Visit the veil of blue light that separates reality from online persona with the film inspired by the life of a former sex worker, “Cam”.
It’s been almost two since the pandemic started, and thinking about how much the world around us has changed is almost like looking into a different dimension.
The terror of illness was everyone’s main concern in the United States for the two-week quarantine we all thought couldn’t possibly extend. But as it dragged out, we developed a new fear: how were we going to make money to take care of ourselves with everything shut down?
Applying for unemployment is a nightmare that slipped into a night terror as the system became inundated with a record-high number of applications that they couldn’t keep up with. And some “essential workers” weren’t even given the opportunity to take those benefits while being safe and taking care of themselves. Working from home became a new big thing, and if your work didn’t offer it, tough shit.
If internet culture had been a big deal before the pandemic, its influence would grow tenfold within just a few months of everyone being cooped up inside.
Over the past fistful of years, American society had been working toward something of a second sexual liberation. Ten years ago, the general public started to open up to the idea of kink with the rollout of the Fifty Shades of Grey series (well, kink as people who aren’t involved in the kink community would know it). Suddenly, it became okay to be into choking and spanking.
In fact, if you’ve been on the internet at all, which I imagine you have if you’re reading this now, not incorporating these things into your regular sex life made you an outsider.
But, unfortunately, Christianity still has a large chunk of America in a chokehold.
So, while it might have been more mainstream to talk openly about what kind of kinks you have, sex work is still considered very taboo.
It is an important distinction to make that it IS still considered taboo, not WAS.
The rise of being chronically online led most people straight to TikTok, which caters to a generally younger population and churns trends out in record-breaking times. For both good and bad, sex work became one of these trends, especially doing sex work online through OnlyFans.
While many seasoned sex workers had already made the transition to OnlyFans for safety reasons, the website shot to top ranks when people in the panic of the pandemic realized they could make easy money by taking lewd or nudes.
Or what they thought would be easy money. As it turns out, sex work is work.
Soon, the site became flooded with young women who had been told by influencers that they could easily make more money than they’d ever made before without doing “hard” work for it. Of course, that isn’t the case.
You need different backdrops and outfits, which can obviously cost you a nice chunk of cash. You need to maintain near-constant interaction because, while some of your viewers may care that you’re going through a depressive episode, or having a bad day, a lot won’t — or they’ll “care” but still expect, and even demand, new content.
And the content needs to be fresh; they aren’t going to accept the same poses or acts over and over again.
And these are all the worries sex workers have, in an online sphere, on top of being doxxed. When people feel entitled to you online, the line to them feeling entitled to you in person can grow murky. You can find countless forums online where men try to find out where a woman lives, and there are plenty of other men waiting to help them figure it out.
Isa Mazzei was well acquainted with the scene when she wrote the script for 2018’s Cam.
Mazzei worked as a cam girl for a while, and eventually set out to make a documentary about this particular avenue of sex work. However, she soon decided to turn her story into a horror movie instead (which if you’ve seen any documentary about sex work, especially camgirls, the parallels are pretty easy to hop across).
Cam stars Madeline Brewer as Alice, a camgirl on FreeGirlsLive, under the name “Lola_Lola”. She brings a fresh experience with her videos, combining them with shocking horror/gore moments. She’s seen pretending to slit her own throat as the chat cheers her on in the opening.
Alice is obsessed with reaching the number one spot on the website. More recognition = more money, after all.
After run-ins with a long term fan, Arnold or “Tinker”, and agreeing to go on a date with another high paying fan (already skewing the safe line of the internet with the dangers of men in real life), Alice breaks into the top fifty with her next performance. However, she is quickly sabotaged by a rival camgirl, “Pricess_X”.
The next morning Alice can’t get into her account, even though the account is active. After logging in to her spare account, she watches her doppelganger run her channel. Everything is exactly the same, from looks, to voice, even down to tiny mannerisms. The other Lola is even using Alice’s setup, which is in Alice’s house.
In a panic, she checks the area, but no one is there. And the stream doesn’t stop. Soon, she realizes that something awful is happening to streamers who make it to the top, and the only person she can turn to for help is herself.
In the film’s climax (SPOILER ALERT), Alice challenges the other Lola to a competition where viewers judge who can imitate who better. Alice secures the win by breaking her own nose, forcing other Lola to log out of her account.
Alice deletes the channel as it finally climbs to number one.
Cam packs a powerful message; no one will help a sex worker, even in today’s more “enlightened” day and age, and it can still ruin your life.
Alice operates her channel in private, keeping it a secret from her mom, who she knows would be disappointed. When her younger brother’s friends find her channel and bring it up at his birthday party, she is exposed and alienated from her family. Alice being a sex worker even ruins her brother’s reputation.
When she first finds that she is locked out of her account, she reaches out to tech support only to be met with varying forms of disgust and incompetence.
“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to do?” a police officer asks her as she struggles to reclaim her stolen identity.
This exchange was lifted directly from Mazzei’s own life, as she was asked the same question when trying to pitch her movie to Hollywood executives. Because once someone finds out you are a sex worker, that is all you are.
The fear of police not taking you seriously is further intensified when you know they won’t protect you in a violent situation.
At one point in Cam, Alice goes on a date with a subscriber, Barney, to get more information about the doppelgangers. But when other Lola goes live, and a notification is pushed to his phone, he believes Alice is the faker and is trying to swindle him out of money — and he immediately resorts to violence.
According to urbanjustice.org, “sex workers have a 45% -75% chance of experiencing sexual violence on the job.”
To make matters worse, they are also often ineligible for rape victim compensation funds or receive reduced amounts. And considering in many areas, prostitution of any kind is illegal, the police are more likely to punish the worker over the violent perpetrator.
While Cam calls attention to the treatment of sex workers, it also raises another important question compounded by the pandemic: online personas.
Most people delved deeper into the internet for connection throughout the pandemic; for bad or worse.
Friends got together through zoom meetings to have parties and play games and stayed up to date on each other’s lives (ie, bread-making abilities) via social media. And maybe some people even made new friends with people they’re never known but liked online.
But what is portrayed online is never the full picture.
It’s hard to know someone who only shows you the sides of themselves that they deem viewable. Even then you have things like catfish accounts, which take others’ pictures to create a fake identity. And if your pictures have ever been stolen, or if your account has ever been hacked, you know that most social media sites don’t protect or even try to help you.
So as we dive deeper into a world ruled by technology and physical separation, remember that everything you see online isn’t the whole truth. And that businesses who run social media sites are not your friend; no matter how many catty tweets they might make. You will always be seen by them as a cash cow over a real person.