November 15, 2009

Belle de Jour ("Brooke Magnanti") - I still say HOAX

"Belle de Jour" an alleged anonymous prostitute blogger, is now allegedly outed as Brooke Magnanti, a scientist. I'd believe she's the writer, but I don't buy the story.

I'm going out on a limb here. All the initial punditry I see is of the type What Does This All Mean? I wish there was more Why Should We Believe This?


"I couldn't find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn't have my PhD yet. I didn't have a lot of spare time on my hands because I was still making corrections and preparing for the viva and I got through my savings a lot faster than I thought I would."

Unable to pay her rent, Magnanti's mind turned to other things. She told the Sunday Times she wanted to start doing something straight away, "that doesn't require a great deal of training or investment to get started, that's cash in hand and that leaves me spare time to do my work in". Her solution was prostitution.


To be specific - I have no trouble imagining someone turning to high-class prostitution to make ends meet. I have enormous trouble swallowing the idea that someone who finds herself doing it out of financial need immediately starts up a blog presenting it as a funny and amusing adventure. No way.

You can even see her covering what would be obvious the holes in the story:

"Some sex workers have terrible experiences. I didn't. I was unbelievably fortunate in every respect. The people at the agency looked after us appropriately and instructed us appropriately and weren't going to put us in harm's way if they could possibly avoid it."

It's not about "harm's way". What has thoroughly convinced me of the fakery is that just about every single blog I have ever seen which was written by someone in a service industry, whether a waiter, bouncer, comic-book store clerk, whatever - has had a strong component of hating moronic customers. In retrospect, "Belle de Jour" reeks of someone making it up.

And I'm not the only or the first person to think along those lines. See this old article "Belle doesn't ring true"

One of the things that makes me most suspicious about Belle de Jour is that I've never met a working girl who has kept a diary. The girls I knew were not proud of it. Most were unmarried young mums struggling through life, and they certainly didn't advertise what they did - it was their terrible secret. I think the only person who would write a diary like this about prostitution is somebody who intended to have it published, and in all likelihood somebody who had this published wouldn't be on the game. ...

A while back someone asked me why I was so critical of "Belle de Jour". I tried to convey how it was the worst sort of faked sincerity. Blogging was sold as authenticity, but fabrication was the reality (a different sort of high-class prostitution). C'mon folks, let's try to exercise a little critical thought, instead of being manipulated all over again.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on November 15, 2009 10:31 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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I agree with you on this one Seth.

Posted by: Karl at November 15, 2009 11:58 AM

Yeah, you couldn't possibly be wrong. What with your huge intellect and everything. You remind me of my dad who refuted reality when it proved that he wasn't actually as clever as he imagined himself.

Posted by: Dave at November 15, 2009 01:57 PM

That Guardian quote is contradicted by your earlier point about moronic customers, as there are plenty of sex workers who write online about their moronic customers. Belle du Jour didn't keep a diary, she kept a blog, which in this confessional attention-hungry age is a really different proposition.

The hole I'm seeing is, if she was so very short on time how did she find the time to write and promote a popular blog? It's not like she's the only sex-work blogger out there - she must have spent time networking as well as writing, all the while juggling her PhD and two part-time jobs...? Yeaaaahhh.

There's a lot of more authentic and interesting writing from sex workers in & around the women's blogosphere - people like RenEv. It's certainly not a terrible secret for her, and I think the idea that it always always must be is getting a little dated.

I'm on the fence about Belle du Jour. Her prose is a ball of smarm, either way.

Posted by: Thene at November 15, 2009 04:27 PM

I agree with you, also.

It doesn't matter she didn't have her PhD, she had enough credentials to find work in her field.

And, as you say, no one would enter this field and immediately turn around and write as if the whole thing was a bit of a lark.

Posted by: Shelley at November 16, 2009 10:13 AM

"No one would enter this field and immediately turn around and write as if the whole thing was a bit of a lark."
or, translated, "I cannot imagine such a thing, therefore it must not be true! Nobody could possibly feel differently to me! Anyone who has different reactions to things must be faking it!"

Nice bit of silencing of someone's voice there. Her experience doesn't match up with what you want it to, therefore she's a fake.

Posted by: Andrew Ducker at November 18, 2009 10:03 AM

I don't believe it either. And the book is dreadful - I bought it in a weak moment and looked for the 'dirty bits' - but unless you are a bit of a masochist there isn't much in it for women (not sure what I expected to be honest).

The biggest clue for me was that she didn't know the simple trick of getting fitted for a cap (free from your GP) so that she could work during her period and talks about stuffing a piece of sponge up there! Seems a bit odd that no one at her agency would have enlightened her - or that an intelligent woman couldn't have worked it out.

Posted by: LuluK at November 19, 2009 04:31 PM

Seth - what would convince you that Dr Magnanti worked as a call girl? Is there any piece of evidence that would lead you to admit that you were wrong?

You say:
"I have enormous trouble swallowing the idea that someone who finds herself doing it out of financial need immediately starts up a blog presenting it as a funny and amusing adventure. No way."

But you don't need to believe this, because its not true. From the article in The Times:
"she started blogging ... shortly into her career as a call girl, after an incident she thought funny enough to write down."

That's not so hard to believe, is it? Dr Magnanti also wrote a blog about science before she started working as a call girl. Again from the article in The Times:
"On the net there are glimpses of a long-expired scientific blog she wrote nine years ago: “The Autopsy — blogger Brooke Magnanti takes a close look ... "

So the story is: an intelligent and attractive young woman who has already written a blog is short of cash, turns to prostitution to earn some, something worth writing about happens so she starts blogging about her new job. I can't see what's unbelievable about that.

On the other hand you are asking us to believe that an intelligent and attractive 34 year old scientist would risk being ridiculed and professionally discredited (science demands honesty) for no apparent reason. I find that unbelievable.

Posted by: Robert at November 21, 2009 06:24 AM

Belated replies:

Karl: Thanks.

Dave: That sounds like the set-up for a philosophy joke. Like the one where Descartes says "I think not", then disappears.

Thene: It goes to her motivations.

Shelley: I believe the part about work. That's different from the lark part.

Andrew: Umm, her "voice" got her a book and movie deal - if that's being silenced, can I have some?

LuluK: Excellent point about work during her period.

Robert: Sure. Business records from the madam would a good start. I think you're missing the point about the improbability of "turns to prostitution ... starts blogging about her new job.". That's not your average "new job".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 21, 2009 12:35 PM

Shelley, if she hasn't got her PhD yet, but is halfway through it, her job prospects would be rather dire in Germany because of the way university biology education is structured (the PhD students are easily exploited because they are nothing without their PhD). Maybe the situation is similar in the UK?

Posted by: Florian Weimer at November 21, 2009 02:45 PM

"I think you're missing the point..."

and what is the point?
There are two possibilities: either Brooke Magnanti is a liar and fantasist or she isn't. You think she is a liar, I think it is more likely that she is telling the truth. So her new job was as a prostitute? If anything that makes it more likely she would start blogging about it, not less, it is after all a very interesting subject. There is more info here:

Turns out Dr Magnanti had several blogs, and had done a bit of other writing online. You must believe that she wrote the blog but made it all up, and that she is continuing to maintain the deception. But this is ridiculous, Dr Magnanti has huge amount to lose from lying about being a prostitute, if she had made it up surely she would have admitted it at the same time as she outed herself. If she is lying she would lose all profession credibility - as a writer and as scientist - once it inevitably got found out.

What is it exactly that you find so unbelievable? You say it is unlikely that a prostitute would start blogging but what we have here is a blogger who started work as a prostitution; blogging about it was natural for her. You say I miss the point about the probabilities, but its not at all clear what your point about the probabilities is - to me it seems vanishingly unlikely that she is lying.

Posted by: Robert at November 21, 2009 05:48 PM

Robert, if you believe blogging about being a prostitute is "natural" for someone just being forced into it to make ends meet, I think we've reached a unbridgeable gulf, and will have to leave it there.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 22, 2009 12:49 PM