — namely sweet Dacia, and two people I love/adore very much and someday may happily get in a lot of trouble for.
* On the way to New York, I fretted to Hacker Boy that with the inclusion of porn performers, it would be like the kind of show where people in the audience ask questions like, how can you have sex in hundreds of films and have a normal sex life. This was the first question asked, directed to Candice (tho Nina would have nailed the response about what defines a “normal” sex life, i.e., the individual).
Update — 9.21 media coverage on this post: Surprising, humiliating, embarrassing, derogatory, defamatory, or otherwise offensive or injurious. Or why I Love Violet Blue (About.com); Fleshbotter Violet Blue describes what it’s like to be invited on the Tyra Banks talk show as a “porn expert.” (Defamer). Also seen @ DollyMix.tv, “Violet Blue told to cover up tattoos“; Jezebel, “Porn Ultimatum“; Babeland, “Violet Blue on Tyra Banks Show“; Fleshbot’s after-show airing post, “Violet Vs. Tyra: Clash Of The Titans”