​rashida jones on the future of porn and intimacy in the age of tinder

As her documentary series "Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On" pulls back the curtain on the porn industry, Rashida Jones offers a five-point guide to the problems of porn today.

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Apr 24 2017, 3:17pm

"So you've never been with a black guy before," inquires a skeezy porn director, to which a barely legal Caucasian actress coyly replies, "I feel like it's something everybody should try once in life." The director and performer are already playing out the textbook script for the actress's debut "IR" scene (pornspeak for interracial) in an episode of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, a new Netflix anthology series co-produced by Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer, and Ronna Gradus. Taking their eponymous 2015 documentary as a jumping-off point, this six-part offshoot builds on their immersion in the porn world to explore broader themes, from camgirls, hook-up apps and the perils of Periscope to the few women porn directors staring down the industry's mind-bogglingly monolithic male gaze.

The episodes are loaded with alarming statistics about the racism, misogyny, misinformation, and sexual reconditioning porn and technology might subject us to, but the co-directors wisely steer clear of moralizing. In HGW: Turned On, it's implicitly acknowledged that porn and technology are ubiquitous and here to stay. The docuseries instead delves into the human dynamics. Whether as performers, participants, or onlookers, HGW's protagonists are left grappling with their technologically mediated encounters. Is a man's long-distance relationship with a camgirl "real" or "fake"? What's a Tinder guy's responsibility to the women he's casually seeing? And should we blame a porn performer for feeding the "degrading creep" and "interracial" content pools if it's a matter of supply/demand?

Rashida Jones, who's faced her share of backlash for railing against what she saw as a worrying conflation of pornography and pop culture in the U.S., directs the Women on Top episode, about a few notable women staking their claim in the X-rated arena. Those who took offense at Rashida's initial comments will find she doesn't advocate an anti-porn or slut-shaming stance at all, but rather aims to unpack why the industry still lags so far behind the broader culture in its displays of female desire. As Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On makes its Netflix debut, Jones, Bauer, and Gradus chatted to i-D about their biggest takeaways from the project.

1. Porn's misogynist tendencies aren't going anywhere...
Since Trump took office and hinted that reproductive rights were in jeopardy, we've seen an inspiring, intersectional coming together of women's movements to denounce archaic attitudes. That hasn't spilled over into porn. Nearly a third of internet porn features acts of aggression, 94% of which are directed at women. In Women on Top, Barcelona-based filmmaker Erika Lust talks of offering an alternative to "punish-fuckings" with her crowdsourced erotica. There's a delightful break from convention in the episode when Lust's shooting with a mainstream porn actor, and he's taken aback upon learning they won't need him to come, as the focus is on her orgasm. Yet Lust talks of being labeled a "feminazi" by some for such creative calls. "Porn is the one place that's immune to any kind of cultural or political criticism," Rashida explains. "You see racism, sexism, abuse, classism, all this stuff that's totally unacceptable in a general societal way, but they are fine under the guise of fantasy — it's protected by the fact that it's somebody's fantasy. We just need to talk about it more, that's the only way to broaden the spectrum."

2. Porn's racism is deep-seated, and often profit-driven.
In the "interracial" scene described above, the director pushes the woman to verbalize how queasy she is at the sight of "that big black cock." Both performers acknowledge they go along with the racial objectification because, well, they benefit from it. To Rashida, that moneymaking instinct is as American as pick-up trucks and spring break benders. "Porn is the most overt manifestation of capitalism," she explains. "If there's money to be made, all bets are off. It doesn't matter if you're tapping into stereotypes or exploiting people, everybody gives up their moral gauge as long as they make money. That's just an American thing; I don't see it changing anytime soon. The interracial rate, where girls are paid a premium for those scenes, has been normalized in such a shocking way. It's going to take performers who say, 'That doesn't make me feel comfortable.' It just goes back to broadening the spectrum of fantasy and what's available, as opposed to trying to stop it from happening."

3. Forget regulation. We need conversation.
Among other disappointing stats, HGW reveals that over 50% of American teens have had two days or less of sexual education at school. "And if young people are getting sufficient sex ed at all, most likely they're not having conversations about the porn they watch," remarks Ronna Gradus. "They're learning very anatomical, biological information. So porn is shaping their sexual scripts. "But don't expect the industry to be regulated anytime soon," Rashida warns. "The internet is everything: it's good, it's bad, it's the worst, it's the best, and there's a lot of shirking of responsibilities at every level. Tech companies, porn companies, everyone's just saying: 'It's not our responsibility. We can't teach you how to use these tools, they're just naturally existing.' Which, of course, is totally untrue. So we need to talk about porn and make it a part of our sexuality, not just this shadowy industry where everything's stigmatized and marginalized," she adds.

4. The future may lie in camming.
Only 3% of people paid for porn in 2016, according to HGW. Suze Randall, Playboy's first female staff photographer back in 1975, best sums up the industry's changing fortunes: "In my day, we would spend three days on a centerfold. Today, my daughter has to do three centerfolds in a day." So what's the future of porn if no one shells out any cash? "People are turning to camming," Rashida notes. "You have control, can do it from your house, you don't have to interact face-to-face or be with other performers. And it does a better job of mimicking intimacy, especially if people pay extra for private time. So I think camming has a huge future, but I don't know… It goes back to whether we as a society can acknowledge that porn is part of our sexuality. If that happens, the industry has a future."

5. How we relate to one another has changed. For better or worse.
In an episode devoted to an on-screen relationship between a Hollywood camgirl and her Australian fan, the love-struck man wonders whether their dynamic is even real. "The distinction between fake and real is kind of up for grabs right now," Rashida says. "Technology is adding to that conflict. I don't want to sound like a nostalgic Luddite because a lot's changed for the better. We've heard stories from people who understood they were gay through watching porn and that made it okay. There are positive things about this freedom around sexuality. The problem is the lack of rules. You can use a dating app to hook up with someone, get married, date casually, and everyone's intentions are a bit different. So the baseline is probably the lowest common denominator — those in it for the game. We have all this access to each other, these ways of communicating, yet we're often not actually communicating with each other." Echoing that point, Jill Bauer adds that HGW participants found it challenging to understand how their engagement with these technologies had affected their social and sexual selves. "These are complex stories, neither black nor white. You can't say technology is bad, and you can't say it's good. We just don't have those finite answers, so the stories ultimately serve to spark a conversation."

"Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On" is available for streaming on Netflix now. 

Credits


Text Michael-Oliver Harding
Photography courtesy Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On / Maxine Pezim