Maybe you've heard the name Jenna Jameson dropped like some sort of self-explanatory manna by a late-night talk show host or early-morning shock jock. Maybe you haven't, though it gets less likely by the day. Maybe you, like untold thousands of mag-readers, videophiles and single-handed typists worldwide, know the self-proclaimed "Queen of Porn's" body almost as well as your own but wouldn't dream of mentioning it to anyone. Well, final category inhabitants, now you can read the fruits of your investment. Your online credit card deductions and brown paper-wrapped mail deliveries have done more than just make Jameson the most famous sex starlet ever to lapdance her way into America's mainstream consciousness. They've also paid for enough meth-frosted debauchery in a 30-year life to produce the 580-page memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale.
In case it isn't already obvious, Jameson's literary debut is not an incisive psychological study of America's media-engorged sex life. It is, well, a lot like a porn movie: muddled in narrative and careless in organization, except in its surgically graphic naughtiness. Detailing Jameson's sexual awakening as a 16-year-old latchkey kid in Las Vegas through her semi-retirement from adult films in early 2004, she and co-author Neil Strauss employ all manner of literary styles to spin the profane yarn. They try straight biographical writing (as well as gay), humorous educational cartoons, verbatim transcripts of interviews with Jameson's family and male co-stars and even several fake "10 Commandments" sections on how to date a porn star or how to give the best, um, knob-polishing with which to land a husband. No kidding.
But is this cautionary tale a good read? That depends largely on the mindset of the reader--which is true for most books, but especially How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. Those looking only for horrifying stories from a horrifying life will find plenty of filth in which to revel. Jameson's father, a widowed ex-military assassin and police mafia expert, left young Jameson and her brother to wander the streets of Vegas for what seems like years at a time, resulting in shocking drug use, violence and crime galore. She has dated, berated, abused and been abused by all manner of bikers, tattoo artists and would-be pornographers. She has been addicted to uppers and downers and has survived eating disorders so severe that her father didn't recognize her at the end of them. She has been fawned over by the likes of Marilyn Manson, Tommy Lee, Nicholas Cage, Howard Stern and Bruce Willis and is eager to spill a defining sexual secret about each. On the shady merits of these submissions alone, the book is destined to become a classic of lowbrow nonfiction.
On the other hand, readers who just want to see some nudie pictures in their book club selection and worry that the Jameson's "cautionary" title precludes them, will immediately have their horny fears assuaged. Jameson is surprisingly uncritical of the pornography industry, its bizarre standards of female beauty, and is more than willing to bare what "Dr. Canada" gave her.
The price of this exposure, however, is constant discomfort. Topless glamour shots are arranged back to back with elementary school portraits, and lipstick-lesbian layouts with scrawled preadolescent diary entries. The assumption seems to be that the sex shots, surrounded by tales of woe and somewhat "human" images, can be something more triumphant, sad, nostalgic and powerful than mere porn. I, however, was just creeped out.
Then again, I can't say with any real certainty what assumptions or visions power this overwhelming mess of self-abuse and self-glorification. One moment, Jameson calls the porn trade a "game" and the lonely men it depends on "creeps" and "perverts." Pages later, she equates a layout in Penthouse to getting into heaven and expounds step-by-step instructions on how young women should go about selling their bare asses to those same lonely men. When talking about a profitable period of her life, Jameson will laud pornography as the one job that allows women to be truly self-sufficient and self-defining. Then she will unleash a straight-faced line like "If a guy in a strip club said that I'd think he was a creep, but coming from a director and authority figure it was the greatest compliment in the world." What exactly the guy said is inconsequential; it had something to do with boobs and is repeated by a hundred lesser dopes who get drinks kicked in their faces by Jameson. Creepiness, it appears, is in the eye of the g-string wearer.
But perhaps this moral ambiguity is why most cultural icons wait a few decades longer than Jameson to pen their memoirs. She is still too close to the mythology of porn, to its money and its ideas of success, to present a fresh take on her own significance. Read her book for titillation, and you'll be in the company of millions. Read it for anything more, and you'll be disturbed and confused. Hopefully.