ONE OF THE CONSTANTS, to date, in the media coverage of the 26-year-old pornographic performer James Deen — a wave burgeoning as the release of The Canyons, in which he’ll star opposite Lindsay Lohan, approaches — has been obligatory passing mention of Deen’s Jewishness.
Stories about Deen, whether in GQ or on ABC’s Nightline, have focused on his appeal to young women and teenagers, because of his atypical, un-porny physical features. He’s thin, unmuscled, baby-faced, cute. Noting that he’s Jewish helps to encapsulate all of this, because male Jewishness in our pop culture functions as the yin to machismo’s yang. That’s what Gaby Dunn, whose blog profile of Deen in June 2011 set the tone for all the ensuing pieces, meant when she wrote that “he was almost like a guy that you would just hang out with at Hebrew school.”
What they don’t teach in Hebrew school is that for millennia, Jewish men were understood not to be sweethearts, but sexual monsters. In the first century after Christ, Tacitus referred to the Jews as a people “prone to lust,” while St. Augustine, a little later, called them “indisputably carnal.” In the middle ages, Jewish men were sculpted out of stone on the sides of cathedrals taking pleasure in bestiality, and in the 1880s, America’s leading Jew-hating bigot published a book claiming, apropos of the “licentious Jew,” that “such is the insatiability of his carnal appetites, and to such an extent does he give rein to his lasciviousness, that his debauches only too frequently exceed the ordinary limits of lust.” Which turns out to be a spot-on description of Deen, who has performed in thousands of hardcore videos, ranging from traditional one-on-one affairs, to complicated group events, to elaborately staged pop culture parodies, to double-penetration specials, to brutal BDSM (bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, masochism) numbers. In a sense, then, he’s an anti-Semite’s wet dream.
But — obviously — nobody does porn just because they’re Jewish. Jews have distinguished themselves as pornographic performers, male and female, from Nina Hartley to Ron Jeremy, sure, and as directors and producers in the business, too. But Jews have also been some of porn’s most prominent public critics, from William Kristol to Andrea Dworkin. If Deen’s Jewishness doesn’t have anything to teach us about his choice of career, though, Deen’s performances do have something to say about our culture’s current, and very different, stereotypes of Jewish sexuality.
Picture a Jewishy guy from a recent blockbuster movie, whether it’s Ben Stiller, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, or Jesse Eisenberg. He’s likely a nebbish, some clumsy man-child who w...read more