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CAM: Sex Work & Social Identity

CAM is a truly haunting film that gets increasingly more uncomfortable and terrifying in ways certain content creators and femme-presenting people can feel at their core. The film follows camgirl Alice, a charming creator who specializes in intense but memorable “experiences” for her fans. After making her way to the top of the camgirl charts, her account and identity are stolen by someone wearing her face. Ghouls discuss the horrors, stresses, and complications content creators face. Gabe unpacks the layers of terror in this film that hit too close to home and Kat shares some helpful tips to protect your work.

Sources in this Episode: Netflix thriller 'Cam' explores the fractured nature of online identity Adult Models: How To Fight Piracy and Stolen Content Deepfakes, Revenge Porn, And The Impact On Women

Other Helpful Sources: How do I search for my stolen content? - Cam Model Protection™ How to Become a Cam Girl: What To Do If Your Videos Get Stolen The Internet Is Leaving Cam Girls Vulnerable What Netflix did next: cam girls & stolen identities What are deepfakes – and how can you spot them? | Internet | The Guardian


Media from this week's episode:

CAM (2018):

Alice, an ambitious camgirl, wakes up one day to discover she's been replaced on her show with an exact replica of herself.

  • Director - Daniel Goldhaber

  • Writers- Isa Mazzei(story by), Daniel Goldhaber(story by), & Isabelle Link-Levy(story by)


Don't Let Them Steal Your Shine: CAM, a Content Creator's Worst Nightmare by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

TCAM is a truly haunting film that gets increasingly more uncomfortable and terrifying in ways certain content creators and femme-presenting people can feel at their core. The film follows camgirl Alice, a charming creator who specializes in intense but memorable “experiences” for her fans. She begins her show, playfully chatting with those in attendance. She gives in to their requests, well paid for, as she spanks herself and coos at them. All is well until a new voice joins the chat demanding blood, literally. Caught slightly off guard she quickly blocks him only for him to rejoin as a new user. He insists on violence, using a mixture of emojis and obscene language while the other attendees begin to join in. Alice searches her chest of toys and withdraws a knife. In a most intense opening scene, Alice slits her throat to the chorus of coin chimes. After a few stressful moments, Alice rises and pulls the silicon blood-drenched piece from her neck and smiles. Giddily she chats with one of her regulars celebrating her rise in the cam-girl charts while also worrying slightly at the easy viciousness of her viewers. They had so clearly wanted to see her blood, so easily. And we are led to believe these are viewers that spend frequent nights with her.

We learn quite a lot about Alice in the beginning. She is a playful camgirl who enjoys creating fun new experiences with her fans. She is anxious to break the top 50 charts. She is close to her mother and younger brother, the latter of which knows of her escapades. She is waiting to get to the top of the charts before letting her mother know, hoping she is proud of her. She never feels ashamed of her work. She has clean and clear rules she follows, separating her real life from her profession. She doesn’t tell her fans she loves them and she never fakes an orgasm. Her desperation for the top of the charts peaks after a close call, during a dinner date with her fans they break the top 50 only for her to fall rapidly back down as another creator taunts the fans to watch her instead. She is adamantly never nude, only offering to remove clothing for every ten spots Lola drops. Writer Isa Mazzei explained her idea of Alice as, “wanting to express the anxiety around my own digital identity, and I was deriving my personal validation from my performance and from my digital persona’s validation. It was this constant anxiety of, ‘Do my viewers like me? Do they just like this persona I’ve created? And also how much of my persona is real?’”

In an act of desperation, Alice agrees to do a duo show with a fellow creator, this time astride the Vibratron. Rumored to do irreparable damage to her clitoris and even despite the many warnings from friends and competitors alike, she endures, even breaking a precious rule in the process and fakes an orgasm. The morning after her hardwon success, she hears strange sounds from her camming room and finds that she’s still climbing the charts. She then discovers that someone is using her name, her channel, and her face to perform. Alice immediately calls the website Girls for Money but gets no help.

The film becomes increasingly uncomfortable as she seeks justice, turning any which way she can for help only to be denied, abused, and disrespected every time. There is no end to the horrors. One of her viewers finds her IRL, a true terror as he attempts to remove the barrier she’s placed. Seeing her only as Lola, even calling her such in person. The fake Lola is rising in the charts, starting with similar content before completely disregarding Alice’s rules including telling her fans she loves them. She also has an on-camera suicide but this time with a fun. Alice looks on in horror at her own death on camera, completely shook by the experience. Fake Lola even goes to a public place, a library, to perform. It is this stream that Alice’s younger brother’s friends find online. They are watching it at her brother’s birthday party and eventually call his sister a whore, ruining his birthday and revealing Alice’s occupation to her mother.

Eventually, the website doesn’t even acknowledge her identity. She calls the police to find them, unsurprisingly, unhelpful and also unsurprisingly, predatory. One of the officers makes foul comments about her work while the other dismisses her completely. She suffers from invasion of property, her personal world crumbling around her. Fake Lola even goes as far as leaving the camming room to go into Alice’s real room. Alice watches in horror, sobbing for them to get out, as she shows the fans photos of her life including one of her beloved younger brother.

Even outside of the supernatural, the film boasts some truly uncomfortable and horrifying things. One of the cam girls, mentioned previously who is never nude, in one scene complains at the insistence of her viewers to disrobe. The blatant disrespect at her rules shows how they see her as an object and not a human. The website she cams for is titled something like Money for Girls and her videos can be found on other sites, having been downloaded and stolen titled something like Cash4Girls. As a content creator, the idea of having your account, and your livelihood stolen, and profited on by another is terrifying in and of itself. To have your brand corrupted, your morals and rules undermined. Alice discovers that this supernatural being, the imposter, is a part of a bigger insidious scheme, one that has stolen the accounts of many cam-girls. The number one cam-girl is actually dead IRL but is now at the top of the charts as this imposter, one of which has no limits: can stream all day, and has no rules, no boundaries.

Much of the themes covered in this film reminded me of Perfect Blue and Mima’s struggles with identity and the commodification of her being. However, I truly appreciated this films’ approach to Alice/Lola’s claim to fame. So many OnlyFans horror stories are of women needing to use OnlyFans because they’re in dire straits. And it's super gross and belittling to content creators. In CAM, Alice is never ashamed of her work. Even her hesitation in telling her mother isn’t from fear of disapproval but because she wants to show her how good she is. Later, after her mother has found out we see that this was a realistic approach as her mother isn’t ashamed or disappointed in Alice. She explains she understands her and sees the confidence she exudes on camera, the beauty and pride she feels. It is a beautiful moment even in the shadow of the imposter. In the end, Alice figures out how to get her channel back. In a rather clever play, Alice challenges Lola to a game the winner of which will get the channel. She wins her fans over, gets into the account, and shuts it down. However, this is not the end because camming is exactly what Alice wants to do, it is what brings her joy. So I was so happy to see that she opened a new account in the end. Not letting this situation destroy her dreams. She even explains to her mother that if it happens again, she will destroy that imposter too, and make another account. Because in the end, the monster was not her choice of career but that it was stolen from her. This approach is thanks to writer Isa Mazzei, who has experience in camming. She told Daily Dot, “sex work is work, and it’s normal.” Much of the cam experiences came from Mazzei’s own life. The users we see on the screen on inspired by the personalities she saw on her own streams. After having her own work stolen and put on PornHub, Mazzei explained the feeling of alienation, explaining there was a “disembodied version of myself that I was completely alienated from, and that was terrifying. I was seeing this form of myself that was no longer me. But it was me.”

Mazzei’s goal was to show the normalcy of this line of work, that it is normal and at constant criticism. “I think what’s so frustrating is that sex work is the only career where we demand that it be empowering, or we assume that it’s exploitative,” she says. “And we don’t let it exist in a nuanced space for what it is. We don’t demand of a waitress or a programmer or a writer or a retail clerk that their job be empowering. But we also don’t assume that they’re some sort of victim for having chosen to sell clothes at Forever 21.” The writer’s experience outside of camming, in simply trying to pitch this script was equally alarming and horrifying. In an article on Daily Dot, they explain, Netflix thriller 'Cam' explores the fractured nature of online identity, “Assumptions about sex work followed Mazzei when she tried to pitch the script with Goldhaber. Executives grilled her about the craziest sexual act she’s ever had to perform. Others weren’t sure why she had to be involved. One guy rewrote the end of the script to include him and Mazzei in a demented kind of fan fiction; he saw it as a joke, while she saw it as sexual harassment.”

In the end, the film is incredibly realistic despite the paranormal deepfake fiend. There is gore and it certainly is a horror film but the real scares come from the sense of stolen identity, personal space, and disrespect by the world. It is a complex story that will get under the skin of any content creator, who’s very being is their selling point, their identity the service, and their presence online their livelihood.