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The Disgrace of Teen Camgirls on the Internet Must Be Stopped!
This week's update By: doc     visit DWF
Last week's feature: Can Chelsea Clinton's Magic Ass Save Hillary's Campaign?
Contrary to popular belief, he problem of young girls exploiting their own bodies by posting nude photos of themselves on the internet persists. — click photos to embiggen

From the safety of her bedroom, Camgirl invites you to watch her, buy her gifts. In an age where appearance is power, she blurs the line between exploiter and victim.

Fifty years ago, constant “telescreen” surveillance was only a futuristic nightmare. In the novel 1984, George Orwell warned us about high-tech invasions of privacy and the subsequent loss of individual identity.

But Orwell never counted on the Camgirls and their unabashed willingness to be seen. For this rising millennial generation, constant surveillance can be a dream come true - an affirmation of identity. Today, it seems, you’re nobody if you’re not on camera.

In the past couple of years there has been an online explosion in the number of personal Webcam sites. More people are choosing to live in front of a camera, hooked up to the Internet via a high-speed connection. Most are girls and young women broadcasting from the most private spaces of their bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms. These “Camgirls” rule the world of amateur Web sites, attracting thousands of hits daily. Some have become self-made celebrities. Some are as young as 14, but the majority are in their late teens and 20s. The sites range from the crude to the sophisticated and are so diverse it is risky to make generalisations. But most feature live cameras and/or digital still shots, links to other places on the Internet, diary entries and biographical information. The most controversial common feature of these worldwide cam sites is the amazon.com “wish list”. Camgirls encourage their fans to buy them books, CDs and other gifts via the American online company. Some local Camgirls also use the Australian company wishlist.com.au to request that special something.

It’s no surprise that the most attractive Camgirls - with exhibitionist tendencies - tend to receive the most gifts. The morality of this “virtual prostitution” has been debated online for some time. Online magazines such as Salon.com have taken a dim view of enterprising Camgirls and their fans.

More interesting is the way this growing phenomenon reflects the values of contemporary culture. Camgirls offer a mirror to the preoccupations of our time: identity, consumerism, celebrity and girl power.

As the technology becomes more powerful and less expensive, younger girls are setting up their own sites. “Hot Pink” is an Australian teen with her own Webcam site “designed for the purpose of me ranting, raving and showing off”. When asked what she wants to do when she grows up, “Pink” says:

“Web designer, aerobics instructor, business tycoon, Go Global!” The site presents an uneasy blend of innocence and worldliness. As such it reflects the limitations of mainstream girl power. Girls, it seems, have been taught to follow their dreams - by any means necessary.

The Camgirls themselves resist accusations that theirs is a purely money-making exercise. The personal Webcam can also be art, an outlet for personal expression and creativity, a showcase of their computer skills and a virtual meeting place for friends and strangers. But these reasons alone can’t explain the urge to be on camera 24 hours a day. There is more to this story of why they want to be watched.

Some of the most powerful people of our time built their careers not on authentic talent, but on the strategic management of appearances. As Warren Beatty once said of pop icon Madonna, “She doesn’t want to live off camera. There’s nothing to say off camera. What point is there existing off camera?”

Camgirls seem to share this desire for obsessive self-documentation. This is more than narcissism. It’s the sense that you might just disappear without proof of your existence. Some Camgirls report that they feel the camera is comforting rather than imposing. Like an unblinking eye it watches over them.

The camera feeds the adolescent fantasy that every moment of your life is significant - that you are making an “appearance”. Some Camgirl sites have their own media attention archives, listing where they have appeared in print and television news stories. Like “real” celebrities, successful Camgirls have self-perpetuating publicity.

In mainstream girl cultures, the heroes are the music celebrities, television personalities and actresses who rule the global stage. As it appeared in popular culture, girl power was as much about fame as about female strength and independence. The term “girl power” has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

But if it wasn’t for five desperate wannabes (the Spice Girls) and the publicity team that supported them, we might not have heard it in the first place. Celebrities now have the kind of cultural authority that once belonged to politicians and activists. And it’s the promise of this celebrity power that leads ordinary girls to trade the most intimate details of their lives for recognition and acknowledgment.

Little wonder some girls take things into their own hands with a Webcam - launching their own amateur self-publicizing business from home. The question remains, is this girl-powered self-determination or just DIY sexual objectification? The idea of photogenic girls taking gifts from strangers is enough to concern any parent or teacher.

The idea of virtual voyeurs peeping into girls’ bedrooms is absolutely abhorrent. But life gets more complicated when we realise the girls themselves are setting up these cameras, usually without their parents’ knowledge. The Camgirl initiates and controls this online interaction. She decides where and when to turn on the camera.

But if it wasn’t for five desperate wannabes (the Spice Girls) and the publicity team that supported them, we might not have heard it in the first place. Celebrities now have the kind of cultural authority that once belonged to politicians and activists. And it’s the promise of this celebrity power that leads ordinary girls to trade the most intimate details of their lives for recognition and acknowledgment.

Little wonder some girls take things into their own hands with a Webcam - launching their own amateur self-publicizing business from home. The question remains, is this girl-powered self-determination or just DIY sexual objectification? The idea of photogenic girls taking gifts from strangers is enough to concern any parent or teacher.

The idea of virtual voyeurs peeping into girls’ bedrooms is absolutely abhorrent. But life gets more complicated when we realise the girls themselves are setting up these cameras, usually without their parents’ knowledge. The Camgirl initiates and controls this online interaction. She decides where and when to turn on the camera.

The vocabulary and images of sexist exploitation have been appropriated by Camgirls. These girls participate in and profit from a sexist image economy. They have taken commodified girl power to its logical extreme - they have objectified themselves.

She decides what is to be seen. She is the director, distributor and star of her own show. Men have been exploiting and objectifying women in cyberspace for years. What’s new is that the Camgirls have taken control of this process - and cut out the middleman. So the line between victim and perpetrator is blurred.

These young women offer only their image, while lonely (typically male) spectators send fan mail, gifts and cash “donations”. Well might we then ask, who is exploiting whom? The Camgirl phenomenon presents a challenge to traditional feminist interpretations of girl culture. There is a long history in feminist analysis of assuming young women are the innocent victims of an exploitative entertainment industry.

On Camgirl sites we see this process writ small. Most see themselves not as victims, but as image entrepreneurs. Camgirl “Wallflower”, for example, has her own logo and merchandise line. Spectators are directed to the shop page on their way out. “Hot Pink” uses a pink playboy bunny as her site logo. And there’s the rub.

What sort of society do we live in, when some girls will trade their image online for cosmetics, clothes or the latest Britney Spears CD? Why do these girls feel they need these commodities? Because like the rest of us, they are living in a society where we are defined not by what we do, but by what we consume.

Girls are told they can do anything, be anything. But they’re not given much practical advice on how to get there. Fame has replaced romance as the dominant fantasy in girl culture. But girls are not given much information on how the culture industries actually work. They are fed the “girl power” dream of being a celebrity. But they don’t necessarily realise that the media might use them before they get a chance to use it back.

For about 20 years feminist authorities, such as Angela McRobbie and Valerie Walkerdine, have portrayed girls as either passive victims or brave resisters. But Camgirls don’t fit into either stereotype. Postmodern girl cultures are more complicated than that. Unfortunately, much of the influential work on girls and girl cultures is now hopelessly out of date.

The experts offer neat theories that collapse in the messy real world. They lecture about adolescent sexual politics from the safe distance of adult, middle-class academia. They warn about docile female role models while triumphant sex objects like Madonna and Britney laugh all the way to the bank.

The Camgirls are not to blame for this. Nor are they helpless, docile victims. Like the rest of us, they use the cultural resources that are around them to do the best they can. These girls have taken on patriarchy - and beaten it at its own game. The real crime is, they were never given a desirable alternative.

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