by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus
Almost exactly four years ago we strolled down a bright pink shag carpet and into a barrage of naked bouncing breasts. The breasts were fake but the scene – a convention center filled with porn stars, including Rubber Girl and Ron Jeremy, of course, was as real as it gets. Welcome to Exxxotica Miami Beach, a porn convention brimming with everything you would imagine at such a convention: posing porn stars; make-your-own-porn tutorials, complete with live demonstrations; the Bang Bus van parked at a booth and gawking men toting cameras like lost tourists on their way to Disney World.
Though it sounds like a great excuse, we — Jill, a journalist and Ronna, a Miami Herald staff photographer — actually were there to do research to see whether a story we wanted to report was indeed accurate: Is the porn world truly seeping into mainstream life, and are everyday people idolizing adult film stars?
The genesis of this question arose while Ronna was out on assignment shooting the college club scene in Coconut Grove. Though she was no stranger to a wild dance floor – having gone to the Limelight as a New York City teen – she was staring mouth agape. It wasn’t news to her that many Main Street clubs feature stripper poles. The revelation was that though the pole was being gyrated upon and dollars were being slipped into short shorts, everybody participating seemed to be surprisingly disconnected from what was once a very titillating scene. The coeds seemed to simply be going through the motions as though this was not an unfamiliar sight to behold.
But we were in Miami after all, an epicenter of Brazilian waxing and Botox. So we left for New York City and its surrounding suburbs to focus on what was likely more common across the country – sexualized media a la reality TV, hip hop videos and American Apparel ads. And we modified our question: is sexy the new pretty? Instead of girls wanting to be skinny, have they shifted their focus to being sultry and seductive?
Upon chronicling trends among small town and big city kids, we discovered this: Having pubic hair is considered unattractive and “gross.” Most youngsters know someone who has emailed or texted a naked photo of themselves. Many kids have accidentally or intentionally had their first introduction to sex be via hardcore online porn. Facebook has created an arena where kids compete to be “liked” and constantly worry about what image to portray – much of what was once private is now made public. And the list goes on.
The unexpected revelation was that porn is indeed fewer chain links away from most of us than what we had softened our thesis to reflect. And that’s how we came to cast our trio of characters – we chose Nichole aka Nakita Kash, 32, because her background as a porn star and stripper attracts college girls and housewives to her pole dancing lessons. Laura, 22, undergoes a labia reduction surgery because of a comment her boyfriend once made while comparing her to the Internet porn stars he was used to watching – and her surgeon attests to the fact that this is not an uncommon reason for girls to seek out his services. Winnifred, 12, who says, “We are the pioneers,” is simply a kid navigating a world where technology puts everything at her fingertips. Unbeknownst to some parents, kids must now make judgment calls about things they are not supposed see and that they don’t fully understand because they are not ready to.
During an interview that appears in the film, Winnifred, sitting cross-legged on her kitchen counter, talks about the entrapment of Facebook and says, “We make ourselves seem like we’re down to f—.” We always wondered how that kind of statement could come out of the mouth of an eighth-grader and chalked it up to her urban, liberal sassiness. It wasn’t until very recently that someone pointed out to us that “DTF” is part of the Jersey Shore lexicon.
To see how easily we could connect the dots, we Googled “Jersey Shore” + porn stars and the very first hit revealed photos splashed across the tabloids of Johnny “The Unit” Manfre and his porn star girlfriend who has 198,456 followers on Twitter as of today – so it seems our very first question while strolling Exxotica’s pink shag carpet was not too extreme after all.
Sexy Baby is being shown at Toronto's HotDocs Festival.
Ronna Gradus and Jill Bauer are the Co-directors and Co-producers of the film "Sexy Baby". Bauer is a Hearst and SPJ award-winning journalist and has written for and edited several magazines and newspapers including Esquire, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times. Gradus was a staff photographer at The Miami Herald who covered several assignments in Cuba as well as Hurricane Katrina.