“Instead of focusing on my decision to perform in porn to pay my tuition, let’s start paying attention to what got me here: artificially inflated demand for college that pushes tuitions sky high.”
– Rising Duke sophomore Miriam Weeks, aka “Belle Knox,” Time magazine, June 16, 2014
Actually, let’s do focus on Miriam Weeks’ decision to become a shake-and-bake porn star in her first year at Duke University, an elite institution that in more genteel times shone as a bastion of the Methodist Church.
You likely remember Weeks’ outing several months ago by a male Duke student. Give her credit for refusing to flee into the nearest warren: She stood her ground against a legion of critics (this one included) and proceeded overnight to become every red-blooded American boy’s fantasy.
Never miss a local story.
But of course fantasies are a construct of the imagination. The real world is vastly more complicated, as Weeks is learning.
A college student turned porn star writing in Time magazine – how the mighty are fallen – is a pretty good social indicator of the New America. You know, the one you no longer recognize if you came of age before we devolved into an anything-goes society.
Weeks has no conception of the Old America, so we should perhaps cut her a little slack.
She was admitted to one of the few universities that still hews to a noble principle: need-blind admission. That is, she was admitted to Duke without regard to her ability to pay $62,000 a year.
Although Duke’s financial aid office helps students meet tuition and other expenses, some will graduate owing $50,000 or more in loans, usually from federal programs.
Which brings us back to Weeks’ predicament.
Duke’s princess of porn has been too successful in the skin trade. So successful, in fact, that she is losing $13,000 in student aid for the coming academic year.
Yeah, times are tough. Islamic extremists are marching on Baghdad, the Taliban are waiting for Afghanistan to go belly up, Vladimir Putin is picking apart Ukraine, the Obama presidency is imploding.
And now Weeks’ is having an existential moment at Duke.
What led her to the abyss? As Weeks tells it, she is a victim of Duke’s insatiable appetite for higher tuition, higher room and board, higher fees – so she turned to porn to feed the monster.
But let Weeks explain this trick of fate:
“My turn to porn to close the gap was so famous, in part, due to my reasoning. Faced with a degree from a less prestigious school or decades of crushing debt, a few hours of work on a porn set revealed itself to be the best way to avoid getting screwed.”
Truth be told, it was quite the opposite.
Weeks would have us believe she is a capitalist at heart, reasoning that because young, attractive females are highly prized in the porn biz and the supply is so low, her earning potential would see her through to a Duke degree.
Alas, she didn’t take into account what her escalating income meant for her student aid: the end of it.
And it is here that she makes a viable point about college costs, which for 30-odd years have risen with the regularity of a grandfather clock because higher education has little incentive to control costs.
Weeks is spot-on when she blames federal loans and Pell grants as major contributors to this behavior. These programs increase demand for a product in limited supply, a four-year college education.
Like the Louisiana delta, this mighty river of federal dollars divides into distributaries. Some student financial aid invariably flows into expansive bureaucracies and richly rewarded administrators. (Duke is notorious for both.)
Still, Weeks remains at the mercy of the system. “I have sacrificed more than my squeaky clean reputation to finance my education,” she whines.
Get real, Belle Knox. Whatever Duke’s faults, it didn’t force you into prostitution to pay your tuition. That was your decision then, and it is your albatross now.
Retired journalist Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.