I’m an author, a contributor to The Daily Beast and a marketing professional in the Washington, DC area. I love college football and on Saturdays you’ll find me watching ESPN College GameDay and cheering on my alma mater the Florida State University Seminoles. I am finishing my memoir, The Pornographer’s Daughter, about my family’s experience when my father, Anthony Battista, was prosecuted by the federal government on obscenity charges for distributing the movie Deep Throat in the 1970s.
For the 40th anniversary of Deep Throat article I wrote for The Daily Beast I was lucky enough to secure a spot in the crazy-busy schedule of one of the leading ladies in the adult industry, Joanna Angel, 2011 AVN award winner and mogul of her own production company and website www.BurningAngel.com. As a young business person (and college grad, I might add) Joanna’s take on the adult industry and her success weaves a common thread found in the lives of many entrepreneurial women – work ten times as hard, be innovative, secure a great team, and stay true to your brand. Read on for highlights of my interview with Joanna as we talk politics, the woman’s place in business, and the future of pornography.
Kristin Battista-Frazee (KBF): Do you think there are any parallels between the way Deep Throat launched porn and the way Burning Angel changed the industry?
Joanna Angel (JA): I do know that Deep Throat did gain this level of legitimacy where everybody knows about it, and everybody saw it, and it stopped being looked at as just porn. When I started Burning Angel, I definitely wanted to cross over and be sort of a piece of pop culture and be a place where people were comfortable and it celebrated sexuality. I wanted to take something that was supposed to be secretive and bad and dirty, and turn it into something cool, as something that people could talk about and relate to one another and not just be this dirty kind of disgusting thing.
KBF: She [Linda Lovelace] gained a lot of fame and tried to capitalize on that as much as she could when she needed money, but then the other aspect is that she was taken advantage of. What good things about Linda Lovelace, do you see in yourself? Specifically building a career, making something special and doing something different
JA: This is tough world for women who want to be in charge of anything. You have to work ten times as hard to get half as far as everybody else, no matter what you’re doing. If you wanna be a CEO on Wall Street or you wanna be a doctor, you kind of have to be the best doctor and the best CEO because everyone’s waiting for you to fuck up, you know? And being a woman is hard. Women are more emotional than men. Women do go through a lot of things that men don’t go through and it does make it hard to be a woman in a position for power, and part of what our weaknesses are is what gives us strength, the fact that we are more emotional than men and the fact that we do have a lot of feminine qualities. It’s what hurts us and it’s what makes us amazing at the same time. We’re able to be intuitive and, and I think we’re able to work with people on a different level than men can because we just have this level of sensitivity that men don’t necessarily have. The fact that we’re a little more vulnerable is what makes us weak and what makes us strong. I’m not Sarah Palin’s biggest fan or anything but the second Sarah Palin stepped in… if everything she said was said by a man then she wouldn’t have been nearly as scrutinized. She would have just been another stupid politician, you know?
JA: Rick Santorum and George Bush have said stuff that is a million times worse than what she said and they don’t get scrutinized as much. Everyone was waiting for her to do something stupid because she was a woman and she wasn’t ugly.
KBF: This notion of feminist porn, which is talked about a lot in conjunction with Burning Angel and the launch of your company, I’m curious about your perspective of how Deep Throat and early porn may have influenced women’s rights or the basis for creating this feminist porn?
JA: I don’t know if you’d call those movies feminist or not, but I think just having porn be so out there and so mainstream for everybody to look at and everybody to watch and to make their own judgments on, I think that is more of what opened up the door to women having an opinion. And maybe just women watching the movie, because those movies were marketed for everyone to watch. They weren’t just marketed in adult video stores or in a small section of a store for a few horny men to watch. They were marketed for everybody over the age of 18 to watch, just having porn be so mainstream at such a controversial time. I don’t even think that before those movies women even thought about having an opinion about porn. I think it opened up the dialogue. For women to watch it and to be like, “Do I like this? Do I not like this? Is it for me? Is this not for me?” “Is this making me horny or is this degrading?” “What is this doing?” Having something just be so out there where everybody had to have an opinion on it is what opened up the door to all women. There are women who call themselves feminist or not feminist. I think you kind of had to have an opinion on it, so just the fact that the movies were so mainstream is what gave women a voice.
KBF: Are people really surprised you have a college degree and work in porn?
JA: People in porn aren’t that surprised. It’s more people out of porn and it’s sometimes weird. I do all these interviews and I do all this press for people and… “Wow, that’s crazy, you have a college degree, that must be rare in porn.” And, I’m like, “I don’t know, I own a company. How many people do you know that own successful companies but didn’t finish college?” I sometimes feel bad because I do a lot of press and I feel like I get all this credit for being a girl in porn with a degree like it’s this super-rare thing and it’s not so rare, particularly if you want to pick out every single person who owns one of the porn companies, most of them are gonna have college degrees. Or, if they don’t, they just are very, very good at business. To run a business it takes skill no matter what you’re selling. It takes patience, and it takes a lot of things that you do learn in college, or you have to be one of those super-geniuses that’s able to learn things on your own.
KBF: I saw your blog, and I actually wrote an article for The Daily Beast in response to what Rick Santorum said about banning pornography. You know, for me, it kinda came out of the blue, and yet it didn’t.
JA: It’s so ridiculous and it’s so stupid. I feel like around election time everybody will just come out and say something really radical, either to the left or to the right just to get a bunch of votes right away because they know anybody who agrees with that is gonna vote for them. Especially in these tough times, the state of the economy has never affected me as much as it does now. When you run a business and you’re selling a product and your livelihood and other people’s livelihood who work under me depends on whether people have extra money in their pocket to pay for the type of entertainment that I produce. It’s kind of like… can we just have an election right now that focuses on money and the economy? Which is ultimately I really think what everybody in America cares about. Can we just not have an election that’s all about abortion and whether gay people should get married? Who gives shit whether gay people get married or not? It’s not gonna affect the amount of jobs in America, you know? Just stop it! Can we just stop talking about these religious issues that should have nothing to do with the election and let’s actually figure out what president can help the country.
KBF: You’re called a pioneer of alternative porn. Do you still feel like this transformative figure in the industry?
JA: In the beginning it was more like this huge deal, “Oh, what is she doing, it’s different, it’s this, it’s that,” and now things have kind of settled down and it’s just like, “That’s Joanna Angel and she does her thing.” I’m focused on growing my company. I don’t know what I’ve done for the industry as a whole. I meet girls with tattoos have told me, “Oh, it’s all because of you that I’m able to… ” or “I didn’t think I could get into porn because I had too many tattoos,” or this or that, and “I didn’t think I looked like a porn star and because of you I’m able to work and I’m able to do this.” I didn’t spawn the creation of a hundred companies like me for girls to go, so I don’t know how much of a change it’s able to make. But the fact that my company has won awards, the same awards that big porn companies, your typical mainstream stuff… the fact that we’re always considered among them, the fact that CNBC lists the top ten porn stars and my name is included. The fact that Burning Angel and my name has been able to be considered as one of the top is a really big thing because ten, fifteen years ago there was nobody who did anything like us, or even anything a little bit different, it’s considered amongst the top of the game.
KBF: Where do you think the porn industry will be in 40 years?
KBF: I’m saying 40 because this is the 40th anniversary of Deep Throat and you look at everything that’s happened, and you just wonder what will happen in the next 40.
JA: Yeah, I know. I have no idea. I don’t know! Porn has gone in a whole bunch of weird circles. It’s gonna depend on what kind for technology comes out. I hope it’s in a good place. [laughing].
A day before the voting begins in the Republican primary in my home state of Florida, I couldn’t help but think of the axiom, “to err is human, to forgive divine.” Voters in the politically twisted state of Florida will have to muster quite a bit of forgiveness where current Republican presidential hopefuls are concerned. Claims by Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, he wanted an open marriage, and Mitt Romney for being evasive about releasing his tax returns has kept the press going for weeks. The voters in South Carolina, even women, found it in their hearts to forgive Gingrich and delivered a huge win for him in that state. It doesn’t look like the same thing will happen in Florida for Gingrich or exactly why he had such a stellar victory in South Carolina.
The electorate is fickle but in Gingrich’s case, I think he was forgiven because he seems to the brightest in the bunch of very average Republican nominees. The changing polls during the primaries indicate the frustration of voters in the search for a good candidate. In the absence of a leader with a full range of admirable qualities, South Carolina voters overlooked Newt Gingrich’s character flaws in favor of his high intelligence.
But why do some politicians receive our forgiveness (and votes) and others do not? The reasons vary based on our past experiences and sometimes unwavering personal philosophies. Who really knows since forgiveness is very personal and arbitrary. We may decide a candidate’s ideas or what they symbolize trump some serious personal failings.
Good examples are Bill Clinton, who masterfully crafted the “it’s the economy stupid” message and was elected despite the Gennifer Flowers scandal. And still received high approval ratings after the Monica Lewinsky story broke. I, along with many others, thought Clinton was a good President and effectively governed despite being a serial cheater. I forgave him because I favored his democratic policies but disapproved of his infidelities.
Ronald Reagan inspired patriotism on the heels of terrible economic times in the late 1970s and even though he was viewed as “just an actor” and not that bright, he still achieved landslide victories in 1980 and 1984. He’s revered today as a political icon but no one seems to talk about the Iran Contra scandal. I guess all is forgiven, right? Nixon, though vilified and forced out of office, was later recognized for some big accomplishments such as opening relations with China. Time, death and charisma seem to ease the way to forgiveness.
Then there are other politicians (there’s a long list) who seem to be beyond forgiveness and have absolutely no redeeming qualities. Senator John Edward committing adultery and fathering a child with Rielle Hunter while his wife, Elizabeth, suffered with cancer; Congressman Mark Foley sending sexually explicit messages to teenaged House pages; and Congressman Gary Condit evading investigation amidst the desperate attempts to find missing intern Chandra Levy. Thank goodness their political careers are OVER.
Infidelity and questionable ethics are not the ideal traits of a presidential hopeful and we aspire for our elected officials have the full package— high moral character, political deftness and scholarly competence. But more often than not, candidates don’t have all the qualities we would like and we rely on forgiveness to elect our leaders. We are forced to make decisions as to who we elect based on which qualities we dislike the least. Good luck to my friends and family in Florida who might vote in the primaries tomorrow. You’ll have lots to forgive of the candidates on the ballot.