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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Pleasure for Sale (review)

Hey, prostitutes are people too, okay? There’s real horror here: the “gals” of the legal Nevada brothel the Chicken Ranch don’t ever get to leave the premises, we discover in Episode One of this six-part Sundance Channel documentary series, except for three hours once a week to visit a doctor for their regular recertification as STD-free. But their near-incarceration is all but forgotten as filmmakers Joe and Harry Gantz, who made HBO’s similarly voyeuristic Taxicab Confessions, let soap opera take over. Catfights as the “girls” compete for customers? You bet. High drama as medical issues plague one “gal”? Of course. The problem isn’t that the Gantzes aren’t sympathetic, or even that their apparent thesis that these “girls” are people who deserve our respect isn’t a worthy one: it’s that the upshot of the whole deal is still turning these women into commodities, except instead of being packaged as sex toys for paying customers, they’re being packaged as objects of fascinated pity for us. Almost to a one, these are women living on an edge, with histories of rape and abuse and uncertain futures in which renting out their bodies is the only prospect they have for surviving at anything above a subsistence level. (The johns, to a one, come across as deluded idiots who actually fool themselves the “gals” feel anything for them, but at least they get to go home at the end of their “dates.”) The women are stronger and more together than you might expect them to be, but there’s nothing the least bit sexy here, and in fact, I was left with a distinct sense that the series’ perspective is rather akin to that of the preacher here who thinks he’s being “helpful” and “Christian” toward the “whores” (his word), and instead comes across as insulting and condescending. (Forty minutes of deleted scenes are the only bonus materials.)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • blake

    I watched this on Channel 5 and I think they show it every few months on Fiver.

    “Women living on an edge, with histories of rape and abuse and uncertain futures”
    Yeah, that kinda sucks. I thought there should be someway out for them provided by the ranch, but I suppose that the ranch wouldn’t want to lose some of it’s products (?)

    “Products”, seems a bit mean…

    I guess, that’s what they are probably thought of by the people who own and run the ranch.

    I liked the girls.
    Most of ’em.

    Not enough to , erm, pay for their…services ???

    Not quite that desperate.

    The blokes do come across as losers, well, they have to pay to get a little so I suppose it was always gonna seem that way.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s not quite the paying to get some that’s pathetic, or, at least, that’s less pathetic than the fact that they seem to think they have relationships with these women that go beyond mere business, and that they women actually *like* them.

    I like the women too. But it infuriates me that this is in actuality a good way for a woman to make a lot of money. If there’s any evidence for the supposition that the way our culture lives and thinks has been shaped by men and their needs — and not by women and our needs — it’s that that is still true.

  • blake

    I want to say something clever but you’ve stumped me. I’ll have to say something stupid instead.

    They say prostitution is the oldest business in the world so it must be a good way to make money. Whether it’s good for the girls’ wellbeing is another matter entirely.

    If it’s a culture of equality you want would you be happy with male brothels as well as female?

    I wouldn’t.

    I saw another documentary on prostitution (why do I keep watching these…) and I just don’t like the idea of it, male (if there are such places) or female.

    Even though I shouldn’t judge, I can’t help it when it comes to people who use them. There’s alarm bells ringing, something is just saying it’s wrong. Maybe that’s just my moral compass.

    It’s their body they can sell it for money if they want and there are pleanty of womens charities in the UK who want there to be legalised brothels here for the girls protection. The idea being that a leagal brothel can be regulated. However, I think that’s gonna open a whole new can of worms.

  • MaryAnn

    If it’s a culture of equality you want would you be happy with male brothels as well as female?

    Sure. Absolutely. Because the solution to women being treated poorly by the culture, and to women being treated like they’re less than human, is to treat men equally poorly and as less than human, instead of stopping treating women poorly. That’s the answer exactly.

    *sigh*

  • blake

    “Because the solution to women being treated poorly by the culture, and to women being treated like they’re less than human, is to treat men equally poorly…”

    I think both sexes come out of that looking rubbish.

    I would prefer my fellow males to rethink the way they look at sex in brothels and just not use them. Male brothels isn’t the answer.

    I always thought male brothels didn’t exist because women were smart enough to realise they’re ( brothels in general )a bad idea.

    Not that it would matter.

    It would still be women who would be degraded and treated poorly.

    It’s all to do with sexism, babe.

    Condoms.

    If a guy carries around a pack of condoms people think of him as “Jack The Lad”, if a girl does it she’ll probably be thought of as a slut.Because of the world we live in you can’t put a chick in the same situation as a dude and hope to get the same results.
    Male nurses are treated with homophobia (whether their gay or not ) and police women aren’t thought of as real police officers

    It’s not right and it needs to be changed.

    But how ?

    I’m sure you’ll come up with something, MA.J.

  • MaryAnn

    I think both sexes come out of that looking rubbish.

    Ya think?

    It’s all to do with sexism, babe.

    Really? Now I get it. Thanks for explaining. Can’t believe I was so dense.

  • blake

    My sarcasm radar just broke.

  • blake

    I was only trying to point out that male brothels weren’t the answer.There was no need to get sarky.

    You said “That’s the answer exactly.”

    Nope, it ain’t.

    One of my fave telly shows is on now, so I’ll get back to this later.

  • MaryAnn

    Blake, I think your sarcasm radar was broken before that point.

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