For a week or so after I saw Hot Girls Wanted, this year’s breakout Sundance documentary (executive produced by Rashida Jones), I found myself in a spiritual malaise. My Facebook feed is constantly filled with links to the daily outrages—political, social, and religious—that preoccupy my friends, so it’s not as if I need a ninety minute expose on Internet pornography to make me feel like the world around me is a darker, uglier place than the one I grew up in.
In such a spiritually toxic environment, it’s tempting to pronounce the world we live in not just broken, but irredeemable. It’s almost as though blind rage is the only emotion left strong enough to coexist with despair, or survive in its presence.
Finally, a few days into my funk, one of my housemates recited Psalm 86:5 as our verse before our evening meal: “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Where there is life, there is still hope. Let’s not forget that, lest we all go mad.
Hot Girls Wanted chronicles four young women—this is a documentary, so they’re real young women, not figments of someone’s imagination—as they seek fame and fortune as porn models, showing their rapid progression from posing for photos in lingerie to participating in hard-core humiliation and bondage videos. We get very little background on the young women, and none of the participants dwell on religion or morality at all.
But lest we think this is just a trap that snares people who haven’t been raised with Christian values, it’s worth noting that when one of the young women is first seen, she is updating her Facebook page. It has a banner that says, “My love story is written by God.” When she tries to explain why she wants to fly halfway across the country to do porn, she says, “You’ve got to be selfish once in your life.”
One of her fellow models is more blunt: “Do I want be in my parents’ shoes when I’m their age? No.”
The most depressing thing about Hot Girls Wanted is that it shows the entry of its four subjects into the world of pornography not as a slow, painful descent but as a giddy, head-first dive. The film postulates that porn has been destigmatized, at least for the under-twenty crowd, who are a lot more savvy about what the world is selling them than they are about the laws of supply and demand.
That might be so, but if it is, it’s because the versions we catch glimpses of in the mainstream have been cherry-picked, like photos from a Theresienstadt ghetto.
Tressa, Rachel, Kelly, and Michelle (I never could get straight which were their real names and which their professional monikers) answer ads on Craigslist, fly to Miami to stay with a broker, sign up for Twitter accounts, and pronounce themselves porn stars. Riley, the founder of Hussie Models, has set up shop in Miami because California has a law requiring participants in porn shoots to use condoms.