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Sex On Camera: The Narcissism of Pornography

JeremyJonesJun 27, 2018, 12:16:22 PM

Thoughts and emotions raised by the Hot Girls Wanted (2015) documentary


Photography! There is a basic tragic aspect to photographic activity. Taking pictures by camera is invariably an attempt to stop time, arrest the moment, catch the butterfly mid-air. An impossible pursuit. The very act of photography kills the moment and turns the face, the flower, the landscape before the lens into a fading ghost print. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the images of pornography.

The camera is the true agent in pornography. Everything happening in porn takes place in consideration of the camera.

There is poetry in pornography, because there is tragedy in pornography. Like autumn, the most poetic of the four seasons. Because it is the season when leaves die, green fields turn brown, and summer turns wintry cold, it comes across as the most tragic season. Or like "the blue hour" of the day, twilight, when nighttime approaches. The quietly tragic hour. And those who think that 'poetry' is for pale academics with dusty old books are wrong. Poetry comes from the unruly and crazily longing part of us all. Poetry is from the same place that brings us dreams at night.

Why is this important? Because the porn world reveals something about mankind, uncovers important and dangerous sides of the relations between humans – who we are, and what is happening to us in the times we live in, right now. Just like the world’s districts of Red Light. They are among the  sensitive barometers for the world’s development, where changes in world economy, the balance between countries and nations, fluctuations in cultural trends, make themselves felt immediately – and often ahead of other ‘sensors’ like the press and public commentators. Likewise, the porn industry is a ‘sense apparatus’ for everybody. Where are we headed? One of the earliest places to spot signs of that is the porn industry. And, in some respects, i.e. concerning the power and influence of the internet over our culture and society, the porn industry is the canary in the mineshaft.

I have watched porn movies featuring actress Tressa (“Stella May”) after having been made aware of her by the documentary Hot Girls Wanted, the only reason I ever came to hear of her. The documentary upset me same as it has upset so many others since its publication on Netflix in 2015. Until then I was not aware of the extent to which pornography influences lives in today’s world. It started me investigating the whole subject of porn, which had been largely a theoretical reality in my world, so far. Yes, I knew about porn. I had not watched any porn for many years, and never on the internet. The documentary alerted me to this reality in today’s world. That more porn is produced and consumed than ever before in the history of mankind. That we live in times that could be called the Age of Porn.

This present essay takes the Hot Girls Wanted (2015) documentary film featuring Tressa "Stella May" (and the other porn acting girls present in the film) as a starting point for extrapolation. One of the aspects at work in the documentary film – unheeded and at the same time conspicuous – is the narcissistic dimension of the porn 'scene', discernible in the experiences of Tressa "Stella May" and the other youthful 'pro-am' actresses presented in the movie. And this aspect can be interpreted as an index for a larger and vitally important cultural tendency. This is an aspect of reality, discussed (by me, from my position) and translated into a model (a hypothesis based on facts), and employed to set forth an analysis of a general issue in the form of cultural critique.

First some clarification of terms: "Pornography, porn". Porné: Greek for harlot. Porneia: prostitution. Porneia-graphia: the description of prostitution. Pornography – “graphic prostitution”, prostitution in text and image. Porn actress: prostitute actress. Porn industry: industrialized prostitution. And this is confirmed by reality, no matter what porn actors and actresses may think and believe. The one difference between what a porn actress is doing and what any other prostitute does, is the camera. A porn actress is a harlot, performing for the benefit of an audience, today represented by the camera, the true agent of porn. The one decisive power in porn.

Huge parts of the internet are occupied by pornography. A gigantic global red light district in cyberspace. But the porn industry is no originator of cultural trends. It creates nothing. It is only a reflection and a symptom. If porn has become mainstream and still more people consume porn, it means that narcissism is spreading among us. And that means: darkness is spreading among us. What happens here is decisive to the global community, the world culture. And this is the very heart of the problem. Porn is to sex what Donald Trump is to politics. Or what Jerry Springer is to talk shows. Or Infowars to political commentary. Or Breitbart to news journalism. Or what 4chan is to social media. What these cultural phenomena have in common is not "breaking taboos" or "rebellion against norms", but transgressiveness, the vandalising of decency, unquenchable thirst for scandal and the extreme. They are signs of deep despair in human hearts in today’s society. They are heralds of darkness. And they are seeing victory, wind in their sails. They disclose the future. Culture gets more and more pornographic. Society gets more and more “Trumped”. Yes, we are watching a culture in decay, and it is not a pretty sight.

Porn has become mainstream, they say. The consumption of porn no longer carries a stigma. Websites for porn are flourishing on the internet. And young people that are “digital natives” and have no memory of a world without the internet – that is: born in the beginning of the 90’ies or later – do not experience porn as particularly frightening or strange. And therefore they have an easier entrance to porn acting. Today’s young girls have a lower psychological threshold to cross, if they want to become porn actresses. And the practical side of entering porn is also less of a challenge. Where formerly the girl would have to seek up unknown and forbidding milieus to even gain information about the porn industry, today she can look it up on the internet, respond to an advertisement, or click her way through a questionnaire on a website.

How do you persuade very young girls to show up for the first ‘audition’ to demonstrate their skills at sucking dick and letting out sham screams of faked orgasms as they get fucked by a total stranger with a camera in hand? How do you persuade anyone into anything? By “brainwashing”? By taking over their minds and add foreign lines of thinking into their mental set-up? No. That cannot be done. You do it by addressing something they have inside already. By appealing to longings, needs and feelings that are already there, and then lead them in the direction you want. Perhaps not unlike military recruiting campaigns. They target young guys the same age in the same manner: Do you want adventure? Do you want to be a real man/woman? And would you like to get paid for it? Then join the army. Or the porn industry.

Any girl, even the good mannered girl of conservative upbringing, have a promiscuous she-animal inside. And any young man, even the nice and quiet one, have a killer inside. And everybody is drawn to the abyss, fascinated by the dark. This is the gateway of the recruiter. This is where persuasion finds an opening.

I have been looking for research into the possible narcissism of porn actors and actresses. In vain. There seems not to be any scientific inquiries into this particular form of self-degradation together with exposure of a false desirable self, the core dynamic of narcissism. The very problem that constitutes narcissism.

As I watch porn movies with Tressa “Stella May”, I see a young girl that has been persuaded and lured by the prospect of money and fame. I also see something that seems like a sick dark need in action. Something akin to the cold passionless craving of the junkie. Is this girl sexually aroused? No. A woman truly filled with sexual desire will not make ostentatious screams and shrieks. She falls silent and introverted until orgasm approaches. – Is this girl fired by another need? Yes. She seems aglow with the pleasure of self-exposure, being an object of desire, subjected to lecherous looks via the camera. An insatiable need, because it is without warmth and based on a want in her mind, a hole in her heart. It seems like self-hatred, the will and wish to disgrace herself. Something that looks like an inextinguishable need for the eyes of others. Not their love, but their hunger. She appears to be an empty greed appealing to their greedy emptiness.

Take a close and thoughtful look at this video recording. And see what I mean. This is “Stella May”, the false self of Tressa, in action. Is this girl insecure in the art of self-exposure? Is this what a girl looks like, when she has been lured into a place and a position she did not expect and does not like? Judge for yourself by clicking on this link which will lead you to one of her early 'shoots'.

What’s that you say? Porn movies present fiction and not the real thing? The girl we see in this video is taking directions? Everything she does is pretense for the camera? Yes, indeed. But I see her take directions - with a whole lot of gusto. Actually with discernible and deep personal enthusiasm. And why is she taking this particular kind of directions in the first place?

The porn industry is one big sustained orgy of narcissism. Porn is narcissism with an erection, so to say. What then characterizes narcissistic behavior? What should we look for if we want to detect narcissism in a person? It is too large a subject for this essay to cover fully, so we will limit ourselves to some key points, relevant to our inquiry. The narcissist reveals his or her true nature by the following traits:

- Seeks to be seen, observed, noticed. Craves the limelight, center stage.

- A bodily attitude of mystique, superiority, dominance.

- Lingering penetrating eye contact.

- A preference for distance and lack of genuine intimacy.

- Will participate in common amusement but from a position of superior condescendence.

- Takes an observer’s position, does not interfere.

- Seeks to be part of the group, but as a ‘special member’.

- Is essentially a ‘lone wolf’.

- Is short on empathy.

- Prefers ‘show off’ before substance.

- Talks much and often about him- or herself without inhibition.

Female narcissists often have traits like:

- Extreme emphasis on body and physical appearance.

- Adopts the role of sexpot. Emphasizes her sexuality.

All narcissists, male and female, have these characteristics:

- Follows traditional social norms even when apparently rebelling against them.

- Seeks punishment and therefore often plays ‘bad boy’ or ‘bad girl’.

Now you go through this list as you watch a porn movie. Any porn movie. And check the points one by one if the behavior you are watching fits the description. (Some points may present a problem in this respect. I. e.: Do they keep a distance to each other? Do they shun intimacy? Yes they do. They fuck like machines, not humans. They kiss like cannibals, not lovers. They apparently get close, but not for real. And do they talk of themselves? They in fact don’t talk much at all. But they communicate by gesture and body language, and their communications are me, me and more me.) Yes, I know I am talking about the end product, the finished film, after much cutting and editing of raw footage. I know the situation on set is quite different. That there are breaks, relaxed talk and showers. We still need to consider exactly the end product, because that is what porn is aiming at. The end product shows us where porn leads us.

Porn movies display a behavior in which no-one, absolutely nobody, will indulge, unless something has gone seriously wrong, money or no money. This is too extreme, too brutal and too outlandish to be natural. And if new generations of young people have become desensitized to pornography due to the internet and seek entrance to the porn industry in increasing numbers, something’s wrong in society. If porn actors and actresses were desperately poor (meaning at risk of hunger or homelessness for want of money) we could safely accept that their (primary and real) reason is financial. But they are not. They may be in financial distress, and yes, poor enough for the promise of money to be an effective alibi. But they do not face abject desperate poverty.

Not that economical reasons do not play their part. As automation closes doors in the jobs market, the market for prostitution (with or without camera) will grow. The decay of higher education (with still increasing numbers of students and therefore lower quality – and in the USA: rising student debts) will contribute to this. And the impoverishment of our planet as the climate changes. And the onslaught of financial crisis. They all work together at making the porn industry appear to be a viable way out.

And then there is the other reason presented again and again by porn starlets at official events: “I love sex, therefore I became a porn actress!” This is a fake explanation, so transparent it defies debate. Like I love police work. So I joined the Keystone Cops. Unless, of course, this "I love sex" is a verbal code for another longing, dark and unacknowledged, but as compelling and as insatiable as the need for love. And therefore easily confused with an appetite for sex by the one suffering from it.

There is a clear and perceptible distance between the youthful, naïve, and insecure small town girl Tressa we meet in the documentary, and the young porn starlet "Stella May" acting with professional sense of detail and a discernable awareness of the finer points of male desire in the porn flicks she acted in during her brief stint with the industry. In fact, it is the very presence of her person in two lines of public movie genres, documentary (examining Tressa, the real self) and pornographic (presenting “Stella May”, the false self), that makes her worthwhile as a real-life example in an essay like this.

In the documentary her real self comes out as a rather simple but sound girl of 19 from Texas, who is said to be without any genuine knowledge of adult entertainment. (While the very same documentary also states that she belongs to a generation of kids that have been saturated with free internet pornography since their early teens.)

The actual porn movies featuring “Stella May” – Tressa’s false public self – tell a different story. Naked or semi-naked in front of the camera, Tressa proves herself in no way naïve concerning the employment of sexy little-girl voice, slurping lecherous sounds, lingering eyes and female hands exploring trembling skin. She engages in gross sexual acts (even from her very first feature film with two muscular males simultaneously) with great confidence and calm in her eyes. She appears to a high degree in line with the situation from the very first shoots.

Just watch this 8 minutes ‘gonzo’ movie, a rather run-of-the-mill production, but one that displays the pornographic talent of Tressa, her unashamed command of sexual acting.

How did she acquire this kind of expertise in this particular field? By interested habitual watching of porn movies, perhaps? And how did she get this keen sense of appropriate performative porn ways from the very start of her career? Was that because she, maybe for years previously, felt drawn to life as a porn actress, and it was constantly on her mind?

In other words: there may be deeper and darker reasons behind youthful Tressa’s departure from small town Texas to big city Miami soon after her graduation from high school, following the call of a Craigslist advertisement from a porn recruiter. Reasons she does not talk about and the documentary pays no attention to. Tenebrosity in a young girl’s heart. The bite of the vampire, a darkness that fell upon her, and she never knew from where. Narcissism. – A different and much more sinister and complicated story than the ‘victim of a manipulative industry’ narrative we are served in Hot Girls Wanted.

The immediate storyline of the documentary film is a tale following a stereotyped pattern of 'return to normalcy', and it goes something like this: – Young inexperienced Tressa suddenly leaves her hometown in Texas without further notice, taking a flight to Miami after finding an advertisement on the internet, calling for “hot girls” to do modeling. (We are led to believe that she did not fully know what she would be doing in Miami – by her own remark “It didn’t hit me before I got on the plane …” She is cut midsentence, and we never get to hear the rest of it. So we actually do not know what exactly ‘hit’ her.) At first she takes to her new life in the agent’s house with other porn models. But gradually she loses her enthusiasm due to hardships – and eventually her love for parents and boyfriend convinces her to return to her old life in her hometown to take up a less exciting but also more stable life of normal work. And normal togetherness with the young man who becomes her fiancé. A modern version of an ancient story, the parable of the Prodigal Son.

This is the short rendition of the narrative the audience believes it has watched as the film ends. A story built upon time-tested stereotyped motives – the all-american cheerleader (icon of youthful health), the small town as a paradisiacal habitat of healthy regular folks versus the big city, the place of depravity and temptation. Young country girl led astray and lured into sin by sly city pimp, to be rescued by the man that truly loves her. Because love always wins in the end. Quite a collection of old romantic motives.

But a different story of Tressa “Stella May” – maybe closer to truth – can be deduced from the Hot Girls Wanted documentary, together with her porn films. It is like this: – High school cheerleader Tressa had (like most of her generation) acquainted herself with pornography on the internet from an early age. Like other people, she had strong and conflicting emotions around porn, attraction and abhorrence, fear and fascination. Like most others, she kept it a secret that she was watching porn – especially to people with moral authority, like mom and dad and schoolteachers. Unlike many others – those from previous generations – Tressa, being of the 'Millennials', the first digital native generation, felt no personal scandal or sensationalism towards porn. No inner shame. No “bad conscience”. On the contrary – to her private self, porn may have held an element of glamourous rebellion. Porn may have come to look like one of life’s exiting possibilities for the daring and the adventurous.

So when Tressa got the chance it was easy for her to step into the porn industry. And she was in no doubt as to what the job demanded of her. In her room she left jotted notes detailing the whats and the hows of the action on the porn set. When she got into the action, she did so in a way that suggests previous private rehearsal and mental preparation. Even her earliest porn shoots show a girl with a talent for and a wish to perform and expose.

However, the new world of money and instant fame on social media did not last long. Just about two to three months. Then bookings from porn producers began to wane. The reason was first of all the nature of the industry – it seeks new faces, new girls obsessively, because that is what the audience craves.

A second reason may have been Tressa’s physical appearance. She was a pretty girl and cute. Her looks were just not spot-on for a longer career in porn. She was not busty enough.

And Tressa made a mistake that no model, adult or otherwise, can afford to make. She got careless with her looks. She added to her body fat so much it began to show. She was warned by her agent: “Get smaller!” Later we see her nibbling at a slice of handheld pizza as she informs her boyfriend that she has accepted something she doesn’t like – a booking for a bondage shoot. Bookings had become rarer, and so had the money. Now life as a porn actress got less fun, more tough and less glamourous.

Not that she just gave in and gave up easily. She fought hard for her newly won position as a porn starlet. She compromised her standards and agreed to act in degrading niche productions. She knelt and bowed down her head and licked up her own vomit from the floor. Just to stay in porn.

Until then, before times got harder for Tressa, she expressed herself in positive terms about her life as an adult movie actress: “I can see myself doing this in ten years.” And later: “This is what I love to do …” The context of the latter statement was her consternated mother: "If she loves me, she will accept what makes me happy." No commentator seems to have noticed this small but significant part of the story – that Tressa from the outset actually liked doing porn and talked about it as something that mattered deeply to her. Something that brought her happiness.

Only after the unfortunate downturn of her career did she get ripe for persuasion from mum and boyfriend to leave the industry. You see, in order to persuade somebody, you must appeal to something they have inside already. The documentary presents events as if it was parents and boyfriend who talked her into quitting porn, and it is not untrue. It just became true after Tressa had been worn down by the darker sides of the porn industry. After the narcissistic supply got scarcer.

The industry rejected Tressa first. Then it tolerated her for some time, if she was willing to accept degrading and grossly humiliating acted scenes resembling a sexual penal farm in Belgian Congo. Which she did for a while. Then she gave up and left the porn industry under strong emotional incentive from her near and dear ones. But she expressed sorrow at the loss of the environment she left in Miami, the friends and the puppy dog in the house of agent Riley. The break with the porn industry carried emotional loss to Tressa.

Let me make it clear: I do not believe that Tressa the person has a full-fledged narcissistic personality disorder. In fact, there is clear evidence that she doesn’t and couldn’t have that. (Just the fact that she shows real empathy for others than herself in the documentary – where her real self is out in the open – is proof of this.) But narcissism played a decisive role in her conduct with porn. You could say that young Tressa became a victim of the cultural narcissism of her time and day. For the period that she was part of the porn industry, she took it to heart and behaved accordingly. She acted just like a narcissist.

However, the interesting thing is not the possible narcissism of a teenage girl from Texas. The interesting questions are such as: Are millennials more narcissistic than previous generations? Do we live in an era with more narcissists? Is our time producing narcissism more than other eras? Is the adult entertainment industry we see now a harbinger of coming things? Will young people of the future, right after school, flock to the red light of porn and prostitution even more than now?

Tressa is now back in small town Texas, working at menial jobs, attending college, fighting weight, seeking love. Living a normal life. She is reticent on social media and posts very little. What she posts is constant in offering a markedly upbeat facade, selfies featuring radiant smiles, and brief texts of general positivity. However, years later her Instagram (before being deleted) connected to a line of other Instagram accounts from her former porn associates and producers, alongside friends and family, maybe suggesting a deeper, lasting attachment to her 'season in Miami'. She has given just one single interview (July 2015) in which she makes short and somewhat defiant statements like this, in answer to the question "Do you regret working in the adult film industry at all?"

“I don’t regret going into the industry. If I wouldn’t have made that one choice of getting on the plane (to residency with agent), I wouldn’t have met Kendall. I know what you are probably thinking, “Why go through all of that trouble, stress and SHIT?” I would honestly do it over again, just to be with Kendall. Kendall is my other half and my best friend.”

Tressa is sending a message: I am happy, I refuse to be a victim, spend your pity elsewhere, I claim my right to live a happy ordinary life even if I had a recent fling with porn. Tressa makes a point of refuting tragedy, the sorrowful shadow of porn – and thereby indirectly affirming exactly that.

Tressa did nothing wrong when she took her 'walk on the wild side' with the porn industry. She did nothing illegal, and she didn't abuse anybody. She did however step into areas of dark and eerily poetic forces, places where mysterious energies are at work and strange sick longings are active.

Tressa of Texas is interesting as an example of what may be more typical than we like to know. Will there be more youngsters like Tressa – who may have thought of her escape into porn for longer time in advance than she admits, may have spent time and energy dreaming of a career as a porn princess even as she was still a high school kid, and may have been rehearsing appropriate sounds and moves when she was alone in her room? And who took the ticket to Miami as soon as possible, maybe full knowing what the “hot girls” were wanted for?



Further random notes on reflection:

The ‘sisterhood’ among the porn actresses residing in the agent’s Miami house, as seen in the Hot Girls Wanted documentary, the obviously close friendship, banter and communal fun – does that express an equivalent to ‘men’s country club’ for the girls? A space for bonding between individuals at risk? Like between soldiers at war?

“I did it for the money” is the porn actress’s stated reason after porn, like the soldier’s “I did it out of duty, for my country” after the war and after the discharge. When in fact a more complete answer might be: I did it for the money, yes, but I also did it for the dare, for the adventure, to get away from a humdrum boring ordinary life, and I did it because I wanted to get to the edge, to face the darkness. To come to terms with the hidden and forbidden side of myself.

It would abase a porn actress – and it would exalt a soldier – if we recognize the adventure aspect of their acts – because she is in want of social validation and acceptance, whereas he has plenty. If we can call death-courting soldiers heroes, why can we not call porn girls risk-taking adventuresses? – individuals that ventured to the edge in a way that makes life seem more interesting (“exciting”) and therefore more worthwhile to everybody?

Was the actual root cause of Alyssa Funke’s suicide that there was no social validity towards her porn activities? (Alyssa Funke was a young woman that killed herself in 2014 after being taunted by former schoolmates when her porn videos were published.)

Death and resurrection – to surrender yourself and regain yourself, like a soldier at war – to turn yourself over as “processed meat” (the expression of Rachel “Ava Taylor” in the documentary) and then return as a purified, experienced, mature individual. Is that what they do, the porn girls? – maybe in order to become women in the dangerous been-there-done-that sense? Like homecoming soldiers from the battlefields? The age of 18-19 is a critical point in our development from youngster to adult woman or man in our personal sexual identity. And at the same time it is an age where humans have a feeling of immortality that may be necessary to ‘have a tailwind’ so we dare go out and go further than we might otherwise.

What is the deep reason? “Starting in a hollowed log of wood — some thousand miles up a river, with an infinitesimal prospect of returning! I ask myself 'Why?' and the only echo is 'damned fool!... the Devil drives,” said Sir Richard Burton. Today we would tend to say “blind and dark forces are taking over” – meaning forces unknown to ourselves. And dark and blind forces are only dark and blind because we do not know them.

“How can you sell yourself?” is a commonly asked question to the porn actress. But is the secret purpose exactly to ‘sell oneself’, lose yourself, in order to regain oneself as an experienced, mature, ‘initiated’ personality? Something the porn girl may have a hard time admitting or even know about herself?

The porn girls’s exploration of their particular field is unique to women, and will always be a mystery to men. Men can only surmise the reasons by comparing with our own similar or adequate fields of experience.



"Hot Girls Wanted” 2015 produced by Rashida Jones. Available on Netflix


Reference: This 2 hours long video explains many aspects of the subject of this article: Narcissism and Sexuality

And this video throws a light into it also: The Thot Process 


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