Posted Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 2:52 PM
Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild is headed to jail. Good.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Joe Francis is headed to prison for the second time. May he rot there. The founder of Girls Gone Wild was convicted Monday on misdemeanor charges of assault and false imprisonment. The allegations: In 2011, Francis met three women who went out after college graduation, took them home with him, and then tried to separate one from the other two, in the process grabbing her by the hair and throat and slamming her head to the floor. Charming. Also entirely of a piece with Francis’ long history of bad boy misdeeds. This is a guy who has literally made it his business to use and humiliate women. If we had our own Most Wanted List, he’d be on it. (Though the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 spots today go to Ariel, Pedro, and Onil Castro, the brothers held for questioning in the abduction and imprisonment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight in Cleveland.)*
A brief and noxious history: Joe Francis launched Girls Gone Wild in 1997. The name captures the business perfectly: Put girls on camera flashing their breasts or asses or doing anything else Francis and his minions could talk them into, whooping it up all the while. As a court put it in 2011, “Francis has made millions of dollars by going to places crowded with young, enthusiastic, and often-intoxicated women and filming them exposing their breasts, fondling each other, kissing each other, and sometimes engaging in more explicit sexual acts.” This was billed as girl power entertainment, wrapped in the protection of the First Amendment. "It's not like we're creating this," one of Francis’ employees told Ariel Levy in 2004, at a dance club in Florida. They’re watching two girls give a guy a double lap dance. "This is happening whether we're here or not. Our founder was just smart enough to capitalize on it."
Also smart enough to duck liability in lawsuits brought by girls who argued that he violated their privacy and that they weren’t of age to consent when Francis filmed them. In 2006, Francis won a Texas lawsuit in a case in which the girls who sued him had signed a release form, lying to say they were over 18. In 2011, he won another case brought by underage girls in Florida. Francis represented himself at trial and went after the girls, asking one if she was a prostitute. "I shook them like a tree until all the fruit fell out, and I shook them violently," he said afterward.
Francis has not been quite as good at eluding prosecutors. In 2003, he showed up as usual for spring break filming in Panama City Beach, but this time the father of an underage girl complained, and he ended up facing 70 counts of selling drugs, prostitution, and promoting the sexual performance of children. All but six of the charges were thrown out because of problems with the search warrant. But Francis ended up in jail anyway after the judge in one of the civil suits found that he’d been verbally abusive in negotiations with the opposing side. When he was found with sleeping pills and other medication in his cell, he faced a new set of charges, which led to the revocation of his bail. Then Nevada socked it to him for tax evasion.
Francis played all of it for sympathy, taking out ads and going on radio and TV to cast himself as a Larry Flynt-like crusader for the First Amendment. But being Mr. Pornography Lite doesn’t make you a free-speech hero. Francis hasn’t been prosecuted for making movies. He’s been prosecuted for hurting women and underage girls. In 2008, he pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution based on the account of a girl who said he “physically and verbally coerced” her and a friend into giving him a hand job. He then gave them $100 to split. Then there’s this disturbing account from Los Angeles Times writer Claire Hoffman, from the parking lot of a nightclub outside Chicago after 3 a.m.:
“Joe Francis, the founder of the Girls Gone Wild empire, is humiliating me. He has my face pressed against the hood of a car, my arms twisted hard behind my back. He's pushing himself against me, shouting: ‘This is what they did to me in Panama City!’ ”
“As he yells, I wonder if this is a flashback, or if he's punishing me for being the only blond in sight who's not wearing a thong. This much is certain: He's got at least 80 pounds on me and I'm thinking he's about to break my left arm. My eyes start to stream tears.”
“He is amped, his broad face sneering as he does a sort of boxer's skip around me, jabbering, grabbing at my arms and my stomach as I try to move away, clutching my notebook to my chest. He stabs a finger in my face, shouting, ‘You don't care about the First Amendment. I care about the First Amendment, but you are the kind of reporter who doesn't care.’ ”
May Joe Francis get the maximum five years he now faces for the assault and false imprisonment convictions. And you’ll forgive me if I don’t cry over the demise of his company: Girls Gone Wild went bankrupt in February. Also not making me sad: The error message I get when I click on meetjoefrancis.com.
*Correction May 8, 2013: This post originally misstated that all three brothers were charged. On Wednesday, Pedro and Onil Castro were not charged. Ariel Castro was charged with kidnapping and rape.
Posted Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 1:24 PM
Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images
Despite running one of the most dazzlingly creepy campaigns since Newt Gingrich was a viable politician, Mark Sanford managed to pull out a win in the special election to determine the congressman for the 1st district in South Carolina. This is not particularly surprising, as a dead tree stump with a wig would win that election as long as there was an (R) next to Tree Stump McDead on the ballot. Nor is this the first time that a "family values" Republican has gotten the straight white guy exemption that has been extended to blatant hypocrites like David Vitter and Scott DesJarlais.
Yes, under-performing for a Republican in a heavily Republican district, in a special election, is definitely proof that Sanford was a superior candidate, and not merely that he had an R by his name. If anything, Sanford’s victory proves that candidates matter only in terms of ideology, not biography. In a very conservative district, the Republican candidate will win, even if he’s a weird creep with a humiliating past.
The fact of the matter is that Sanford's adultery and off-putting nature did lose him points in the election. He won by nine points, but the previous representative to hold the seat, Republican Tim Scott, won by 26 points. Romney won the district by 18 points. People picked Sanford with the same enthusiasm that vegetarians at the airport pick a slice of overcooked cheese pizza because there's nothing else available.
Sanford will have to run again in 2014 to keep the seat, which he will do barring a major political scandal, but we’re unlikely to recapture the sleaze-magic that was this election. Sanford won't have to campaign as hard in the future, giving him fewer opportunities to defend himself for harassing his ex-wife. No more will he need to drive around South Carolina searching for women who will admit they dislike him to his face. Sadly, it is now time for Sanford to drift off into the relative obscurity, digging holes on his property to relax and reminiscing about the good old days of hijacking journalists’ rental cars. The Internet is bound to be a glummer, more somber place.
Posted Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 11:34 AM
Can kids learn humility when cocooned in privilege?
Photo by HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images
The New York Times magazine recently published a long article about The Avenues, the brand new for-profit New York City school that costs $43,000 a year. The piece has juicy eat-the-rich tidbits in it like parents sending a seven-page email after the first week of school complaining about things like “not enough ‘worldly’ snacks like seaweed, zucchini bread with quinoa flour and bean quesadillas.” Kindergarteners all get iPads and 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratios. With all these privileges—and with most of the students undoubtedly enjoying privileges at home (Suri Cruise is a pupil)—the school purports to be teaching their students humility. Being humble is even in the school’s mission statement. Is it possible for an expensive private school to follow through with this mission?
There doesn’t seem to be research on this very specific question, but I asked Paul Tough, the author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, for his take. “The Avenues story struck me the way it struck a lot of commenters on the Times' website: spending a ton of money on your kids and giving them every advantage you can find is unlikely to make them humble,” Tough writes in an email. He continues:
“It's hard to make kids humble by simply telling them to be humble. Generally what makes people humble is humbling experiences—failing, being humiliated, doing menial labor, serving others, understanding your inferiority to others—and it seems unlikely that Avenues is going to provide many of those.”
Ron Lieber, the New York Times money columnist who is working on a book, The Opposite of Spoiled, about how to teach children about finances, is more optimistic. He sees the potential for humility in these privileged kids. “There are all sorts of really rich kids who are lovely human beings,” Lieber says. “They have a sense of context about how lucky they are, how to move through the world, they’re not offensive to other people, and they understand that with that kind of privilege comes immense responsibility.” For the parents of such children, Lieber advocates always being honest about your well-off circumstances in age-appropriate terms.
But if the parents aren’t giving those kids positive messages about humility at home, it’s hard to imagine that a school festooned with genuine Chuck Close paintings is relaying the right messages about failure and sometimes being inferior to others. There are many things that students at the Avenue can be taught, but grit probably isn’t one of them.
Posted Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 9:59 AM
Where's Betty at? Where's the housewife, Weiner? Where's Betty? That's all I want to know.
If, in the matter of Betty Francis and Mad Men, I'm starting to sound like The Wire's D'Angelo Barksdale, hollering at drug kingpin Stringer Bell about the fate of his dead friend, it's for a reason. This season of AMC's vaunted period drama about ad salesmen and the women they irritate started off by giving Don Draper's ex-wife one of the most potentially compelling plots she's had in years. She'd become friends with talented young violinist, a girl named Sandy, who was living with the Francis family before she ran off to California to pursue some vague sense of '60s liberation. What an opportunity! A chance for Betty to break free of suburban housewifery, and perhaps get caught up in the women’s liberation movement! The show hasn't said a word about it since.
This season, Don started an affair with his neighbor Sylvia. Pete Campbell split up with his wife Trudy. Peggy Olson bought an apartment, or maybe even a whole townhouse. What started as a plan to take the company public turned into yet another corporate realignment for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, which merged with Ted Chaough's agency for a shot at winning Chevrolet's business.
But in all this maneuvering, the total lack of resolution of Betty's initial storyline has been conspicuous. All of these other subplots affirm the fundamentally unchangeable nature of the characters involved. Don will always cheat. Pete will always be basically right about other people, whether he's condemning Don for blowing up the firm's relationship with Jaguar or condemning his father-in-law's hypocrisy after they run into each other at a brothel. (And he’ll always shoot himself in the foot while pointing it out.) Peggy, who gave up her dream neighborhood on Abe's recommendation and lost her independence in the new merger, will never quite get what she wants.
But Betty's reaction to Sandy, her teenage boarder, promised something entirely different. It was sexual—in a disturbing bit of role play, Betty suggests that she and her husband attack the younger girl. It was also intimate. Sandy and Betty talk about the marital and professional expectations to which young women are held, the pressure on women to be beautiful, and Sandy's fear that she isn’t good enough to pursue a career in music. Later, after Sandy runs away, the self-absorbed Betty actually ventures down to St. Marks Place, into a filthy squat, and helps a bunch of hippies cook goulash in the hopes of learning where her boarder went. And when she tells the young men who question her motives, “I came here because I’m looking for somebody that I do want. I did not throw her away,” it almost sounds like Betty is talking about herself.
While I know a lot of Mad Men viewers have come to hate Betty over the years, I'd rather watch the story of her belated awakening, her fight for an almost wasted life, than see Don redeem himself via his brilliance yet again. So where's Betty, Weiner?
Posted Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 4:30 PM
If you measure by how much revenue it brings in, abortion is a huge part of what Planned Parenthood does
Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Amanda, it’s been so long since I’ve seen a reference to the claim that abortions make up only 3 percent of the services that Planned Parenthood provides that I thought maybe they’d stopped trying. It might not be a technically incorrect number, but it is meaningless—to the point of being downright silly— for several reasons. Not the least of which being that Planned Parenthood “unbundles” all of its services so that a pack of pills, an STD test and an exam are three separate services.
Undoubtedly, some of those services are cheaper than others: To illustrate this, let’s make a comparison with an actual business. Say I open a watch store. I sell lots of those cheap plastic digital ones that you can get at discount stores. And I sell some Timex and Casio, and also some nicer designer watches. But then I also keep a few superexpensive Brightlings and Patek Phillipes in stock. And maybe those only make up 3 percent of my sales. But selling only a handful of fancy watches brings in far more than 3 percent of my REVENUES. And so it is with abortion.
It’s impossible to know how much money Planned Parenthood brings in for abortion. Because as specific as the annual report is about the number of services it provides, it’s far less detailed when talking about where its revenue comes from (They are within their rights, so whatever). But it’s easy to calculate, as the Weekly Standard did, that Planned Parenthood gets at least a third of its clinic income—and more than 10 percent of all its revenue, government funding included—from its abortion procedures.
Ask anyone who runs a for-profit business or nonprofit charity if something that brings in one-third of their revenue is “central” to their endeavor, and the answer is likely to be yes. So yes, abortion is central to what Planned Parenthood does. There ARE a few things that aren’t central to their purpose though. As compared with the nearly 334,000 abortions that Planned Parenthood provided in 2011, 28,674 women received prenatal services. And 2,300 were referred to adoption agencies.
Posted Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 3:46 PM
Judith Light, 64, is laughably the television mom of Mitch Pileggi, 61, on Dallas
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
It happened for the first time a couple of years ago when I turned on the television and stumbled upon a nondescript sitcom on network TV. The actress, who appeared to be in her late 40’s, was playing the television mother of an actor who looked to be in his early 40’s. I was confused when I heard the actor refer to her as “mom,” but then I realized that it was just another example of Hollywood’s insane ageism, particularly directed towards women—even actresses playing mothers to 40-year olds can’t be over 50. In order to continue watching, I somehow needed to reconcile that the “mother” had to be roughly eight years old when she gave birth to her “son.” And I couldn’t, so I turned the TV off.
Currently there are a number of shows on television where the real life age differences between the actresses playing mothers and the actors playing their children is scant to nonexistent.
There is a 16-year age difference between Sarah Chalke and her television mom, played by Elizabeth Perkins, on How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life), and the show’s entire premise is about how annoying your mother is when you have to move back home and live with her, post- divorce. But how annoying is your mom really going to be when you are so close in age? Moms are annoying when a real generational divide exists.
Another example is the 15-year age difference between actress Holly Marie Combs and her television daughter, Lucy Halle, on Pretty Little Liars. Yes, it’s physically plausible that Combs’ character gave birth at age 15. But teenage pregnancy is not the focus of the show. The minimal age gap becomes a distraction.
A new ABC television comedy pilot up now for possible pick up, Keep Calm and Karey On, stars Jane Seymour, who plays the television mother of Kelly Preston but is only 12 years older than her in real life. Likewise, there is an 11-year age difference between Sofia Vergera and her television mom, Elizabeth Pena, on Modern Family. An even more extreme example is the 3-year age difference between Mitch Pileggi (age 61) and his onscreen television mom, Judith Light (age 64), on the remake of Dallas, which forgoes the necessary make-up or wigs that would make the relationship look even slightly plausible.
I live in Tinseltown. I get that Hollywood is trying to sell us a fantasy, but what kind of sick fantasy is this—a 3 year old giving birth? Aside from being ageist, misogynistic and sexist, the trend also happens to be cringe-inducing to watch. Plus, it makes for really bad storytelling, pulling the viewer out of the narrative and incentivizing her to turn her television off.
Posted Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 1:40 PM
(Anna Webber/Getty Images for Gillette)
Last spring, the scientific community dealt a devastating blow to bearded men and the women who love them. After assessing the facial hair preferences of 227 women, University of New South Wales researchers Barnaby Dixson and Robert Brooks released a study suggesting that straight women deem men more attractive when they are beardless. As The Daily Mail put it: “Psychologists confirm: Women REALLY don’t like beards.”
Confirm? As somewhat of a beard enthusiast, I was REALLY skeptical of that claim. And when I dug into the study (and the photographic evidence on which it was based), I discovered that the women in the sample were presented with a very sorry sample of beards. The researchers had asked these women to rate the attractiveness of men who had just shaved, and then to rate them again after a month and a half of unmitigated face growth, no trimming allowed. The fresh shaves beat out the unkempt beards—barely.
But there’s one important variable these scientists didn’t account for: Stubble.
This month, Dixson and Brooks have updated their research to assess the sexual attractiveness of beards in those in-between times. In a new study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, Dixson and Brooks found that the more facial hair growth a man has accumulated, the more “masculine” both men and women deem his photograph.
But “masculine” did not necessarily translate into “attractive.” In the new study, heavy beards were still inferior—for the women, at least. (The straight men liked the heavy beards.) Light stubble and clean shaven were also found lacking. The winner in attractiveness was “heavy stubble.”
So a certain kind of facial hair has been vindicated. Which leaves just one question: Why are Dixson and Brooks going around photographing guys' beards, then asking ladies which ones they like the best? Is there any greater social meaning nestled in these beards of various lengths? The researchers pinpoint an intermediate level of beard growth as a sign of the “threshold of masculinity”—he's not hairy, he’s not hairless, he’s just right. Perhaps the heavily stubbled man demonstrates that he is capable of nodding to masculinity without capitulating to it; or perhaps he is just a guy who shaves, irregularly. “Indeed,” Dixson and Brooks note, “little is known regarding the socio-sexuality of men who typically choose to wear beards.”
Posted Tuesday, May 7, 2013, at 1:21 PM
Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages
Today is the final day of the special election for South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, and Republican candidate Mark Sanford continues to reaffirm my theory that he's running a science experiment to see how weird a Republican has to be to lose. Buzzfeed reporter Kate Nocera has been following Sanford on the campaign trail, an experience that sounds a bit like being trapped on a family vacation with a creepy uncle whose views on the world come straight out of a 1962 edition of Reader's Digest.
On Saturday, Sanford decided to debunk the claim that female voters would be turned off by charges that he's harassing his ex-wife. Nocera describes his strategy: "He then dragged the small gaggle of reporters from store to store to 'try to find a woman who doesn't like me.'" Hey, nothing screams “not creepy” like running up to random women and challenging them to insult you to your face! Unsurprisingly, the women who were willing to talk to Sanford and the reporters turned out to be Sanford supporters—though one of them told the candidate she was only voting for him because her political views aligned with his. Otherwise, the woman explained to Sanford, "I’m not your biggest fan." (Which seemed to be a Southern-nice way of saying “I’m glad this job will get you out of the neighborhood.”)
Nocera also describes how, later that weekend, Sanford bullied her into letting him drive her rental car, despite not being on her rental agreement. He claimed he needed to drive because "You have to ask questions and pay attention." (Sadly, the pearls of wisdom he dispensed, having wrested control of the car from Nocera, were not that illuminating—just the same well-trod excuses for violating his divorce agreement. Oh, and he’s very fond of his children.) Sanford also hitched rides with other reporters, joking that his young campaign staffer Martha was "an awful, terrible driver."
Will this kind of behavior hurt him in today's election? After falling behind in the polls, Sanford crept back up and, as Joan Walsh reports for Salon, is now a point ahead of his Democratic opponent. (For those of you disoriented by Sanford’s weirdness, that’s Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of TV host Stephen Colbert.) As Dave Weigel reports, Sanford has been turning on the charm. If Sanford manages to pull this out, we can only hope he'll find equally exciting ways to push his luck next campaign season. Maybe he’ll refuse to wear pants at routine campaign appearances? Would a pantless Republican still trump a fully-clothed Democrat in South Carolina?
Posted Monday, May 6, 2013, at 5:18 PM
Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
When Obama spoke to Planned Parenthood recently for its national conference, he made the entirely rational decision to describe routine gynecological care as "women's health care." In Politico, Rich Lowry's response was a marvel of mendacity, a piece so thoroughly dishonest that the only accurate fact conveyed is that Obama spoke on a Friday. Lowry accused Obama of avoiding the topic of abortion. What he actually meant was that Obama did not use the word “abortion.” In fact, Obama criticized North Dakota for trying to ban abortions before many women even know they're pregnant, only he used the term “right to choose,” which everyone understands means the right to choose an abortion This was not an unusual or especially political choice. “Pro-choice” has been the standard term pretty much since Roe v. Wade.
But where Lowry was really dishonest is in his attempt to hoodwink his audience into believing that abortion is the sum total of Planned Parenthood's work, characterizing the procedure as the organization’s "central purpose" and claiming that liberals who talk about "women's health" or "reproductive health" are always and forever referring to abortion.
Listening to [Obama], you could be forgiven for thinking that the country is riven by a fierce dispute over whether women should be allowed to choose their own ob-gyns or decide whether to take contraceptives or to get cancer screenings. One side is pro-women’s health, the other anti.
In one way, this is an accurate description of reality. The right is waging a war on women's ability to get basic gynecological services. That's why Republicans tried to shut down the federal government over funding that is earmarked for contraception, STI treatment, and cancer screenings—by federal law, federal money that goes to Planned Parenthood cannot be for abortion. That's why they keep attacking contraception subsidies, on the state level as well as the national level. That's why the single most controversial item in the Affordable Care Act is the provision of contraception coverage for women with insurance. The word "abortion" gets thrown around a lot, but it's clearly just a stalking horse for attacks on contraception and other health care—such as Pap smears and STI testing—associated with women choosing to have sex.
But here is where it is not reality: All together now: 97 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are not abortion. Attacks on Planned Parenthood are, by definition, largely attacks on non-abortion services. Attacks on Planned Parenthood's funding, regardless of claimed intent, are strictly attacks on contraception, STI testing/treatment, and cancer screenings.
Media Matters provides a nice little chart, so that those who struggle to understand that 97 is bigger than three can get a visual reference:
In fact, the group prevents over 200,000 abortions a year, and could do much more if the right quit attacking them for fulfilling their actual mission: dispensing routine gynecological care at a reasonable price.
Posted Monday, May 6, 2013, at 5:02 PM
Elizabeth Smart speaks out against human trafficking and pro-abstinence sex ed.
(George Frey/Getty Images)
In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her Salt Lake City home, held captive in the mountains, and raped repeatedly for nine months.* Since her escape, she has emerged as an advocate for human trafficking victims—and recently, a critic of abstinence-only sex education. When Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins University panel last week, she explained one of the factors deterring her from escaping her attacker: She felt so worthless after being raped that she felt unfit to return to her society, which had communicated some hard and fast rules about premarital sexual contact.
“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence,” Smart told the panel. “And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’ Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. But for me, I thought, ‘I’m that chewed-up piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.”
As Jessica Valenti points out, the chewing gum analogy is a typical tactic employed by abstinence-only advocates to try to scare teenagers away from having sex. And while stunts like those are often delivered to coed groups, the messaging falls harder on girls: If one person is the gum, the other person chews. It’s difficult to add a rape exemption to that kind of visual. In the case that you’re abducted, does God lend you a fresh stick?
In the sex ed wars, we spend a lot of time crunching statistics to determine whether abstinence-only education is effective in encouraging teenagers to delay sex. We spend less time discussing its effectiveness in making teenagers feel like worthless members of society when they do decide to have sex—or, in the case of too many teenagers, when they are assaulted against their will. Forty-four percent of rape victims, like Smart, are under the age of 18 when they’re assaulted. “The best thing we can do is educate young people as young as we can reach them,” Smart said later. Survivors of rape and trafficking, she said, need to be “given permission to fight back,” and that requires them “to know you are of value.” Teachers “can’t start early enough.”
As Smart’s story shows, administering broad sexual shaming to children can have disastrous effects for victims of assault. The same goes for all of the other “tips” that put the onus on the victim to prevent rape. When we instruct teenagers to dress modestly, abstain from alcohol, never go out alone, and certainly never engage in sex, we’re not actually helping them prevent rape—but we are telling them that when they are victimized, they are partially to blame. Sex educators can’t equip children to escape horrific crimes like the ones committed against Elizabeth Smart. But they can help build a society that refuses to compound the psychological effects of those crimes by shaming victims before the abductor even breaks in.
Correction, May 7, 2013: This post originally stated the Elizabeth Smart was abducted in 2004. She was abducted in 2002.