The Netflix documentary Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is a spin off series of the 2015 documentary of the same title. It sets out to explore some aspects of the porn industry and also delves into how sex and dating have changed in a digital age.
The original feature length documentary received some criticism for its generally negative and unbalanced portrayal of the porn industry. Therefore, filmmakers attempted to show the good and bad sides of adult entertainment in their follow up six part series, Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On (2017).
While three episodes of the series deal with the porn industry directly, the other half of Hot Girls Wanted is dedicated to attitudes towards dating and sexuality in a world dominated by social media and virtual reality.
I found the first episode in particular very interesting. It shows female porn directors/photographers Erika Lust, Suze and Holly Randall and their experience of producing female friendly pornography. Their work generally has higher production values and focuses on the woman’s experience of sex, trying to move away from clichéd porn scenarios. Suze Randall, a true pioneer for women behind the lens in adult entertainment, is an excellent example for female empowerment in porn. I wrote a short bio of her for my History’s Rebel Girls series, you can read it here.
Episode four offers some thought provoking insights into the porn industry from the perspective of male black performers. Objectification and pressure to perform are highlighted, as well as the racial bias in an industry that pays white performers extra for scenes with black performers. Whether these practices of racial discrimination are due to lack of regulation in the industry and what is done to combat them isn’t explored.
What also becomes clear in episodes one and four, is the industry’s struggle to make money in an age where few still want to pay for online porn. In that, porn isn’t that much different to other entertainment industries. I would have found a broader discussion on this issue quite interesting, especially given episode one seems to suggest that with productions making less profit, there is a greater demand now for degrading and violent porn. Whether this argument actually holds up, would have been interesting to investigate. (Here’s one article on the topic.)
In general, I couldn’t help but feel that Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On portrayed the choice of individuals to work as performers in the porn industry as one of failed dreams. They couldn’t make it as a cheerleader or football player, so porn seemed like a good option to make money fast. But to what extent do the few individual examples shown actually give an accurate picture of the industry overall isn’t contextualised.
Episode three ‘Owning it’ shows how porn can be a profitable business for young women who are clearly all-round entrepreneurs fully in charge of their own brand. Unfortunately the filmmakers then choose to continue their narrative of porn being an exploitative industry by showing footage of the same young women taking drugs and resorting to alcohol, seemingly in an attempt to cope with their work.
The footage, in my opinion, is largely taken out of context and the filmmakers don’t show any real interest in finding out what happened to the young women after their cameras stopped rolling. Their stories aren’t followed up, and as a viewer I’m left with the feeling that the women were merely exploited to serve the filmmakers narrative.
Episodes two and five both feel more like scripted reality TV shows than a hard hitting documentary. The episode entitled Love me Tinder ‘uncovers’ that a 40 year old man who can get regular dates with attractive women 15 years his junior finds it hard to commit to a serious relationship. Really, you’re kidding?! This is what you call investigative journalism these days… I could have told you this for nothing.
There is no real exploration here of whether technology has changed our attitudes towards interpersonal relationships and dating. It also remains unclear to me if the filmmakers are trying to link current behaviour in online dating with the consumption of porn. The researcher in me wants to see studies and quantifiable evidence. Give me data!
Take me private, episode five, shows a woman earning her living as a cam girl (models who perform live online via a webcam) and her real-life encounter with one of her customers. This felt terribly exploitative and voyeuristic to me, at points I even questioned whether the whole thing was only set up for the series. By showing what is at best a very unique or extreme example, the episode virtually tells us nothing about the world of caming.
The series ends with a disturbing episode following the court case of a young girl convicted for live streaming the rape of a friend on Periscope. Leaving aside the fact that the filmmakers decided to show the impact of this crime on the perpetrator/bystander rather than on the victim, it is unclear again what argument is put forward here. Are we supposed to believe technology and pornography, or a combination of both, encourage this kind of behaviour?
Although the series does at points manage to show engaging personal narratives, I take issue with its approach to present isolated examples, which at best provide anecdotal evidence, in order to make sweeping claims about today’s attitudes towards sex, dating and technology.
But I guess the whole point of shows like this isn’t to present boring old facts but to entertain. I’m not saying the issues raised in Hot Girls Wanted are not worth investigating. But with its rather biased and unbalanced approach, and lack of any real data and evidence, the series misses a great opportunity to explore important and worthwhile issues. Here’s my personal take on the good and problematic sides of porn.