To most adults, the name Joe Francis probably doesn't mean much. But to their teen- and college-age daughters, it means fun and fame. Sorta.
Francis is the voyeur-provocateur who has turned a frat boy's fantasy into a multimillion-dollar bonanza with his "Girls Gone Wild'' videos. He and his camera crews scour the haunts of the young and silly from Spring Break to Mardi Gras and cajole usually very-drunk girls into baring their breasts. And other parts.
Sex sells, you may have heard. Selling young, nubile inebriated innocents kissing, cavorting and engaging in sexual activities is a sure bet in a porn-jaded world where girls just wanna have fun and celebrity is just a freeze-frame away.
But wherever there's sex, booze and videotape, there's bound to be trouble and Francis has plenty of it. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the sexual exploitation of minors, for which he will pay $2.1 million in fines.
Apparently, Francis hasn't been keeping proper records of the names and ages of his video stars, as required by law. He also faces an unrelated civil suit filed in 2003 by parents in Panama City, Fla., where Francis allegedly filmed girls, then 16 and 17, engaging in sexual activities in a shower.
Somehow I don't think this is what our feminist foremothers had in mind when they set about to liberate women from the patriarchy. Nothing much has changed when women are reduced to sex objects in exchange for T-shirts and trinkets, while men walk away with the cash.
Boys smart, girls dumb. Way to go, gals.
"Girls Gone Wild'' has sparked lots of debate through the years about the appropriateness of men preying on drunken "women'' of barely legal age. One argument goes that the women are responsible for their decision to get drunk and strip. This is the sleep-with-dogs-wake-up-with-fleas school of thought.
The other goes that their drunkenness negates their consent. This would be the women-can-have-it-both-ways school.
The urge to say that these people all deserve each other and good riddance is hard to suppress. But the more compelling temptation is closer scrutiny. What really gives here? Why are these people behaving this way?
Francis was in many ways inevitable. If you stuffed a computer with data extracted from the zeitgeist equal parts celebrity, narcissism, reality TV, porn, moral relativity the computer would spit out "Joe Francis,'' or someone like him.
Equally predictable, perhaps, were exhibitionist young women, who have been marinated in a celebrity culture and seasoned with raunch. When asked why they do Joe's bidding, many say they want to be famous. They want to be noticed. They want to be "known.'' But known for what?
Doesn't matter. Paris Hilton has perfected the genre of being famous for being famous. You don't have to actually do anything; you just have to "be.'' Celebrity isn't awarded for accomplishment; it is sought as an end in itself.
Meanwhile, the message to girls the past 20 years or so has been that they can be and do anything they please. Being a stripper or a porn star is just another option among many. In some feminist circles, porn is seen as the ultimate feminist expression women exercising autonomy over their bodies, profiting from men's desire, rather than merely being objectified by it.
Self-exploitation has become the raised middle finger of women's sexual freedom.
Girls going wild, nevertheless, has created a feminist conundrum. It's difficult to make the case that women are gaining ground by exercising sexual autonomy when they're essentially being ridiculed by men.
Question: If men are profiting from women demeaning themselves, are the women still in charge?
This is not the first generation to awaken with a hangover and a "Say it ain't so.'' But it is the first to awaken with video footage of the night before and for all time. For this and future generations, there's no such thing as a memory hole for youthful transgression.
Future congresswomen (and men) beware.
It is worth remembering, meantime, that no matter how sophisticated our technology, human nature remains essentially unchanged. Girls may go wild of their own accord, but boys will still think of them as fools.