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The truth about celebrity sex tapes

Steamy home movies are actually a boon to stars like Colin Farrell. By Dan Brown
/ Source: contributor

The average moviegoer knows maybe four things about Colin Farrell: that he has appeared in films like “S.W.A.T.” and “Alexander,” that he’s Irish, that he likes to swear a lot in interviews, and that he talks a great deal about drinking and sex. And now, thanks to last week’s ruling in a lawsuit Farrell brought against his Playboy Playmate ex-lover — the source of contention being a sex tape the two made together a couple years ago — the public knows one more fact about the actor: he’s got a hell of a lawyer.

How good is Farrell’s attorney? So good, he was able to extend an injunction that prevents the Playmate in question, the alliterative beauty Nicole Narain, from marketing said tape by arguing that releasing it would do irreparable harm to the plain-spoken star’s career.

Telling a judge with a straight face that a sex tape will damage the career of a lusty celebrity like Farrell is not merely audacious, it’s the legal equivalent of arguing that up is down and black is white.

A sex tape might embarrass a celebrity. It might shed light on that celebrity’s bedroom habits. It might even reveal, contrary to what we in the public want to believe, that a given celebrity is not a tender and attentive lover. But the one thing a sex tape won’t do is put a dent in someone’s career.

The judge in this case obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the proliferation of steamy featurettes made by the rich and famous in the last few years. However brilliant a legal mind his honor possesses, he knows little about the real-world precedents.

The benefits of infamyTake the most obvious example, the tape made by Paris Hilton and former paramour Rick Solomon. While it’s true that the ubiquitous heiress tried to have the X-rated video suppressed, it’s also true that her rank on the A-list did not drop in any measurable way after it was distributed over the internet and seen by countless web surfers.


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Hilton continues to appear on red carpets. Glossy magazine covers continue to sport her face. Fans have not shunned the willowy blond, and movie producers continue to offer her bit parts in middling features. The demand for everything Paris remains undiminished, as demonstrated by the fact that a new season of “The Simple Life” is in the works.

Of course, Hilton is an amateur when compared to sex-tape pioneer Pam Anderson, whose videotaped romp with Tommy Lee appears to be the best-selling example of the genre. When it surfaced, the pornographic home movie caused a sensation by exposing Anderson’s most private moments with her drummer husband for all to see; what it didn’t do was impair the busty celeb’s ability to make a living.

Since then, Pam has done even more spreads for Playboy. She branched out into writing, authoring a thinly veiled tell-all book. Her most recent venture, the sitcom “Stacked,” has been picked up for a second season — which in today’s television terms makes it a stunning success. Granted, her relationship with Lee has gone through periodic ups and downs, but her earning power has remained constant.

Even the most scandalous of scandalous sex tapes doesn’t have the power to shorten a star’s time at the top of the heap. Just look at R. Kelly. The R&B singer is allegedly featured in a video which shows an adult male having sex with a girl who may not be of age. The musician was charged in 2002 with several counts of child pornography after the tape began circulating — a fact that didn’t stop almost all of his next six albums from becoming million-sellers. As a New York street vendor selling the video told MTV News, “[People] don't care about the girls ... they wanna see him.”

Oh sure, Leno and Letterman will make plenty of jokes about you if you release a sex tape. But doing so won’t actually set you back in Hollywood.

No such thing as bad publicityIt doesn’t matter if the tape is released with or without a famous person’s consent; it doesn’t matter if the video is poor quality; it doesn’t even matter if you are, in fact, any good in the sack (Farrell’s tape, it should be noted, clocks in at a brief 15 minutes from start to finish).

The truth of the matter is that these tapes are actually a boon to celebrities because they help generate tons of publicity. We have always been interested in celebrity skin, starting with Marilyn Monroe and continuing with today’s reality TV personalities. Pictures of naked stars have been a staple of pornography for decades, so watching our favorite entertainers do the nasty is just the logical extension of this collective fascination.

Which isn’t to say that sex tapes have always been a good career move.

Before the internet caught on, they were seen as shameful, the province of sex addicts (hello, Rob Lowe) or C-listers like Tonya Harding. Not anymore.

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They are now a legitimate means of grabbing headlines. They are, to phrase the trend in corporate jargon, just one more possible revenue stream.

In fact, it would be easy to argue that Farrell has already gotten plenty of mileage out of the tape he made with Miss January 2002. Before his lawsuit was launched this summer, Farrell had started to slide into obscurity because of box-office stinkers like “Alexander.” Thanks to his taped performance, he’s being talked about again.

No matter how good his legal team, there’s still a fair chance that Farrell’s exploits in the boudoir will eventually become available online; the public interest in them is growing at this very moment. And if we do all get a chance to buy our very own copy of the Farrell/Narain video, this is what will probably happen to the arc of Farrell’s career: nothing. He will continue to make movies that are mostly average, with the occasional really good or really bad one.

Colin Farrell can rest easy. His days as Tinseltown’s resident macho Irishman are far from over.

Dan Brown is a writer in Toronto. He can be reached at .