Thoughts on “Hot Girls Wanted,” the Netflix documentary

Is it a sign of getting older that, more than seeing the hot girls featured be nude, I want to see them take economics, psychology, and human sexuality classes? I’m not ideologically or otherwise opposed to porn—quite the opposite, actually—but I am opposed to ignorance and Hot Girls Wanted is arguably about that subject, rather than its putative subject. The girls followed remind me of my least sophisticated students and do not seem to have a sense of future (or life trajectories) or past (and where their industry comes from). Often on this blog I write about the perils of academia, but if this is the alternative then academia looks really, really good. Ignorance has tremendous costs and rarely are those costs made as stark as they are in Hot Girls Wanted.

That being said, I wish the filmmakers had asked more questions about what these girls would otherwise be doing. What’s their opportunity cost? At what margin are they operating? They are getting paid for what they do, and from what I’ve heard, usually after a couple drinks, from women I know who’ve been in adjacent industries the college hookup scene is often not much better or more satisfying than getting paid.

hot_girls_wantedThe New York Times (and similar publications) has a trope: some Bad Trend occurs and then the writer adds, “Women and minorities hurt most.” Hot Girls Wanted deploys a similar frame; although perhaps being a porn actress is for many women not the world’s best job, it is possible for straight women to have straight sex on camera and make a lot of money, which isn’t even an option available to the vast majority of men. How many attractive 18- and 19-year-old guys would love to make a couple hundred or thousand dollars to have sex on camera? I haven’t done a formal study but let me guess “a lot.” Yet those jobs don’t or barely even exist. Having an option to trade heterosexual sex for money is still valuable, even if the makers of Hot Girls Wanted disapprove and/or think women don’t really have the agency necessary to consent to the job.

To me the girls seem sad not because they’re doing porn, exactly, but because they’re ignorant and don’t understand what they’re doing. How was their relationship with their high school teachers? My reactions to them doing porn would actually be similar if they were doing, say, currency trading: The people on the other ends of the trade are not there to help them. If you want to trade currency you really need to understand what you’re doing. Failure to know will have real consequences. Porn is similar in this way.

Hot Girls Wanted could be compared and contrasted with Belle de Jour’s work. Both are about women in sex work but the tones couldn’t be different. Belle de Jour already had gone through British undergrad. She was (and probably is) an intense reader. She knew much better what she was doing when she started working.

There are intelligent, empowered ways of being in the industry depicted in Hot Girls Wanted, but they are not evident here. It is at best very difficult to protect people from being from themselves, and attempting to do so usually has distortionary outcomes in other areas that make the protection itself not worthwhile. Arguably much of the sexual revolution since the 1960s is a demonstration of this, and we’re now seeing the outcome in terms of family and economic structure (link goes to Robert Putnam’s latest book). The wonk-o-sphere is abuzz about family structure issues but I wonder how many, if any, wonk-o-sphere members will connect them to Hot Girls Wanted. People want what they want and the elite pundit class, left, right, and Alpha Centauri is maybe not good so good at understanding or emphasizing this.

You will not learn much from Hot Girls Wanted. That said I don’t regret watching and my interest did not waver.

Thoughts on the movie “Birdman”

* The first three quarters are excellent. The last quarter is too long but still good; audiences don’t need to be hit over the head with symbolism. We laughed, though not always at the parts that the rest of the theater laughed at. A few times I was the only person laughing.

* Birdman is among other things functional review of the Transformers series; Birdman is not merely conceptual art, as Transformers 4 may be.

birdman-poster* I didn’t feel stupid watching it.

* What might the camera work signify? To most it will be brilliant or hateful, but it is at least distinctive, and distinctive in a “that must have been very hard to do” way.

* Theater folk are fucked up, but we already know that, don’t we? From the works of Michael Tolkin, among others.

* This is the kind of movie about which movie people like to say, “It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t get made anymore.” See also point #3, above. Good movies are harder to find but still get made.

* Birdman is different than Gone Girl and yet both are absorbing.

* The rants are winners.

Thoughts on the movie “Nymphomaniac”

* Unlike the movie I’m going to put the moneyshot at the beginning and say it’s boring; we left maybe halfway through “Vol. 1”.

Nymphomaniac* That being said the movie is mostly a comedy. Perhaps this is a function of living in New York, but I’d guess that at least a third of the audience was laughing at parts probably not intended to be funny, like the primal scream from a famous actress directed at her cheating husband. She also got the best line, asking that the children be allowed to see “the whoring bed.”

* The allegedly nymphomaniacal protagonist, Joe, doesn’t seem to have much fun doing what she’s doing, so why bother?

* The movie is consistent with the idea that women are the chief guardians of each other’s sexuality (see further, e.g. Leora Tanenbaum’s book subtitled Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation).

* The lighting is often amateurish, deliberately at first I thought, but less so as the movie went on. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Hollywood. Jittery camerawork has a more obvious artistic purpose in that it mirrors Joe’s internal turmoil about her actions.

* Despite point one in this post, Nymphomaniac still asks, “Do most people lead dull lives?”

Thoughts on the movie “In a World. . .”

* It’s surprisingly fun! I wouldn’t’ve guessed that a movie about voice-over artists would be compelling but this one is; half the reviews start this way and they’re right. Friends kept mentioning In a World. . . and I’m glad they did.

* In modern dating among young unattached people aggression wins: when in doubt err on the side of greater aggression. Few movies seem to emphasize this. Like Love, Actually, In a World over-relies on adolescent angst about making a move.

* I don’t see uptalk / babytalk as being as prevalent as it is in the movie. Perhaps I hang out with the wrong crowd?

* Voice itself, regardless of content, conveys tremendous information that I don’t think most people consciously consider.

* The micro-world or niche is an underrated setting for movies and sometimes books.

* Does celebrity affect / infect every field now? Does every field have groupies? Roosh may right that the future of game is fame, however niche.

* In a World. . . is unusually willing to be awkward without resolution. This is not a criticism.

Love, Actually: Make a move already

After reading a spate of essays about Love, Actually (“Loathe, Actually,” “The Six Cinematic Crimes of ‘Love Actually,’” “Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time“) I watched the movie and realized that none of the writers nail what started bothering me halfway through. It isn’t the gender politics of the movie, which are primarily disliked for the usual reason: people in reality behave differently than writers of essays and feminists would like them to behave. It’s because the characters in Love Actually are stuck at age 15.

The movie’s plot is essentially a series of attraction deferments: someone feels attraction, often quite strongly, and then doesn’t act on it. Instead of going up and saying, “Let’s get a drink later” or “let’s see a movie,” they blush and stutter and wonder. One character says, “takes me ages to get the courage up” to even talk to the other one. That’s a real problem I had when I was, say, 15, and would respond to attraction by hiding.

Why do teenagers do this? They’re stuck in a nasty social situation: high school. They’re inexperienced idiots. That described me fairly well.* There also might be good evolutionary reasons to avoid making romantic moves unlikely to be requited: for most of human history, humans lived in relatively small bands, and making a romantic move was probably a potentially dangerous and life-changing experience. Today, it’s relatively minor, and if one person says no you just move on to the next one. Humiliation is minor and generally forgotten by everyone except the person turned down. We live in a world so different than our ancestral environment that it’s hard to remember how poorly adapted we are to modern life.

The above paragraph might be wrong—it’s a just-so story, and I’m not even sure how to test these ideas—but it is plausible. Still, most of us realize what’s effective in modern life and start doing that as we get older, rather than persisting in endless crushes. In many domains a “no” is actually better than not knowing, or a “maybe,” since a “no” means that you can go on to find someone who says “yes.” Getting to “no” has value in itself.

In life most of us realize that missed opportunities just sort of suck—so when they arise, you seize them. Instead, the characters in Love, Actually pointlessly defer them; in real life, the opposing party often comes up with a boyfriend or girlfriend in the interim. But in movie-land, it all works out, and everyone gets laid. The fellow with the hot Portuguese flatmate should’ve tried speaking the language of love while he was there.

One definition of stupidity is the failure to learn from experience. But the experiences of the characters in the movie are so limited that there isn’t enough screen time for the ups and downs more typical of romantic comedies. All the characters, regardless of their age, also seem to have very little life experiences. The 50-year-olds are mentally 16, but with wrinkles. They lack the forthrightness uncommon in teens but fairly common by… let me make up a number and say 24.

Love Actually isn’t a terrible movie—I laughed, sometimes, and frequently when the exasperated, washed-up singer had to do his hilarious bit—but I can’t see wanting to watch it again. It was also British, which meant there were more nude scenes than an equivalent American movie would have, and those are always welcome. I also get that its characters are, if not caricatures, then at least “broadly drawn.”

* Some people would argue that it still does describe me.

Thoughts on the movie Gravity

* Gravity is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time and possibly the first to really make 3-D live up to its possibilities (Avatar, discussed at the link, was okay but overrated).

* Most movies described as “thrillers” use the term to connote a serial killer or supernatural beast or government conspiracy as the generator of primal fear of death, and yet to me they aren’t all that thrilling. Most feel silly and artificial. By contrast Gravity is one of the tensest, thrilling movies I’ve seen.

* The movie feels big—sublime, even.

* Few narrative works, whether movies or novels or TV shows, are genuinely about man versus nature.

* Few contemporary narrative works glorify astronauts or scientists (Contagion is an exception) or make people want to be one. Gravity is an exception. I’m amazed that it got made at all.

* One underlying message may say that we have to get off this planet or die on it or die trying. Rebirth is a potent motif in narrative art, as observed by Campbell, Frazer, and others; one could even argue that birth is a dominant motif in evolutionary biology. In Gravity it is enable by technology.

Thoughts on the movie Closed Circuit

* The movie, though still ridiculous, is less ridiculous than it would’ve been even a year or two ago. Yet it is less stupid than most movies of its type while still living up to its “thriller” designation. Most movies feel like a waste of time and this one did not.

* The language abuses Orwell described in 1946 are still alive in 2013, although in movies it’s easy to let those moments slide right by.

* I confirmed that I was not the only person disappointed by the lack of a sex scene, which was set up and then sadly unconsummated.

* Many if not most of us have secrets, and I wonder what the world will look like when the secrets of the watchers get revealed.

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