Every business in the world survives on the concept of supply and demand. Pornography, despite its taboo nature and societal stigmas, is a prevalent part of our society. Culture gets more openly sexual every year, and our immunity to sexual imagery increases. Though demonizing pornography and blaming it for societal ills is common, its popularity only continues to rise. The variety of pornographic material also evolves with the times - the porn of decades ago appears innocent compared to much of the niche material available today. But where there’s a market, there’s content, and people willing to create it for a price.
Hot Girls Wanted (2015) seems keen to ignore this. The nature of pornography is not evil. Pornography itself is not responsible for all of the misfortune that befalls those who perform it in less-than-reputable scenarios. But the documentary does leave audiences with an impression that pornography, and not its purveyors, is to blame.
Granted, a lot of pornographic material is unappealing to people. There is plenty of fetish porn that wouldn’t arouse the mainstream public, but a market, albeit smaller, nonetheless may exist. People create material because it sells. And that fact says something about the society that pays for it - something the film does nothing to acknowledge. Instead, it focuses on how terrible the experiences are for these girls who sign up to work on niche videos. It’s guaranteed to be true that some working conditions for these actresses are unregulated, dangerous, and sub-par. But it’s not always the case, and Hot Girls Wanted paints most of the issues it covers with a wide brush that makes the ills it showcases appear as the norm, while often ignoring the bigger (more interesting) picture.
As Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals says on Uproxx, “Porn, like every other human-social entity, is both an artifact and a component of wider society. It’s a complex product of what we, as a collective group of humans, are. As such, what does the reflection of humanity we see in the cultural mirror of porn say about us? That query is generally too uncomfortable to engage, so instead we gobble up narratives like Hot Girls Wanted – ones that give porn all the power and paint us as passive victims.”
Susan Shepard of Vice takes issue with the overly reductive thesis of the film that pornography negatively influences men and leads to aggressive behavior. Shephard observes: “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.”
Similarly skeptical of the film's overarching message, Elizabeth Brown of the Hit & Run Blog remarks, “despite the dubious and sensational statistics presented, the dramatically somber music, and the lingering shots of forlorn faces, the film's thesis was utterly undermined by the actual action and people it depicted. Despite filmmakers' best efforts to gloss over the women's complexity and agency, these things still shone through, showcasing the complex, nuanced relationship they have with the work—which, of course, echoes the complex, nuanced relationship Americans have with pornography.”
The reality is, people aren't watching the pornography that doesn't appeal to them. The existence of violent or "bizarre" porn doesn't change a person. People watch what matches their personal desires, and the formation and existence of those desires is a different examination entirely.