You can find all sorts of jobs at Job­cen­tre Plus, the statu­tory agency that helps the unem­ployed back into work: it’s the place to look if you fancy a work­ing as a dri­ver, check-out assis­tant, nanny or adult model. Yes, that does say adult model. You could also find work as a ‘web­cam per­former’. “Duties include per­form­ing to a web cam for clients or cus­tomers fan­tasies” and require the per­former to be nude (http://jobseekers.direct.gov.uk/ search term ‘web­cam per­former’ accessed 6th July 2010).

It seems com­mer­cial sex in a striptease cul­ture (McNair, 2002) is main­stream. The lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of sex­ual behav­iour reflects a par­tic­u­lar con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion of mod­ern sub­jec­tiv­ity as indi­vid­u­alised and com­mod­i­fied (Liv­ingston, 1998). This per­spec­tive acts as a pow­er­ful moral pull in favour of the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of the right to a range of sex­ual behav­iours that might for­merly have lain in the domain of the abject. This lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, even a com­pul­sion to speak of sex, retains a hint edge of moral taint, though. In the case of com­mer­cial sex, from the every­day erotic labour of bar staff (Boyle, 2007) to mar­ket exchange of sex­ual inter­course, there is a ten­sion between tol­er­ance and taint. On one hand is a pow­er­ful drive towards tol­er­at­ing or accept­ing sex­ual prac­tices where those who engage are seen as mak­ing legit­i­mate choices as agents in mod­ern soci­ety. On the other are argu­ments that such prac­tices are invari­ably degrad­ing and inap­pro­pri­ate, either because sex – like other inti­ma­cies – ought not be mar­ke­tised, or because those sell­ing sex can­not make a ‘free’ choice to self-exploit (Barry, 1995). And even those who feel empow­ered by a (post­fem­i­nist) right to speak and act as a sex­ual sub­ject are, for McRob­bie, being inter­pel­lated into a dom­i­nated sub­ject posi­tion (McRob­bie, 2009).

What sort of work is this web­cam per­form­ing? Well, such Live Sex Acts (Chap­kis, 1997) might be ways in which work­ers can max­imise the returns from what Hakim calls ‘erotic cap­i­tal’ (2010): sex appeal, charm, social skills and all-round phwoar­ness. Pros­ti­tu­tion, clas­si­cally under­stood is not adver­tised by Job­Cen­tre plus. It is morally out­side the pale as it involves the trans­gres­sion of cor­po­real bound­aries. The web­cam per­former, how­ever, though their cor­po­re­al­ity is cen­tral, seems to escape this out­sider­dom. They and the cus­tomer (the web­cam wanker) are engaged in a cyborg real­ity of sex work. Sight and sound are the senses that mat­ter, not touch and smell and taste. The body is seen and heard; con­sumed like a tv pro­gramme, not con­sumed like a cake.

(c) Cammie Touloui

© Cam­mie Touloui, from Lusty Ladies series

The ad says that the job involves “explicit sex­ual dia­logue which may cause embar­rass­ment to some peo­ple”. This inter­ests me: the nudity is present in a mat­ter of fact way, it’s the talk that is prob­lem­atic and may pro­voke an emo­tional response. In the exhi­bi­tion at Tate Mod­ern Exposed: Voyeurism, Sur­veil­lance and the Cam­era there are sev­eral pho­tographs that explore dimen­sions of the sex indus­try. Susan Meiselas’s pic­tures of strip­pers and Cam­mie Toloui’s remind us that there is noth­ing pas­sive, noth­ing safe, noth­ing dis­em­bod­ied about ‘just looking’.

Ref­er­ences

  1. Barry, K. (1995) The Pros­ti­tu­tion of Sex­u­al­ity. New York: New York Uni­ver­sity Press.
  2. Boyle, K. (2007) ‘The mobil­i­sa­tion of sex­u­al­ity: an ethnog­ra­phy of the sex­u­alised labour process in the style bar indus­try.’ Paper pre­sented to the 25th Inter­na­tional Labour Process Conference.
  3. Chap­kis, W. (1997) Live Sex Acts: Women Per­form­ing Erotic Labour Routledge.
  4. Hakim, C. (2010) ‘Erotic Cap­i­talEuro­pean Soci­o­log­i­cal Review doi:10.1093/esr/jcq014 .
  5. Liv­ingston, J. (1998) Mod­ern sub­jec­tiv­ity and con­sumer cul­ture, in Strasser, S., McGov­ern, C. & Judt, M. Get­ting and Spend­ing: Euro­pean and Amer­i­can Con­sumer Soci­eties in the 20th Cen­tury: 413–430. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press.
  6. McNair, N (2002) Striptease Cul­ture: Sex, Media, and the Democ­ra­ti­za­tion of Desire. Lon­don: Routledge.
  7. McRob­bie, A. (2009) The After­math of Fem­i­nism Sage.