Joanna Angel’s Israeli mother had classic immigrant aspirations for her daughter. Prosperity. Respect. With her latest movie, XXXorcist, debuting this week, 25-year-old Joanna Angel has achieved both those things, but her mother—who prefers the family name stay private—is devastated. Her daughter’s many awards, significant wealth, and profile in the New York Times have all come about because Angel is better than most, some say one of the best, at making men orgasm.
Angel (a stage name) is the co-founder, president, and one of the on-air stars of BurningAngel, the online mecca of alt-porn, which combines a punk aesthetic with hardcore eroticism. With their metal piercings and tattoos, the four-year-old site’s punk-goth models are not your typical pizza-delivery-accepting, Lucite-heel-wearing models. Angel insists that alt-porn’s idiosyncratic actresses empower women by challenging conventional views of beauty and sexuality.
Angel has had many adult-industry accolades—if the annual Adult Video News awards are the Oscars of porn, then she is the Meryl Streep—and she’s developed a growing legion of fans, but the source of her success isn’t her politics. She affirms as much when she says things like, “As much as I love being in control and being the leader of a movement, when it comes to sex I’m submissive. I like to be roughed up.” Angel never strays too far from message: it’s about the pleasure, stupid.
That kind of wisdom is apparently not hereditary. Angel’s mother, whom I interviewed first, never even uses the words “pornography” or “sex." And unlike most Jewish mothers, you won’t find her peppering talk about her offspring with boasts of their latest accomplishments— in this case, films like Re-penetrator and Young Sluts, Inc. 19. Joanna’s mom never wanted Joanna to be a lawyer or a doctor, but now she thinks "just be happy" is advice dispensed at a parent’s peril.
Part I: Joanna’s Mom
Jewcy: How did Joanna get started in pornography?
Joanna’s Mom: When she was in college, Joanna was out of control. I first realized how bad it was when I was in her apartment during Passover and I saw all these pictures and they made me sick. I’m not sure why she is so proud of what she is doing. She was profiled by The New York Times and she was so proud of it. I don’t know why.
Jewcy: Are you proud of the business she’s established for herself?
Joanna’s Mom: She makes a lot of money but she spends it all. And she won’t have any for the future. I would be more comfortable with her doing all these terrible things if she was doing something for her future. Joanna’s sister has an honorable job that makes $25,000 a year and she is able to do all the things most people do. Like go on vacation.
Jewcy: Is it the profession that bothers you or the fact that she’s not saving money?
Joanna’s Mom: No. No. They’re taking advantage of her. This is what bothers me so much. It’s one thing to make money off of this horrible thing but it’s another to not have the money. They are taking advantage of her sick mind.
Jewcy: When did Joanna first tell you about her porn career?
Joanna’s Mom: “Mommy, I don’t want you to be upset.” That’s how she started the conversation.
So I said, “Do you want to come home now?”
“No, we can talk about it on the phone.” And she says, “Mommy, I only did it once but I did a short strip.”
And immediately, I was very upset. Once is enough to make you slide down to the bottom. She kept on doing it because she told us that she was making a lot of money. She was out of control at this point. And all the psychologists and therapists that we invested in were helpless. I tried everything. All those people with their degrees are garbage. They couldn’t do anything. It just got worse and worse and no one could help.
Jewcy: Do you think your daughter is ashamed of her profession?
Joanna’s Mom: A long time ago, she knew she was doing something not nice. And she did whatever she could to not embarrass me, like change her name. I was proud of her that she was so worried about me. But do you know the Hebrew word arzut metzach? It means you steal but you’re proud of it. It’s something you do without being embarrassed and you’re proud of it. This is not nice. I believe that my dear Joanna is crawling with the sheretzim—the animals that live in the dirt and sewers. They don’t know they’re dirty and living in the sewers but you get used to the smell. You forget.
Jewcy: In retrospect, what about Joanna’s upbringing that made her want to be a porn star?
Joanna’s Mom: Maybe it’s because I’m different. Maybe it’s because I’m not American. I don’t know. She had a hard time with the two different cultures. But this only happened to Joanna. I cry to the other daughters not to try anything even once.
Joanna’s Mom: It started with a belly piercing, I think. But then the tattoos started coming. I actually saw her first piercing in shul on Yom Kippur when her shirt was lifted up and I saw it. She left the room crying because I was so upset. I asked her, who did that to you? And then she got a tattoo in college and then she got one on her back. Her sister and my husband both thought she was going to stop so they let it go. And now they say, “Mommy, you’re right.” And it’s too late. I needed the support then. It’s just too late now.
Jewcy: When Joanna was growing up, did she have consistent boyfriends?
Joanna’s Mom: A lot of people loved her very much. But one day she cried and said, “I don’t understand why so many people love me and I don’t love them back.” She had a hard time accepting people’s love.
Jewcy: Do you think Joanna wants to get married?
Joanna’s Mom: She didn’t but I think now she does. She’s beginning to think about it. But who would want to marry her? With all these things she did?
Jewcy: Does she have a boyfriend now?
Joanna’s Mom: Yes.
Jewcy: Is it important for you that she has a Jewish boyfriend or eventually, a husband?
Joanna’s Mom: I have no idea. Look, I want her to be happy. I think it’s important for a husband and wife to share a tradition. I think it would be best for her to marry someone that understands her traditions. Only a Jewish person would be comfortable with her.
Jewcy: What was your upbringing like?
Joanna’s Mom: I grew up in a spiritual home. We had a traditional spiritual upbringing. My husband’s side is all not religious.
Jewcy: Have you see any of her pictorials or movies? Have you even looked at the websites?
Joanna’s Mom: Listen, listen. I don’t want to get upset even more. I am upset enough. When I was in her apartment once, I was very hurt and surprised by the pictures on the wall. I tried very hard to help her find a new way. When I saw the pictures, I lost hope and it made me very sick. It was hard for me to talk to her but she is my daughter and I will always love her.
Jewcy: What I’m still trying to figure out is how Joanna became the way she is. There is this stereotypical porn star’s upbringing and it involves a dysfunctional, broken home…
Joanna’s Mom: This was not the case at all. I believe she became what she became because of money. She was working very hard for money and she got caught up in a terrible community. She lived with a girl in her dormitory and this girl always had money. Joanna found out that she made all this money from stripping. I said, Joanna, don’t you ever do this.
I am surprised at all these children. They are all very educated. They are all smart people. I met one of her stripper friends who was getting her doctorate from Columbia University. Why do intelligent people do these horrible things? We as a Jewish people believe that derech eretz kadma l’torah. In these universities, they place an emphasis on material and career – material, material. They don’t care how you make money. And because of this, I don’t recommend college. I think it’s a dangerous place.
Another friend of Joanna came on a trip with us and she was stripping. She said she was stripping since she was sixteen and she was studying, she tells me, to be a psychologist. Could you imagine sending your children to a psychologist that was a stripper for ten years? American society is telling our children that once you are a teenager you can do whatever you want.
Jewcy: Do you ever think things would have been the same had you stayed in Israel?
Joanna’s Mom: There are hookers in Israel also. It’s not Israel and America maybe. It’s the influence, the Western ideals.
Jewcy: It sounds like things are picking up professionally for her.
Joanna’s Mom: Yes, they are but they are making money off of her. They are taking advantage. She is making the business, doing those things. How can she not understand that this is a horrible thing for a woman? Look at a suicide bomber. They want to do it but why do they want to do it? Because they are brainwashed. She thinks this is power, this is control but it is not. A lot of girls are doing it without their parents knowing until it is too late. There are parents who know, though, and they take money from the stripping. They take money from the girl. We would never take any money from her.
Jewcy: It sounds like you’re trying to be supportive…
Joanna’s Mom: Supportive? What? It didn’t help. I did nothing. I told her to just stop doing the movies and just manage the project. Why does she have to do it? Why couldn’t she just give the movies to someone else?
Jewcy: Maybe she gets enjoyment out of it.
Joanna’s Mom: It’s hard for me to believe it. Listen, you have to understand what a woman wants. A woman is not like a man. A man can get enjoyment no matter what. A woman is not like that. She cannot get pleasure wherever she wants.
Next Page: Joanna speaks!
N E X T
Do: What was your take on this interview: fascinating or exploitive? And what about mom’s comparison of Joanna to a suicide bomber? Post a comment below and let your inner Catherine MacKinnon run free. Go: Want to go to a pajama party with your favorite porn star? Drop by the first annual LoneStar Pornutopia Weekend in Houston, Texas, from November 29 To Saturday, December 2. It’s advertised as the most extravagant weekend in Houston history. Read: Right, because you’re in it for the articles.
Arye Dworken, who lives on New York's 'happening' Upper West Side, is Managing Editor of DIW Magazine and Music Editor of Heeb Magazine. He is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Spin, Blender, New York Magazine, Jane, Sup, Flaunt, Planet, and most importantly, Real Simple. He is currently working on his first novel, about a reluctant hipster superhero. For more of his work, please visit his personal irony-free website Bring Back Sincerity. And incidentally, Arye keeps it real kosher, not kosher-style.