Nadya Suleman on "Oprah" on Friday, Jan. 14.

Why we won't stop punishing the Octomom

A rumored new fetish video takes America's sadistic obsession with Nadya Suleman to new lows

Mary Elizabeth Williams
January 18, 2011 9:15PM (UTC)

"Everybody already hates you." That's what Suze Orman told Nadya Suleman, the woman better known by the James Bond-like nickname "Octomom," on "Oprah" last week. And then, just to make sure there was no confusion over her meaning, Orman added, her words dripping with emphasis, "They do." Did Orman ever issue a truer statement?

Suleman certainly doesn't lack for eager benefactors, sensation-hungry reality show producers, and freak show gawkers, but she may also be the most friendless woman in America. It's been two years now since Suleman, already a single mother of six, gave birth to octuplets via the modern miracle of IVF. Her story gained international attention -- almost all of it negative. It's hard to project an air of "It's OK, I know exactly what I'm doing here" when you've just dropped eight kids at once, but Suleman didn't endear herself to a gawking public with her seemingly cavalier attitude about mass reproduction, or her willingness to set up a website begging for "donations."


Her limited income and family support, combined with only the vaguest of career aspirations, have made her an easy target for derision. And surely a woman who makes the choices Suleman has -- choices that affect the lives of 14 children -- doesn't exactly merit enthusiastic applause. Her behavior didn't just seem irresponsible; at times it appeared downright pathological. And as her financial state became more glaringly, publicly precarious and she teetered on the verge of foreclosure, she became a symbol of maternal selfishness run riot, and the apparent squandering of your public assistance dollars.

In recent months, Suleman has struggled constantly between the temptation to exploit her family and her fame and the desire to hang on to her self-proclaimed values. She shilled for PETA, putting a self-loathingly cautionary sign on her front lawn that read, "Don't let your dog or cat become an 'octomom.' Always spay or neuter." But she fended off numerous offers to do porn, including Vivid Entertainment's promised million bucks to get it on with -- naturally -- eight dudes. Her kids got bigger, her finances got shakier, and the potential moneymaking deals became less and less lucrative. Suleman has lately been charging for public appearances, and raised a scant $1,500 from a yard sale. And now, according to TMZ, she's shopping around a fetish video, in which she wields a whip on a diaper-clad man.

I just need to ask: Who wants to see "Octomom porn," fetish or otherwise? Because it seems the point of a video of a lady who admits she had a "baby addiction," who says she recently only had $300 to her name, really isn't about getting anybody off in the traditional sense. It's about the reality that there will always be an audience that takes pleasure in seeing a seemingly prideful woman debase herself. How dare she have all those kids, right? How dare she mismanage her finances? The Hollywood Gossip has sneeringly referred to the rumor of her fetish video as "classy" and E! sarcastically called her admission of money and baby woes a "shocker." Let's all just delight in her self-destruction, shall we? Let's take her down a few more pegs, maybe with a gang bang or two. Sexual humiliation is the tried and true expression of rage against a woman who transgresses societal norms, and Suleman, with her 14 kids, doesn't just transgress, she transgresses with fecund vengeance. There's got to be a better way to inspire boners than spite, folks.


It's ironic that one of the few allies Suleman has these days is Steve Hirsch, the president of Vivid Entertainment. He's paid her mortgage for the next month and offered to pay it off in full. Naturally, a man like Hirsch comes with strings attached, but he told the Associated Press that if she doesn't want to do porn, he'd be willing to give her a job  as a production assistant. It's still weird, and likely a gateway gambit, but you don't see the New Yorker offering Suleman any internships. Who else is stepping up for her? Who wants to give her a job? Child care? A whole boatload of mental health counseling? Instead, the tiny handful of people who seem willing not just to point fingers and revel in Suleman's debasement are a tough-talking financial counselor who tells her everybody hates her, and a porn producer reaching into his own pockets.

On "Oprah" Friday, Suleman said, "I think I could've been self-medicating through children. Kids are safer. Kids won't leave you. Kids will give me the unconditional acceptance and love that I didn't feel I got from my mother." That might sound hollow to some ears, but the results of Suleman's "self-medication" exist and still need a home and care. What they -- and Suleman -- don't need is a bloodthirsty audience, enjoying her self-made sad spectacle, waiting for her to sink low enough to use that body that she's already put through the wringer in some intimate new degradation. It doesn't matter if she's brandishing the whip in a new video -- the person being punished here is actually her.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Celebrity Motherhood Nadya Suleman Pornography

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