No sex scandal goes unfilmed these days, or so it seems, and the the Karen Owen sex scandal at Duke University would seem to be perfect for a Lifetime movie, just as it was for a Jezebel article. How could they resist a girl-meets-boy, girl-grades-sex-with-boy, girl-writes-PowerPoint-thesis-about-sex-with-boy story (multiplied by 13)? Perhaps not a love story for the ages, the Karen Owen story still certainly qualifies for a lust story of the current age.
What began as a joke among friends, the PowerPoint soon was being shared among the 14,000-member student body of Duke University, the pictures, names, and salacious details available for all to peruse online. It wasn’t long before the “thesis” went viral, posted on websites around the world. Dubbed the “F*** List,” the 42-page PowerPoint presentation, formally titled “An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics,” was a tongue-in-cheek expose of the author’s sexual exploits with some of the more prominent student athletes among the Duke baseball, lacrosse, and tennis teams while she was a student at the prestigious school.
The “unofficial senior thesis” was couched in the terms of a research project. Owen referred to her 13 sexual partners as “subjects.” She presented them, the conditions of each sexual encounter, the performance of the “subjects” (sometimes in graphic detail), and even evaluated said performances on a scale of 1-12.
Needless to say, neither the subjects nor Duke University were happy with the Karen Owen “F*** List.” Websites were contacted and were asked to remove the “thesis.” Most did, but some, like Deadspin and Jezebel, did not, instead redacting names and blurring faces. Still, the PowerPoint itself was left basically intact.
For her part, Owen is apologetic. She told Jezebel, “I regret it with all my heart. I would never intentionally hurt the people that are mentioned on that.”
If networks were still making movies of the week, they would no doubt be fighting over movie rights or going ahead with a fictionalized version of events captioned with “based on a true story.” As it is, they won’t be able to resist “The Unofficial Senior Thesis.” The story seems destined to go to film. Besides, Hollywood loves lists. They’re the backbone of any good conspiracy theory movie, not to mention a subplot of power and intrigue in any good political thriller. Add in a sexual angle, perhaps some blackmail, and you have a scandalous thriller.
The sex scandal client list and just who might be on it spurs the popularity of such stories, not to mention launching the controller of the list into a position of notoriety, infamy, and power. Sydney Biddow Barrows was a fashion student and an heiress to the Drexel banking family fortune who started her own escort service. A real blue blood, Barrows became as famous for what she didn’t tell as well as what she did. After being charged with prostitution, Barrows, who was also descended from the families of Plymouth Rock, wrote an expository book which became a made-for-television movie of the same name — “Mayflower Madam.”
Other women who became famous because of their client lists include the “Hollywood Madam,” Heidi Fleiss, and the “Washington Madam.” Fleiss’ client list, which included high-profile celebrities, became a huge scandal in the ’90s, according to TruTV. Her story — and exposed client list — was made into two movies. The so-called “D.C. Madam,” Deborah Jeanne Palfrey, claimed to have a black book full of high-profile names, but was found hanged. According to Time, journalist Dan Moldea was working with Palfrey, who had been convicted of racketeering and money laundering, when she died. Although no movies have been made of the scandalous story that implicated Louisiana senator David Vitter and other prominent Washingtonians, several police procedurals have used the story as a plot.
And yet, the Karen Owen story will have a far different twist — the Duke University graduate did not run an escort service or do her “research” for money.
Hollywood won’t be able to resist the Internet-driven story and its list of what Owen herself called Duke’s “top dogs,” especially after the “The Social Network” topped the box office.
There will no doubt also be a book but, if one must, just read the scandalous Power Point — then wait for the movie…