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Naked Happy Girls on Playboy; Chanel St. James living large

WWW- [The Phoenix.com]- Collapsed Catholic that I am, I’ve always had trouble with the concept of “erotic photography.” Dirty pictures that aren’t dirty: what’s the point of that? Either you’re masturbating or you’re not, it seems to me — and if you’re not, you might as well be doing something else.

It was with some curiosity, then, that I sat down to watch the first couple of episodes of the Playboy Channel’s Naked Happy Girls (Saturdays, 9 pm), which follows self-described “erotic photojournalist” Andrew Einhorn [pictured] as he bounces around Manhattan persuading “beautiful everyday girls” to disrobe for his saucy little camera. Einhorn, who looks like Eric Bogosian on Ecstasy, is a card: four feet tall, sunnily banal in his chit-chat and loudly insisting on his own fluffiness/harmlessness (‘I’m just a crazy eccentric artist!’), he appears able — on the evidence presented here — to reduce a self-possessed woman to a state of romping nudity in about five minutes flat.

“Andrew’s great!” says his model Iris, splayed cheerfully across a yacht going round and round in New York Harbor. “He’s bubbly, he’s fun, he’s silly!” Well, yes he is. He has to be. If he weren’t, he’d be a pornographer. Einhorn’s whole indecently frivolous enterprise, in fact, is an offence against the terrible gravity of porn.

And porn will have its redress: Einhorn takes another of his models into the studio of Sirius fuck jock Bubba the Love Sponge for an on-air photo shoot and the atmosphere is suddenly dense with humorless carnality. “Fuck,” grunts Bubba, his crew around him like a gang of caged, priapic bouncers, “look at them titties. I’ll beat off to that tonight, I’m telling you.” The pull of the Porn Star — like the Death Star, only worse — is strong here, the groan of its tractor beams. ‘Do you like getting your asshole licked?’ asks Bubba. Will Einhorn defend his naked happy girl? No chance. “Bubba was really nice,” he burbles post-show. “He has his job to do, I guess.”

Bubba’s a pig, and porn is ugly, but porn stars themselves are deserving of the highest respect: they are the moral hygienists of our age, and they should all be millionairesses. So I was pleased to see that Chanel St James, one of the quartet of hardworking porn stars featured in Fox Reality’s recently concluded My Bare Lady, has made herself a pile: she lives in a Scarface mansion with some nutter from the WWF and their backyard is a stockade of royally gleaming Hummers. The show’s evil-genius producers sent Chanel, along with Nautica Thorn, Kirsten Price, and Sasha Knox, to London to be groomed for a theatrical appearance on a “prestigious West End stage,” hacking their way through bits of Oscar Wilde, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, and so on.

There were lots of gags about the girls’ lack of education and tendency to “suck,” but the crude Pygmalion-style conceit of the show was quickly confounded by the interesting qualities of its cast. Sasha Knox — small, fierce, bookish, complex, with a frumpy jut to her jaw — needs to have a novel written about her. Kirsten Price, nominee for the Adult Video News Best New Starlet Award 2007, glistened with an impervious cheerleader sheen. The assembled London theater queens seemed to like Chanel best: her brittle fabulousness and diva appetites took her into the high regions of camp. ‘Oh darling!’ screamed dance instructor Louie, kissing her foot. ‘I’m sorry it’s just — mwah! — we LOVE it!’ (Louie, wonderfully, was a dead ringer for Henry Rollins.) And when Chanel St James did Lady Macbeth, thumping the stage and crying “Unsex me here!”, it was pure heavy metal.

I’ll tell you where the real porn was in last week’s reality TV. It was in Armed and Famous, CBS’s new Cops/Surreal Life hybrid (Wednesdays @ 8 pm). Erik Estrada, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, Jack Osbourne, La Toya Jackson, and WWE champion Trish Stratus are playing at being policemen in Muncie, Indiana, zooming around with their “partners” and making busts. Vigorous underclass stuff: a bleeding man with “crab hands” lurching out of a trailer, a toothless septuagenarian dealing crack from her bedroom. (“This is the wrong way to have to meet you, Ponch!” she lamented as Estrada escorted her to the waiting cruiser.)

“Let me ask for you to get down on your knees,” said La Toya Jackson, primly pointing a gun at someone. Wee Man pulled over a wayward driver with two crack pipes in his pocket: “I’ve been sleeping at the Red Dog parking lot!” the man insisted. Porn appeared during Taser training when Trish Stratus elected to get shot with an actual Taser gun; it manifested itself in the heavy glitter of interest in Erik Estrada’s eyes as he watched the magnificent Stratus position herself between two cops, raise her chin and then take 50,000 volts in the back. Electricity pulsed nobly in her throat and she exhaled a sound of pure goddess transport; the cops gripping her biceps almost fell over.

Next week I’ll be checking back in with the dim scribes of I’m from Rolling Stone, monitoring events in The Apprentice and Beauty and the Geek, and — if I’m feeling strong enough — taking an exploratory reading of Shooting Sizemore, VH1’s chronicle of A-list film star and famous drug loony Tom Sizemore and his “road to recovery.” Remember: porn is in the eye of the beholder. And occasionally in the eye of the porn star. Stay tuned.

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