RON HART: Bankruptcy Gone Wild

Ron Hart, The Hart Beat

ROSEMARY BEACH — There is sad news for hormone-driven boys nationwide. The Girls Gone Wild empire went into bankruptcy — brought down by hubris, missteps, litigation and changing technology.

It was a tragic day in America for purveyors of pornography. On the day the bankruptcy was announced, nudie bar owners across the nation ordered their strippers to fly their tassels at half-mast. Anyone who watched late-night TV during the early 2000s understands the business model of Girls Gone Wild and its Hugh Hefner understudy, Joe Francis. He made millions by applying incremental thinking on how trashy mass entertainment could get.

Even as a pretty easygoing father of two college-aged daughters, I never looked forward to seeing GGW ads on TV. I’d like their videos to be shown in reverse; that way, it would have looked like the girls had learned their lesson.

The free market brought porn to the Internet — literally for free (or so my guy friends tell me). That, and legal battles of GGW's founder, caused the company to file for Chapter 11 reorganization, claiming only $50,000 in assets and $16 million in debt.

The bankruptcy interests me more than the videos. Allegations abound that Francis bilked the company before filing. In a telephone interview with Bankruptcy Beat, which I presume is like Teen Beat without pictures, founder Joe Francis called the bankruptcy trustee, ex-FBI agent R. Todd Neilson, a “four-foot-two Mormon who points his finger and yells.”

Neilson got court permission to pay the bankruptcy attorneys up to $980 an hour; so, in an ironic twist, Francis will get a taste of being taken advantage of and screwed. I’ve witnessed bankruptcy proceedings. They are not about victims; they are all about attorneys making money.

Making his troubles worse, an LA judge named Sandra Klein (who Francis said lacks a "good grasp" of the law), will rule on his case. She is a government appointee from Massachusetts who co-chaired the Women Lawyers Association of LA, so I’m comfortable she will give him a fair shake. She is only a hyphenated last name away from giving him the electric chair.

With his trademark diplomacy, Francis, who spent 11 months in prison on federal tax charges, called the panel of jurors who later convicted him of assault “retarded.” It is troubling to witness such crassness from one of our nation’s most respected smut merchants. If Dennis Rodman ever wants to step down from his post as Special Diplomatic Envoy to North Korea, Francis should replace him.

The total assets of this company are in an LA warehouse full of videos and DVRs of Girls Gone Wild: Blonde-on-Blonde Dorm Room Fantasies. This epic vignette, which I think was adapted from a Jane Austen novel, is sitting around in VHS format in 105-degree heat.

And as an indicator of just how low is the lowest common denominator in America, the business interest trying to rent the space from Girls Gone Wild is the Kardashian production company.

Competition for the ignoramus entertainment dollar in America grows ever more ferocious. It is clearly a race to the bottom to see what actually insults our collective intelligence. But the real loser is society. Those in the entertainment business find it increasingly difficult to underestimate how low the low-brow, semi-literate American consumer is willing to sink to be entertained.

At this trajectory, some day we will look back at the movie Jackass as a high-end documentary.

They can imprison Joe Francis, but another one will rear his head as long as our society is willing to consume such mindless tripe. What Joe Francis did was more a reflection of us as country than of him. The soft-core porn he produced was legal. The Louvre and the Sistine Chapel have more breasts on display than anywhere in America, with the possible exception of the Clinton Library.

He satisfied men’s short attention span for visual, sexual stimulation with an unending and free source of drunken, attention-starved girls who equated success with making a raunchy video. Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton became famous that way, so why not? As those 18-year-olds mature, fight gravity, start showering alone instead of in threesomes, and realize they do not have to trade flashing their breasts for Jell-O shooters, I hope they will regret having done Girls Gone Wild.

My biggest fear is that they won’t.

Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist, award-winning author and TV/radio commentator. Email or visit