School of Hard-core Knox: Belle Knox Interview

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Apologies, because this story is old now. Very, very old, at least in terms of the 24-hour news cycle. Heck, it was old when I wrote it, in a way, because these things play out so fast on the internet that it’s really hard to keep up. But I like to think we do a good job of that over at Penthouse.

When my editor asked me to do this interview, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into. I’d followed the news of the story, of course, but it felt like everything was already out there. Plus, this was an 18-year-old college student, and she was in the middle of a media frenzy. I couldn’t imagine having to contribute to that chaos. But I never say no to a good story (ask my editors), so I read everything I could find and tried to figure out what hadn’t been covered yet.

Of course, it should be noted that I had a bit of an advantage: I work for Penthouse. I can’t think of any girl in the adult industry who doesn’t want to be in our magazine, so it gave me a bit of an edge. Plus, unlike a lot of the reporters who were doing stories for mainstream outlets, porn was my beat. I’ve interviewed more than my share of X-rated ladies, and am friends with plenty of them as well, so I had a better idea of what the business was like than all those news reporters who’d beat me to the story.

It felt strange interviewing someone who was creating such a big hurricane of news at only 18. I remember being 18, a freshman in college, and what that was like, and I have to say, I did not envy Belle’s predicament. It was hard enough figuring out how to balance school and a social life and extra curriculars without the rigid structure that high school had provided. I’d also once interviewed a freshman rape victim at my college, and though her story created only the tiniest buzz, and only in our city, I saw firsthand what the media attention did to her. So multiply that by about a million and my mind was spinning just thinking about the everyday challenges Belle was facing—like should she just throw her phone out the window and hide in her room until it all died down. And while that seemed like a fine idea to me, it wasn’t quite what Belle had in mind.

She carried on a great conversation, and was very intelligent, but her youth and naiveté showed through. I had to remind myself over and over that although I was only 10 years older than her, I’d also spent most of those 10 extra years of life working in the adult industry. I had years of anecdotal evidence about what life is like on the inside, and when you “grow up” and try to get out. Her notions of going on to become a lawyer and do all these other things, they’re sweet, but they’re naive. In a world where everything you do is on the internet forever, it’s hard to imagine there being many jobs for a former porn actress, even if she gets a law degree. I mean, I hope I’m wrong, because I’d love to see the world stop caring about what people do in their personal lives, but it’s hard to imagine. I’ve faced plenty of discrimination for working in this business, and I’m simply a writer and editor, and a fully clothed one at that.

The thing I found most interesting about Belle, though, was how positive she was about the whole thing. Whatever you think of her or porn or the choices she’s made since her story broke, she’s managed to find a way to spin things her way. At 18, I don’t think I could have stayed so positive and kept up a happy appearance if I were being bashed in the news every day, and I don’t know many others who could, either. And for that, I’m totally in awe of Belle.

If you want to get to know more about Belle Knox (or see a little more of Belle, I suppose), please check out my interview with her, “The School of Hard-core Knox,” from the June issue of Penthouse.

Warrior Wire: We’ve Got Their Backs … And Their Tits & Ass

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I recently read a story about New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, and how he writes his columns about specific people and not merely the broader issues because readers have an easier time relating if the story is about a singular person than about the hundreds, thousands, or millions actually impacted. At first, I was kind of annoyed. It seems ridiculous of people to think that way, and I didn’t want to believe that that’s how we really react to news. But then I realized that that’s exactly how I write, too. Which brings us to my latest Warrior Wire column.

Every couple of years, someone decides that Penthouse should be banned on military bases and we get kicked out of the PXes all across the country. In the eight years I’ve been with the magazine, I’ve seen us banned two or three times, and heard about people wanting to ban us at least twice as often, probably more. The reasons are always a little absurd. I read something once about how a woman complained and fought to ban the magazine because she was in a PX with her child and saw a soldier buying the magazine, and she didn’t want to have to explain to her child what the magazine was and why this (grown) man was buying it. This startled me for a number of reasons. First off, all Penthouse magazines sold on newsstands are polybagged, which means you can only see the front and back cover. And, I’m sorry, but our cover is no more risqué than Cosmopolitan or Maxim or any other (wo)men’s interest magazine. Even our cover lines aren’t that racy. Again, no more so than any other magazine that you can find on the shelves. But, also, if your kid asks what Penthouse is, you can simply say, “It’s a magazine for grownups.” That’s what my parents did, and it’s what I do when I have to explain to underage folk (the kids of family and friends) what I do. And it’s always enough to end the conversation with them, because, really, they don’t care. And if your kid is old enough to care, they’re going to find a way to get their hands on some dirty magazines no matter what you do. (Don’t act like you didn’t steal your dad’s Penthouse or your friend’s dad’s Playboy. We all did it.)

Anyway, when I was asked to write this editorial, all those things came to mind. But my being pissed wasn’t going to do much, because I’m the writer. Of course I’m mad when people can’t buy my magazine. As a writer, I’m annoyed because it keeps people from seeing my writing, and I work really hard on every article. And as an employee, I get irritated because by not selling the magazine that pays my rent, they’re possibly cutting into my ability to pay my rent down the line. (Note: Jerks!) So I knew I needed other voices. And this brings us back to my earlier point. When I write, I write about people. Sure, sometimes I write about people who need better health care, or people who don’t want their retirement benefits cut, or even simply people who like music, but every story I’ve written has been, at its heart, about people. Because as it turns out, I’m one of those people who cares more about an issue when I can connect it to a person, a face, a name, a story, then when all I’ve got are statistics and hard facts.

I was surprised with how many of the vets I’ve talked to actually got back to me when I sent out an email asking for their opinions on the latest Penthouse ban. I’ve been lucky to always talk to people who are willing to help me out whenever they can, but this seemed like an odd story, and I really didn’t expect many responses. The four people included in this article—Jenny, Jesse, Geoff, and Justin—had the strongest opinions of all of them, and they also all had great ways of expressing those opinions. I had already written a rough draft before hearing back from them, but adding their statements really made this article come alive for me. Without them, it felt like just me being ranty, and outside of email chains with my friends, I try to keep my ranting to a minimum because who the hell am I? But with their voices, it became an issue, one that I thought people could understand as being about more than a magazine staff being upset that sales numbers were going to drop a bit.

Some of the quotes I got made me think differently. One of the reasons suggested for the ban was that magazines like Penthouse are a root cause of sexual assault, teaching men that women are merely objects. Jenny mentioned that one of the reasons that our magazine couldn’t be blamed for military sexual trauma (MST), though, was that MST also happened to men, and I hadn’t really thought about that before. And Geoff and Jesse both brought up points about how the military was so concerned with banning a magazine, but had yet to address the real issue of MST, which is that it’s underreported, and when it is reported, it’s almost impossible for the victims to get justice because they have to report to their chain of command, some of whom are the ones committing these assaults. But my favorite quotes came from Justin, who in our interview said basically all the things I wanted to say, but better. He brought up points I wanted to bring up, and basically could have written the editorial himself if I’d let him. He also had a great line about how it’s unfair that he can serve in the military, fight a war, risk death, but they won’t let him see a pair of tits. … And, okay, I’ll admit it, part of me was excited to be able to use words like “tits” and “balls” in Warrior Wire, since those articles are usually more cut and dry—and less vulgar. So, there’s that, too.

Anywho, the point of the editorial is that people (who are of age and legally allowed to do so) should be able to buy Penthouse if that’s what they want to do. Especially people who we’re willing to send off to war and who may come back injured or maybe not come back at all. So, yeah, I think if you’re allowed to go to war, you should be allowed to read a fucking “dirty” magazine. And if you don’t want your kids seeing the magazine, then don’t buy it (or do, but just hide it really well). Other people shouldn’t have to give up simple pleasures like this because other people are too fucking afraid of sex to know how to explain it to a child or, I fear, to have it explained to them. [End rant]

Now, if you want to read the actual editorial, and see what the vets I interviewed had to say about whether you—or they—should be allowed to buy Penthouse on military bases, check out my/the magazine’s editorial, “We’ve Got Their Backs … And Their Tits & Ass” from the June 2014 issue of, you guessed it, Penthouse.