Hot Girls Wanted: A Modern Fairytale
What are the similarities between fairytales and the adult film industry? I was thinking about it a lot after watching the 2015 documentary Hot Girls Wanted, which follows aspiring young stars working to establish themselves in the field.
The film follows the subset of adult entertainment known as “pro-am” films, which only use amateurs new to the industry. The increasing demand for material featuring teenagers (often cheaply shot from the ‘male gaze’ perspective of the male performer) means that the films often exploit the narrative trope of childlike innocence being stripped away by the older or more experienced man. The documentary exposes the ways in which pornography can reinforce the gendered power relations that make it so easy for the industry to assert control over young Cinderellas hopeful for fame.
Many scenes in the documentary emphasise something that critic Jeana Jorgensen has noticed being used in fairytales. Eroticised fairytales, that is. She called it the ‘innocent initiation’ trope after noticing that most of the stories featured “a sexually naïve heroine who […] is thrust into a sexually charged situation. She is initiated into sexual pleasure without knowing precisely what is going on, and she unconditionally enjoys the event.” This is the standard plot for pro-am films. As Michelle (19) observes in the documentary:
“It’s pretty much, I’m a f—–g creeper and I’m going to mack on you, little teenage girl.”
Classic fairytales (meaning the stuff by authors Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, who were trying to instill the morals of the day into children) often portray a lack of agency in women, with their characters written as objects to be bought and sold – for example, when the prince barters for the possession of Snow White’s sleeping corpse-like body. Just like the fairytales of old, the films described in the Hot Girls Wanted documentary conform to and reinforce patriarchal norms by following the stereotype of the active, experienced man and passive, receptive woman. Back when those classic fairytales were being written (1600’s for Perrault and 1800’s for the Grimms), this was the desired model for genders to adhere to, and so this propaganda was put into stories for little kids in order to get them to identify with their corresponding gender role. So girls, even female protagonists, were rendered passive in their own stories, while males were shown as intrepid and active. Rapunzel languishes in the tower, Sleeping Beauty waits a hundred years for her invigorating kiss, Snow White cooks and cleans for the dwarves, Red Riding Hood learns to listen to her parents and Cinderella is just so very good. These are the lessons that young girls were meant to learn from the stories, while male characters are shown killing giants, going on adventures, chopping wolves open or just being incredibly lucky.
Similar commodification is seen in the documentary’s portrayal of adult entertainment, in which performers are subject to the offers made to them by the male-dominated industry. In order to remain relevant, some performers feel forced into doing niche shoots in order to maintain their popularity with viewers and fans. Marketing is everything in the pro-am world. There’s a great deal of competition via social media to be the “fairest in the land” because, as a male performer with five years’ experience in the industry says, “the shelf life of a girl really depends on how she markets herself.” Despite this, he estimates the best-case scenario as “a year, tops.” Although female performers are the most celebrated in the adult industry, the perpetual influx of new, younger hopefuls makes it difficult to establish oneself. Riley, the talent agent in the documentary, puts it this way:
“Every day a new girl turns eighteen. Every day a new girl wants to do porn. I will never run out.”
Sex workers with agency achieve it in spite of an industry and legal system which is not geared towards ensuring either their agency or their safety. Both fairytale and adult entertainment fantasies create unrealistic expectations of what life has to offer, limiting agency through the marketing of illusory dreams. Although girls might come to Miami like Cinderella to the ball, filled with expectations of gaining fame and fortune, this idea in itself is a fairytale. Hot Girls Wanted ends with Tressa (19) leaving the industry after determining that the independence she wanted relied on her being at the whim of the industry, while the money she earned was blown on make-up and accessories for the shoots.
Illusions disappear beyond the context of the fairytale book or film set. As Karly (19) says, “The guys treat you like you’re a princess,” to which Jade (25) responds, “If only that would transition outside of the shooting.”
The idea of the prince or princess is so deeply steeped in illusion. At the end of the day, both pornography and fairytale are easily absorbed into our collective imaginations, creating self-perpetuating fictions which are, ultimately, unsatisfying in practical experience.
Hot Girls Wanted. 2015. [Film] Directed by Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus. United States of America: Two to Tangle Productions.
Jorgensen, J., 2008. Innocent Initiations: Female Agency in Eroticised Fairy Tales. Marvels & Tales, 22(1), pp. 27-37.