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Sometimes, something happens that’s so messed up even a professional talker like myself doesn’t know where to start. This is one of those times (via Jezebel):

Nine women were rescued Monday from a villa in Istanbul where they had been held captive for two months under the pretense that they were participating in a "Big Brother-style" reality show.

The women were filmed at all hours of the day, in various states of undress. They were encouraged to wear bathing suits and dance provocatively for the cameras. Although they were told that they were part of a reality show to be aired on Turkish television, competing for a cash prize, the company instead sold naked pictures of the women on their website and asked users to vote for their favorites. For a subscription fee, viewers could watch videos of the women online, but despite what they told the girls, the footage was never intended for television.

Where to even start? I may need bullet points to help get me through:

  • The women were told that if they left they’d have to pay a $33,000 fine, yet the "production company" is claiming they weren’t ever held against their will
  • The nine women were all models looking for their big break.
  • One of the girls was a teenager, possibly as young as 15.
  • A very similar thing happened in the US earlier this year, with an added sexual assault twist! (Warning: the linked article is awful, but all the info is there.)

OK, forget it. Bullet points aren’t cutting it. Commence rant:

Would any of this been made OK if they had been on television? Really? Is that what we’ve come to? It’s just dandy if you lock nine young women in a rented house, cut them off from friends, family, and the outside world, encourage them to expose their bodies and flaunt their sexuality for your profit, and threaten them with debt or destitution should they choose to leave, but refusing to put them on the teevee like you promised is an international scandal? 

I can’t think of a clearer example of what Thomas MacAulay Millar calls "the commodity model of sex" in his Yes Means Yes essay. In the commodity model, (which dominates our current culture, and is super heteronormative, btw), women have "the sex," and must save it for as long as they can so they can make the best possible deal for it – usually an engagement ring and a husband. If they "give it away" too soon or too cheaply, it’s too late – once they give it away, its value is all used up. Men, of course, have the opposite goal: to get "the sex" from women as cheaply and easily as possible. If that involves coercion or other shady tactics, so be it. 

It’s pretty easy to understand this situation through the commodity frame. These young women made a market-based decision – they would allow the "producers" of this "show" nearly-unlimited access to their bodies and their sexualities in exchange for a chance at fame. (The out-of-control value of fame these days is a subject for another day.) Under the commodity model, the only thing that went wrong here was a fraudulent transaction.

But what if, instead, we all used a performance model of sex? What if we saw sex and sexuality as something more akin to jazz improv? Here’s Thomas:

Forcing participation through coercion in a commodity model is a property crime, but in a performance model it is a disturbing and invasive crime of violence, a kind of kidnapping. Imagine someone forcing another, at gunpoint, to play music with him.

If you locked nine young people in a house for two months and forced them to play music however and whenever you wanted… wait. That would be American Idol. I guess we really do have to talk about the crazy hold fame has on our culture sometime soon.

But my larger point still stands: if we truly saw sexuality as something to be collaboratively created and experienced, as opposed to an object of value to be exchanged in a marketplace, the outrage in this case wouldn’t be about the lying. It would be about existence of such shows to begin with. 

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