Kathleen Parker

To most adults, the name Joe Francis probably doesn't mean much. But to their teen- and college-age daughters, it means fun and fame. Sorta.

Francis is the voyeur-provocateur who has turned a frat boy's fantasy into a multimillion-dollar bonanza with his ``Girls Gone Wild'' videos. He and his camera crews scour the haunts of the young and silly -- from Spring Break to Mardi Gras -- and cajole usually very-drunk girls into baring their breasts. And other parts.

Sex sells, you may have heard. Selling young, nubile inebriated innocents kissing, cavorting and engaging in sexual activities is a sure bet in a porn-jaded world where girls just wanna have fun and celebrity is just a freeze-frame away.

But wherever there's sex, booze and videotape, there's bound to be trouble -- and Francis has plenty of it. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the sexual exploitation of minors, for which he will pay $2.1 million in fines.

Apparently, Francis hasn't been keeping proper records of the names and ages of his video stars, as required by law. He also faces an unrelated civil suit filed in 2003 by parents in Panama City, Fla., where Francis allegedly filmed girls, then 16 and 17, engaging in sexual activities in a shower.

Somehow I don't think this is what our feminist foremothers had in mind when they set about to liberate women from the patriarchy. Nothing much has changed when women are reduced to sex objects in exchange for T-shirts and trinkets, while men walk away with the cash.

Boys smart, girls dumb. Way to go, gals.

``Girls Gone Wild'' has sparked lots of debate through the years about the appropriateness of men preying on drunken ``women'' of barely legal age. One argument goes that the women are responsible for their decision to get drunk and strip. This is the sleep-with-dogs-wake-up-with-fleas school of thought.

The other goes that their drunkenness negates their consent. This would be the women-can-have-it-both-ways school.

The urge to say that these people all deserve each other -- and good riddance -- is hard to suppress. But the more compelling temptation is closer scrutiny. What really gives here? Why are these people behaving this way?

Francis was in many ways inevitable. If you stuffed a computer with data extracted from the zeitgeist -- equal parts celebrity, narcissism, reality TV, porn, moral relativity -- the computer would spit out ``Joe Francis,'' or someone like him.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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