By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"Uh, no, that's okay," the man replies, clearly shaken.
By the time we pull into Copper Canyon, it's mid-morning and there are maybe 15 boats in the cove. After some initial reconnaissance, we dock next to a houseboat rented by Mike from San Diego, who is celebrating his birthday. It's clear that George's reputation precedes him, but having six girls in bikinis dancing to "Barbie Girl" or "Baby Got Back" and occasionally feigning sodomy when the mood takes them only bolsters his air of authority. Women are clearly the coin of the realm here, and they guarantee us safe passage. But that isn't to suggest that this crowd is all frat boys and Hell's Angels on holiday; most boats have at least one female on board, and there are boatloads of women who are clearly here to party.
Docking on the other side of us is Temecula Ken, a part-time pornographer who has brought along a couple of his ingénues. These include Darian, who has giant iron crosses and the word Ari tattooed on her lower back, and Delilah, who embodies the word hard-bitten. She will be the first on the stripper poll.
Once we're securely in place, the other boats creep forward until they completely surround us, like those ghostly Hmong tribesmen who come out of the fog near the end of Apocalypse Now. The cove itself is maybe 70 yards across and completely surrounded by rock cliffs, so that there's no land on which to congregate, leaving all activity to take place in the water and across the surface of the 50 boats that will eventually be rafted together. The land is a Chemehuevi Indian reservation at any rate, which is what keeps the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department collected outside the double line of orange buoys that mark the official entrance lane to the cove. The sheriffs can technically intervene in the event of "lewd acts" or public nudity, but generally try to keep their distance.
George takes out an Instamatic and flashes some cheesecake photos, but it's more to get everyone in the mood than anything else. Brandy wears an "I Ran Your Man" T-shirt and busies herself passing out GM nipple stickers, the size of 50-cent pieces, to all the girls. Kristen occasionally works the pole, pulling the crotch of her bikini aside for Keith's camera so that her piercings and her braces catch the morning light in tandem, while Jessica and Rosanna commandeer the back of the boat for some sunbathing. Both have long, straight hair, and Rosanna also has braces and, through her lip, a silver hoop, which vaguely resembles a fishhook. Keith Kooiman grabs some footage.
"Watch out for Rosanna," says Keith. "The quiet ones are always the wildest."
A local radio station broadcasts live from a rival houseboat across the lake, and as the on-air personalities work the crowd over loudspeakers, girls in bathing suits toss promotional bottles of fruit-flavored Snapple to those in the nearest boats. Some idiot in an Achilles cigarette boat has moored behind us with his 6-year-old kid in tow, while his buddy tries to get some video footage of the girls -- "amateur" photography being the latest in get-rich-quick schemes among a certain mentality. The girls see the kid, cover themselves up and sort through the beads instead, providing an opportunity for a much-contemplated question.
So what is it with these beads, anyway?
Jessica looks suddenly sorry for anyone who might have to ask such a question. "It's how we keep score," she states in a simple declarative sentence. "Rosanna and I compete to see who can get the most."
Everyone seems to be waiting for something to happen, although they would be hard-pressed to say exactly what.
"It's not crazy time yet," Brandy says.
"Y'ALL GONNA MAKE ME LOSE MY MIND"
WATCH ENOUGH GIRLS GONE WILDSTYLE TAPES, AND you get the impression that a sea change is under way. Nudity and expulsion from the garden is big in the Western canon, and each subsequent generation finds new ways to re-enact it. At Burning Man just as forthrightly as at Woodstock, public nudity is a testament to the new social contract -- innocent, communal, creative, free of society's strictures and moral contradictions. This is something altogether different. Certainly places like New Orleans have always possessed a certain laxity as to -- well, everything, clothing included. But with the widespread proliferation of these tapes -- or instantaneous Internet access to pornography, or an African-American renaissance that substituted rap-era sexual flagrancy for rock-era blues-based mythic innuendo, or sexual infantilism in the movies, or pop-cult fetishism, or MTV authoritarianism, or whatever it is -- something has shifted in the last few years. Sex is overground now, airborne and particulate. It's been mainstreamed -- not assimilated or appropriated, as in advertising or fashion, but brought wholesale into the mix.
Girls Gone Wild is a symptom, certainly, but it's also an agent of this change. The presence of the camera crystallizes choices, leeches potential behaviors from beyond the guarded will, a phenomenon to which the 20th century has given ample testimony. The camera has brought with it a liberation that is also strangely comforting. At a place like Lake Havasu, there are now more video cameras on hand than at your average airport or casino. Whatever happens there will be infinitely documented, and given that, the possibility of rape or sexual violence is now suddenly diminished. Whatever errors in judgment may occur, whatever embarrassments enter the permanent record, they almost certainly won't be violent or fatal. ä And so, in the brief history of these tapes you can plot the change almost geometrically, as more and more people are drawn in by the hedonism, as once outré behavior becomes institutionalized, as what was once the province of strippers or showgirls or porn stars becomes a semi-legitimate means of self-expression.