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      The Netflix Porn Doc 'Hot Girls Wanted' Reinforces Tired Sexual Stereotypes

      By Susan Elizabeth Shepard

      February 5, 2015

      Hot Girls Wanted, the latest documentary from directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, follows a group of young women whowork in Miami's burgeoning porn industry. The girls all live together in a beach house owned by their agent, Riley, who recruited them from Craigslist and profits by charging them room and board and a 10 percent cut of the pay they earn having sex on camera.

      The film's central mission is to highlight the impact that working in porn has on the women who participate in it. But while there is a need for thoughtful critique of porn and the working conditions its performers face, it won't be found here. Instead, Hot Girls Wanted offers unexamined statements and vague intimations about how doing porn harms women and watching it warps men.

      The film begins demurely for a documentary about pornography. Plain graphics inform the viewer that there are more visits to the top porn sites each month than to Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. (A quick check of this claim leads to public relations materials from a defunct porn site.) The film then claims that "amateur" porn is the largest sector of the business, and "this part of the industry hasn't been documented." This assertion isn't entirely correct: In porn, "amateur" is a label that is slapped on professional videos that feature young, implant-free women who are new to the business.

      Another graphic states that the industry as a whole is not subject to any federal regulations past proving that all performers are over 18. This is true, but it isn't explained that this is partly a result of pornography's legacy as a First Amendment issue, and that pornography shoots are subject to state and local regulations. They might add, but don't, that fear of new regulations is one of the reasons porn studios are moving from Los Angeles to Miami.

      These statistics and facts, devoid of context and arranged to cause alarm, set the stage for an internet-age exposé of an industry that profits from the exploitation of naive barely legal girls drawn by the promise of fast money and internet fame.

      The central subject of the film is Tressa, a former cheerleader from New Braunfels, Texas. She says that if it weren't for the internet, she'd probably have just gotten a job waitressing. After some early success in the business, Tressa ends up getting a boyfriend, Kendall, who doesn't approve of her career. He says that now, "Every time I see a porn, I'm like, that's someone's girlfriend, someone's daughter." It's revealing how Kendall's concerns about women in porn are only in relation to their relationships with men. Instead of exploring the inherent possessiveness of Kendall's thinking, the film focuses on porn as the problem in his and Tressa's relationship.

      When Tressa is with the other girls in Riley's house, the film is a pleasure, partly because no one could screw up putting a camera in a house with four porn-performer roommates. Those scenes showcase the camaraderie that can develop among women in sex-work settings as they crack jokes about their co-stars' endowment and creampie shoots.

      But that solid footage is disrupted by the directors' supporting material—rapid-fire montages of overtly sexual pop culture that include videos by Robin Thicke, an interview withKim Kardashian, scenes from HBO's Girls, and Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" video. The argument that popular culture is getting too sexy is one as old as Elvis's hips, and for the more conservative-minded, the current moment always seems like the point it's gone too far.As Bauer and Gradus did in their previous film, Sexy Baby,they put forth the idea that porn has so thoroughly saturated popular culture that it's not even necessary to watch actual pornography to absorb its influence.

      And to Bauer and Gradus, that influence is negative. Intercut with clips of a shoot for a niche site that specializes in the physical humiliation of Latina women are graphics discussing the trend of forced blowjobs in porn and statistics about the prevalence of violence against women in online porn. Rather than explore how pornography might reflect society rather than shape it, they point to porn as the cause of societal ills. Bauer, for one, thinks that this leads to sexual assault. In an interview last week, she said, "All these [frat] boys are watching this porn... and it is no mistake that their behavior is aggressive, and that there are all these rapes on college campuses, because this is where it's starting. This is what they're watching."

      To reduce an epidemic of sexual assault to a problem instigated by pornography is problematic, at best. So, too, is Jones's claim that "the trauma that it does on your body to have sex for a living is a real thing."

      Not that there aren't downsides to working in porn, and watching the performers struggle with their work is illuminating. In one affecting scene, Ava is working on an unpleasant age-play shoot in which she barely looks at her much, much older co-star. When she steps out of her post-scene shower, she says, "I was not into that last part at all. This is so just work right now," in much the same tone she might use if she were working at Starbucks. She then shares a much worse experience—when she was flown to a job only to discover that it was a forced blowjob shoot, which she hadn't agreed to in advance and that she said made her understand how rape victims felt when they questioned their own actions after sexual assault.

      But does that mean that doing porn means signing up for compromised boundaries? While porn performer may be the only legal occupation where sexual boundaries are so blatantly up for negotiation, it's not the only place where workers can get treated unfairly. It's just the only place where the industry itself, rather than its practices, is subject to condemnation. Porn performers need the space to talk about bad experiences, however they describe them, without having them used as evidence against their entire business. Hot Girls Wanted reinforces tired sexual stereotypes that harm all women, while ignoring the real work concerns specific to porn performers. In its moral simplicity and willingness to exploit its subjects, it ends up resembling the genre it aims to expose.

      Follow Susan Elizabeth Shepard on Twitter.

      Topics: porn, hot girls wanted, netflix, movie, critique, art, film, sundance, porno, pornography, sex, Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus, Sexy Baby, pornification, views my own, opinion

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