Bryant Goes to Sundance, Part II

By Mona Malacane

You may have read in a recent IDS paper, or on the IU Viewpoints website, or (hopefully) in my December blog post that Bryant Paul co-produced a documentary, Hot Girls Wanted, that follows several young women and their entry into the amateur pornography industry. If you’re one of our faithful readers (thank you if you are!), you know that the film was accepted for the Sundance Film Festival, and this week I caught up with Bryant to talk about his trip and the film’s reception at the prestigious festival.

On stage with the directors and producers of Hot Girls Wanted.

On stage with the directors and producers of Hot Girls Wanted.

Sundance is held annually in Park City, Utah, described by Bryant as a “sleepy little ski town, 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.” The festival lasts about nine days and this year it was held from January 22 to February 1. Bryant arrived a few days into the festival, avoiding most of the celebrity hoopla paparazzi frenzy. Unfortunately this meant that he didn’t get to meet actress and producer, Rashida Jones … :(

One of the screenings during the Sundance Film Festival.

One of the screenings during the Sundance Film Festival.

The documentary aired five times during the film festival in front of audiences ranging from 200 to 500 people. Not surprisingly, Hot Girls Wanted gained popularity early-on and each screening sold out quickly, with many unlucky moviegoers getting turned away. At each screening, the directors took stage to introduce themselves and the film (and to inform the audience of the adult content).  After the screening, the directors and producers, including co-producers Bryant and Debby Herbenick of the Kinsey Institute, came on stage to answer questions from the audience and discuss the film.

The film was an eye-opener for many of the viewers, who were, I’m sure, older than the 18-to-20 year old women in the film and grew up without the unfiltered access to media content we have today. “One of the big things that this movie does is, I think it really points out the disconnect between generations and people’s communication environment, such that kids that are growing up now grow up with such a different environment than people who are 40 and over … even 5 years ago, the environment was totally different.”

And that disconnect was apparent when Bryant fielded questions from audience members, who wondered what they could do to prevent the potential negative effects of easy access to mature content. “You’re not going to be able to ban [access to pornography], you’re not going to be able to censor it out of people’s lives. And if you do that for a certain amount of time, eventually kids are going to come across it anyway. If you watch the film, the parents that are depicted in the film … they’re good parents, they seem like nice people who just probably never had a discussion [with their kids] because they don’t even know that this discussion needed to happen, they weren’t aware of what their kids were consuming. They weren’t aware of their media ecology … It’s not something you want to run away from. Not having a conversation is what is going to make it bad. Freaking out when you catch them looking at something is going to potentially create a boomerang effect.”

Audiences at these screenings were also curious whether there was a place for pro-sex, feminist pornography in the world. Bryant responded affirmatively but pointed to a potential

The slopes in Utah, from Bryant's Facebook.

The slopes in Utah, from Bryant’s Facebook page.

reason why female-oriented pornography was not yet mainstream. “That was kind of interesting because there are two other girls that they followed [in the documentary] that are still doing it and they were happy and well-adjusted and they seemed fine … And my response to that was that I think there is [a place for pro-sex, feminist porn] but it comes down to socializing people.” He went on to explain that porn literacy discussions should be part of sex education and/or ‘the sex talk’ to raise awareness that pornography is a performance and shows behaviors that may not actually feel good (specifically for women) even though they are portrayed that way.

The documentary followed several girls but focused on one more closely, Tressa, who was able to attend a few of the Sundance screenings and answer audience questions. The directors are hoping to bring her and the other women to future film festivals in Miami and Toronto.

Since being released, Hot Girls Wanted has been dubbed one of the top 5 feminist films from Sundance  and was bought by Netflix! The Netflix release date will be after it has been shown in theaters, but Bryant is hopeful that the directors will come to IU for a screening and talk this semester.

Bryant Goes to Sundance

By Mona Malacane

“Hot Girls Wanted” sounds like just another video that was analyzed in Bryant Paul et al’s project on content analysis of pornographic videos. Normally this would be a safe assumption, but in this case, it is a documentary on the experiences of 18-and-19 year old girls entering the amateur porn industry.

Bryant got involved with the film through Dr. Debra Herbenick of the Kinsey Institute, who was contacted by the film’s directors, Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. In the initial stages, Bryant gave consultations mostly on the pornography industry. Over time these conversations evolved into research on pornography and the effects of viewing. “It started out as inside industry stuff and then they were asking about usage statistics for how popular certain sites are … and some [research] on effects. And they wanted to know numbers on how many people join the industry per year, so I used some contacts that I’ve made over the years to try and find some of this stuff out.”

While Bryant helped fill in some information holes with research and data, Jill and Ronna continued to edit the film. When the first rough cut of the film was ready, Bryant offered to do a test screening in his undergraduate class and give feedback over Skype. Jill and Ronna found the feedback very useful.  They started implementing the recommendations and offered Bryant a co-producer credit on the film. (Fun fact: Actress Rashida Jones is also a producer on the film!)

Rashida Jones on the very popular show, The Office. More recently she has starred in the show Parks & Recreation (also hilarious and popular).

Rashida Jones on the very popular show, The Office. More recently she has starred in the show Parks & Recreation (also hilarious and popular).

Having seen a short clip of the film myself, I have to say that in true independent docu-film style it both tugs at your heart and makes you think deeper. It adds another layer to the cultural conversation of pornography by showing both pros and cons. Bryant in fact commended Jill and Ronna for their unbiased stance. “They really are objective. They are not anti-porn but they are not pro-porn either, they were just reporting on this topic … It’s actually amazing to me how objective they have remained through all of this.”  According to Bryant, the film not only shows the dark side of the porn industry but also shows that not all of it is bad – some people even make a career in it.

The film is now in the final stages of editing.  Last Monday (December 1) Bryant organized another screening and Skype meeting with graduate students and a few professors. Shortly after the screening, the directors and everyone else working on the film got a huge surprise – they heard that their film had been accepted for the Sundance Film Festival! Of the 12,166 submissions to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, only 118 were selected and “Hot Girls Wanted” was among them. (In case you’re wondering, that is about 1% acceptance rate.)

hot girls wanted

If you’re interested in learning more about “Hot Girls Wanted,” here is their website. Fear not, this link/website is SFW (safe for work). I can’t say the same for the Google searches though … (That was a naïve mistake on my part.) They currently don’t have a video trailer for the film on the website yet, but now that they have been accepted to Sundance it should be forthcoming.

The Rock Jeweler

By Mona Malacane

Since the 2011 blog post documenting his initial steps into the world of rock tumbling, Bryant Paul has progressed to the art of jewelry making. If you’re unfamiliar with the craft, rock tumbling is the process of refining a stone from its raw form into the pretty gem-like pebbles that you pretended were precious jewels when you were a kid. Rocks start out jagged and matte but emerge from the rotating tumbler polished and shiny. Like most hobbies that professors pick up when starting the tenure process, it takes patience and manageable bits of time every now and then. “Stones can take anywhere from 1 month to 6 months [to tumble].”

The progression of rock tumbling, from stone to jewelry

The progression of rock tumbling, from stone to jewelry

Tumbled rock bracelets

Tumbled rock bracelets

Bryant now turns some of the tumbled stones in his trove into pieces of jewelry with the help of just a few tools: a dremel to drill holes in the rock, wire jewelry wrap, and pliers to bend the wire. Once the rock (or rocks) is tumbled, he drills a small hole into it to wrap the wire through and thereafter designs the piece from there. One drilling session takes about 3 hours and he can (painfully) complete 7 or 8 stones.  “It kind of kills you to [drill them] because you spent 6 months tumbling this thing getting it perfectly shiny and then you have to drill a hole through it. You can’t drill it before or else the grit will get into the stone.” Luckily, only the rings need to be drilled, whereas necklace pendants can be secured by wrapping a wire around them.

Necklace pendants and rings Bryant has made.

Necklace pendants and rings Bryant has made.

Currently, Bryant sticks to rings and necklace pendants but, as he says, “the sky is the limit.” “Right now I really just do basic wrapping and I let the stones speak for themselves. But I think that as I do this more I would probably try to become more expert at wrapping and do designs with the wire that are impressive themselves … and then work the stone and the wire together into a pattern … I recognize that I’m not very good at it yet, but I like doing it. It seems like it has the potential to always be interesting, you can keep changing what you do.”

He recently bought a web domain that he plans to sell his creations on. Once he builds up his supply, you can own a one-of-a-kind, hand-made Bryant Paul original! Or you could just write for the blog and shamelessly accept gifts from interviewees like I do…

The Tigers Eye pendant Bryant gave me at the end of our interview

The Tigers Eye pendant Bryant gave me at the end of our interview

Sixth Brown Bag of the Semester – October 11, 2013

Bryant Paul, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University, Bloomington

An Expedition to Digital Gomorrah: Undertaking a Content Analysis of 6,500 Online Pornographic Videos

ABSTRACT: Interest in the potential social and psychological effects of Internet pornography continues to grow among both  academic researchers and the popular press. Interestingly however, little systematic analysis of exactly what is available for consumption has been undertaken.  Since the spring of this year, a team of coders has been analyzing thousands of videos from two of the most popular free sexually explicit content websites in the world.  This talk will describe various aspects of this work in progress, including why my team and I originally chose to take on the project, our development of the study codebook, the often awkward process of training the 30+ coders who have worked on the project so far, and my thoughts on the potential value of this study.

BIO: Dr. Paul is an Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University.  He is also an Affiliated Faculty Member with the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction as well IU’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion. His research and teaching interests include the nature and effects of sexual media messages and technology.  His work has appeared in journals including the Journal of Sex Research, Communication Research, Cyberpsychology and Behavior, Sexuality and Culture, and the International Journal of Sexual Health.

It was Irene van Driel’s turn to cater the seminar. Her Dutch pancakes inspired the following introduction by Paul Wright:

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Random Pictures of the Week

Bryant Paul IU GuidesIU GuidesBryant:  “I received a letter saying I needed to do more service . . .”

Analyzing Porn

By Edo Steinberg

Dr. Bryant Paul is undertaking a very large content analysis of pornographic videos from two websites. The aim of the study is to find out what’s in porn. In particular, coders are looking for aggression, degradation and the types of sex acts depicted. They are also looking at the demographics of people appearing in porn.

With 2,000 videos already coded, 2,500 others to be coded by the end of the semester and even more planned after that, he needed a large team of coders. Two graduate students, Yanyan Zhou and Michelle Funk, participate in the study, as do 28 undergraduate students who are taking it as a class.

Michelle recently coded 40 videos for reliability testing. “Once the summer hits, I’m going to be doing hundreds,” she says.

Coding so many sexually explicit videos isn’t easy. “When I went out last night, I actually caught myself thinking, ‘wow, I had a hard day watching porn, I think I’m going to kick back with a drink.’ That’s probably something most people don’t ever say in their lives.”

“Porn really isn’t too friendly to women,” Michelle says. “There’s a certain amount of forcible things that you see that bum you out. There’s a lot of degradation. I don’t like to see myself reduced to a collection of body parts, which is really what porn is. It does this to men too, but it does it to women to a much larger degree.”

The effects of coding on the undergraduate coders can already be felt. “We’ve noticed that the boys in the class, who used to joke around and use crass language in their questions, now, after watching so much porn, they have been sensitized. Now they’re trained to look for aggression. The fact that they’ve been exposed to the nitty gritty dark side of porn has caused them to really think about it.”

“I’ve lost a lot of my appetite and have lost weight since I started coding,” Michelle says. “But the silver lining is that this project has been begging to be done for a really long time and nobody has done it, because it is so large scale.” Michelle thinks this can become the flagship content analysis researchers refer to when studying pornography.

Pornography isn’t Michelle’s main research interest. She’s interested in “the potential for negative media effects in viewers that cause potential violence against women,” including in mainstream media. She’s interested in such issues as rape myths, harmful stereotypes and coverage of sexual assaults perpetrated by athletes. She will, however, continue studying porn as well. For instance, she would like to analyze the language used on porn sites in titles, tags and other kinds of text.

Bryant’s Sex Talk

By Edo Steinberg

Dr. Bryant Paul was the guest at the inaugural Bloomington Sex Salon at The Bishop on Sunday. The Salon, hosted by Dr. Debby Herbenick of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the School of Public Health, will be a monthly occurrence with a different guest each time.

“I was a little nervous when I saw how many people showed up,” Bryant said about the well-attended event, but after a few minutes and a few dirty jokes by Debby he felt at ease and had a great time.

The conversation covered quite a lot of Bryant’s history as a sex researcher, beginning with what drew him to the subject in the first place. Bryant attributes his research interests to the fact that his puberty and teenage years coincided with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. He was first learning about sex at the same time as he was learning about the dangers of it, as well. Years later, thinking back to coverage of AIDS, he was amazed by how little was known and what the public was told by the media.

Bryant wanted to conduct sex research in graduate school, but was persuaded to steer away from the subject while he studied for his MA at the University of Miami. Members of the faculty told him he would never be able to find a job as a sex researcher. He took the advice and temporarily turned to political communication.

Bryant Paul and Debby Herbenick at The Bishop

Bryant Paul and Debby Herbenick at The Bishop

Determined to study sex in the media, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, “where all the perverts were,” Bryant joked onstage. While there, he was hired to write briefs for court cases involving the question of whether or not strip clubs and similar businesses were harmful to the communities in which they operated. His research found no harm. One of his briefs was even cited by the Supreme Court.

Bryant also talked about his current ambitious content analysis project. With the help of MA students Yanyan Zhou and Michelle Funk and others in his Sex in the Media graduate seminar, he will analyze a very large number of videos and pictures from two porn sites. Bryant made sure to contact those in charge of technological services to make sure the sites would be accessible from campus computers. The authorities were worried about what this would do to students exposed to large amounts of porn. Bryant saw this as a legitimate concern, but has seen that rather than desensitizing coders to chauvinism, it has made them more sensitive to sexual bias.

Bryant decried the negative focus of much of the research into sex and porn in the media. He believes more research should be done into its positive effects. One of his examples was the fact that in areas in which the internet was adopted more quickly, sex crimes had a greater decrease than in areas with slow internet adoption rates. Since this did not happen with any other kind of crime, internet pornography may have had a positive effect.

The conversation and questions from the audience covered many other topics. The common theme of the night was the desire to learn more about how sex in the media affects people and to make research into the area more accessible to the layperson, who would then be able to use it to make informed decisions.