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When Linda Lovelace, a woman best known for carnal abilities that rivalled Saracen the Sword Swallower's, published Ordeal, her third autobiography, in 1980, she triggered the coining of a phrase in porn circles known as "The Linda Syndrome."

After her groundbreaking performance in 1972's Deep Throat, Lovelace was ubiquitous: an outré celebrity who was always willing to defend her porn-positive views and declare why she had not "gotten into the women's movement." In a 1973 interview with Venus magazine's Yvonne Postelle, she spoke out against obscenity laws, which "take away people's rights" and defended her notoriety by way of the outlaw politics of the time: ". . . it takes sex to make life. What could be more natural?"

After the publication of both Ordeal and Out of Bondage (1986), and in addition to her having testified before the Meese Commission on Pornography, Lovelace was no longer singing her "I live for sex" song. She claimed her husband/manager Chuck Traynor had beaten and hypnotized her, that he had forced her to be the woman Screw magazine's Al Goldstein had deemed the joyous epitome of "all things sexual."

Porn stars Samantha Fox and Traci Lords are now considered to embody the "Linda Syndrome," as both have walked away from their former careers, as both look back at the industry with distaste, and complex explanations.

The young Lovelace once stated that she had always been liberated: "I've always done the things I want to do when I want to do them." In this First Amendment-inspired manner, and with the recent publication of her memoir, Underneath It All, Traci Lords has finally spoken out about her career as America's hottest jailbait, and the paths that led her to be considered, according to the debauched enthusiasts at rotten.com, "the most influential, competent underage porn star of the late 20th century [whose]very name inspires enthusiastic shivers of delight through anyone familiar with child molestation or popular culture of the mid-1980s."

Lords is now vehemently anti-porn, and compares it to watching Jerry Springer, something she "just can't stomach." While she is in favour of "sexuality and eroticism," she is horrified by the omnipresence of porn, and wonders why "sex is no longer sexy?"

Her autobiography reveals, in J. D. Salinger's words, "all that David Copperfield kind of crap": the product of unhappy parents locked in a violent marriage, the young Lords, or Nora Kuzma (she procured her film name from Katherine Hepburn's role in The Philadelphia Story) was bounced into a life of neglect and sexual abuse, most notably at her stepfather's hands, which led her to pursue a career in modelling upon his heated requests.

Lying about her age, she soon became a 15-year-old Penthouse Pet, and from there, sprang into alcohol and cocaine abuse and porn. She expresses some ambivalence about her award-winning experiences in this realm, on one hand, lamenting her "junkie life" and frangible "persona"; on the other, lauding some of the satisfaction she experienced as a sexual terrorist (a term she steals from John Waters), feeling the "power" that "pleasure" affords.

"But on the inside, I was a mess," is how Lords summarizes her stellar career, and it is this type of phrasing that diminishes the potential strength of her confessions: Underneath It All is ultimately just another true bildungsroman, written by someone who can no longer justify or understand who she was, because of where she has arrived.

Porn insiders were appalled by Lovelace because of her apparent enthusiasms before she took back the Boogie Night. Lords's confessions are equally puzzling, as any hard-core enthusiast will reveal, she seemed to take lupine pleasure in her work. It is possible that both were better actors than anyone but the Porn Oscars have acknowledged. It is also possible that they came to view their lives through different political lenses.

Truth is a slippery commodity, especially where writing -- or in this case, the self-in-writing -- is concerned. Narrative teleologies are the essence of genre, and when a former Miss Conduct decides to publish a book, she will invariably reconstitute her catholic tastes in the manner of Catholicism proper.

Traci Lords is a happily married adult woman, who prefers to look back at her tenure as a credible actor, in John Waters' Crybaby and on Melrose Place, or her short-but-sweet love affair with John Enos, than wallow in her clear revulsion for the likes of that "fleshy hairball" Ron Jeremy, or the snippy straight out of All About Eve and Margo Channing-esque Ginger Lynn, one of her many abhorrent-to-her co-stars.

Lords's best point is made at the very end of the book, when she says, as an aside, that the women who find porn "liberating" are "irresponsible." I agree with her completely: Porn is not only mainstream now, it has been normalized, and in spite of the many chic theories about the sex industry's empowering values and virtue as an object of study, its principals, for the most part, remain the same: young men and women who, lacking other choices, seek out or are sought by predatory men and women who could give a rat's ass whether avant-garde theorists are behind or against them.

Normalizing porn is a dreadful cultural error, one with innumerable analogies. My favourite is Hunter S. Thompson's short-lived love affair with the Hell's Angels, whose fugitive lifestyle appealed to him, until he was treated to a gang-stomping. Allen Ginsberg experienced a similar fate with what Tom Wolfe decreed "radical chic" -- his pleas to the bikers of the sixties were rewarded by their almost-instant enlistment in the army, for skull-cracking duties against the kind of fey hipster symbolized best by America's dissident, pro-forma poet laureate.

It is one thing to be pro-porn, and who isn't these days? Everyone from Martin Amis to kids in Porn Star gear to all men's magazines are, in the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop words, "all revved up and ready to go."

In Yellow Dog, Amis's latest sortie into yet another layer of society's underbelly, one commentator addresses Cora, a porn tycoon, as follows: "Now okay, your dad weren't the best of fathers, but he was your father. Your natural father, dear. . . . Now if I know my Cora Susan she's not going to bend over . . . she's going to want to hurt somebody."

Underneath It All reveals a similar desire: to punish not only the forces that shaped Kuzma into Lords, but which continue to perpetrate the image of the jouissant porn queen, the kind one sees on Howard Stern, screwing actual bums for the privilege of appearing on the show.

Are these women powerful? Yes and no. It is, in the end, feminism's legacy, that we take it with a smile, that we interpret the best of this politic's ideology -- choice -- as being interchangeable with bad, if not horrible, decisions, predicated on need, and so rarely on belief.

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