Why doesn't Vivid want Usher's sex tape?

After an alleged leak, the porn company makes a gesture of goodwill to the star. But is it just a publicity stunt?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 18, 2011 4:19PM (EDT)


Even porn kings have standards. Steven Hirsch, the honcho of Vivid Video and the visionary who turned the celebrity sex tape into a true genre, is of late as remarkable for his public displays of charity and discretion as he is for being the brains behind "I Was a Teenage MILF" and "Wet Sweaty Boobs." When Octomom Nadya Suleiman nixed his offer of a million bucks to do a porn film for him last year, he didn't just slink off into the hot tub of rejection, he offered to pay off her house and give her a job with his company anyway. "She's extremely interesting, and the thought from the beginning has been there was something we could do for her," he told OC Weekly last month. "She's a mother of 14 children who doesn't seem to have any real means to support them." 

His latest display of magnanimity? When rumors of a tape involving Usher, his ex-wife and a practice known as pegging, surfaced this week, Hirsch reached out to the star with an offer to "assist you in stopping your own video from any form of circulation."

Why would a man whose company has a whole "Vivid Celebs" division not say "Yeah!" to the chance to make a few bucks off Justin Bieber's mentor engaging in a submissive moment of intimacy with his special lady? After all, a year ago, the company  had no discretionary scruples over releasing a sex tape that shows reality star Kendra Wilkinson clearly being coerced -- and turned that sad encounter into a blockbuster. (Thanks to the terms of its release, Wilkinson herself now stands to take home a nice chunk of the profits.) Vivid's been the force that put Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian's sex tapes at America's sticky fingertips, a brand so desperate for celebrity cachet it's not afraid to promote Laurence Fishburne's daughter Montana as its newest star, or to release an opus titled "Screwed Over -- With Tiger Woods Alleged Mistress." [sic]

So you'd think that a company whose catalog currently looks like a Who's Who of Charlie Sheen's Twitter feed, one that straightforwardly asks visitors, "Have a celeb sex tape? If you think you have the goods a representative will contact you," would have hit pay dirt with the news of a possible sex tape from a genuine superstar like Usher Raymond. And they would. But you don't get to be king of the sex pile by playing dumb.

For starters, it appears that for now, Vivid doesn't actually possess a sex tape, which was allegedly stolen from Usher's car two years ago. A seeming gesture of goodwill, one that the company purports to have done in the past, costs nothing and gets attention, something Vivid is very, very good at. Note how Hirsch's communication with Usher, like pretty much everything that flows from Vivid these days, has somehow managed to make its way, "shockingly," to the world via TMZ, which refers approvingly to Hirsch's "heart of gold." So symbiotic is the company's relationship with the gossip site that seemingly half its own informational page is devoted to TMZ items.

But let's say Vivid were to obtain a few grainy minutes of Mr. OMG's wife giving it to him with a strap-on. Usher, unlike some random baseball player's mistress, likely has the financial and legal means to block such an unsolicited invasion into his private space. Beyond the logistical questions of how Vivid could successfully obtain and release the video, however, is the plain and simple business question of such a tape's true allure. Sure, women consume porn and men whose tastes are broader than the "Where the Boys Aren't" series are familiar with seeing -- and paying to see -- men have sex.

But the man is rarely the draw in porn. Even porn's biggest, in every sense of the word, stars aren't the draw. That's why, even if you might not want to see her perform at the Grammys, Karissa Shannon is considerably more notable than Usher in the sex tape realm. The fact that Usher is allegedly engaged in an act that requires an open, uh, mind makes it even that less marketable. There's a curiosity factor to be exploited, but it doesn't trump the consumers who just want another compilation of girls getting spunked in the eyes. That's why a woman like Kendra Wilkinson pleading to the camera, "Please don't do it, please," is pure porn gold. But a guy on his knees, even a famous one -- not so much.

The win for Hirsch right now isn't about Usher; it's just about getting his name and brand out there in connection with his existing roster of celeb sex tapes. And for Usher, the win is that his career will be unscathed. That's why females across the C-list will continue to find their sexual exploits peddled for profit for a long time to come, but for male stars who engage in similar on-camera antics, the odds are good they'll wind up exactly where they so often do -- with a happy ending

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

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

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