Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Featured: Sex Work Documentaries

I love watching documentaries, and I love learning about sex and tech. The way the way we relate to sexuality in the modern world is so different to how many of us were socialised; and it fascinates me that sex work is always on the cutting edge whenever new developments are made.

I reviewed a couple of recent (ish) documentaries about contemporary sex work for Slutty Girl Problems, and they are some of my favourite investigations of the theme I've seen so far. As with any media, it's tough for filmmakers to come at the subject without a specific angle in mind, but a semi-critical mind can still learn about the situation at hand without getting too swept away by the ethos behind the film. Tl;dr, I loved both of these films despite the few caveats that I felt would have made it more balanced.

Hot Girls Wanted

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Full disclosure: I don't watch porn. All my knowledge about adult films comes from reading academic texts or articles, and documentaries like this. Hot Girls Wanted focuses on the 'amateur' side of porn, involving the oft-exploited 'barely legal' trope in which freshly eighteen-aged girls and up get into cheaply-produced porn in an attempt to gain autonomy.

Because it’s such a competitive industry, new girls enter the scene at a rate that renders everyone in it easy to replace. John Anthony, a male performer with five years in the adult industry, estimates that most newbies last three months, with a maximum shelf-life of a year – that is, if they market themselves correctly. If not, they’re often obligated to do increasingly niche shoots (like bondage) in order to make gigs. The exchange of a sexual performance for money inevitably leads to some girls being obligated to submit to certain acts just to make a living. Although Ava Green, one of the older girls in the industry, likens this to any other kind of work (in which you often do things you don’t want to just to keep your job), when linked to sexuality it problematizes the issue of consent. The fact remains that the industry is made primarily for and by men, so the autonomy that the girls seek is often a shallow illusion. An absence of a “no” or the feeling of being financially coerced into an agreement is not full, enthusiastic consent, and this can make it an emotionally-compromising way to earn money.

Despite a few rough moments (which are very well edited to not be super explicit or triggering), I genuinely loved the documentary and would recommend it to anyone interested in the contemporary porn industry. Check out my critique here.

Cam Girlz

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As the name implies, Cam Girlz investigates the world of professional webcam-based sex work, on which the featured cammers all rely for the bulk of their income. The film is beautiful and cinematic and the girls are gorgeous, engaging, and so talented -- they sing, play instruments, mime, practise ventriloquism, pole dance, and generally seem to have the best time on cam. After the other British-based documentaries I had previously watched, this was a refreshing take on the empowering potential of webcam work. As a cam girl, you are your own boss; you are in control of what you do and when, and this really puts the proverbial cards firmly in the performer's hands. Furthermore, what constantly struck me throughout this film was the importance of creativity in webcam work. To keep their audience engaged (and thus earn money), the girls are constantly pushing themselves to be good entertainers and conversationalists, making the job far more difficult than just looking pretty to get strangers to give you money.

However, I did feel like the film focused on the positive aspects of camming without too much attention given to some of the downsides.

The documentary does provide a really fresh perspective on female sexuality, economic freedom, creativity, and self-expression on the internet. While it was nice to see a film focusing on the sex industry without demeaning or pitying those who participate in it, I did feel that the emphasis was primarily on the positive aspects of camming, as opposed to a fully-balanced outlook. A few of the girls mention the judgement and harassment they receive from those who know what they do, and Pinkie Pixi in particular seems to despair at the blows to her self-esteem she endures when she doesn’t make enough money. “You’re selling yourself. You are the product,” she says. It’s easy to feel bad when you don’t make your target, because when the product is you and nobody’s buying, “it inherently suggests that there’s something wrong with you.” The harsh reality is, as Rosie says, that even if you do the best thing and just be yourself, you’ll eventually realize that not everybody will like you.

This film was beautifully shot and edited, and made me very happy to stare at and learn stuff about the cam world. Read the full review here.

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