Banter M, Issue 2

In this issue of Banter M: How Ayahuasca Destroyed My Ego and Brought Me Back Home – Ben Cohen continues his incredible psychedelic journey into the heart of PeruHow Caitlyn Jenner Finally Humanized the Kardashians – Jamie Frevele on how Caitlyn Jenner achieved the impossibleThe Republicans Have to Stop Talking About Sexuality and Rape – Bob Cesca on the GOP’s amazing self destruction when it comes to women’s rights and sexualityThe Girl Next Door – Chez Pazienza takes a look at the new Netflix d

 

In this issue of Banter M:

How Ayahuasca Destroyed My Ego and Brought Me Back Home – Ben Cohen continues his incredible psychedelic journey into the heart of Peru

How Caitlyn Jenner Finally Humanized the Kardashians – Jamie Frevele on how Caitlyn Jenner achieved the impossible

The Republicans Have to Stop Talking About Sexuality and Rape – Bob Cesca on the GOP’s amazing self destruction when it comes to women’s rights and sexuality

The Girl Next Door – Chez Pazienza takes a look at the new Netflix documentaryHot Girls Wanted, an examination of the amateur porn industry

 

How Ayahuasca Destroyed My Ego and Brought Me Back Home

by Ben Cohen

(Continued from part 1 – Why Psychedelics Change Everything)

Arriving in Pucallpa, a small jungle city on the banks of the Ucayali River in Peru, I felt confident that I would be able to handle Ayahuasca in much the same way I had Magic Mushrooms. Not only was I confident, I was quite excited to have another mystical experience explore my consciousness. Despite some quite serious concern from loved ones, I felt I knew what I was getting into was emotionally prepared to deal with whatever ‘Mother Ayahuasca’ wanted to show me.

My good friend Sean, who had joined me on my journey to Peru, was slightly more cautious about it, and as we waited at the humid airport to be picked up by the staff of the Nimea Kaya resort, he relayed some fears he had about the plant changing his personality. “I’m pretty happy as it is,” he said several times. “I’m not sure I need to fix anything.” Given my experience with mushrooms and extensive reading on Ayahuasca, I felt confident in allaying his worries, assuring him that it would be a positive experience. “If it’s anything like mushrooms, it will be the greatest experience you’ll ever have,” I said boldly. Sean did not seem entirely convinced.

We were met by Jill, the owner of the Nimea Kaya retreat, and Sylvie, one of the leading staff members at the airport, and after some informal chit chat over a cold glass of exotic fruit juice, they took a group of the random misfits who had arrived that morning through Pucallpa and into the retreat that lay on the outskirts of the city. Pucallpa is a dirty, swelteringly hot city that relies mostly on the lumber trade and petroleum exploration, while the surrounding jungle is incredibly green and beautiful — a contrast that is quite shocking as you move from one area to another. The Nimea Kaya resort sits on 25 acres of rainforest that is literally bursting with life. With wooden huts scattered around the ground, it looked like a yoga retreat more than anything else.

On the first day at the retreat, the staff called us together to welcome us properly and get to know us. We also had to participate in a New Agey style ‘Heart Circle’ session in the Maloka (the tent where ceremony is done) that involved dancing and getting uncomfortably close to the other guests. Sean, a beer swilling Aussie bloke who spent much of his life in the Australian outback, lasted about 5 minutes as we danced awkwardly in the jungle and did an exercise that consisted of placing our hands on each other’s hearts as a symbol of trust. I did my best to go with it, but I confess that I did feel incredibly awkward when sitting in front of another guest I’d met only hours before and being told to stare into his eyes for over a minute. But I figured there had to be a reason why we were being encouraged to get very comfortable with each other and I worked hard on not breaking into laughter.

The city of Pucallpa

There was a lot of chatter about organic food, alternative healing, and yoga type spirituality amongst the staff and other guests at the retreat, and I remember thinking “I’ve got another 9 days of this….”

Later in the day, we took part in stripping the Ayahuasca vines in order to brew them with Chacruna leaves (the unique combination that allows the body to absorb DMT over a period of hours) , and after chatting with some of the other guests I decided that while they all seemed like very nice people, there was little I had in common with them.

As the week progressed however, I was to learn that not only was our awkward ‘Heart Circle’ session vital for our psychological survival, but the sense of ‘separateness’ I felt about the group was just a negative manifestation of my ego – an ego that would take the mother of all batterings. The group would bond in an incredibly intense and moving way as we allowed Mother Ayahuasca to work through us, we would become lifelong Ayahuasca brother and sisters.

The First Night

On the first night of ceremony, I got to the Maloka armed with a flashlight and a blanket early to secure a spot I felt comfortable in. The Shamans, a couple from a nearby Shipibo village, had already settled and were preparing for the night to begin. A few of the other guests were there and we chatted casually as we waited for the staff to appear. 30 minutes later, we were ready to go.

The lights were turned off and some candles lit on a table in the center of the room with small shot sized glasses and a collection of crystals. The staff came in dressed in white and welcomed us to ceremony. They came round one by one and brushed us down (or ’smudged’ us) with burning Sage, another sacred plant said to clear negative energies.They then offered us ‘mapacho’, a natural tobacco said to have healing and visionary properties accessible through puffing (but not inhaling). A tobacco novice, I took a couple of puffs, spluttered and quickly stubbed it out in the sick buckets laid out next to our mattresses.

After the smudging and the mapacho, we were then offered the Ayahuasca ‘tea’ – the thick brown liquid that had been brewed continuously for four days. I took the glass and downed it as quickly as I could, almost gagging on the disgustingly pungent brew that tasted like a mixture of sweet, rotting fruit and tree bark. I sat back on my mattress and waited for the effects to kick in. Having no idea what to expect, I was completely calm and settled into the noises of the surrounding jungle and the ambience of the dimly lit Maloka.

The Alien

After about 30 minutes, I started to see some morphing patterns that looked like small creatures, and felt some movement in my bowels. Still calm, I accepted this as the beginning of the trip and tried to make myself more comfortable as I closed my eyes to experience it fully. As soon as my eyelids closed, I was catapulted into a completely alternate reality and came face to face with an alien being with gigantic probes as hands. Completely aware of what was happening, I began to seriously panic. What in God’s name was this, and what had I just taken?

While staring at this apparently soulless, grey alien being, the small creatures I had seen before had become fully alive in this alternate dimension and were entering my body and rifling through my stomach. To my utter horror, I then saw my body lifted into space while the alien began to probe me. From witnessing this from a third person perspective, I was transported into my own spine as the probes spliced into my body, and I was shown in great detail tender points that only I know about. This alien (or whatever it was) was seemingly completely aware that I suffered from the pain condition fibromyalgia. The experience was so incredibly real that at first, I was too shocked to do anything. Whatever was going through my body knew me better than I knew myself, and my rational mind felt on the brink of complete collapse. How on earth was this happening? The alien did not seem loving or cruel, just matter of fact, like a doctor performing a routine surgery on an unidentified patient — a demeanor that made it all the more unsettling.

At this point I completely lost the plot and tried to fight my way back to reality. The more I tried, the more this supernatural ‘intelligence’ began to amplify my fibromyalgia pain with a force that was utterly overwhelming. Then began a brutal war between what I learned to be my ego, and this new reality that was overwhelmingly asserting itself. I opened my eyes to see if this alien reality would go away, but instead I was confronted with shape shifting, luminescent entities moving in a pulsating matrix that was once the Maloka. This was frankly far too much for my poor Western mind to comprehend, and I descended into a dark abyss of fear and terrifying confusion. My stomach then began to feel like it was being wrung out, and I vomited violently several times. As I wretched, if felt like toxic energy was being released – the harder the purging, the cleaner I felt. Every time I purged brought a brief feeling of relief, but the pressure in my stomach became to wretch became so strong that I flipped over in a summersault. I later found out that the staff had to pin me down, but I can only recall plunging back into this other world where I had no control over anything.

A while later, unable to emotionally or psychologically handle what was happening to me, I began banging on the floor so that the staff would come and help. I remember crying out “I need help. Help me. Help me.” I could hear voices coming towards me, but my sense of time and space were so confused I couldn’t tell who it was or what they were saying to me.

As the sheer physicality of it progressed, I began to develop the sensation that I was being physically reattached to some sort of living root system that I had once been a part of, and was now almost completely alien to. I was being cleaned out from head to toe, and completely unable to control my body – -a process that little by little I was succumbing to despite my monumental efforts to resist it.

As I tried to come to when talking to whoever came to help me in the depths of my despair, I became vaguely aware of other people in the room were pulsating bits of energy, some of whom seemed less vibrant than others. I started to see those with less energy as being ‘dead’ or at least very sick, surrounded by a healing energy that was working to bring us back to this engulfing root system we all seemed to be a part of. I could see the healing energy, but I could not access it. The staff member helped me purge more and, I think, tried to encourage me to breathe properly. It remember it helping somewhat, but I was so disoriented and distressed that I continued having breathing difficulties as the night went on.

To alleviate the extreme discomfort I was in, I tried relaxing and breathing, but a radiating force and a pulsating noise in my head got louder and louder no matter what I did. The force would start in my chest, the force would radiate throughout my body, reminding me that I was not in charge, that Mother Ayahuasca — or whatever it was — was doing its work and would finish when she was done with the job.

I tossed and turned, trying to get the pulsations and noise to calm down, but I was stuck in a never ending cycle of pain and discomfort where everything I tried wasn’t quite enough to relieve myself. I had incredible visions, scenes that were far more real than reality, and was overwhelmed by the extraordinary colors and patterns that seemed to be gateways into alternate dimensions that I was thrust in and out of. I remember seeing a sea of liquid gold that was so beautiful and detailed that I knew, at least at that moment, that what we perceive to be every day reality is merely a simulacrum of the “true” reality — and a poor one at that. The other visions were less visually precise, but more physically affecting as I felt my body being pushed and pulled from the inside out. The overall effect was to take apart my entire sense of self, or ‘ego’, that was desperate to find some semblance of normality.

Ego Death

Ayahuasca broke me in so many ways that night that I was sure I was going to die. I didn’t know whether it would be in the physical or spiritual sense of the word, but I was sure at several points that Ben Cohen was not going to exist for much longer. I could not believe that something this powerful could actually exist, that there was this entirely new reality that was almost completely alien.

After what seemed to be the millionth time that my entire concept of self was shattered into a million pieces, my will to fight finally seemed to dissolve into nothingness as the pain became unbearable and my energy to cling to reality too exhausting. Suddenly, the pulsating force in my body disappeared along with the pressure in my head, and I was catapulted into a new dimension of complete peace and “knowingness”. I realized then that I could hear the “Icaros” coming from the Shamans – the healing songs sung to protect the space and invite positive spirits into the ceremony. I remember the distinct feeling that I could only hold onto this new blissful realm if I kept my focus on the Icaros and synced with its rhythm – a rhythm that appeared to be a sort of language that generated reality — or our reality — itself.

One of the staff members came to ask me how I was doing, and still diving in and out of different dimensions, I babbled some nonsense about what I had seen. Amazingly, she seemed to understand exactly what I was saying, making me realize that she had gone through this before many times and knew precisely what I meant. As my brain began to settle, I had the profound realization that I had been connected back into Mother Nature in the most intense way possible, and she had started the long process of bringing me back into her rhythm, away from the madness of our civilization and culture that has severed us from her long ago. The next couple of hours were incredibly serene as I sat outside with Sean and had a cup of Coco tea and discussed our experiences. While somewhat shell shocked from the ordeal, I understood that it had given me exactly what I needed, and exactly what I could take in order for it to work. Sean had had a totally different experience to mine and had kept his eyes open the whole time, and he told me of the profound realizations and visions he experienced. “I’ve got it all worked out mate,” he told me. “I saw visions about my life, what was holding me back, and what I need to do to move on,” he continued, pointing to the stars where he then tried to explain the vision of himself as an eagle. My head still swimming, I couldn’t understand how we could have had such different experiences. Sean had had no alternate reality shatter this one, no visiting aliens, and no purging. Instead, he’d had a great time and turned into an eagle.

As I was to learn later however, Ayahuasca meters out its message in very different ways depending on what the patient needs to see.

The Day After

After sleeping for several hours and well into the afternoon, I made my way down to the kitchen from my room to hopefully find someone to trade stories with. There were several guests there and we began to learn about each others experiences. I listened intently as the majority regaled amazing visions, profound healing, and a new sense of spirituality. Only two or three people had had experiences like mine, and I listened to their journeys into a dark abyss they all thought they’d never return from.

“That was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had,” said one of them, ghostly white from the experience. “It was just pure death. Nothingness and death.”

Although I empathized greatly with him, I did feel somewhat glad that I hadn’t been alone in my prolonged misery.

From speaking with the other guests, I found out just how badly I had reacted to the medicine as the other guests told me I had been shouting and done a fairly impressive sommersault (a fact I had been dimly aware of). The girl who had been next to me during ceremony told me she had been really concerned at how fast I’d gone under and how violently I reacted to it. Apparently the staff had carried me to the the back of the Maloka so I wouldn’t disturb the other guests (thus explaining why I came to in a completely different place).

My body felt remarkably good though – refreshed and cleansed, although physically tired. I actually looked forward to the vegan food on offer at the retreat, and the thought of meat, alcohol, or sugar made me feel ill. As I tucked into a cucumber salad and fruit smoothie, my mind was still racing to get some sort of perspective on what had happened the night before.

“How do you feel now you’ve been back in reality for a few hours?” one of the male guests asked me at the lunch table.

“Pretty out of it,” I replied. “I’m still trying to figure out whether this reality is real, or the Ayahuasca state was”.

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “You’ll get to ask Ayahuasca about that tomorrow night”.

Fuck. I had forgotten that I had signed on to do another three ceremonies.

A sense of sheer dread crept over me and I wondered out loud whether I could handle going in again.

“It usually gets much better after the first ceremony,” said one the staff members eating with us. “She should be much kinder.”

It turned out mother Ayahuasca was not kinder to me the next night, and my journey had really only just begun. Again.

For more information about the Nimea Kaya retreat, go

 

How Caitlyn Jenner Finally Humanized the Kardashians

by Jamie Frevele

It’s not easy to admit this, but I watched Keeping Up With the Kardashians recently. I have railed against this show to people, saying it’s pointless, all the Kardashians and Jenners are pointless, and the fact that people disagree with this is infuriating to me. None of them have deserved to be famous, except for Bruce Jenner, who was an Olympic athlete and absolutely deserved recognition.

But ironically (or not), it was Bruce Jenner who finally gave the Kardashians a reason to exist. Because now, we have not just been watching a bunch of vapid D-listers with no reason to be around cameras. We’ve been watching a family teach the world what it’s like to love someone who is transgender. Dealing with that kind of transition, both that of the transgendered person and the adjustment being undertaken by that person’s family and loved ones, is not easy for any kind of person — rich, poor, middle class, talented, untalented, famous, non-famous. Because they had Bruce Jenner as a father, the Kardashians have become an example of regular human beings dealing with, learning from, and moving forward with a transgendered family member.

Obviously, Bruce Jenner is no longer Bruce Jenner; she is now Caitlyn Jenner, a name she purposely chose to separate herself from the Kardashian Klan. Not to run away from them, but to establish herself as truly herself and herself alone. She has always had to be someone else: someone’s son, someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s grandfather, the nation’s pride. Now, Caitlyn can be Caitlyn. But she still has a story to tell and she still has a family whom she still loves deeply.

The Kardashians understand that Caitlyn is still the person who gave them life and raised them, but what Caitlyn couldn’t feel was how it felt to “lose” a parent. To Caitlyn, nothing was being lost; she was merely going to live the life she always wanted to lead. But to her children and ex-wife, someone was leaving. Bruce was going to be gone. Caitlyn had always been Caitlyn at her core, but everyone else met and loved Bruce.

On top of that private, personal familial emotion was a very public life. The Kardashians are protective of Caitlyn; they know the paparazzi and tabloids are all over them. Shit, they insist on them being there. They would be irrelevant without the flashbulbs and gossipmongers. But that never applied to Caitlyn’s very personal struggle with gender identity, which is still greatly misunderstood by most of us and is an easy subject to mock. Because when we see things that are different that we don’t understand, but we’re too cowardly to admit we don’t know something, we try to destroy that weird thing, with ignorance, taunts or violence.

The Kardashians

What I saw on Kardashians was a loving family, trying to understand and accept Caitlyn’s new life as herself while trying to grasp the fact that their father was sort of leaving them, sort of not leaving them, changing and not changing, doing something that was going to make her feel better about her entire existence that was still going to alter an entire microcosmic solar system of people. The sun was becoming the moon. Maybe the Kardashian-Jenners weren’t going to start revolving around Caitlyn instead, but they were going to look up into the sky, expecting to see the sun, and it was going to be the moon instead. Meanwhile, Caitlyn felt like she was finally going to come out from behind an eclipse and shine the way she always wanted to shine.

And I have to say, it was painfully beautiful. It’s easy to cast that entire family as a bunch of attention-hungry media whores, Caitlyn included. But something very major happened to this group of people and it’s something that several families around the world deal with, and it’s something that is very hard to talk about.

But if the Kardashians and Jenners are a “property” that cater to the lowest common denominator, then they may be the best means to provide this incredibly teachable moment in tolerance. Part of me almost wishes that the end game to this whole Kardashian shitshow was the revelation of Caitlyn Jenner; the world gets to know these people who have no reason to be famous, and one of them comes out as a transgendered woman. And now, as part of their audience, we watch them learn how to adjust their lives and see that it’s difficult, but entirely possible to accept, tolerate, and love a transgendered person before, during, and after their transition.

Congratulations, Caitlyn Jenner. You have given us a huge gift: your very human family.

 

The Republicans Have to Stop Talking About Sexuality and Rape

by Bob Cesca

One of the greatest on-screen takedowns in Al Pacino’s long and limitlessly brilliant career occurred toward the end of Glengarry Glen Ross opposite the equally brilliant Kevin Spacey. After Spacey’s character derped his way into ruining a property sale Pacino had just foisted upon Jonathan Price’s bedraggled character, Pacino (channeling David Mamet’s screenplay) delivered one of the most scathing verbal whippings any supporting character has been forced to endure in the history of cinema.

Here’s Pacino’s Ricky Roma rant in all its glory.

You stupid fucking cunt. You, Williamson, I’m talking to you, shithead. You just cost me $6,000. Six thousand dollars, and one Cadillac. That’s right. What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it, asshole? You’re fucking shit. Where did you learn your trade, you stupid fucking cunt, you idiot? Who ever told you that you could work with men? Oh, I’m gonna have your job, shithead. I’m going downtown to talk to Mitch and Murray, I’m going to Lemkin. I don’t care who’s nephew you are, who you know, who’s dick you’re sucking on, you’re going out. I swear to you, you’re going… Anyone in this office lives on his wits. What you’re hired for is to help us. Does that seem clear to you? To help us, not fuck us up. To help men who are going out there to try to earn a living, you fairy. You company man. I’ll tell you something else, I hope you rip the joint off, I can tell your friend here a little something might help him to catch you. You want to learn the first rule? You’d know if you spent a day in your life. Don’t ever open your mouth ’til you know what the shot is. You’re a fucking child.”

The last two sentences are specifically why I’m bringing this up. “You want to learn the first rule? You’d know if you spent a day in your life. Don’t ever open your mouth ’til you know what the shot is. You’re a fucking child.”

The Republicans, and not just low-level hacks, have been continuously opening their months before they know the shot. In particular, and following one gaffe after another, they still haven’t learned to shut up about sexuality and rape. It’s been happening for years now. The 2012 election cycle was a blood bath, with GOP candidates crashing and burning in the process of trying to make rape appear less rapey. The political careers of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock will be forever linked to the issue due to their ideologically driven anti-choice gibberish.

Who else?

“Rape is kinda like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” Clayton Williams (R-TX)

“Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.” Rick Santorum (R-PA)

“In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.” Jodie Laubenberg (R-TX)

“If a woman has [abortion rights], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapists’ pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t result in anyone’s death.” Lawrence Lockman (R-ME)

This week, we can add one more quote to the list. While attempting to justify the fact that he’s willing to sign an abortion ban into law that doesn’t provide an exception for rape victims, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) said, “I mean, I think for most people who are concerned about [rape], it’s in the initial months where they’re most concerned about it.”

And this was just on the heels of Walker referring to mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds as “a cool thing.” Yes, I give you the GOP’s frontrunner for president. (Seriously, is there one damn grown-up in the Republican clown car?) He basically just said that after 20 weeks of pregnancy due to a rape, victims don’t really worry about having been raped all that much. “You’re a fucking child.”

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee, who’s a bottomless swamp of gaffes and ignorance, said out loud that if there had been anti-discrimination laws in place when he was a kid, he would’ve pretended to be transgender so he could infiltrate the girls’ locker room in high school and, we can only assume, perv out.

Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’ You’re laughing because it sounds so ridiculous doesn’t it?

First things first: according to Media Matters, schools and municipalities across the nation with anti-discrimination laws on the books haven’t reported a single problem involving boys or men pretending to be transgendered in order to pull a secret Huckaboner in the ladies’ facilities.

There’s a shockingly simply explanation for why this is a rhetorical constant on the Republican side of the aisle. They’re stuck in a conundrum of their own making. They’ve wedged themselves between two worlds.

On one hand, they’re desperate to pander to the far-right tea party base — the drooling, screeching unwashed rabble who exist inside the Fox News bubble and nourish themselves on Obama Derangement Syndrome, Limbaugh broadcasts and Steve Doocy “wisdom.” The base doesn’t care about nuance or science. It doesn’t care about the horrendous plight of women who were raped and who are forced to either have (legal) abortions or carry their rapists’ fetuses to term. But the base is loud and it possesses stupid-strength, so the GOP has to go there, so Republicans up and down the ladder have to talk to those people because the GOP long ago inextricably jumper-cabled itself to the base’s outrage cortex, legitimizing it and relying upon its energy.

On the other hand, they’re forgetting about the rest of the nation, which is generally repulsed by things like downplaying the horrors of rape; not to mention grown men like Mike Huckabee joking about spying on naked, underage girls in the locker room — and in the midst of news cycles focusing on molestation charges against conservatives Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert.

The consequences are obvious.

They don’t know how to talk to the base in a reasonable, adult way that’s also digestible to everyone else, even if we disagree. They’ve opened their mouths before they know what the shot is, and the shot is to serve a broad base of voters — not just the fringe crazies. As a result, the Republicans have only fielded a syllabus of candidates who can barely spit out a talking point without choking on their own tongues. And that especially goes for B-listers like Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, who have each had multiple derp moments this year, but it also goes for the A-listers like Walker and Jeb Bush. The good news is that with every gaffe, they make Hillary Clinton look better and better. There are serious issues on the table and we need adults running the show — not pissants looking to burnish their hand in negotiations with Fox News.

Frankly, I’d be wallowing in schadenfreude over the GOP’s ineptitude if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re 18 month out, which is more than enough time for something terrible to happen that inadvertently injects one of these children into the Oval Office.

 

The Girl Next Door

by Chez Pazienza

Solo

I haven’t set foot in a strip club in well over a decade. The last time I did get dragged to a strip club — and that’s what it was, since it was an acquaintance’s idea and the place was basically a giant barn next to a set of railroad tracks in Hallandale, Florida — it had been eight years since I’d had the pleasure. Traditionally, strip clubs have functioned as little more than novelties for young guys to whom female nudity is a recent phenomenon, pits of tragedy for the lonely and middle-aged, or playgrounds for rich douchebags who lack imagination. There was a time when I fit one of these categories — and astonishingly it’s not the douchebag thing — and therefore spent a good portion of my spare cash at one particular “exotic dancing” establishment. For me and my friends, the whole thing admittedly started out as a fascination with being able to see naked women whenever we wanted, but over time we actually got to know quite a few of the dancers personally — even hanging with them outside of work — and so the club became our regular haunt simply because it was a place we could drink that had a pretty good floor show.

Sunday nights at our hang meant the weekly amateur contest, with $500 being the prize for the best performance. Our dancer friends usually sat with us, cattily ripping to shreds the girls who showed up for this thing, but everyone knew the reality of what it typically meant to be an “amateur” at a strip club. An amateur was nothing more than a girl from another strip club trying to make a little extra money on the side. With this in mind, when it came to judging the contest the usual metrics applied: who had a hot act; who had big breasts; who showed the most without going so far as to get herself disqualified. I’m not saying there was a lot of class to be found there and I’m certainly not denying the currency attached to the male gaze within any strip club, but this was just the way it was. There was one kind of thing, though, that could destroy any professional stripper who signed up, no matter what she looked like or how good her moves were. One kind of contestant that could wipe the floor with even the hottest and most assured dancer.

A real amateur. A hand-to-God first-timer.

It was about the hesitation, the visible nervousness and the goofy little smile that tried desperately to hide it all. Maybe it’s grotesque to say that it was about the surrender of innocence, but, yes, it was about that too. Someone walking onto that stage for the first time looking like she couldn’t believe what she was doing, red-faced and shy and clumsily getting naked as if even she had never seen her own body was like a shot of pure nitrous to the libidinous urges of a bunch of drunk idiots. If by the end of the song she was actually appearing to get into it, all the better. Again, this was just how it was. When it came to sex, a lot of men wanted to feel like what they were seeing was real. If they were assholes, then they wanted submission — something young and pure they could corrupt and defile and someone they believed they could lord over sexually. If they were at least somewhat decent, then the whole thing was nothing more than fantasy fulfillment — with the fantasy being the transgressive turn-on of sexual initiation, maybe the kind they never experienced first-hand or maybe the kind they did experience once and now miss. Everybody was an adult so ostensibly no one got hurt, but the thrill was still there.

The thrill is still there — because this fantasy is still exactly what a lot of men want. But times have changed drastically and the notion of indulging that fantasy by going to a strip club to watch some amateur kid just get naked seems painfully quaint. These days, you don’t even have to leave your home to see teen girls do much, much more.

POV

There’s a documentary running on Netflix right now, produced by Rashida Jones, that peels back the layers of one of the most successful industries in the country to reveal the entirely predictable rot underneath. Hot Girls Wanted follows a young woman who allows herself to be dragged into the business of amateur porn on the internet. Actually, maybe that’s the wrong way to put it. She isn’t so much dragged in as she goes willingly, to a point — and it’s everything that happens past that point, to say nothing of the allure that led her down the road in the first place, where the movie becomes something thoroughly unsettling. Internet porn in general is a multi-billion dollar industry and the side game of amateur porn is a substantial chunk of that. It used to be that to shoot your own movie you needed video equipment and the ability to duplicate tapes or press DVDs — now all it takes is a cellphone and a broadband link. With that, you can make any and every private encounter public. But if you really want to rake in the cash shooting and uploading sex, you need a website with subscribers — and you need willing participants. In other words, you need women — preferably young ones no one’s ever seen in action before.

Rashida Jones

If that sounds unsavory, trust me, you can’t even imagine. Hot Girls Wanted would send George C. Scott’s character in Hardcore into a full-on machine-gun rampage in an effort to rescue the women involved and blow away the creeps enticing them into this shit. The age of consent is the age of consent and technically these young women are adults and can do what they want with their bodies, but make no mistake that the amateur porn racket is a man’s game and most of the neo-pimps who run it couldn’t care less about who they’re exploiting and what the negative impact might be. The attitude is summed up by perfectly by the amateur porn entrepreneur from “Hussie Models” who says, “Every day a new girl turns 18.” These girls are prey to the guys doing the scenes and chum for the billions of sharks online around the world. Maybe you can make the personal responsibility argument and say that they can get into it for all the wrong reasons — because they see it as the easiest way to the fame that’s our modern culture’s currency — but at 18 a person doesn’t always make the best choices and definitely doesn’t think about his or her future. And these days there’s always somebody there ready to pop an offer up on Craigslist promising quick cash in exchange for a little exploitation of that tendency toward youthful indiscretion.

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“Porn is prevalent. There’s no more denying it,” Jones said to Vanity Fair when her movie debuted at Sundance. “It’s not seedy. It’s not underworld… And we haven’t had a real, real intense look into it, so this movie is kind of like a way to take the lid off of that and realize that this is a real industry.” Not only is it a real industry, like the professional porn industry it has what might be called a hub — and that hub is South Florida. It was Miami that gave us the Bang Bros, an early start-up in the business that initially featured a group of guys driving around in a van picking up supposedly unsuspecting girls off the street — most actually pre-screened models — having sex with them then literally kicking them to the curb. Bang Bros has since diversified to become one of the most powerful names in the amateur porn world. It includes the Reality Kings brand, which began as one site but eventually turned into a series of outlets specializing in all kinds of women and all kinds of proclivities. The guy at center of this $18 million dollar empire, according to the Miami New Times, is a somewhat mild-mannered accountant named Jeffrey Greenberg who lives in the Miami suburb of Kendall. A report in the New Times two years ago alleges that Greenberg’s companies have used underaged girls in their shoots, with one such girl coming forward to say that she was “manipulated” into having sex on camera.

This kind of claim is repeated throughout Hot Girls Wanted, with one of the young women profiled in the film saying that it didn’t hit her what exactly she might be getting herself into until it was too late. Even the ones who have some idea that their “modeling” gigs may require a lot more than just modeling are reluctant to seal the deal when the time comes. “A lot of them know it’s a trap but the money’s there now, in their face — cash!” says another entrepreneur who should be listed in the credits as “Shitbag #2.” He also makes it clear what the shelf-life will be of most of the girls who actually want to get into porn full-time. “A year — tops,” he says, hammering home the idea that it’s that barely legal innocence that men want and once that’s gone they’ll simply move on to the next porn virgin. Almost none of them will go into professional porn and each young woman left behind may have to pick up the pieces of what she’s done to her life — and at times her family — while the money-making machine that turned her into jerk-fuel for a few months, in an ugly coincidence, just kicks her to the curb and speeds away.

But again, the amateur porn business is booming. Which means someone — a hell of a lot of someones — is eating it up, very likely without thinking of how the sausage is made. Or is the way it’s made precisely why the meal is so tasty to some?

Money Shot

Let me answer that last question: It is. The fact that amateur porn features amateurs — girls next door — is precisely why it’s enticing. No, I personally don’t want to know that young women genuinely are being humiliated and tossed aside by the sleazy assholes who traffic in this stuff and I’ve spent my life avoiding any kind of “adult entertainment” that makes this fact abundantly clear. But the first-timer turn-on is a real thing, just like it was 25 years ago when I spent an inordinate amount of time at one Miami strip club. Perfection, or really anyone trying too hard, never did it for me in real life and that extended to the porn I occasionally indulged in — and yes, I was a guy with dark tastes living in the internet age, ergo I had no problem getting my porn fix on once in a while. A fantasy is a fantasy and that’s what porn is for.

Our entire lives are ruled by porn now, though. Boys are able to create a rich, pornographic fantasy life at a shockingly young age thanks to the internet and they stupidly assume the extremes presented in porn are what all sex is supposed to look like, which means that in their eyes girls are expected to oblige — to fulfill the fantasy. Meanwhile, girls are inundated with sex from every side, through almost every single medium. “It became that it was so pro-forma for women to be sexualized on a mainstream level that it’s the only way to be sexy,” Rashida Jones says about the phenomenon. “It’s just this one way and it’s the porn way, it’s the stripper way.” Throw into the mix that social media has created a culture where everyone is raised on their own personal kind of “spotlight” and more than ever it’s possible to be famous for nothing — or to start a lucrative career by fucking the right person and publicizing it in the right way — and it becomes harder to overlook the sense of complicity when you’re engaging in behavior that keeps the barely legal amateur porn machine running. That machine feels like the logical conclusion to the mass sexualization of children.

I’m all for sex positivity, but I’m not much for porn these days, particularly amateur porn. I don’t know exactly when it happened or even whether it was the product of a conscious decision, but it’s just not something I can feel good about anymore. It could very well be that I’ve spent the past few years watching my young daughter grow and it’s tough to reconcile the notion of getting off to images of girls she’ll one day be like. Maybe I finally hit that age where my gag reflex is triggered when I think that the girls in porn are some other fathers’ daughters. Maybe it’s something more selfish than that — maybe it’s simply that I feel like an idiot at my age still ogling teenagers. I honestly can’t tell. I know, though, that I’m not complaining about my relatively newfound amateur porn-free existence.

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Yeah, that thrill of sexual initiation is probably still there, same way it was years ago. It’s just that these days it’s easy to imagine it coming at way too steep a price.

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