Playboy Buzz Surfaces Following Grim Reaper Day Assembly

Photo contributed by Michelle Bassi.

Photo contributed by Michelle Bassi.

Photo contributed by Michelle Bassi.

Becca Bobrow ’11, Annie Nelson ’11 and Dana Rappaport ’11
Features Editor, Managing Editor and Web Managing Editor

On May 14, the Teen Awareness Group (TAG) held its annual Grim Reaper Day to remind students of the horrors that often arise with drinking and driving.

This year’s speaker for the group’s two assemblies was 26–year–old Fairfield native Michelle Bassi, who lost both her parents and grandmother in a Dec. 2007 drunk driving accident.

Many students were still talking about Bassi’s story long after they had left the auditorium; but soon, conversations shifted to a part of the speaker’s past that she had not disclosed while addressing the student body.

It only took a few hours for students to discover Bassi’s association with Playboy’s “Cyber Club.”  In January of this year, Bassi was featured as Cyber Girl of the Week for the club, which serves as an online supplement to the well–known adult entertainment magazine.

While this information was unknown to TAG until its surfacing in the Staples community, the group recognizes it may have altered the impact of Bassi’s message on students.

Chris Lemone, outreach counselor at Staples and TAG advisor, expressed his hope that Bassi’s story was not “lost in the aftermath.”  However, he acknowledges that for some, her modeling may have overshadowed her suffering.

“I was shocked when I heard,” Bailey Keehan ’10 said, of Bassi’s past with Playboy.

Current TAG President, Nick Cion ’10, was also surprised, but believes the issue has been magnified more so than is necessary.  “I think people like to create a problem when there really isn’t one,” he said.  “I also don’t think the students have malintent regarding Michelle – they sort of just think it’s funny.”

Taylor McNair ’12 said he felt the new findings made her presentation as a whole seem less serious.  “Some people took it as kind of a joke,” McNair said.

Other students doubted the validity of Bassi’s speech upon hearing of her experience with Playboy.  “The fact that she didn’t mention that she was in Playboy makes me question the rest of the story,” Neva Sanfilippo ’11 said.

During the assembly, Bassi spoke of her work experience at MTV and her audition to be a Knicks City Dancer for the New York basketball team, but made no mention of her posing for the men’s magazine.

Bassi said she chose to speak only of her time working in those two occupations specifically to illustrate how “good” her life was before her family died.  “I didn’t want the crowd to lose focus on the moral of the story, [and] I understand there could be giggles and disruption for announcing that I posed [for Playboy].”

The speaker also explained that the posing component of her story is not typically integrated into her high school speaking programs.  “Very few high school students are of the legal age to be viewing this material, [so] I do not see it as a relevant topic.”

Nonetheless, the Internet has enabled many underage students to access and view Bassi’s controversial pictures, regardless of legality.  Google takes three–tenths of a second or so to recall these photographs; some students said they found the photographs the period after Bassi spoke.

As for why she decided to pose, Bassi said that following the accident, she felt lost and wanted to experience “some outrageous things” in her own lifetime.  “I made quick decisions in desperate attempts to distract myself from reality.” Bassi said.  “The opportunity to pose for Playboy was presented to me, and I jumped on it . . . That choice was made after my world was turned upside down.”

Although Bassi’s name is now sometimes accompanied by phrases like “porn star” and “naked pictures,” there are still a large amount of students who remain unaffected by the scandal and choose to remember the significance of her story, instead.

“She’s still a person, regardless of her profession,” Greg Gudis ’11 said.  “It doesn’t matter that she modeled for Playboy.”

Kevin Kirshner ’13 agrees: “She’s still a human being, and she still lost her family.”

TAG Vice President, Harry Rappaport ’10 said “it would have been nice to know” about Bassi’s posing beforehand, but still defends her as a legitimate speaker.  “Whether she’s a Playboy model or the President of the United States, she was still affected by drinking and driving.”

Fellow TAG member Caela McCann ’11, who will serve as president for the 2010–11 school year, hopes that Westporters can look past the excitement of the photos and remember Bassi’s story.  “That would be really disrespectful if the community [focused] on her being a Playboy model instead of the fact that her entire family died in a drunk driving accident,” she said.

Lemone, who says it was his responsibility to find a speaker, also said that the group “will have a lot of extra questions to ask possible speakers in the future,” and that he would “talk with administrators before hiring [her] again.”

“I think we would need to gauge the climate of the school [before hiring Bassi again],” Cion said.  “But I think she did a good job.  I think people responded well to her because you could definitely tell her pain was authentic.”

For now, Bassi is maintaining a positive outlook on the situation.  “Maybe this commotion will help [the students] remember me and my story, even more so than when I left last week.”

And to all students, Bassi said to “take care, be good, be safe.  You all pinky promised.”