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.

If I were a movie studio, I’d make streaming a priority — based on a recent experience with Assholes Finish First

I recently interviewed professional writer and asshole Tucker Max about his second book, Assholes Finish First. He also wrote I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, which was made into the eponymous movie. Like any diligent journalist, I wanted to get as much background on his work as I could—including the movie, which I put on my Netflix queue without enough time to get it. My queue looked something like this the day before the interview:

Notice the little buttons that say “Play” (EDIT: Oops: the movies at the top of my queue don’t have that button. Take my word for it: some do, and they play immediately). If I want to watch those movies, they automagically play via Microsoft Silverlight, which is probably just a nefarious and tardy attempt to compete with Flash but which I installed because it was there and easy. Notice that there isn’t a button that says “Play” next to I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. But I was interviewing Tucker and couldn’t wait.

So I searched for I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell using a BitTorrent search engine that will remain unidentified here but is easily found using conventional search engine tools. Sure enough, it had a copy of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. A few clicks later and it began downloading. Two or three hours later and it was done. The quality wasn’t especially high—it was compressed all the way down to 700 MB—and the process wasn’t as smooth as clicking “play” and starting the stream. But it worked reasonably well. If I were the kind of person I was in high school, when I didn’t have a credit card but did have Internet access, I might have done a lot more of this. And if I were a less, uh, scrupulous person, I’d been tempted to just go the BitTorrent route all the time.

Apparently others have noticed this general trend—in “Why Is Netflix Disclosing Less About Its Business?” for The Atlantic, Jonathan Berr writes:

According to Netflix, 66 percent of subscribers instantly watched more than 15 minutes of a movie or a TV episode in the third quarter compared with 31 percent in the year-ago period and 61 percent in the second quarter. This underscores the company’s transition from DVD rentals to streaming video.

If I were a movie studio, I’d be trying to make sure that what happens to me is different from what happened to the music business. I’d be doing everything I can to make sure that my movies were available on Netflix, the iTunes store, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bob’s crab shack, whatever. Available and easy. In “The Other Road Ahead,” Paul Graham says, “Near my house there is a car with a bumper sticker that reads “death before inconvenience.’ ” That’s basically how I feel much of the time.

And I’m not the only one (who feels like streaming is handy):

[. . .] Netflix accounts for 20 percent of downstream Internet traffic during peak home Internet usage hours in North America. That’s an amazing share—it beats that of YouTube, iTunes, Hulu, and, perhaps most tellingly, the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol BitTorrent, which accounts for a mere 8 percent of bandwidth during peak hours. It wasn’t long ago that pundits wondered if the movie industry would be sunk by the same problems that submarined the music industry a decade ago—would we all turn away from legal content in favor of downloading pirated movies and TV shows? Three or four years ago, as BitTorrent traffic surged, that seemed likely. Today, though, Netflix is far bigger than BitTorrent, and it seems sure to keep growing.

If Netflix wants to stay bigger than BitTorrent, however, the movie studios need to climb aboard. If they’re smart, they will. If not, they have predecessors who have been massacred by the Internet, and they no doubt will have successors who are too.

Oh, and the movie? It’s not very good. Skip it and read the book.

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