LOS ANGELES — Ela Darling, veteran performer, adult industry advocate, and virtual reality pioneer, delivered an engaging and impassioned “XBIZ Talk” presentation on Tuesday, highlighting the power and value of the 2018 XBIZ Show’s groundbreaking series of solo-presentations by select business leaders.
Her XBIZ Talk was Darling’s third discussion of the day, following previous panel appearances on the “Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality: The Future of Fantasy” and “Camming 2018: State of the Art” seminars that delved into the details of two of her areas of expertise: VR and camming. Indeed, Darling is known as “The World’s First VR Cam Girl” in recognition of her first-to-market technology evangelism coupled with her captivating on-screen presence — a presence she projected into her fan’s environment through intimate VR experiences — and into attendee’s consciousness’ during her XBIZ Talk.
A continuation of a TEDx Talk she delivered in Germany last year, Darling’s presentation on “Not Being Afraid to Take Risks,” was intended to encourage people to take chances and to challenge themselves, but turned into so much more, as she touched on top issues facing performers, including stigmatization that can last a lifetime — a lifetime, that for some who lose hope, is sadly cut short.
Darling spoke candidly about the recent rise in performer suicides and bared her heart over her own battle with the dark spaces and uncertainty that many young women in the industry come to face, while discussing the value of peer outreach — where having other performers in one’s social network provides an incredible business-building (and potentially life-saving) resource.
“I found a beautiful community of people who fight for their right to speak and be heard, to express themselves creatively and sexually, and who care for each other,” Darling told the audience. “I’ve also found a community of people that can sometimes carry a lot of weight on their shoulders and be expected to look effortless doing so.”
The audience, including many performers, listened intently as Darling spoke aloud about things she feels are not discussed enough…
“Things we all see and face as performers but we rarely articulate out loud. That can accumulate to the point of driving you to the edge,” Darling said, noting several people in our industry have been driven to that edge over the past year. She then turned this stark reality into a ray of hope: “Instead of asking you to challenge yourself as an individual, I’m going to suggest ways that we as an industry can challenge ourselves to help each other.”
Among these rays of hope are ongoing efforts by the Adult Performers Advocacy Committee (APAC), as well as the benefits of establishing peer relationships to face the inevitable challenges.
“As adult industry professionals, and as performers especially, our entire job is a series of risks,” Darling declared, listing a litany of risks including discovery by family and friends; inconsistency in bookings due to illness or market factors that can lead to financial stress; problems caused by overzealous fans and anti-porn activists; and manipulation by those pushing their own agenda.
Challenges from within, such as the difficulties of freelancing and its “feast or famine” lack of consistent revenue generation; the constant influx of new, younger talent willing to do more for less; the fear of retribution in the event of speaking out about the excesses of abusive directors or other power players; the risk of STIs and the pressure to escort, all hit Darling’s radar — as did a discussion of “whorearchy” — where some parts of the performer pool “look down” upon other industry operators and activities.
“There is also a dichotomization of identity,” Darling explained. “You are either the virgin or the whore, the teen or the stepmom, the coerced or the insatiable, the sub or the dom.”
There were many attendee heads nodding in concurrence as Darling described “the fallow period” — the point where a model is too old to be cast as a coed, but too young to be cast as a MILF, during which longer-term performers may find little work — and may question their self-worth.
This led into an interesting side discussion on how fan analytics drive casting today, with models keenly aware that for them to get work, they need to fit certain search keywords. Indeed, porn stardom today seems not so much a matter of persona, but of algorithms used to maximize revenues in an increasingly and already incredibly competitive marketplace.
During the discussion, this author imagined performers “collecting” keywords and tags in the same way that some girls add charms to their Pandora bracelet — a far cry from the stereotypes of sexiness that once drove casting and promotion — while also serving as a statistical source of guidance for performers seeking to craft a profitable persona.
Dealing with social and personal challenges was also a hot topic, with Darling discussing dating dilemmas and other relationship issues performers face, including family “outings” and combatting stereotypes, saying, “the burden of upholding the image of our industry falls on us.”
As for the future, Darling points to the long-term consequences of adult work due to prejudices during the light of day by many of the same folks that were fans by the dark of night.
“The societal taboos around sex limit our options post-retirement,” Darling said. “Even the most basic jobs are frequently off the table for us [and] going back to school can be dangerous.”
Darling pointed to Subway’s firing of an employee it discovered had performed in adult, explaining that “You won’t even be able to make sandwiches for people after being in porn...”
This lack of fairness is an emotional issue for those most affected by it.
“At this point you might think that I hate porn or regret being in this career but that’s not the case,” Darling said. “The point is that as performers, we experience all of this but rarely have safe spaces to discuss and address it.”
Darling was gaining significant traction with the audience, many of whom were visibly moved by her words and the personal chords they struck. This group of performers shared similar experiences and it was clearly cathartic for them to hear someone so intimately reveal the feelings they all had in common.
“I don’t know of anyone in this industry who hasn’t at some point felt completely overwhelmed,” she added. “If it feels like it’s all too much to handle and you’re at your absolute limit, you’re not alone.”
Noting the myriad issues performers face do not have a single solution, Darling outlined steps that can be taken to protect and promote one’s career, citing the value of support systems — even having a good friend to talk to — among other helpful actions.
“Cultivate honesty on social support groups and share the weight together. Cut each other some slack,” Darling said, adding, “Ultimately, we aren’t going to fix every challenge performer’s face.”
“Understand that your value is not a metric measured by your success or longevity as a porn star,” Darling concluded to raucous applause. “No matter how great or poor your success in porn is, your personal value extends far beyond that.”
A favorite presenter at a variety of events including mainstream mainstay South by Southwest Festival, Darling’s work has also been covered by media outlets including The New York Times, Rolling Stone and New York Post.
She remains at the top of her game across several spaces, earning a 2018 XBIZ Award nomination for “Crossover Star of the Year,” while in her role as CAM4VR’s VR Content Manager, she also received an XBIZ Exec Award nomination for “Brand Ambassador of the Year.”
The 2018 XBIZ Show, presented by ManyVids, continues through Friday at Hollywood’s chic Andaz hotel.
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