Thursday, October 11, 2007

Karrine Steffans:
An I-Con of Urban Literature

“People just thought I was, like, a hooker … they didn’t know I was, like, an intellectual with a book.”
– Karrine Steffans

I was apprehensive about purchasing The Vixen Diaries, the second installment in Karrine Steffans’ sex-soaked memoirs. Yet, I couldn’t honestly analyze a book that I hadn't read. So last weekend found me sitting in Borders — less than two miles from the former video girl’s million dollar Sherman Oaks home — sipping an inferior soy chai latte as I pored over her latest tome.

Why was I so uneasy about this author, a woman whose first book, Confessions of a Video Vixen, spent nearly a year atop the New York Times best-sellers list? Partly because I take issue with Karrine’s fly girl brand of feminism. In Confessions, she dished the dirt about her sexcapades with A-listers (among them Diddy, Shaq and Jay-Z), and then framed her book as a cautionary tale for vulnerable young women trying to come up in the cutthroat entertainment industry. Despite an absent father, an abusive baby daddy, and countless lovers who bedded her then bounced, she was able to throw off the shackles of patriarchy to become a rich and successful businesswoman in Hollywood.

Yet, for all of her pseudo-empowering pontificating, Karrine comes off as a coon, a hypersexualized Stepin Fetchit in a risqué minstrel show. During her recent publicity blitz for The Vixen Diaries, I caught several of her interviews, and they didn’t make me want to throw a fist in the air for women’s solidarity. On the “Wendy Williams Experience,” Karrinne just sat and laughed as the titular talk show host administered countless verbal smackdowns.

“You are amazingly clean-looking to be such a dirty hooker,” Wendy deadpanned. “Compared to your ‘whory’ acts … for somebody who doesn’t know you, they would think you were virginal.”

Likewise, on Jamie Foxx’s radio show, Karrine's message of self-actualization for black women was eclipsed by cries of “skank” and “ho,” and questions about the penis size of her lovers. In both interviews, Karrine tried valiantly to maintain her elitist demeanor while simultaneously packing switchblades in her responses. “I’m a highly educated woman who just knows how to tap into my nigger side,” she boasted.

The same could be said about her writing style, which is ghetto grandiose. And yet, I found The Vixen Diaries decidedly lacking in passion. In a word, boring. In this soulless stream of consciousness, the artist formerly known as Superhead brags about being a New York Times best-selling author, her appearance on Oprah, her magazine covers, her Sherman Oaks house, her Benzes, her posh red-carpet lifestyle … then throws in a gratuitous romp with an anonymous Hollywood icon, or half-heartedly mentions her lunch dates with B-list celebrities. The tone of The Vixen Diaries is condescending and detached — she could just as easily be signaling for valet at The Ivy. She tries to pass off the lack of spicy sex scenes in this book as emotional maturity and spiritual growth, when in fact, she exhausted the more salacious details of her life in Confessions.

Karrine wants the reader to believe that her journey is both tragic and triumphant, that she is a talented young woman who felt marginalized in a male-dominated industry, but was still able to survive. For her, sex is an equalizer. As a black woman who has struggled to “make it” in Hollywood as a writer, who has felt both invisible and objectified, I wanted to sympathize with Karrine’s plight. Yet her story is lacking in literary integrity, and reads more like self-parody.

“I know the game and what it takes to be respected,” she writes. “I know how to use my intellect and not my body. These days, I walk into a room as Karrine Steffans, mother, New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur and woman to be reckoned with.”

Although Karrine attempts to shed her Superhead trademark, she is indelibly stamped as a tramp. People pick up her books for mental masturbation, not for intellectual stimulation. She doesn’t realize that folks are far more interested in her sexual roster than in her transformation, hence readers who have trashed The Vixen Diaries for having less libidinous bling than its predecessor. If recent reviews are any indication, the star of this seductive scribe is on the wane.

It’s interesting that Karrine is both reviled and relevant because of her sexploits. She tapped into the zeitgeist, a post-modern hip-hop culture that glamorizes “money, clothes and hoes," and idolizes those smart enough to get rich or die trying. When I attended last summer’s Harlem book festival, I was amazed (and saddened) by the glut of “nigglature” on display. Folks flocked to the tables of authors who exploited every aspect of urban life — pimps, drug dealers, baby mamas and the ubiquitous Prada-rocking club chick on a mission to get paid. I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle. Everyone has a story to tell, and African-Americans are underrepresented in the Western literary canon. But when folks are more familiar with Superhead than with Sula, Houston, we have a problem.

Even Karrine seems to understand that she is a product (and beneficiary) of the very culture she condemns. “The irony is, I have become an icon by sleeping with many of them,” she writes. “Something about that gives me an uncomfortable feeling and not because of my sexual roster but because of the weight that society places on the celebrities on it. For this I am iconic? Jeez.”

Despite seeming disenchantment with her “i-con” status, Karrine continues to capitalize on the Superhead brand. A third book is on the horizon, allegedly a titillating but fictionalized account of her life. Although she fancies herself a rebel and a street heroine who continues to hustle the system, Karrine is simply a narcissistic opportunist whose confessions are better left unsaid.


Anonymous said...

You tell dat skank. It is refreshing to know I am not the only woman to be offended by her "sexploits." She must have the tiredest vajayjay on the planet -- it has been working it out.

Excellent piece -- keep the thought provoking and inspiring blogs coming.

Monique said...

As an avid reader, I'm offended that her books are even considered literature! I laughed VERY hard when I read that Karrine called herself an intellectual and an icon. She needs to stop being delusional! It doesn't take a whole lot of intelligence to sex up a slew of rappers and ballers and dish dirt about it. For all of her talk that her books are cautionary tales and she wrote them to help other women, have they helped anyone except Karrine and her pockets? I just want to know when her extended 15 minutes of "fame" is going to be over so she can go away....

PrettyBlack said...

So on point. Money does not make class, and I believe she is confusing that. I do believe something is wrong with her to subject her son to her "negro round-up" Now she is all over the internet on her knees "orally" satisfying some brother...Sad.

The only reason people are actually buying this book is because it is less embarrassing than to step up to the counter at your local 7-11 and purchase a penthouse.

Anonymous said...

She shuld not publish these books in the first place. She shuld keep her privite life privite.

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