I keep getting asked about former adult film star Jenna Jameson’s new reality show – not because I know a lot about Jameson, or her profession, but because the show chronicles her conversion to Judaism.
Jenna Jameson was one of the leading porn stars (I think now they call them “adult film stars,” presumably more politically correct) from 1993-2008, and built a large and profitable empire from her success (is that how you describe it?). Jameson has two children with her ex-husband, former MMA fighter Tito Ortiz. (Ortiz has full custody of their children.) Jameson is engaged to be married to an Israeli diamond dealer, Lior Bitton, and apparently she is converting to Judaism. And according to Bitton, they are making a reality show out of it for Israeli television’s Channel 2. The show is reportedly in the early stages of production, with no executive producers or production companies attached.
I know. There’s a lot going on here. I’ll try to break it down.
Women and Pornography
The porn industry is very problematic. While there are conflicting reports over whether there’s a higher incidence of women turning to porn as a way to make a living after coming from abuse, Jameson did say in a 2004 interview with Anderson Cooper that “It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot, and I can’t really say for sure if that is reasoning behind why I’ve gotten into the adult industry.”
Also, the treatment of women in particular in the porn industry is incredibly fraught (for a rundown of some of the topics and issues involved, see this article on ABC.net.au), and the images portrayed in porn of women in particular have been accused of everything from desensitizing men to “real” sex, contributing to the denigration and disrespect of women, and contributing to a culture that does not value intimacy.
I believe all of those things to be true, but I also know that especially with the invention of the internet, porn isn’t going anywhere.
I think it is tremendous when anyone decides to convert to Judaism. My ex did it, and so did his mother after our wedding. Joining a tribe of people who make up such a tiny percentage of the population but have such a large voice and presence and who have a homeland that is under global scrutiny for existing and whose politics are constantly challenged is no small task. People tease Jews, they joke about us, they hold us up to standards no one else is held up to…but if you want to join this club, come on in!
I may not understand why someone would choose porn as a profession. But I do believe that her being a porn star and believing in God aren’t mutually exclusive. Some Jews don’t even have faith in God but still are Jewish so why can’t a porn star be Jewish? Obviously, as she is not going to be Orthodox, since Orthodoxy and porn stardom would not be compatible. But there are all sorts of Jews, and conversion can happen even if you are living a lifestyle that is not consistent with the most stringent denomination of Judaism. (Some aspects of the Orthodox world want to discredit those types of conversions, but that’s for another post.) It seems from Jameson’s social media posts that she is learning to cook Jewish meals and bake challah (see above photo from her Twitter account) and she seems to be enjoying it. I don’t begrudge her that. And her challah looks amazing, by the way.
Why does she need or want to do a reality show? Beats me. I mean, she has spent her young life on camera showing literally the most intimate parts of herself. Even if porn stars say it doesn’t mean anything to them to have sex and do all of those things for the public eye, and that it’s just a job and it doesn’t matter, it’s still having sex on camera for a public audience – it is a big deal, and we were wired as mammals for it to be a big deal. Jameson sold sex because our culture makes it possible and desirable to sell sex. I know that many people will watch to see if she gets naked, and I hope this reality show doesn’t become that. Her husband says that the show won’t have any “adult content,” so perhaps this reality show will feel different for her and us. I don’t watch reality shows, but I do wonder if we will see a more authentic Jenna Jameson than we ever have. From what I can tell, she is always heavily made-up and looks camera ready, so I wonder if she really wants to show other sides of herself, like just hanging out in jeans and a T-shirt with no make-up. “I Am Cait” (this year’s reality show about Caitlyn Jenner) did some really interesting unveiling of the person beneath the public drama, I’m told, so maybe this can work along those same lines.
I guess I’m just confused. I wonder what in her life happened that made her want to become a porn star. Or what she had to tell herself to make all of those movies and give up so much of her life experience to be paid by people to do the things she has done. It makes me sad. And I wonder if there is something in Judaism that really speaks to her. Compassion. Traditional roles for women that celebrate cooking and baking and home-making, which I myself really enjoy. And I wonder if she is in love. Because I wish that for her just like I wish it for anyone.
Maybe all of that confusion will make people tune in. I worry that people just want to watch her to exploit her, and to talk about her porn life and to see if she will get naked. I worry about her and I worry about women like her.
And I hope that the brightest parts of Judaism shine on anyone who chooses to learn about them. Because there is a lot here that is healing, and there is a lot here that is comforting.
I don’t think I will ever cross paths with Jenna Jameson, and I will trust my newsfeed to let me know if she needs a vegan recipe for challah. Because if she needs that, I can totally make that happen. And if she wants to talk Judaism, I am happy to do that too. But if she wants to talk about it on-camera, I might have to decline. I like to leave intimacy for off-camera and maybe with what’s happening in her life she will learn to like that too.
Grok with Us:
- Have you ever known someone who made a major life change, leaving some things in their past and moving into a different future? How did they feel about people bringing up things from their past?
- When it comes to embracing religious faith, does it matter what the person’s career was beforehand?
- Does doing a reality show about religious faith make a person’s journey seem any more or less authentic?