Those who’ve been reading for a while might know I’m a fan of all things sex tech. From sex robots to customisable toys to sex tech hackathons, although I’m no tech expert I will happily lay claim to the title ‘enthusiastic amateur.’ And one of the things I have longed for, for ages, is a Black-Mirror-style exploration of the ways in which tech is seeping into our sex lives. Recently someone sent me a screener link for an awesome film that does exactly that, and it’s fucking exceptional. Let me tell you a little bit about Cam.
Cam – Black Mirror meets Chaturbate
Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber have created a film that’s simultaneously utterly creepy and intensely relatable. In ‘Cam‘ – which dropped on Netflix today – Lola is a cam performer who is working to get to the top of the leaderboard on the site FreeGirlsLive. She’s got bags of hustle: taking notes on which shows have worked and which haven’t, making sure to keep her most generous tippers sweet, and constantly grinding out more creative ideas to try and squeeze out tips and bump herself further up the rankings. You don’t need to be a cam performer to recognise the parallels between Lola’s life and that of anyone else who seeks recognition – or money – online. Tech is both a tool and an enemy, because if you don’t keep going you’ll start to drop in the rankings, and then where will you be?
Then one day, out of the blue, Lola gets locked out of her account, and a creepy doppelganger takes over her stream. On the phone to the FreeGirlsLive support team, she tries to explain to them that the person currently ‘live’ on cam might look like her and talk like her, but it’s not her. She can’t get back in. She’s now been shoved into the role of observer – typing into the chatroom to try and persuade people that the person on screen isn’t her.
I won’t tell you any more about it, because spoilers, but if you like Black Mirror you will almost certainly love this (Dan from Engadget has gone into more depth about the creepy tech angle). What’s more, as Isa is an ex-cam-performer herself, the film gives insight into what it’s actually like to work on cam, without ever falling into the ‘saviour’ tropes that are so common in art made about sex work, when no sex workers themselves are involved. There is no pity-party for the fact of the work itself, but there’s more nuanced insight into the ups and downs, as well as some witty and brilliant swipes at sex-work-stigma tropes. Watch it, and tell me you don’t also cackle with glee when Isa tells her Mum “but that girl on the screen… she’s not me!”
Check it out on Netflix this weekend, then tell all your mates about it. It’s creepy and funny and clever and insightful and all that good stuff. I am a bit gutted that I have already seen it, because it’s one of those I’d quite like to wipe from my mind so that when I watch it again I can get the same shivers I got when I first saw it.
Why I’m writing about Cam
I know, I know! I almost never write about TV/films, and I certainly am not knowledgeable enough about culture to write what would count as a ‘review.’ But a very lovely PR person got in touch with me a while ago to send me the screener link, and honestly there couldn’t have been anything better designed to hit my ‘ooh this looks awesome!’ buttons. I’m not getting paid to write about it or anything, I am mostly driven by intense frustration at myself because I usually end up writing about amazing shows and TV and art long after the launch date has been and gone, thus missing the boat, and occasionally being too late for you lot to even see it.
But I want to support amazing art made by sex workers, especially in light of the absolutely terrible art that’s often made about sex workers. For example, the art project in Leeds which did the rounds on my Twitter timeline this week, which aims to ‘highlight issues’ with the managed approach being taken to sex work in that area. It’s essentially a bunch of rubbish that’s been discarded by sex workers, that a ‘concerned resident’ has turned into creepy-looking dolls. Apparently the artist wants to ‘start conversations’ and ‘allow people to question prostitution’… in a way that is not only dangerous (as explained brilliantly by Kate Lister), it’s also a message that every single one of us will have heard before, a thousand times. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by excellent plays and films recently, but this sort of stuff leaves me cold. The only questions it prompts me to ask is ‘how often will people rehash the same flawed narrative, while pretending they’re bold and unique?’
Cam is a genuinely excellent thriller, which tells a creepy story interwoven with some amazing behind-the-scenes stuff about camming. The only other sex-work-based thing I’ve seen recently that compares to it in terms of sheer entertainment value is the amazing one-woman show Fuck You Pay Me. Because I am annoying, and a twat, and ridiculously disorganised, I went to see this on the last night it was running in London so I couldn’t write about it and make all of you go. I don’t know if there will be any more performances, though you should follow @fypmshow on Twitter and keep an eye out in case the show does run again. It’s written and performed by Joanna Nastari, who plays Bea – a stripper who is having a good/bad/good/terrible/magical/interesting day. The show presents some very mundane aspects of stripping, and some more interesting bits, and weaves them together in a way that persuades you stripping is basically akin to magic. Bea seems to enjoy her job, and be bored by it, frustrated by it and proud of it in equal measure. It takes a powerful swipe at those who would seek to ‘save’ her from her work, and end up just getting in her way, and it utterly rejects the idea that those in sex work must either be floating on a cloud of delighted empowerment or scraping in the gutter of shame, misery and defeat. I know it’s finished the run, but keep an eye out for it – and for Joanna Nastari – in other productions, because she’s fucking great. Check out the Sex Workers’ Opera too (I wrote about that show here).
Oh, and watch Cam. If you enjoy creepy dystopian sex tech stories, I guarantee you will love it.