Cam, a new psychological thriller streaming on Netflix, nails the dangerous work of cam girls, with few embellishments.
Madeline Brewer stars as Alice, a cam girl forced to reclaim her online identity before she loses everything. Isolated from friends and family, Alice is secretive about her work, spending the majority of her waking hours either on cam or responding to messages from paying fans. Obsessed with her cam-site ranking Alice pushes the boundaries, creating gory shows, pushing to be one of the site’s top 50 models. The higher she climbs, the more susceptible she is to competition—and some of her competitors will stop at nothing to take her spot.
As a cam girl, Brewer’s character is stalked by a fan who doubled as her online moderator—mentally tortured, isolated from family and friends and yet intensely passionate about her online persona. According to some of the most recognized female cam models, Cam hits very close to home, as they recount similar horrifying personal experiences.
Macy Kennedy began her career as a webcam model nearly seven years ago, back when the business was smaller and the payouts larger, and there was a lot less competition. While camming, she wasn’t thinking about stalkers and potentially dangerous situations—there’s an illusion of safety when working from one’s own home. Since then she’s been stalked twice, each more extreme than the last. “I had someone following me around and he was really attached to me and I didn’t know what to do,” recalls Kennedy. “After that I locked everything down and stopped mentioning where I was from because I was so terrified.”
It’s not just about keeping an eye out for who might be trailing her to her room during conventions; one shocking experience has even taught Kennedy to guard against what she sees. “I was in a private and I watched someone cut the tip of their dick off. He just did it. It scared me and I thought it was fake—it was not fake,” says Kennedy. “I asked the guy, ‘Are you joking? Because I can’t tell and I need to know, for real, did you just cut the tip of your dick off?’ To this day it gives me chills.”
“It scared me so bad and I was like, do I call the police? What do I do?” recalls Kennedy. “I didn’t even know where this guy was.”
These days, catching Kennedy in a private one-on-one chat is rare. While she can’t shake the gruesome visual, she’s doing her best to prevent it from ever happening again. Currently nominated for the Xbiz 2019 Cam Model of the Year, Kennedy hasn’t let any of those frightening experiences slow her down. She’s resilient, and like most independent cam models, she’s not going to let anyone tell her what to do unless she’s consented for a certain amount of tokens.
Tipped in various amounts of tokens, there’s an aspect of gamification on most cam-model sites which both encourages higher buy-ins from consumers but also a disconnect from reality. As seen in Cam, most successful models rely on a superfan—one who has elevated privileges and functions as a moderator within rooms and group chats. Abandoning the off-cam world, some fans develop a one-sided relationship with the object of their desire.
Kissing Kate, as she’s known online, calls most of her fans a huge “blessing,” however the 24-year-old is still fairly new to camming, having just begun her career in March of this year. In that short time, Kate’s recognition (she’s nominated for a 2019 Best New Cam Girl award) has grown, as have her experiences with a few overly-attached fans—one of whom was her former moderator.
As moderator, a fan commands a certain degree of power, and is granted the authority to silence the others and maintain jurisdiction over the model’s chat room. That sense of power, however, can quickly transform into entitlement. “This particular mod got a bit too attached, he was controlling my chat room more than I was,” says Kate. “It started to make me feel like he was the one in control of my shows. I finally put my foot down and completely cut ties with this person because it was becoming toxic.”
Performing cam shows five days a week, Kate treats this as her full-time job, which makes it even more important to interact with supportive, unentitled fans. And with such little time off-cam, models are often isolated from real-life interactions with friends, and come to rely on these online social interactions almost as heavily as their fans do—especially for a model determined to place among the site’s top-ranked, as Brewer’s character in Cam poignantly displays.
Sex-worker advocate and veteran cam model Ginger Banks says the movie was so real it almost made her sick to watch it. She recalls the terror of telling her family, and how she too wanted to be the highest-ranked before revealing her big secret. “You want to be successful enough to tell your parents. The last time I went for rank it was right before I told my dad,” says Banks. “To go for rank you work all the time, so unless you have a community of sex workers you don’t get to talk about your accomplishments later and your anxiety can get the best of you.”
With each day, Banks says she’s learning to become less ashamed of her job, and looking back realizes just how much it’s impacted her life. “Now that I’m starting to share my job I’m meeting more and more people who are accepting of what I do,” says Banks. “It’s sad but until you open up your life will be negatively impacted.”