- Porn Star as Brand:Pornification and the Intermedia Career of Rakel Liekki
Rakel Liekki ("Rachel Flame") is probably the best-known Finnish female porn performer. Her career has ranged from painting to hard-core videos, Web presence, mobile phone services, newspaper and magazine articles, and television shows. She is a performer, host, producer, and writer who has both appeared in various adult productions and realized her own visions of pornography. As a vocal public discussant on pornography and commercial sex, Liekki has exceptionally flexible media agency.
Liekki's career is representative of the blurred boundaries between pornography and mainstream culture. No longer confined to the realm of shabby sex shops, pornography slides from one representational space to another and shifts increasingly toward mainstream popular culture. Porn's general visibility has increased in a process termed pornographication (Driver) or, for simpler spelling, pornification: the expansion and success of the porn industry and play with hard-core representations in fashion, advertising, and other fields of popular culture. In what follows we explore pornification as a reorganization of pornography's cultural position through analysis of Rakel Liekki's career. With pornification we do not refer to "pornication" or envision a contemporary culture of fornication in the throes of moralistic nostalgia toward some bygone days of chastity. Rather, we aim to figure transformations in the cultural position and status of porn that require a rethinking of its very concept (Nikunen, Paasonen, and Saarenmaa, Pornification).
Doing research on contemporary pornography necessitates stepping away from film as the dominant medium and considering the "cross-platform" nature of pornography. Intermediality—"intertextuality transgressing media boundaries" (Lehtonen 71)—and multimodality characterize contemporary media at large, and pornography is no exception. Liekki's star image (Dyer 60) is intermedial by definition, yet some of her media appearances (television shows, interviews, and one adult film in particular) have been more pivotal in its construction than others. Focusing on Liekki's key media appearances (the television shows Porn Star and Night with Rakel, the DVD film Mun leffa, newspaper and magazine articles, as well as Liekki's Web presence), we argue that pornification is not merely a question of proliferating pornographic representations. Rather, Liekki's star image demonstrates the ways in which the intermedial ties of pornography both blur the boundaries of the genre and add to the general availability and visibility of pornography. In our reading of Liekki's star image the operations and implications of pornification are twofold. First, pornification provides spaces for media performances subverting the generic conventions of porn and facilitates novel representational spaces, ideas, and agencies. Second, and perhaps paradoxically, pornification also implies reiteration and recycling of representation conventions that are telling of the generic rigidity of porn. In this sense pornification has implications for pornography different from those for mainstream media.
Liekki (born in 1979) started her career in pornography at the age of eighteen on a phone sex line. According to Liekki's Web site, her route to porn films was nevertheless paved by her education and practice in the visual arts: she began performing in porn videos in order to understand the world she was painting. Since graduating from a polytechnic art school in 2001 Liekki has held a few exhibitions, mostly addressing erotic themes. Although films were initially a side product of painting, Liekki eventually made eleven of them. Currently working [End Page 30] as a television host and freelance writer, Liekki retired from porn films at the age of twenty-five. An ironically self-titled "porn-pensioner," she remains in the business as a producer, presenter, and host of events and exhibitions. She has an online video and image gallery and various mobile phone services.
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Liekki's versatile productions aside, her celebrity status is primarily the product of mainstream media appearances. Interviews with Liekki were published shortly after the premiere of the late-night television show Pornostara (Porn Star...