I’m in a transient place TV-wise. I haven’t started into True Detective yet as I don’t have the time right now, so I was looking for something that demanded less of a commitment and 4oD came to the rescue. Strippers was a three part series broadcast on Channel 4 in the last month which focussed on the lap-dancing industry in Scotland, specifically Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. (And yes, I know there are obvious jokes to be made about strippers and commitment but let’s move on.)
There’s no such thing as a “typical” woman who works in the sex industry. We meet Lily who wants to be a glamour model and is totally comfortable in her own skin, seeing her body as something God gave her. Nineteen-year-old Vicki in Aberdeen seems to be self-medicating with alcohol, saying she hates the job. Danni is an art student who pays for her education by stripping and says when she starts hating her job she’ll give it up. Vivi, American and living in Edinburgh, is a very likeable Suicide Girls-esque model who is in Scotland after a failed relationship and seems to be in a rut. Barbara is Cuban and wants to return home to open her own business; she’s practical and singleminded in her quest to fleece every man that walks into the club and is extremely successful.
Given the broad range of women they have different experiences: some talk about how it has changed them some positively and given them confidence and self-reliance; others talk about how it has negatively impacted their view on men and relationships. The one thing they all have in common is that they feel that stripping is addictive and hard to leave. Many of them try to get other jobs, some successfully and some not. (One woman makes the point that she is often asked when she is going to get a “real job”, by which people mean a more socially acceptable job.) Strippers get paid nightly (although not much; between £5-7 per dance) which is more immediately helpful than a monthly paycheck. In many cases the women cannot earn the same kind of money in any other job and so stripping is a necessity.
I have reviewed documentaries and books based on the sex industry before; After Porn Ends and Paid For provide views on life after a career in the porn industry, and prostitution, respectively. Another documentary well worth watching on 4oD is Date My Porn Star, where three porn enthusiasts are flown to LA to meet their favourite adult film stars with very interesting results.
These programmes and books provide the reality instead of the fantasy; girls who on their nights off just want to order a takeaway and get comfy in a onesie, watch Hollyoaks on the sofa, hang out with their mates or play Playstation with their boyfriend – the same things most women do at the end of a working day. At their worst, these programmes show how the sex industry is often unsafe and degrading for women. Either way, they humanise the people who work in this industry and provide a much-needed counterpoint to the pervading faceless sexualisation of our culture. And importantly, they also show how no woman lives up to the fantasy.
Strippers ended last week but is still available on 4oD for the next ten days or so. It’s a great piece of programme making and well worth a watch.