Yet like so much else about this place, what's detached in the flesh looks intimate online. The sheer indifference of this daily drill is lost in the illusion of intruding into real life.
In the future, perhaps, all porn will look like this: a performance of the mundane. It's no surprise that the closest these women come to attending college is taking singing lessons, pilot lessons and acting classes, though Amber does plan to attend the University of South Florida in the fall. Hammil says he will pay for her tuition, not to mention the free room and board and a stipend of $500 per week each of these residents already receives. ("I don't want them worrying about their bills," he says expansively.) That's not bad for a 40-hour-per-week gig. But when you think about it, this job involves being on camera for every trip to the fridge and every moment on the can. That's more like 120 hours at less than $4.20 per hour—about a buck under the minimum wage.
"The bathroom you want is this one here," Hammil says, pointing. "You are safe up to three feet in front of the toilet. So stand close if you have to piss." The shower and the mirror are both under surveillance. Covering the camera is not a privilege the women enjoy. But there is no shortage of ingénues willing to act in Hammil's show. His dream, he confides, is "one channel with hundreds of voyeur sites. I have immediate plans for a house in LA, followed by one in Russia. There's gonna be an all-guys dorm, a coed dorm, an Asian girls dorm, a dorm for everybody."
Lots of people get rich off worse ideas. But what about the talent? "I do think this is going to make me famous," says Alex.
In the meantime, there's the adulation of chat-room fans—women as well as men—and the mountains of e-mail she receives every day. When she goes out to local clubs, Alex is recognized. But there's a downside to being a surveillance star. The chronic lack of privacy makes for a certain listlessness, most evident at 3 p.m., when everyone is still asleep or, like Alex, passing the time with crayons and a coloring book. On this Friday afternoon, Amber is lying in bed, her head in the pillow. "Sorry about my panties on the floor," she says. But why apologize when a thousand guys have already seen her panties on the floor? Maybe face-to-face makes for modesty. Maybe she sleeps late to avoid the cameras. Maybe there are a lot of ways in which the image is different in the flesh.
Amber yawns and asks what day it is. It's a funny and sad thing to say, and she knows it. "It's hard to remember the days in here," she repeats to the floor. Hammil tells her it's Friday, and she shrugs at her own confusion, has a cigarette for breakfast, then sinks into the chat chair. For the guys on the other side, it's more like a sexy interlude than a blue moment. That's the illusion of the voyeur cam. You never have to face the fact that Amber would rather be sleeping than chatting with you.