Mail-order nudist family gathering videos. Who makes this stuff and how?
September 22, 2007 10:47 AM   Subscribe

What is the relationship between legitimate (?) "naturism/nudism" lifestyles and the pseudo-child-porn industry?

I just got a (completely unsolicited) catalog in the mail advertising "nudist lifestyle" videos featuring children and young teenagers doing pretty normal and boring things outdoors, nude, with their nude families.

I think this isn't legally pornography because there doesn't appear to be an sexual element to it. But it does include nude teen gymnastics and some sort of teen beauty pageant, and it's not hard to know the target market for this material.

I can imagine the demand for this stuff is driven by those attracted to children and underage people wanting to be able to look at naked kids without getting into legal trouble.

What's confusing to me is the supply end of this. Where does it come from? I find it hard to believe that all of these pictures of family gatherings and naked frisbee-golf in the brochure I'm looking at have been elaborately staged by clever pedophiles to skirt the law. Hanging out naked is something that some people do without ulterior motives, especially outside the U.S. where it appears much of this is from.

But how does that become a two-hour video of a dozen naked underage girls exploring an ancient Russian castle and then doing gymnastics together which is marketed to Hustler subscribers? I would think that any well-intentioned nudist families would not want videos of their kids sold in this way. So why all the videotaping?

Are porn consumers the intended audience of the original footage or are innocent pictures and films being repurposed? Do the people being filmed (or their parents who arranged it) know about this audience? Are the subjects paid well for their participation, and convince themselves it's not going to be used for this purpose? I'm finding it hard to imagine any other possible market for material that is otherwise no more or less interesting than someone's vacation photos.

Does anyone have any knowledge or pure speculation about how this stuff gets produced? I've never gotten a catalog like this before and it seems really bizarre.
posted by crabintheocean to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've never been to one of these places, but always think of the David Sedaris essay on his visit to a nudist resort.

On the one hand, I've read that folks who go for this sort of thing (legitimately) are all about the normality of it, and so maybe they really don't mind being videotaped as they go about their normal vacation activities.

On the other hand, I'd have to imagine that even with parental consent, sales of such videos could even be close to legal in the US.

The cynic in me says: pervs are taking advantage to sell to other pervs. If it were me, I'd trash/burn the catalog.
posted by jquinby at 10:57 AM on September 22, 2007

There was a thread about websites like this, a while back. I don't think any conclusions were reached :).
posted by mdn at 11:41 AM on September 22, 2007

When I was in Croatia recently, all the nicest beaches we found were nude beaches and they were all listed as FKK beaches. Curious what this was all about I googled it then and came up with stuff like this (Beach guide with a few small naked pics): "Naturist beaches in Croatia are marked as "FKK". This is abbreviation for German word "Freikörperkultur" (Free Body Culture). The FKK sign is ubiquitous all along the Croatian coast."

Apparently, from my limited googling, FKK culture, which is family oriented, dont believe that being filmed naked is any worse than we believe it is to be filmed clothed. Also, my impression is that videos of their activities are not produced by them but by interloping foreigners who undoubtedly know they can make money off these things.
posted by vacapinta at 11:46 AM on September 22, 2007

[IB's wife here]

When I started working in phone sex, I used to get calls from a creep who loved watching these videos while talking to girls who would do "little" voices. Yuck. Yuck, ew, ick (that's why I don't work dispatch any more!). And apparently, he had a group of friends, all of whom liked to talk about being "girl-lovers" and watch these videos. Seriously. It was appalling. After one too many play-by-plays of a nudist beauty pageant for children, I left that company for good.
posted by InnocentBystander at 12:17 PM on September 22, 2007

Hmmm, I wonder if someone is videoing us shopping, walking down the street, doing the gardening, going about our regular stuff, etc, then selling it in countries that have much more restrictive dress codes, legal because it's not porn, but still entirely for prurient purposes?

My only other thought is that getting something like that as an unsolicited catalogue is odd. I'm guessing that either it's malicious (such as a sting), or someone used a fake address for something (and the address happened to be yours), or someone gave your address to a company as a prank.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2007

"But how does that become a two-hour video of a dozen naked underage girls exploring an ancient Russian castle and then doing gymnastics together which is marketed to Hustler subscribers?"

Well, I can tell you it sure as hell wouldn't be Hustler doing it. Their mailing lists are carefully guarded, and the compliance department is militant about avoiding even a whiff of child-porn allegations.

But I'd also wager that it's like Ann Arbor's nude mile, in that nude beaches would attract creeps with cameras.
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on September 22, 2007

Seconding klang here. I'm not an expert on this, but I imagine that most of these videos come from creepy dudes sneaking into nude resorts.

Is it child pr0n? Eh.

If theres anything "sexual" about a child's body, it lies entirely in the mind of the creep, not you. Creeps could potentially jerk off to a JC Penny Kids catalog -- and frankly, I'd wonder much more about the type of parents who put their kids up for Jon Benet-esque catalog modeling than the type who are into naturism yet find themselves in front of some weirdo's camera.

Just toss the mag and write them a take-me-off-your-list letter. It's really no biggie.
posted by Avenger at 12:49 PM on September 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

[IB's wife again]

any time I've been to actual nudist places, cameras have been strictly forbidden because of this sort of thing. Maybe it's different in Europe, I don't know, but you have to pretty much prove you're totally legitimate before bringing any sort of recording devices to the nudist places I've been to.
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:14 PM on September 22, 2007

You should be aware that the history of nudism/naturism even includes a pre-war split on the terminology, because the movement has always had to fight prejudice that nude=sex. There are differences among nudist resorts even today (although the US usage of "naturism" is limited compared to elsewhere). Thus the movement developed elaborate rituals of recreation to dispel the idea that it was in fact about sex.

At the same time, the perv factor existed and has always exploited the market with magazines and so forth purportedly about the lifestyle but full of buxom blondes playing volleyball -- or adolescent girls and boys. There's never been any doubt in my mind that 90% of the sales of this material go to people who have prurient interests.

There was formerly a protective wall, though, around some of these photographers, something like the police or the mob. [NOT GODWINIST] There was a big blow-up beginning about 20 years ago, around the time that child molestation became a major societal issue (see "Something About Amelia"), and nowadays there is, if I understand correctly, one group of resorts that shares information about creepy guys with cameras and collectively bans them after complaints, and another less supervised group. There are still more divisions between resorts that are basically swinger-oriented and those that are "family" oriented.

That doesn't specifically answer why there are Russian parents, for example, who allow their girls to be roped into these videos, but it may have something to do with an attitude that they aren't actually being exploited by viewers who aren't present, or something like that. Something along the lines of sex-positive feminism.

But as for the consumer end of things, I think it's just like the older federal-law-evading types of porn that mixed explicit photographs with "educational" material. As long as the kids are, say, exploring a castle nude, instead of posing on a log, you have a justification that evades US law.
posted by dhartung at 1:22 PM on September 22, 2007

Where is the thread about the MeFi member who was busted for this sort of thing? It's a vague memory, but I'm certain he's one of our more infamous members?
posted by Roach at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions about what I should do with the catalog, but they're really not necessary. I'm also not so interested in how people are so freaked by this they'd actually set fire to a catalog to reassure themselves. Nor am I sitting in the corner shaking from horror and hoping to be told it's no biggie.

This is just an intellectual curiosity about the economics and motivation behind this.

vacapinta has come closest to an answer so far:
...FKK culture, which is family oriented, dont believe that being filmed naked is any worse than we believe it is to be filmed clothed. Also, my impression is that videos of their activities are not produced by them but by interloping foreigners...
Which seems right, as a lot of it is eastern European. Except that from reading the descriptions, some of these things seem to be staged just to be filmed, so it seems like at least some of this is being filmed with the full participation of the subjects.

on preview, thanks too to dhartung for the background info.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:32 PM on September 22, 2007

By way of short response - my suggestion about burning was less about reassurance more than it was an unwillingness to have to explain it away. I've heard of child pr0n stings that begin with catalog mailings. The one I have in mind specifically involved the postal inspectors or somesuch.
posted by jquinby at 3:14 PM on September 22, 2007

This is the case I had in mind - I wasn't aware it's been overturned on appeal. Still...who needs the hassle?
posted by jquinby at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2007

Here's a potted history of erotica publisher Milton Luros [NSFW art/book covers], who moved into nudist magazines because it was then illegal to show full frontal nudity in girlie magazines.

Here's a TIME article on children & the nudist lifestyle from 2003, with a bonus appearance from one Rep. Mark Foley. Oh, but of course.

This is Nikki Craft's^ Nudist Hall of Shame [NSFW], a page attacking those in the movement Craft believes protected child molesters and pornographers. (A lot of people disagree with her.) It includes links to numerous other resources on the exploitation angle that you brought up; in particular, the segment "Studies on Nudism & Children" links to a catalog page that sounds like it sells some of the same material as you saw in the print catalog, full of the same sort of "look how happy and accepting they are!" pep talk. In particular, I think the story of Eric Cross could give you some insights.

I struggled to find a reliable rebuttal to Craft, unfortunately. One of her longtime foes was nudist publisher/promoter Lee Baxandall^, with whom she had a falling out as she learned how many nudism activists had sexual predator rap sheets.

I can only speak from personal awareness, but my sense is that nudism is on surer footing today than 20 years ago and the protectiveness and denial have been largely shed. Nudists no longer fear that one creepy cameraman will result in the shutdown of an entire resort. But this may have little to do with the Eastern European cultural scene.
posted by dhartung at 5:07 PM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Where is the thread about the MeFi member who was busted for this sort of thing?
posted by davar at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2007

I'm surprised nobody's posited that it could be a sting operation. Maybe there's nothing specifically illegal about the videos (I don't know, there could be, IANAL), and the outfit may or may not be a government front, but I'd bet the feds get their hands on that customer list one way or another.
posted by Myself at 2:34 AM on September 23, 2007

(Admittedly in Australia and partly from memory) Years back, I stumbled across a stack of nudist? lifestyle type mags. Most of the details escape me but I believe it stated it was illegal for children under 16 to be photographed/published (both maybe??). Something they then reflected in their magazine.

Here it's now an offense to photograph children in a public place. (Also includes being in the"background" of "completely innocent" shots. Unfortunately this also includes them being in the background of completely innocent shots). Punishable by fines and confiscation. What you discribe would be so illegal I would not be surprised if it were to spontaneously combust.

*Blargh* Makes my skin Crawl! Maybe all nudists (and also people with children, nudist or otherwise) should be given great big sticks? Excellent for bushwalking ect or just whacking anything suspicious looking. (Ok so it wasn't my skin crawling and possibly, was just my blood boiling).
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:56 AM on September 23, 2007

I had been mixing it up with wdpeck in that earlier thread and hadn't heard the later news about his arrest. Ish.
posted by blueshammer at 7:54 PM on September 23, 2007

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