Exploitative Videos: Bumfights & Girls Gone Wild


Two stories popped up this week involving people getting into legal trouble over the exploitative videos they sell.

One story, on CBC Radio’s The Current 2 days ago, was about so-called “bumfight” videos…videos that feature homeless people either being payed to fight each other, or engaging in other dangerous and/or degrading behaviour.
According to the on-line synopsis of the show,

There are few people as vulnerable as the homeless, because many are rendered that way due to addiction and mental illness. That’s why our first story is so shocking. It’s about a video series that shows homeless people being beaten, tied up, thrown down stairwells, and goaded into bloody fist-fights and stunts. It’s called Bumfights—available for rent in some video stores in Canada, and on the internet. In the first six months of operation, back in 2002, the producers generated more than half-a million dollars in sales.

The good news:

In June, 2003, several producers…pleaded guilty to staging an illegal fight for their videos. Last year McPherson and another producer were sentenced to six months in jail for failing to perform their community service.

Unfortunately: “Meanwhile, the company continues to produce new footage.”

(Question: why are bumfight videos so much more awful & exploitative than the Bumvertising that I blogged about back in December? Is it just the danger & violence? Or is it something else?)

The other story, which popped up on various news sources this week, is about the Girls Gone Wild series of videos.
Here’s one version of the story: ‘Girls Gone Wild’ Producer Pleads Guilty To Exploiting Minors

Joe Francis and the Santa Monica-based company he built on soft-core “Girls Gone Wild” videos has agreed to pay $2.1 million in fines after pleading guilty to violating laws designed to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.
Under the terms of a deal with the Justice Department, Francis agreed to personally pay a $500,000 fine to settle charges in Los Angeles that he failed to keep records of the ages and identities of the women who appeared in his films, the Los Angeles Times reported.
As a result, footage of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct appeared in at least two DVDs he released, Francis said in a statement reported by The Times.

The interesting thing here is that Francis & co didn’t get in trouble for producing trashy, exploitative, demeaning videos. They got in trouble for poor bookkeeping. This serves as a pretty decent illustration of the distinction between ethics & the law. If you make videos of drunk women baring their breasts and then make a lot of money selling these videos, that is at least arguably unethical (see below), but it’s not illegal (in most places, anyway.) But if some of those “women” are underaged (i.e., under the legal age of consent), then (by definition) you’ve done something illegal. Similarly, you’ve broken the law if you simply fail to gather (and retain) evidence that the women are old enough: this is one of those cases where the legal onus is reversed…film-makers are required (in the U.S. — I don’t know about other juristictions) to have proof that they have not committed the crime of child exploitation.

Now, why do I say the videos are “arguably” unethical? Well, on one hand, when the women involved are “old enough,” then this looks like a voluntary commercial transaction: the women get t-shirts, free beer, fame, whatever. And in return the movie producers get images of bare breasts, girls kissing girls, etc. On the other hand, such videos are pretty demeaning to women. Showing women getting drunk & lifting their shirts is pretty straightforward objectification. Then again, you might ask: who’s responsible for the demeaning, here? Is it the women doing these things, or the guys selling the videos? But wait, then there’s the fact that most of the women involved are apparently drunk (see above re free beer), which renders their consent at least somewhat suspect. See what I mean? So, I’ll settle for “arguably” unethical. But even if you don’t think making & selling such videos is unethical: man, what a scuzzy way to make a living. Get a life, dudes.

(By the way, in case you were wondering, yes the Girls Gone Wild videos — some of them, anyway — are available via Amazon.com, but no I’m not going to link to them!)

2 comments so far

  1. Anonymous on

    Hi Chris, I know this is an old post, but I think I should point out the the videos are not “arguably” unethical. I would direct you to the reports by Ariel Levy on the techniques the video producers use to get their shots, which involve intoxicating women (free beer after the fact and getting a woman drunk are fairly different) and enlisting/condoning instigators who verbally harass them.

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Dear Anonymous:Thanks for the comment, and the pointer. If you have a link to Levy’s work on this, that would be helpful.In the original post, I settled for “arguably” unethical because I didn’t have much info about the methods used, and I wanted to present a balanced argument about this <>type<> of video, not necessarily just about this particular reprehensible production company.Chris.


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