A cautionary tale of con jobs, betrayal, egomania and our obsession with fame.
How desperate are you to masturbate furiously over nude photos of second-string celebrities? A usually rhetorical question that was answered this week, when Bella Thorne apparently raked in two million dollars offering nude images on OnlyFans, the best known of the sites that allow porn stars, cam girls, sex workers (and others) to cut the middle man and sell content directly to fans.
The former Disney star recently directed a PornHub short film and has determinedly reinvented herself as a sex-positive, pansexual campaigner – and, given that her career has so far run from Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and A Madea Halloween to the Scream TV series and The Babysitter, perhaps a change of career direction was for the best. Anyway…
Thorne set up an OnlyFans account – allegedly as research for a film project, though the director linked to said project has quickly distanced himself from it and from Thorne. She made $1 million in a day, and $2 million within the week, for $20 a month subscriptions even though she stated up front that she wouldn’t be appearing nude on the site -. What people would get for their money is anyone’s guess – the ‘uncensored’ and private musings of a B-list movie star, I guess, or perhaps they just ignored the small print in their excitement. Or maybe they relished the chance to be thoroughly rinsed by someone who already has more money than most of them will ever see. Because once you signed up to her ‘absolutely not nude’ page, you got a message from her offering you a new nude photo. All you had to do was pay $200 to open the image. Well, in for a penny, in for two hundred bucks I guess.
Unfortunately, the offer was a honey trap. The photo people saw when they paid up was Bella Thorne nude – at least from the waist up – but strategically posed to cover up the body parts that people wanted to see, which could at least be argued as delivering what was advertised, however disingenuously, but is also a complete con, especially when Thorned responded to fans who were understandably dubious about the deal by saying the image was “Naked. NAKED!? yes naked” and “no clothes naked”. Somehow, she forgot to add ‘but no nipple or pussy’, which might have been a more honest description. We won’t share the photo here, lest we get a $200 bill, but you can find it online if you look hard enough.
Only a celebrity – be it high end or low rent – would have the arrogance and self-importance to believe that a photo of themselves showing a bit of side boob would be greeted with universal excitement and nodding approval by people who had forked out $200 to see it and that no one would be remotely pissed that it wasn’t the promised nude shot. But then, isn’t this celebrity culture in a nutshell? We have a media that encourages us to hang on every ill-informed celeb opinion, to follow their shallow and privileged lives – somehow exempting the overpaid no-talent famous- for-being-famous idiot from the ‘eat the rich’ mentality – and to worship them like secular Gods. From tone-deaf Covid singalong videos seemingly designed as an extra lockdown punishment to half-baked anti-capitalist whining delivered from their large houses in gated communities, the celebrity community has been continually egged on in their belief that they really are better than the rest of us and that we should be desperately grateful for any bone they throw our way. In this sheltered, ego-pumped world, it’s easy to understand why Thorne would think that people would be satisfied with a photo of her in her underwear – less ‘let them eat cake’ and more ‘let them wank over this, it’s good enough’. Of course, people – toadies, paid lackeys, fawning fans – will constantly line up to tell Thorne that she is uniquely gorgeous, sexy, desirable, brave, inspired and important. And of course, she’s going to believe them.
And the fact is that a large number of people – no one seems quite sure how many – shelled out the $200. Bear in mind that there are already nude images of Thorne out there – a year ago, naked selfies were (allegedly) stolen and used to extort money from her. Rather than pay up, she released the images herself. Very admirable, if the facts of the case are what we were told and this wasn’t just a publicity stunt. And she has posted equally teasing shots – some more revealing – across Instagram and such for the last couple of years. If you wanted to see Thorned almost naked, you easily could – free of charge. Bear in mind too that OnlyFans is awash with women who will sell you nude images, women who might – depending on your personal taste, of course, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder – be a lot more attractive than Thorne, and who would provide more explicit and personalised images for less money. Let’s be blunt here – how desperately sucked into celebrity culture must you be to be willing to spend $200 to see the star of Amityville: The Awakening naked?
Under other circumstances, we could just shake our heads at this level of desperation and celebrity worship, but Thorne’s actions seem to have had real-world consequences for the very sex workers that she purports to support. Unsurprisingly, many people were a touch disappointed with what they got for $200. A large number of people wanted their money back, and luckily for them, OnlyFans will refund you if you’ve been scammed because scammers are probably going to pop up on the platform from time to time. But of course, under normal circumstances, a scammer might only be able to rip off a handful of people before being caught. If Thorne had made $2 million in a week at $20 a time, then she had 100,000 subscribers. God knows how many of them had paid out to see the ‘nude’, but even if it was one per cent, that’s a lot of money for OnlyFans to refund – and chargebacks don’t come free for the company, who will have processing and admin costs. Not to mention the kick in the pants to the levels of trust that punters might feel – after all, if a ‘respectable’ Hollywood star can use the platform to scam people, how trustworthy will the anonymous camgirl be?
OnlyFans have now instigated a series of changes, which they claim are not down to any individual case, but all of which seem to be aimed at reducing a Bella Thorne level scam from happening again. There’s now a maximum charge of $50 for pay-per-view images, which might not sound so bad, but bear in mind that many such images will be custom shot for a single person. Tips are capped at $100, and all payments to performers are now to be kept for thirty days, presumably just in case there is a huge demand for refunds. If you are making a living from OnlyFans – and if you are a porn performer, then Covid-19 has probably reduced your opportunities to make a living elsewhere – then these restrictions are going to bite into your income, and most people will not be making $ million a month – or a year. And going from being able to withdraw money after a week to having to wait a month has the potential to throw some people into unexpected financial difficulties, through no fault of their own. In the grand scheme of Covid related redundancies, furlough pay cuts and all-round uncertainty, it might not seem the biggest of hardships, but it was unnecessary and adds an extra layer of stress to a group of people who are already stigmatised and constantly live under the threat of seeing the platforms that they use to make a living shut down to satisfy the prudish whims of RadFems and moralisers alike.
As for Thorne – she has invariably played the victim card, talking about how much she has risked her career to support sex workers (though $2 million a month might help ease the pain of possibly not being asked back onto The Masked Singer or not getting to do that movie based on OnlyFans). “I wrote and directed a porn against the high brows of my peers and managers because I WANTED to help with the stigma behind sex”, she said rather incoherently on Twitter, as part of a thread that was half apology, half egotistical screed – typical celebrity self-importance, in fact.
It might be that this situation has simply brought a problem with OnlyFans to the surface and that their current payment situation would’ve needed an overhaul at some point anyway. But there’s something a touch unpleasant – and somehow symbolic – about the vaguely famous popping up to take over someone else’s domain, exploiting the deranged public obsession with celebrity to satisfy their giant ego and then shitting on both punters and porn stars from a great height, while proclaiming yourself as their saviour.
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