Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Reckoning of Joe Francis

For those who do not know, Joe Francis is the founder and CEO of Mantra Films, which is most famous for its production of Girls Gone Wild videos, the haunting commercials of which you still see on late night tv, replete with stripping teenage girls partaking in the kind of public behavior that would have been considered risque before the advent of the internet. In the world of 2 Girls 1 Cup, Girls Gone Wild is almost vanilla, and yet an exemplar for some of the byproducts of an uneven sexualized culture (more accurately, female sexualized culture [note the backlash against Brokeback Mountain, even though its homosexual content is mild by comparison of the displays of pseudo-lesbianism accepted in porn and society at large]). Soft porn is a strange way for a wealthy Catholic schoolboy to make a living, particularly off the unpaid bosoms of drunken 19 year olds on spring break--after all, they are adult females. Then again, even the porn industry pays its "actresses."

I do not want to delve too much into the arguments about whether or not the women in these videos are being exploited. Admittedly, I have been drunk on occasion in my youth, and I did some foolish things, but I was never so drunk that I stripped for a camera to get a t-shirt, and then signed a release to allow the person to use my striptease or feigned kissing of friends on his video covers for sale and profit. Of course, I am a man. It is a rare sight for a group of women (outside of male review shows) to scream for men in public to "take it off" for their video camera. Moreover, men are able to consume and absorb the effects of alcohol three times the rate of women. It is hardly a secret among younger men at parties that the easiest way to get a female is to get her to drink alcohol (and the more cunning men know that one need not get her drunk). Why do you think they have women's nights at clubs? To bring in men, knowing that women get drunk quicker, and with intoxication inhibitions against sexualization decrease drastically. When I used to go clubs and parties in my younger days, it would never cease to amaze me how stupid, even dangerous young, oftentimes very attractive women would get after consuming alcohol. Mr. Francis has taken a lot of criticism over the years for taking advantage of this, all to no avail.

What I find even more disturbing than the exploitation factor, since it can at least be argued that the women signed release forms to allow their frolicking to be shown, is the problem Francis has had with women on a more personal level. Joe has a long and sordid trail of accusations that have followed him throughout his career as a breast peddler. I do not know too many men, any men, actually, who have this many accusations for sexual misconduct hanging over them in several different states. He has been able to avoid criminal prosecution in large part because the women were drunk, usually cannot remember what happened to them and, taking a cue from the Church of Scientology, has an active set of lawyers who like to sue the daylights out of people who so much as go public with any of these incidents.

There is a reason why a 34 year old multimillionaire cannot get married--and it is not because of what he does for a living (look at the number of spouses many other pornographers go through). Joe cannot get married because he cannot sustain a relationship, at anytime throughout his adult life and going even further back. The pattern of abuse claims against him in the last several years should be instructive of the problems of this troubled soul. He has incurred no less than a half dozen rape and sexual harassment claims. He was accused by LA Times reporter Claire Hoffman of assault. The rape charges are really remarkable. Naturally, in criminal court, we are all innocent until proven guilty, but how many of these kinds of charges have been leveled against Hugh Hefner in his long career? I could be wrong, but I do not know of any.

All of this gets to Mr. Francis's recent legal troubles. They started in 2003 when he was arrested in Florida during spring break for, amongst other things, drug possession and child pornography. Apparently, his cameras filmed some underage teen girls in states of undress, running afoul of child pornography laws. The court threw out most of the charges, and Francis ultimately was fined for filming the underage teens.

The 2003 arrest coincided with FTC claims that his business was participating in predatory practices, like shipping off DVDs and charging customers without prior consent. For this, Francis was able to wiggle his way out with a half million dollar fine. Not surprisingly, the underage girls he was fined for filming earlier in 2003 sued.
Everything came to a head in 2007, though. The civil lawsuit brought by the girls from 2003 that Francis illegally taped went to court and ultimately arbitration and, quite arrogantly, he decided to take his case to the court of public opinion by criticizing not only the girls (who admittedly lied about their age to get taped [of no legal consequence, since Francis was the adult and responsible party]) and the judge (calling him a "fuck" and threatening to "bury" him). Even less surprising, for his shenanigans contempt of court charges were soon forthcoming, putting Francis in the big house.

Not content on destroying himself in the free world, Francis answered his time in jail for contempt by attempting to bribe prison guards, leading to a search of his cell and the discovery of drugs.
When it rain, it pours. Later that same year, Francis became the object of attraction of those kind people at the Internal Revenue Service, for false business deductions totaling over $20 million. If convicted on the tax charges, he faces 10 years in the house, and up to 6 years for the drug smuggling behind bars.

For the rape allegations, false imprisonment, sexual harassment and assault, to this day, he has not been punished or charged (and has countersued many of the women who have made such claims [even suing one of his alleged victims for the price of breakfast he claims he bought her after her assault]).
It is ironic that a man who has made a living aggressively suing and making money off 18-20 year old females' bodies is now behind bars for being a drug abuser behind bars and a tax cheat. His business continues to thrive without him, although one must wonder how long he will continue to run a company while in jail. I have little doubt that Joe made his primary income from filing himself picking green beans that the government would not be so hell bent on throwing him in jail, but then it takes an incredibly dumb man who makes the kind of living that Francis does not to expect difficulties when you obliquely threaten the physical safety of a judge and smuggle drugs into prison (knowing any misstep, because of who you are, will certainly be met with punishment). To get away with as much as he has been able to get away with the opposite sex in the last decade, while making millions off many of those same women, has obviously reinforced his inability to use circumspection.

For all of this, the man who entrapped a reporter and told her, "give me a kiss, baby" is now claiming he is the target of abuse by prison officials. The same man who swore that he never assaulted any of the women who accused him, even those who were so intoxicated they did not remember "consenting," by claiming his unpaid talent were unappreciative and "greedy," is now stating through his attorney that prison life is just too harsh for him--so much so that he cries himself to sleep in the slammer (although one must wonder what experience a man would endure behind bars that would make him cry). From making Banned from TV videos that advertised people getting plowed by trains, to being abducted for ransom by a money-seeker, and finally coming full circle to sniveling his heartaches away in the big house with his new friends--the life of Joe Francis proves that old saying, karma is a bitch.

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