READ the Best of Portfolio, featuring a selection of the best published work from Portfolio students.

KEEP UP with journalists' beats in Blogfolio, updated throughout the day.

  • Read more about Portfolio

  • See sample portfolio proposals

  • Application information

  • Video of guest speakers and Master Classes (requires RealPlayer)

    Search for talent

    « BACK to Christopher Ditto's portfolio

    Posted 10.12.03
    Classifieds for the People
    Something for Everyone on the Back Page of the Village Voice

    November 12, 2001

    There is something to entice nearly anyone on the back page of the Village Voice:

    For as little as $150, anyone can place a two-line ad on the Voice Bulletin Board, a spread of miscellaneous advertisements and announcements. That amount could get your message to more than a quarter million people -- the circulation for the paper standing at 289,000. An additional $30 adds a splash of color to the listing to help the ad stand out from the fifty or so other ads that will share the page.

    But what is the reality behind the ads and their lines of well-polished promises?

    One ad reads: "TV MAKEOVERS AND PARTIES. 212-330-8366" A call to the number leads to a recording. "Welcome to the House of the Feminine Spirit," explains a soft woman's voice. "I will create an environment where you can experience pleasures usually open only to the female gender." The voice, it turns out, belongs to Stephanie who describes herself as a "GG," a genetic girl. "TV," if you haven't guessed already, does not stand for television, but "transvestite."

    The House of the Feminine Spirit is explicit about what services it offers, and how much they will cost. Two and a half hours includes a complete makeup session, body sculpturing, which reshapes a man's body to appear more feminine, and one change of outfit and costs $250. A five and a half hour session is $550 and includes an additional three changes of clothes and an "ultimate candlelight bubble bath."

    Another ad reads: "SMOKE POT -- GET PAID, YES TO $2,680 CASH." Callers to the number listed hear the following: "Men and women like you are making thousands weekly just sitting around watching TV, or just reading a book," exclaims a peppy recorded female voice touting the advantages of making money through research studies. "Some programs allow you to participate from home, others provide private resort-like accommodations."

    One research study, according to the recording, is looking for smokers or non-smokers and offering them over $3,000. But before you can "make your dreams come true," you will need to send "$19.95 plus $4 shipping and handling" for The Confidential Report, an "exclusive directory" featuring hundreds of cash research studies.

    Yet another ad asks: "DO YOU HAVE A GREAT SEX LIFE?" Ordinary Films is looking for couples willing to share "how they keep the fire burning." Following the link to offers the first glimpse of what "sharing" actually means. Couples must be willing to both "appear on camera having sex," and be willing to sign a model release form.

    David Ryan, a director and editor for Ordinary Films says that the human sexual experience deserves better than the "peroxide drenched star vehicles" and "shabbily produced amateur tapes" that dominate the adult video market. "Sure, these tapes will turn you on," said Ryan, "but they also leave you feeling vaguely embarrassed that something so vapid can turn your crank." Ryan's movies involve ordinary people discussing, and engaging in, sex.

    Other ads for medical studies promise large amounts of money, often thousands of dollars, for qualified volunteers.

    "HIV+ and EXPERIENCING DIARRHEA?" reads one ad, "YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR A NUTRITION AND ACUPUNCTURE STUDY." The study, a phone call reveals, is run by the Columbia University School of Nursing and offers $60 to $210 for participants who keep "daily journals of food bowel movements" and attend sessions at the school. The study's funding comes from a National Institute of Health grant.

    The school is also offering moxibustion therapy, a process that involves burning mugwart, as an alternative to acupuncture. "Don't worry," explained Anne Chung, a nursing school administrator who recruits new study participants, "the burning leaves never come into contact with the skin. But we do need to know if you're allergic to smoke."

    Still another ad reads: "DO YOU HAVE A COCAINE PROBLEM?" This one was placed by the Substance Treatment and Research Service, also known as STAR, an organization that conducts many of its studies at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. STAR runs several ads on each Village Voice back page looking for heroin, cocaine, and marijuana users for federally funded programs.

    Finally there is this ad: "BRAND YOURSELF! SOME PEOPLE ENJOY TATOOING, OTHERS PIERCINGS AND SCARIFICATION," the ad begins, "BUT IF YOU ENJOY BRANDING YOURSELF OR YOUR COMPANY THEN IT'S TIME YOU CALL." The attention-grabbing listing is perhaps the most revealing of all. It is an advertisement for the page itself, run by the Village Voice to attract new advertisers.