FALL 2022


Lesser Bad Girls of the Nineties: TV Edition

Illustration by Mayra Tuncel.

1. Girls Gone Wild

I saw you girls incessantly, a parade of commercials during late-night television. Seeing the text bar reading all real covering your nipples on the DVD covers always made me feel guilty, implicated in your antics, even though I was only trying to watch Comedy Central. You college girls. Say you’re on spring break, and next thing you know, Joe Francis is buying you shots and saying you should show off your bodies (What could be bad about that? You’re so beautiful. That’s right, flirt a little) and handing you a consent form.

When did you first learn the word consent? I doubt I heard it before an Intro to Women’s Studies class in college. Some of you had just graduated high school and now you were masturbating on camera. Everyone tells themselves it was just wet T-shirt contests caught on tape. Nobody wants to feel bad just for looking.

Once, before I ever saw Girls Gone Wild commercials, my first best friend Shelby pulled down her pants and performed a dance in front of me in the small closet under the stairway that had been transformed into my playroom. I must have been five or six. I remember looking up at her from my seated position on the floor, frozen in my watching.

But back to you. Remember the commercials? After the warning that the following content was not suitable for children, you all filled the screen with your shirts pulled up and faces covered by your hands, laughing. Who knows how you ended up on that bus, falling over each other and teasing the camera? Joe Francis appeared in quick cuts, a shit-eating grin stretched across his face. Like, here was a guy just looking for a good time, building his empire.

Okay. I, too, have performed as a Girl Gone Wild. It was in college, when I was studying abroad in Rome. Late one night, as I sat alone in the dining area of the hostel talking to my horny boyfriend on Skype, he said “Show me your tits.” (He had already cheated on me, but I didn’t know that yet.) I glanced sideways at the door, attuned to the sound of any footstep in the hallway. I lifted my shirt as my boyfriend watched, like Joe Francis watched.

2. Jennifer Burton and Monique Parent

This is more about me than you, with your ready-made tits and desire for everything, but that’s the point of porn. You two, the frustrated wife and her sexually ravenous best friend, were the chimeras of “Skin-emax,” which is what we called the softcore Dad watched on Cinemax. That was the thing about late-night television: any of us could stumble across something we weren’t supposed to see.

Your movie was called Playtime. How could I not be intrigued? I played with dolls long after other girls at school started worrying about boyfriends. My best friend Ashley and I threw Barbie weddings and paged through Playboy. In the kink community, they call sex play, which is kind of sweet.

Anyway, I couldn’t have known at that age that sex would someday lose its playfulness and become an obligation, or that I would ever feel as undesired as you do at the start of the film when you overhear your friends having sex and then touch yourself beside your sleeping husband. But there I was years later, my boyfriend working nights at a restaurant and me, alone in our bed, pleasuring myself more than he ever did.

That one of you introduced the other to the concept of masturbation can’t possibly be the plot of a full-length film, right? My memory is fuzzy because of your breasts and the performance of female fantasies. Playing with yourselves led to sex with each other’s husbands, Joe and Brad, which turned into an act of revenge three-quarters of the way through until everyone realized they could play together.

Should I worry that my formative pornography experience includes hiding a part of yourself from your loved one? Is this why I’m so avoidant, or does it always go back to the parents? In Playtime, it goes back to the parents. In a flashback, Brad’s dad discovers him having a threesome with Brad’s stepmom and her best friend and beats him, thus explaining Brad’s low sex drive, which pushed you into the evils of masturbation.

Ashley and I watched you. We sat cross-legged on the living room floor, my palm sweating against the back button on the remote. Later, I tried masturbating in the shower but couldn’t make myself feel the way you two did.

3. Annabel Chong

How was this allowed on television right after school?! My mom and sister and I all watched it. This and Supermarket Sweep.

I remember thinking you must have been cold as grunt workers ripped open bags of ice and dabbed your sweat-stained face. My adolescent brain couldn’t comprehend what a pussy would feel like after having 251 dicks inside it in ten hours. I knew only that my heart raced when the Jerry Springer Show cut to behind-the-scenes footage of your marathon porn shoot. They couldn’t show anything below the guys’ torsos so the camera hovered on your face. In the shots we saw, it twists into the pained expressions of a woman in labor, and your body is laboring, of course, continuously taking it in. Aggressive sex language misconstrues the role of penises—it’s the pussies that consume.

Did I gasp like the audience did after Jerry mentioned you might make a sequel? Apparently, your ambitions were bigger than the World’s Biggest Gang Bang. I would never know. I would only remember the way your black hair stuck to your forehead.

Jerry Springer was quick to invite the audience’s opinions. One woman with a bleach-blond blowout yelled at the men on the panel who had participated in the film. She appeared horrified and betrayed, as if these guys were all her ex-boyfriends. “What do you have left?” she demanded. “She took your money!” This became a chant, a roar. She was so angry that these men had sacrificed their dignity.

Jerry Springer turned to you then, eyebrows furled in bafflement: “But . . . why?

What a dick. He acted like he was doing you a favor by giving you a chance to explain yourself, but your response was concise.

“Why not?”

And the laughter afterward, the way it got the crowd cheering—that upset him. Jerry Springer shook his head and looked down like he was both disgusted and disappointed in you, the look of a high school guidance counselor and not a Cincinnati Councilman who lost his seat for soliciting a prostitute.

Nobody expected you to be funny. Wasn’t that the sweetest revenge, that you would laugh? That you would have the smooth audacity to crack a joke? You said, “I hate dating.” Pause. “But I still want to get laid.”

How dare Jerry ask you if you would “ever be able to love a man.” You weren’t on that show to talk about your private life; you were there to talk business. This wasn’t brunch with your parents. This was publicity.

You said “I love all men.” (Okay, that was a cop-out.)

In the end, Jerry waxed poetic about sexual assault and how, in our culture, we fail to treat women like humans. He thought he was directing benevolence toward you, but all he did was take your power and decisions out of the equation. Like this was a thing done to you.

This was something you did to 251 men.

He window-dressed the hell out of you, but I ask you, Jerry, how can she be the subject of the film and not the subject of her life?

Jerry closed out the show with counseling. He said “Take care of yourself, and each other.” The crowd snarled, booed, cringed, and hissed.

You laughed.

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