James Deen: Cookie Monster

How Mainstream Media Got Its Favorite Porn Actor So Wrong

Zak Smith
Zak Smith
Mar 21, 2016 · 14 min read

This piece was commissioned by A Very Old And Important American Magazine a week after Stoya came forward and accused her ex- — fellow porn performer James Deen — of rape. As other women came forward, the Magazine’s editor was excited to have a reporter that the various porn actresses involved would actually agree to talk to (I’m intermittently a porn actor myself). When my piece was written, fully-edited, and a day from publication, the Magazine’s legal department spiked it. Skittish about accusations of violence — no matter how well-sourced — they basically said James was not an important enough target (and presumably the porn actresses involved weren’t important enough victims) to risk getting the magazine sued. But James is still working and I put my sources and friends through a lot to get their stories. So here it is, as written in Nov 2015:

Multiple sources confirm that James Deen has a piano he doesn’t know how to play and it smells like pee. He has it so he can shoot classy-looking pornography in his house. It smells like that because a MILF (or at least a MJDLF) peed in it over a year ago.

These things raise questions:

Why, after over 2000 James Deen porn films, would anyone want another, with or without a piano? Because people consume massive amounts of pornography.

Why can’t he just buy a new piano? Because they steal almost all of it.

Why did she pee there? No-one knows.

Why didn’t anyone ask? Because it’s porn, and it was during a scene, and shit happens.

Why hasn’t anyone said anything? Because he’s James Deen, and they’re not sure they can afford it.

Joanna Angel (left) and Kylee Kross (right) knew Deen’s abusive side first-hand.

In a Los Angeles porn scene full of characters so dumb it’s funny and so smart it’s scary, the public James was always remarkable for how colorless he was. Red Carpet Deen’s suits were one shade of grey, casual Deen’s grey pants on Deen’s website were another. He called himself “James Deen” because “James Dean” was the name of a cool guy. He never saw a James Dean movie, because his interests famously include: food, everything about pornography, nothing else. None of this was marketing — this is the grey James even friends knew. They knew that and all the sex scenes, where he looked like he was angrily welding.

The press seemed too busy marketing his meaninglessness to notice it, here’s one of “21 Things You Need To Know About Porn Star James Deen”:

16. Deen said if he had to choose between food and sex he would pick food. ‘I’d die if I didn’t eat food. I would die,’ he said. ‘I like to live.’

To be fair, this is less boring than it sounds: just as, when James says he “likes sex” he means something different than the rest of us do, when James says he “likes food” he means something different than the rest of us do. Here’s what happened to a 19-year-old starlet who ate his Girl Scout cookies:

“The new girl was standing in front of him and he just started screaming at her,” says Taurus Angel — a performer who started her porn career working for burningangel.com boss and Deen’s then-girlfriend Joanna Angel, “I remember how close he was to their faces how he was so angry spit was flying out of his mouth…another of the male talent on set that day — Brian Street Team — stepped in front of me as if to shield me from harm. I remember everyone trying to reason with him and calm him down. I remember how Joanna seemed to shrink into herself as he screamed at her and then he pushed past everyone to fly out the front door, slamming it with such force I was sure the glass would break.”

If you’re wondering — they were Samoas. “I was scared to even move those cookies when I saw them in the pantry” says Stoya, the porn actress ex- who kicked off the press’ long-delayed reappraisal of Deen by accusing him of rape. Also: “I was told never to eat the last of anything,” I asked her what exactly that meant — “In order to explain what it was like I have to re-live it, and re-living it sucks so hard.”

“I was scared to even move those cookies when I saw them in the pantry” said Stoya.

Deen is not provoked by confectionery alone. On tumblr, Brian Street Team describes a Deen enraged by yogurt, and in The LAist actress Holly Jee (formerly porn’s Miss Genocide) reports an incensed Deen choking her and then throwing a sandwich. Occasional former Deen porn-scene-partner Jessie Lee explained to me the dangers of imprecise preparation:

“I just remember him coming in the kitchen, getting in her face, and yelling at her. ‘These are supposed to be diced, not chopped!!’ He then threw the plate in the sink really forcefully. Then goes, ‘Oh hi Jessie! Aw Jessie, I love you.’ I seriously had no idea how to react. Joanna just looked really sad. I feel like this was not something out of the ordinary. He treated her like she was his servant.”

And you couldn’t avoid the problem by going out to eat, either:

“I also remember this one time we were all out at a diner,” says Lee, “and he started belittling her (Joanna) in front of me. He was publicly calling her dumb and stupid, among other things. I seriously thought he was joking at first, like teasing her a little. But he wasn’t. He started to get really mean, and she started crying. All while he was laughing at her.”

The stories about James — often told by women who don’t know or like each other — generally follow a familiar pattern: someone doesn’t follow orders, all hell breaks loose. “They had a nickname of sorts, maybe an inside joke,” says former Angel Phoenix Askani, “He called her ‘Princess Midget’ or something like that. I remember at one point I was standing next to Joanna in my heels (I tower over her by almost a foot without shoes) and I said something about the nickname. We joked about our height difference, I said ‘You’re so cute!’ and I picked up Joanna and spun her around. Later that night, I remember hiding out in the guest room as I heard him scream at her about how only he was allowed to call her that unless I asked his permission and that since I was a big fan, Joanna shouldn’t ‘break the fantasy of what [they] pretend to be’ for people — something absolutely absurd like that.’ “

Structurally, the story Tori Lux told The Daily Beast (and told me four years ago) fits the pattern : he told her to smell his balls. She didn’t. He fucked her up.

Holly Jee described an incensed Deen choking her and then throwing a sandwich.

During the six years of their relationship, the nicest way I heard anyone put it was “He’s mean to her, but she loves it.”

Eventually they went to therapy, but his heart may not’ve been in it — he was quietly dating someone else.


The news that Stoya had accused Deen of rape was greeted by a lot of porn people going “Yeah…I can see that”.

During the behind-the-scenes for a bdsm video “…he said he wasn’t really dominant,” according to Nina Hartley —an adult legend and a living argument for the possibility of ethical porn and healthy kink, “’I’m more of a sadistic asshole,’ I think he meant it to be witty, snarky or sarcastic, but I recall thinking, ‘Ah ha! Thanks for confirming my impression.’ He felt like your girlfriend’s bratty younger brother.”

Terrible James stories have been circulating for years: Long before Stoya’s revelation, I got hired for my first Burning Angel scene “because some the girls are kind of scared of James”, non-sex extra Michelle Jinx said he’d been “super grabby” with her both times they were on set together and kept trying to get her to touch his cock, and a girl who still hasn’t stepped into the press crosshairs once told me — just minutes into our first conversation — that he’d broke her nose during a scene. “If a girl didn’t know what she was doing, or god forbid, didn’t like Bryan (Sevilla — the name on on James’ passport) as much as he thought she should, he would intentionally fuck her too hard, and act like it was her fault when she yelped in pain or tried to stop him,” says Dan Reilly, who used to work with Deen as a production agent at New Sensations, “We all knew what he was doing, but no one ever did anything about it, because if a scene didn’t get finished, no one on set got paid. I saw him do that about a dozen times. Anyone who’s worked with him regularly has seen him do that”. I had to pry him off me at the AVN awards when he tried to start a fight on the floor of the Venetian. His bony hand was so tight on my collar he tore my shirt, despite there being nothing worth eating or fucking at stake. “His contempt for humanity in general cannot be overstated,” says Reilly.

He told her to smell his balls. She didn’t. He fucked her up.

The mainstream press caught none of this — for a media with an insatiable need to find celebrities to illustrate simple concepts (“porn is becoming more mainstream””even girls can like it”), a man as uncomplicated as a Bret Easton Ellis character was a godsend.

From his blog:

(another performer) introduced me to this musician named fetty wap. now we love fetty wap. he is a musical genius. through fetty wap i have been introduced to this other guy named “drake”. i have heard of drake here and there but i have never heard a drake song. you know what… drake is awesome. not as awesome as the fetty wap. he is a musical genius. drake is still pretty cool though. well maybe not cool, but he is a good musician.

did i mention he is a musical genius

36 people Liked this, 21 Unliked it, no-one Commented and it reads like some primitive cargo-cult version of Patrick Bateman reviewing Huey Lewis albums between decapitations.

“I initially thought he might be pandering to his teen fans,” says former-Deen-enthusiast and blog follower Deborah Zarett, commenting on the vapidity of Deenspeak, “but eventually it just seemed that he really was that immature.”

The James Deen story is a story about the dangers of shallowness — not just Deen’s own shallowness, but the shallowness of the mainstream media’s coverage of both Deen and everything else about porn.
The first time 15-time AVN-award-nominee Tyler Knight came over, he immediately looked up at the Jackson Pollock print on my wall and said “’Lucifer?’”
“Yeah,” I said, and went back to finding him a drink.
“Hey! I don’t get anything for that?”
What he meant was: ‘Hey, I’m a porn actor and I just identified a random modernist blob-mosh in black and green by title on sight, I don’t get a ‘Hey, nice one, Tyler’?”
And, yeah, it hadn’t occurred to me that this was special — because I’ve been around porn long enough that it doesn’t strike me as the least bit strange that a man who writes novels and runs hundred-mile ultramarathons in his spare time and gets boners for a living might also know as much about Abstract Expressionism as anyone I met in art school.

Danny Wylde writes novels too — and just had his second one published, Lexington Steele has a double-major in History and African-American studies, and Tommy Pistol when not singing, directing, doing stunts or being funnier than everyone else is working on a porn documentary called The Unbearable Lightness of Boning. And then there’s James Deen — with his Luke Perry hair, bragging about how he’s proud he’s never read a book. “He was just this seemingly normal guy, curlyish hair, no tattoos, slender, blasting Sublime in an office, and relatively boring to talk to,” says Askani, “He couldn’t spell ‘Phoenix’ correctly and I saw him mess it up twice before asking me. I spelled it out and said, ‘you know, like the capitol of Arizona.’”

“Super boring. Vapid…Nothing there. No interests outside porn. He never had anything relevant to say,” says Kylee Kross, another former Angel — though he did once threaten to ignore her for a week if she didn’t get him a burrito from Hugo’s on Riverside.

The James Deen story is a story about the dangers of shallowness — not just Deen’s own shallowness, but the shallowness of the mainstream media’s coverage of both Deen and everything else about porn.

Any number of boys-next-door fit the bill, but as luck had it, James was the first male porn actor the mainstream discovered after Ron Jeremy and — more crucially — after the Internet. For the first time, people all over the world could look at porn without standing up and there they discovered: some guy. And not only was he some guy, he looked and talked like a regular Californian of his age and class, rather than an imaginary mechanic from Brooklyn in the 1950s.

“I think all female journalists got together and decided that every male in porn who wasn’t him was either old, fat, ugly, hopped up on steroids, uneducated or had no clue how to give a woman an orgasm. And the male ones kissed his ass, “ says Joanna. The press made him famous for not fitting a stereotype they’d created — he then used that fame to get away with being a sociopath. “I asked to work with James because it was good for my image, it would sell more DVDs it would put my face out there,” says Taurus, “I am so ashamed of the choice I made and I have felt so guilty literally from that day on…He got away with it because talent is afraid to complain about him (male and female). He is so famous and so “important” and anyone who did say anything was just a ‘bitch’ or a ‘woman scorned’.”

For the first time, people all over the world could look at porn without standing up and there they discovered: some guy.

Deen’s appeal is on the border of boy-band territory and the land of Christian Grey, where nothing the mainstream press can discuss matters, but assessments of his character were fair game, and, as it turned out, desperately needed. While there is a difference between a serial-worst-boyfriend-ever and a rapist, the fact remains that even if all of the women who have complained in public in the past week or in private over the last decade turned out to be lying, the media’s assessment of James Deen was still a failure of WMD-in-Iraq proportions.

Just as he was breaking up with Joanna, Deen’s mainstream fame was peaking, and the press starting calling: “I just said ‘He sucks, he’s an asshole’ or I declined to respond and they would get angry at me ‘Well Joanna he speaks so highly of you and burnngangel.com was a big part of his life. We really need a quote from you’…several of those journalists contacted me last week. Like ‘Hey I remember 3 years ago you said James Deen sucked — can you elaborate on that now?’”

Deen was less predator than parasite — he played a long game — and a porn world where justice could only come from fingers pointed by Toris, Bonnies, Nickis, Ambers, Ashleys and Lilys no-one takes seriously was a perfect host. Deen’s popularity gave him power.

Unlike Bill Cosby or Woody Allen, the man doesn’t have to be hunted through a funhouse reflecting the work, the man shown in the work, and evasions and inventions from interested parties. When the media presented Deen they inevitably presented a terrifying rigid emptiness because he was a terrifying rigid emptiness — only they called it a prince instead of a terrifying rigid emptiness. James told reporters he liked his stage name because “it helps people associate it with the iconic rebel attitude” and instead of the reporters going “Why do you talk like you’re trying to sell me pants?” they printed it. Perhaps in the era of the personal brand, people are so totally not expected to be human that inhumanity passes unremarked and uninvestigated.

The Deen myth fed on ideological arbitrage — what think-piece blogs would’ve swept from first drafts of their own editorials as too simplistic or old news was treated as out-of-the-mouths-of-babes wisdom when Deen said it: “You don’t have sex to somebody, you have sex with somebody”. What a feminist. The link-bait lists of essential Deen facts continued:

#3: “He plans to continue shooting porn for as long as he can.”

#4 from another: “When he was taking classes at Pasadena City College, he was also working at Starbucks.”

This is the language of a mechanized and older Hollywood, like the “lurid movie magazines” Nabokov had Lolita reading sixty years ago: “…nothing could be more harmless than to read about Jill, an energetic starlet who made her own clothes and was a student of serious literature”.

“Several of those journalists contacted me last week. Like ‘Hey I remember 3 years ago you said James Deen sucked — can you elaborate on that now?”

With any luck, readers can imagine what it’s like for porn performers like ex-librarian Ela Darling or Thomas Pynchon’s niece Tristan Taormino — already so complexly condescended to — to see these things held up as news.

If you were raped by your boyfriend in the dark, would you trust these crack newshounds to tell your story? After years of having their quotes farmed and reframed as something to append After-School Special morals onto, porn people do not think much of the straight press — and until they are given reason to, Porn Valley will remain a city-state apart, where celebrity is the only law and the civilians are fed only smoke and mirrors, and the girls trust a good No list more than any jury.

Zak Smith is an artist, writer, and occasional porn actor whose work is included in many collections public and private including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum Of American Art he has written for many publications including Vice, Artforum, Artillery and The Toast and is the author of several books including We Did Porn, an illustrated memoir. He lives in Los Angeles. He did the drawings, too.

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