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Commentary: ABC's 'Primetime' Parties Like It's 1994

Commentary: ABC's 'Primetime' Parties Like It's 1994

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from Tuesday night's "ABC Primetime: The Outsiders" segment on industry cuties Sunny Lane and Sophia Lynn: 

1) Porn stars may want to think twice before allowing their parents to blather on camera about how great it is that their daughter's getting paid to have sex in adult movies; and, 

2) Sunday school teachers may want to think twice about whether porn acting is their chosen profession, no matter how good the money is. 

And perhaps one more: 

3) TV entertainment "journalists" can't be trusted not to pass judgment on the adult industry any more today than they could in 1994. 

For those with long memories, 1994 was the year that CBS's "48 Hours" did television's first "exposé" of the porn industry – a program so full of errors and ill will that we then advised industry people never to talk to the media again. 

The good news: "Primetime: The Outsiders" wasn't quite that bad ... even if it did begin with reporter John Quinones asking the religious question, "But can you [performers] cash in on your body without losing your soul?" 

The first segment deals with Sunny Lane, but the show spends more time following Sunny's parents, Shelby and Mike Lane, than it does the star herself. True, the elder Lanes are in Sunny's employ for various services... but what Quinones and Primetime's editors are obviously most interested in is how the Lanes could possibly live with the fact that their daughter gets naked on camera and performs sex acts with relative strangers. 

Of course, with the couple's strong Southern accents, it isn't difficult to edit the piece to imply that something salacious has been going on among the three of them ... and it doesn't help matters that the cameras catch Mike hugging wife and daughter and declaring, "We're a threesome, right?" 

It pretty much goes downhill from there. Quinones asks how the parents can stand being surrounded by naked pictures of Sunny, then cuts to Mike "assuring" the audience, "There's no sexual innuendo in there anywhere. We're not that way. You know, we're not kinky parents." 

To anyone who grew up in the '60s and '70s, the Lanes come off as leftovers from the Love Generation; freethinkers who aren't fazed by anything sexual, and who even used porn as their "marriage counselor." But coupled with the fact that the show's opening shots are of Sunny ice-skating – she won several contests early on and was later a teacher of the sport – and of her admitting that one of her selling points is her young, fresh look, graciously illustrated by Primetime's editors splicing in a piece of moppet Shirley Temple dancing in Captain January, the audience probably can't help but come away with the impression that "there's something funny going on here." 

Sunny herself comes across as reasonably intelligent and a decent businesswoman, though appears to be somewhat smothered by the parental attention. However, it doesn't help matters that, later in the program when Quinones asks if she were ever sexually molested "as most porn stars were" as a child, Sunny replies, "Not to my recollection." A simple "No" would have been a bit more effective. 

In another breach of journalistic common sense, Quinones interviews psychotherapist Fred Kahane – actually, he's a marriage, family and child counselor – who "hasn't met Sunny or her parents" but has been a therapist for "numerous other performers in the adult industry." (The show never says who, and we suspect several viewers would be interested to know.) 

"Most parents would be horrified," Kahane speculates. "It doesn't sound like the mom has a lot of protective genes in her body." 

Such "diagnoses from afar" are about as useful as former Sen. Bill Frist's assessment of chronic veg Terri Schiavo. 

The focus then switches to former Sunday School teacher Sophia Lynn, who displays several of the worst traits that can be found in the modern performer community. 

For one thing, as her segment opens, Sophia is on her way to her first scene, and worried that her boyfriend will find out what she does. She's sure he will, because her "very devout Christian" parents already know somehow, supposedly without her telling them. 

Sophia, according to the show, got into porn for an all-too-common but all-too-dangerous reason: She heard there was lots of money to be made in the business, and she was trying to support her two-year-old daughter on her own. 

"I wanted to run for the door, basically," she tells Quinones. "I think I was literally like shaking, It was horrible. I had no idea what I was doing, and this is not something that I ever would have been caught doing." 

So why did she do it? "My car payment was due." 

Nonetheless, Quinones describes Sophia as "smart" and "college educated," which leads her to a contract with Adam & Eve ... but "smart" people don't live on "energy drinks, stomach medicine and sugar foods" – no wonder she's "constantly tired"! 

Cut to "psychotherapist Fred Kahane, who has several clients in the adult industry" – yes, they say it again – who opines, "You know, it's not about really passing judgment; it's about the sadness of what happens to these people's souls in the process." 

We can't help but suspect, with all his talk of "souls," that maybe one of Kahane's industry clients is schizoid columnist Luke Ford ... a notion given more weight by the fact that Quinones next cuts to Heather Veitch, who's been a regular Ford correspondent. A former stripper and bondage performer, Veitch now preaches for the evangelical JC's Girls, whose objective is to "save" porn stars for Christ. 

One of Sophia's duties for Adam & Eve apparently is to be seen in public at clubs ... where, she says, "It's hard to have a boyfriend in this business. Most people that I would be interested in having a relationship [with] really wouldn't be okay with what I do."

But surprise, surprise, she meets a "civilian" at a club who's not in the adult business; "a guy with a college degree and a good job," Quinones says. "She falls for him in a big way. Can she make it work? Can she be the girl next door again?"  

Responds Sophia: "The last time I felt like this, I got married." 

Yeah, she's "smart"! 

Then, after the commercial break, it's back to Sunny, tracing her history before entering the porn industry: Skating competition to (after an injury) teaching skating, to stripping at a local club, then on to porn – with a year-long "detour" to the Moonlite Bunnyranch ... and Mike's description of how safe Sunny was while working there isn't exactly calculated (by the show's editors) to make Sunny appear loved and protected by the parental units. (See Lesson #1 above.) 

Most telling is the following conversation: 

Quinones: "You were brought up with good morals." 

Sunny: "Uh-huh." 

Quinones: "It seems to contradict what you do for a living." 

Sunny: "Why would that contradict?" 

Quinones: "Well, people who [sic] would say good morals wouldn't allow you to be performing sex with other people for videos." 

Sunny: "I just feel, all in all, that it's not immoral what I'm doing because I'm okay with it." 

The conversation is left right there, with Quinones never explaining why he assumes "good morals" equals "not having sex on camera" – but he doesn't really have to; he knows that his audience isn't interested in getting into a debate about why Christian America equates morality with anti-sexuality. 

One of the show's more worthwhile points is its acknowledgement that in the industry today, "there's intense pressure to do more extreme scenes, some that are even degrading and violent," but Quinones never follows through with either an attempt to quantify that pressure or a recognition that several companies specifically avoid depicting such violence. He does, however, imply that Sunny will eventually do such "intense" scenes as part of her "five-year plan." 

The final segment switches back to Sophia, and traces her decline, from being told – by whom, we aren't privy – that she's "not performing well in her scenes" – not overly surprising given her upbringing and her reason for being in the business – and that she's "nervous about the pressure to perform sex acts she's uncomfortable with... For Sophia, just being intimate with a stranger in front of a camera crew is difficult." Again, not too surprising, since Sophia apparently isn't a natural exhibitionist; she's just in it for the money. 

"You can't just turn the heart on and off like a switch," pontificates Kahane. 

Eventually, being a porn star becomes too much for Sophia, who flakes on her duties for Adam & Eve at the 2007 Adult Entertainment Expo – reasons unspecified beyond gossip – finds that her new "boyfriend" is – surprise, surprise – mainly interested in her for her bod, starts spending more time with Veitch, and winds up back with her sister in Florida, with plans to "become a speaker at churches" – on what subject, do you suppose? 

Meanwhile, Quinones takes a few more cheap shots at Sunny, making a big deal about the parents lining up a manufacturer for Sunny's sex doll while Sunny's elsewhere signing autographs. 

Quinones: "Doesn't this go beyond the boundaries of being a parent, having a doll that strangers can have sex with?" 

Sunny: "They support anything that I have to do with my business because it's my decision, and if I want a doll, I want a doll, and I want my fans to enjoy me." 

Cut to Mike pointing to a sexy picture of Sunny, saying, "That's my girl!" 

Yeah, there's no editorial message in that

It's probably pointless at this late date to suggest that those who aren't well-versed in the tricks mainstream reporters use to make porn stars look bad probably shouldn't talk to those reporters – but it is helpful to know that mainstream reporting on the industry, even after more than a decade, is still the same old crap.

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Mark Kernes

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