Read the full article by Lynn Comella at UNLV.edu
Mainstream media outlets have never been particularly good at talking about sex work or sex workers. Rather, as writer and adult performer Arabelle Raphael has recently noted, “Sex workers have always fallen into the cracks of public discourse.” Reporters often dismiss sex workers out of hand, treat them with contempt, or, as Raphael observes, deploy the label “porn star” as though it was “an epithet.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, good reporting has been difficult to find during the media firestorm of the alleged relationship between Stormy Daniels and President Donald Trump. There have been hot takes, dismissive takes, angry takes, and lazy takes. Some pundits have opined that the story amounts to little more than titillating fodder, a distraction from bigger, more important political issues. Others have used it to lob attacks at an industry they find morally repugnant or personally objectionable. In these and other instances, hand wringing frequently replaces facts, worn clichés stand in for data, and bad puns typed in 140 characters supersede journalistic rigor.
I have written elsewhere about the uneven and one-dimensional depictions of sex work in Las Vegas. The city’s highly gendered and sexualized economy means that strip clubs, webcam studios, porn performers, and the politics of sex work are staples of media coverage of the city.
And yet, reporters, pundits, and op-ed contributors often reproduce a narrow set of stereotypes that position sex workers as either victims or social outcasts, while presenting the larger adult industry in the most sensationalistic, reductive, or predatory terms. And editors, who are often desperate for “clicks” on their online news sites, are willing to forgo fact-checking and journalistic standards for the bump they hope peddling sex will give them. Rinse and repeat.
This is not just a Stormy Daniels problem or even a problem for those of us in sexuality studies. Finding ways to explain the complexities of data, evidence and research to the wider public, especially regarding controversial or misunderstood topics, is a challenge that academics in all fields face.