The story of the president and the porn star brought out the worst of the US media and trolls, including the latter’s career
When it was recently reported that Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen paid $130,000 in ‘hush money’ to porn star Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford), presumably to buy her silence about an alleged affair with the President, the media descended on the 38-year-old adult diva in a frenzy usually reserved only for global celebrities. Prime time news panelists pontificated on whether Daniels could bring down the Presidency and seasoned columnists couldn’t figure out whether to paint her as a flag-bearer for third wave feminism or a hapless victim of the excesses of systemic patriarchy and predatory capitalism.
But before the opinion-makers could decide how to pigeonhole her, Stormy decided to take the narrative into her own hands.
When twitter trolls descended on her like vultures smelling a feast, she swatted them away with the polished finesse of a master. “Scank” tweeted a man listed as “Soldier for the Constitution” with 94 followers. “The correct spelling is skank” replied Daniels. “Actually skanky whore” wrote another troll with a whopping 10 followers, hoping to help a brother out. “… at least according to my business card” responded Daniels cheerfully.
In the age of #MeToo sanctimony, where the debate over consent has been flogged to exhaustion, Stormy feels like a bracing gust of briny sea wind.
Daniels clearly has survived decades in the adult entertainment business by knowing how to deal with men and their fragile egos. She makes no bones about her profession. On the contrary, she speaks about it with startling frankness and self-aware irony: “When someone says, ‘Hey, you’re a whore … ’” she recently told CNN, “I’m like, That is ‘successful whore’ to you!”“Slut and whore are words used by people who feel threatened,” Stormy explained to her Twitter followers. “I find power in them.”
Daniels’s honesty extends beyond her livelihood or her sexual preferences. She is candid about her desire to return the $130,000 payment and legally overturn the nondisclosure agreement designed to shut her up. Far from posing as a martyr for the truth, Daniels openly acknowledges the financial benefits of her association with Trump, which has sent her popularity and appearance fees soaring: “I would be a fucking idiot to turn [the money and opportunities] down,” she told Rolling Stone “We live in a capitalist society. Show me one person who would say no.” ii
Surely Donald Trump would be the last person to disagree. In a world where reality is packaged into tabloid-worthy episodes and broadcast as a ‘reality show’, and where sex is stripped of any human connection and marketed as a spectator sport, is it any surprise that the only person who seems capable of taking on a reality show president happens to be a porn star?
The American middle classes, like their counterparts in India, have a schizophrenic relationship to matters of the libido: They are both prudes and voyeurs, hiding their unspoken desires in a dark corner of the closet while ravenously consuming online pornography, having extra-marital affairs and often paying for illicit sexual encounters. Little surprise then that sexual assault, domestic abuse and crimes against women have risen to alarming levels in both countries.
Roving bands of Hindutva thugs routinely stalk and harass young Indian couples for public displays of affection in parks, malls and nightclubs while their handlers in the government ban films and books deemed too permissive or ‘anti-national’. Indian men are the largest consumers of pornography in the world according to data released by Pornhub, belying the morally judgemental attitude they often display in public.
As it is often demonstrated, unhealthy repression of our natural impulses and denying our appetites can make them come back with a vengeance. “As Leader of the Free World, he (Trump) performs, on the loftiest, most public stage, an ongoing revelation of all we try to keep private: our self-serving hedonism, our greed, social disconnection, our racism and misogyny” wrote cultural critic Rhonda Garelick.
“Where once we decorously tried to keep those weaknesses out of public discourse, with Trump they surge into mainstream news,” she says, adding that “it is our inability to weave a coherent public discourse, one that acknowledges both planes of our existence that got us into this mess. As many critics have remarked, a large part of Trump’s appeal was, precisely, his apparent freedom to ‘say what we’re all thinking,’ the vicarious relief of witnessing his heedless, pleasure-seeking life.”
When Stormy recently launched her new strip show,‘ Make America Horny Again’, riffing on Trump’s campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’, the august pages of America’s elite publications responded with their customary disdain of all things lowbrow. But as it turned out, the South Carolina strip joint was swarming with representatives of the same media outlets that had turned up their noses at the affair. Once again, Stormy had the last laugh.
This article was first published in Newslaundry.