College life, though a cut above living by your wits in the abandoned subway tunnels of New York, is not without its dangers. There is, for instance, a nontrivial chance that you’ll be done in by massive credit card debt, alcohol poisoning or graduation with a Gender Issues in Bhutanese Philosophy degree. However, there’s one predator we’re reminded to fear with alarming regularity: exploitative pornography companies.
Certain concepts – “bodily toxins” and “fair trade” also come to mind – immediately set off my internal BS alarm. One of them, the damning label of exploitation, is thrown around recklessly, and not just by former members of Rage Against the Machine. The allegation that adult video firms wander into college communities and “exploit” revelers is serious, but is it justified?
For exploitation to occur, the exploited must not receive adequate compensation for what they’re doing. In this case, the potential victims are tipsy sorority members, and the service they provide involves lifting their shirts on camera. Be apprised that these ventures typically splice into what we would normally think of as “porn”, shot elsewhere, between such vast stretches of pallid collegian breast. The real question is, then, are these girls justly remunerated for their work?
Here, the issue of fungibility comes into play. A commodity is fungible when some of it is just as desirable as any other instance of the same product and amount. Coffee is almost fungible and quite cheap; those who farm it strain for a profit. Fortunately, the aforementioned fair trade programs not only pay them an additional cent per metric ton but allow latte-sippers the buzz that can only come from a wrongheaded sense of moral superiority.
Land, on the other hand, is not interchangeable; try exchanging an acre in North Dakota for one, uh, here. Fungible goods are not very rare – money is the ultimate example of fungibility, and everyone seems to have the stuff these days – and thus not usually expensive. Though it may come as a surprise to 13-year-olds the world over, girls willing to partially disrobe for a camera crew aren’t scarce either, and, as the footage shows, they’re pretty close to fungible.
Increased availability reduces the cost of any good or service; that’s as basic as economic principles get. The price of a temporary shirt removal, for this reason, has been driven down enormously. If the producers of “Girls Gone Intoxicated” roll onto DP this Saturday night, there will be no shortage of ladies ready to exchange a few seconds of screen time for a T-shirt or faux Mardi Gras beads. However, if there was only one owner of breasts in town, you can bet she’d be able to name her price. She’d probably even get actual money.
When one shot of particular anatomical feature(s) is roughly equivalent to any other, what is adequate compensation? As with coffee, it’s not a king’s ransom – nevertheless, the enterprising if amoral among you may feel free to start a “fair trade flashing” program. Because many female Isla Vistans have the needed blood alcohol level, a crude sort of competition between them holds down the reward for exhibitionism.
An apt, though perhaps not intuitive, comparison here is with the oft-championed employees of Wal-Mart. Worries about the assumed exploitation of both the mega-chain’s workers and the inebriated women of Isla Vista are misplaced. Humans qualified for Wal-Mart’s brand of labor are also numerous and approaching fungible, which explains take-home pay almost worth a 10-pack of ramen.
The easiest acid test of whether a group is exploited is this: are they being “forced” to do what they do? In these cases, the answer is no. Sure, you ask, but what if appearing tanked and topless in a sleazy, infomercial-marketed video damages a girl’s chances of getting into a prestigious law school? Perhaps this falls outside the purview of economics, but I doubt she was headed there anyway.
Daily Nexus columnist Colin Marshall hangs Mardi Gras beads from the fungible growth on his forehead.