Duke Porn Star Belle Knox Is the Hero I'd Been Waiting For
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I remember the day I heard about Ashley Alexandra Dupré—the mysterious woman in sunglasses standing at the epicenter of the storm surrounding Eliot Spitzer. I remember hoping, so thoroughly and however unjustly, that she would turn out to be brilliant in a way that no one could deny: a Harvard coed, a virtuoso pianist, the next Joan Baez or Maya Angelou…anything at all that might make her the kind of hero who would be able to force America to take a good look in the mirror and understand the hard choices it puts before its greatest minds and sharpest talents when they lack financial means.
Ashley wasn’t that sort of hero. Nor should she have been: she was her own self, living her life as she saw fit. But surely there was some young woman—or man—up to the challenge of taking this rather prevalent archetype—the exceptionally talented youth with no money and plenty of hard choices—into the public eye.
As it turns out, the hero I was waiting for was Belle Knox, the Duke University pornstar, who arrived on the scene this March like Veronica Franco in the midst of the Counter Reformation, blade in hand and ready for a duel of ideas.
Why Veronica Franco, you might ask? Because in 16th century Venice, education was afforded to women of upper class nobility, and rarely to female citizens. Courtesans were the exception to the rule, and were paid to be equally sharp in jousts of the intellect and jousts of bedroom swordplay, giving them the rather exclusive opportunity to be educated well beyond the class they were born into. Veronica Franco was one such courtesan: a sex worker and an esteemed published poet. The two occupations were not mutually exclusive, and it is the former that afforded the education and social opportunities required for the latter.
When we think that sex workers of Veronica Franco’s day were among the very few women of modest beginnings who could acquire an education to rival that of the male and female nobility with which they mingled, it seems that we’ve come full-circle in seeing Belle Knox rise as a shining modern example of the scholarly sex-worker. Perhaps the cost of an education hasn’t changed at all.
Considering that annual tuition is around $60,000 a year, and that the median household income in the United States is only about $51,000, Duke is a high-quality school — often referred to as the Princeton of the South — and is out of reach for most Americans. According to an interview clip of Belle on the Duke Chronicle Soundcloud page, even Knox’s father is still paying for his own medical school education over twenty years after the fact, which really says it all: that we’ve entered an era of multi-generational student debt, an era in which parents and children are both simultaneously paying for the education that their keen minds entitled them to, but that their empty wallets knew was out of the question. This is what we do to our best and brightest, who make the cut at top universities by virtue of their merits (and not by their wealth): we saddle them with the burden of overwhelming debt. Even with the help of financial aid packages that include both government aid and aid from the university itself, middle class students still need to cover tens of thousands of dollars in tuition costs on their own.
So what to do about it? Belle Knox, being a sex enthusiast, intellectual and…wait for it…libertarian! (talk about sticking it where it hurts), took personal responsibility for her educational future, and rather than make appeals for charity, came up with a rather pragmatic solution: become a porn star. She sums up the situation in her recent interview with Playboy SFW saying this: