How Kim Kardashian Exploited Porn

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The iconic Kim Kardashian Vogue wedding cover, the premiere episode, the vacation where Kim lost jewelry in the ocean. As the world prepares for Thursday night’s series finale of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, every celebrity blogger (and celebrities themselves) are analyzing memorable moments from the reality-television phenomenon. But, unfortunately, one moment has received less discussion: the sex tape that started it all.

And as an adult star who makes my living selling porn, not by parlaying a “leaked sex tape” into a mainstream career, I have mixed feelings about how porn birthed a reality-TV juggernaut.

Everyone and their mother in the San Fernando Valley claims to know something about its creation, distribution, and promotion. Still, much remains a mystery about the origins of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, including why Vivid, a professional porn company, leaked the tape when Vivid always requires performers to sign release forms.

Here’s what we do know: According to the Los Angeles Times, E! Television began developing a Kardashian reality show in 2007 to fill a hole in its schedule after Lindsay Lohan scored a DUI and backed out of her highly anticipated reality debut. Amid E!’s development process, porn titan Vivid obtained a video of Kim fucking Brandy’s brother Ray J. Page Six reported that they decided to release it as Kim Kardashian, Superstar on March 21, 2007. A little over a month later, Kim settled with Vivid, but she maintained she had nothing to do with its release. (Of course, if you’re getting paid for your leaked sex tape, you are by definition a sex worker.) Then, less than four months later, E! premiered Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Think Conservatives Are Censored on Social Media? Try Being a Porn Star.

At first, Kim acted like a caricature of a money-hungry porn star with Kris Jenner as her slimy suitcase manager. In “Birthday Suit,” an early episode, Jenner encouraged Kim to pose nude in Playboy. “When I first saw Kim’s sex tape, as a mother, I wanted to kill her,” Jenner said in an interstitial that is now a meme. “But as her manager…” Even in episodes where she posed nude, Kim wasn’t happy her sex tape existed, but she was making lemonade out of lemons. (Author Ian Halperin would later claim in the book Kardashian Dynasty that Jenner “deliberately” leaked Kim’s sex tape.)

Like a porn star’s agent, Jenner loved making lemonade. She dismissed the negative press surrounding the sex tape, instead relying on her daughter’s notoriety to book endorsement deals with body hair-removal tools, silly bands, and any other promotional gig that would accept her. My favorite low-grade Kim endorsement deal is a Charmin toilet paper event where Kim cut a red ribbon outside of a bathroom. In many ways, Kim and Jenner out-hustled Traci Lords and her notorious agent Jim South.

Of course, it made sense for Kim to hustle like a porn star because, in the mid-aughts, the public nearly considered reality television as lowbrow as pornography. Sure, it aired on cable television, but Cinemax was also a cable channel, and every news outlet from Perez Hilton to The New York Times dismissed reality stars as famous for being famous. So, Kim could act like a porn star because society treated her as one of the most renowned sex tape performers in history. She even lived in The Valley like a porn star.

For many women in The Valley, it was nice to see a porn star reach the heights of fame, even if she was shilling for Charmin. As reality television became more common (and eventually took over American politics), Kim booked Vogue covers, attended the Met Gala, and visited the White House. As a result, she became more A-list than most recent Oscar winners. It’s here where porn’s view of Kim became more muddled. Yes, Kim showed that you could film a sex tape and still go on to a mainstream career, following in the footsteps of her former boss Paris Hilton, but she could only accomplish this feat because someone “leaked” her sex tape, and she disowned it. If Kim had willingly sold a sex tape of herself while about to appear on a reality show, she wouldn’t have been able to turn notoriety into fame. Otherwise, Farrah Abraham would have reached the A-list when she released Backdoor Teen Mom. Instead, Abraham remains the butt of a thousand anal jokes, even as Kim’s former husband Kanye West hosts the Pornhub Awards.

If you’re in porn, you’re a pariah. If you jack off to porn stars and treat their industry awards as a novelty act, you can be an A-list celebrity.

Many porn stars understand double standards. Porn is more popular than ever (everyone can now create and distribute pornography with their cellphone), but porn is growing more and more stigmatized. Utah is forcing cellphone companies to install porn blocks on phones. Conservatives are claiming porn is a public health crisis, and The New York Times’ op-ed page is publishing monthly hit pieces presenting the entire porn business as one giant sex-trafficking ring.

Kim has remained silent on these issues. A sex tape made Kim Kardashian into a superstar, but Kim’s superstardom never helped the adult industry in the long run. And we could use an A-lister like her to speak up about our rights now more than ever, and also for her to admit that porn helped create her empire.

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