Sunday, March 21—It is my third morning here in South Beach reporting on Girls Gone Wild for a book I am writing about why young women today are embracing raunchy aspects of our culture that would likely have caused their feminist foremothers to vomit. I have been embedded with a GGW camera crew for the last 72 hours and am starting to experience the aversion to sunlight common to spring breakers and vampires. But I’m also having another problem, one that’s come up many times before throughout the course of this project: a nagging feeling that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
My argument is that women have forgotten that sexual power is only one, very limited, version of power and that this spring-break variety of thongs-and-implants exhibitionism is just one, very limited version of sexuality. Is it the one that arouses us—or, even, men—the most? To find out we would have to stop using the same unimaginative erotic shorthand—Strippers! Hooters! Playboy! Maxim! Brazilian Waxes! Boobies!!—to signify sexiness.
But what if I’m just uptight? What if this is actually fun and these girls get a genuine kick out of being porn stars for 15 minutes? What makes me so sure that all this is subtly insidious and not just a giant national keg party? Who do I think I am?
I ask GGW’s tour manager, Mia Leist, and VP Bill Horn what they think. Do they have any ambivalence about what they do? Do they ever feel there’s something vaguely ugly about watching drunk, attention-hungry girls expose themselves to video cameras for a living?
“Well, if it gets guys off …” says Horn, over a plate of French toast.
“If it gets girls off!” Leist interrupts.
“At the end of the day it turns people on,” Horn says democratically.
“We know the formula,” says Leist. “We know how it works. In a perfect world, maybe we’d stop and change things. But it’s a business.”
After breakfast, we cross Ocean Avenue and meet up with the cameramen, Puck, Matt, and Sam, on the beach. We parted ways with Matt late last night before we went to the “Sexy Positions Contest” at Señor Frog’s, and he went roaming the streets of South Beach to look for filmable action. “I got,” he says proudly, “a shower scene.”
Matt has long dreadlocks and wacky teeth, and he is wearing a black T-shirt with a decal of a devil Vargas girl gone wrong on it. Puck and Sam are in their usual GGW T-shirts and hats; and pretty soon the throngs of hungover tanners notice that there’s a camera crew on the beach.
“We want our picture with you!” says a blonde in a bikini shaking her digital camera in the air.
“We don’t want pictures,” Leist yells back at her. “We want boobs!”
“I think I’m going to have that embroidered on a pillow,” says Horn.
A small pack of guys are drinking beer out of a funnel, and they decide they want GGW hats. Badly.
“Show them your tits,” one yells at the two girls splayed on towels who are with them. “What’s your problem? Just show them your tits.”
Puck sets up the shot and waits with his camera poised for the female response. “No way!” The girl in the black bikini says and giggles.
“You know you want to,” the funnel-wielder taunts. People are starting to circle around, like seagulls sensing a family is about to abandon their lunch. “Do it,” the guy says. “Yeah, do it!” yells a spectator.
“Show your tits!” screams another. “Show your ass!”
There are maybe 40 people now gathered in a circle that is both tightening inward and expanding outward around Puck and the girls and their “friends” with every passing second. The noise is rising in volume and pitch. I catch myself hoping that the crowd will not start throwing rocks at the girls if they decide to keep their clothes on.
We’ll never know, because after a few more minutes pass, and a few more dozen dudes join the now massive amoeba of people hollering and standing on top of beach chairs and climbing up on each other’s shoulders to get a good view of what might happen, it happens. The brunette pulls down her black bathing suit bottoms. She is rewarded with an echoing round of shrieks and applause that slices through the air.
“More!” Someone yells.
Other people have pulled out their cameras. The spectators who have cameras built into their cell phones have flipped them open and are jumping up to try and get a shot over the human wall.
The second girl gets up off her towel and spanks her friend several times.
“Yo, this is the best beach day yet!” A guy says into his phone.
My faith in the validity of my project (if not in humanity) is restored, so when the bikini bottoms are back on and the throng disperses, I tell Puck and Bill and Mia that I’m going home. Puck gives me the soft, handsome smile that has melted the clothing off of hundreds of breasts over the course of this weekend. He holds up his camera. “Can I get a picture with you before you go?” He asks.
“Yeah, um, I’m really not taking my clothes off,” I say.
His face crumples and then he looks at me as though I’m mean and insane. “Do you really think I would ask you to do that?”