The boys huddle in groups, slouching in their hooded sweatshirts and Carhartt jackets, hands jammed into their jeans pockets. When pressed they'll admit why they came out this snowy Saturday night.
"I'm here to see tits," Frank from Dansville says when I sit next to him at the bar at Water Street Music Hall. He surveys the room. It's 10:30 p.m., there are few women here, and the 23-year-old is starting to lose heart. "At this point," he says, "I doubt I will." Then, exhibiting the kind of resourcefulness and initiative that makes this country great, Frank from Dansville asks me to show him my tits.
There are 100 people spread out in the cavernous club, so it feels empty. It's all the more lonely for guys like Frank because they're not there for the bands. They're waiting for local women to arrive, pay a steep door fee, and flash their breasts for the Girls Gone Wild cameras, which are in town taping footage for a new release, GGW Rocks America. It seems pretty unlikely that this will happen, but the popular DVD series, now a multi-million-dollar-a-year phenomenon, has built its success on an apparently endless supply of "real girl" breasts. They have to come from somewhere.
Suddenly it feels crowded in the spacious room. On one side of me Frank is staring intently at the red graffiti logo sprayed across the chest of my black hoodie. And behind me the guy pressed up against my back is not, I suddenly realize, leaning in to get the bartender's attention. He, too, is trying to get the most out of his investment --- they each paid $18 to get in. I slip away.
Sandra Dee is dead, but the titillating mix of wholesomeness and sexuality she embodied in Gidget and other 1960s beach movies isn't. Girls Gone Wild taps into the male-fueled idea that good girls are also naughty. They really do want to show you their tits. That's certainly the appeal for Mike, a self-described pervert with long grey hair.
"Girls getting naked in public," he says with a slow grin. "Girls flashing in public. You can't get that in porn."
But there's more to it than that. Take the awkward grammar of the trademark: Girls Gone Wild. It's not Girls Going Wild. "Going" is not only more accurate, it's more assertive. Maybe too much so. "Gone" implies a taking leave of one's senses, or at the very least, an absence of responsibility. It conjures a "Gone Fishing" sensibility, where a hand-scribbled sign indicates someone has chosen the pursuit of pleasure over duty.
And of course it's not called "Women Gone Wild," but you already know why. The word "girls" instead of "women" in a sexualized context is more tempting and less threatening for boys, um, men. In fact, GGW's late-night commercials refer to the young women flashing the cameras not as "girls" but as "real girls." They're not. If they were, this would be child pornography.
"Too much sausage here," says Tony from Webster, who is here with his buddies. They're of the Red Bull generation: young, wired, and, in many ways, stymied. One or two of Tony's friends came by bus all the way from Buffalo and their excitement --- as 11 p.m. arrives and the girls don't --- is turning to anxiety.
"I've never seen it so empty here," says PhilyB, who's wearing an oversized white sweatshirt. "I've seen a few bands here and it's always packed." Tonight, however, he's not here to see the bands on the bill. "I'm here to see girls getting naked."
For some odd reason --- A twisted maternal instinct? Memories of my own randy youth? --- I start to feel bad for these guys. I give them a hot tip: look for Pele, a woman who's wearing a sheer black shirt, star-shaped pasties, and a bunch of Mardi Gras beads. Her job is to give beads to girls who flash the cameras.
"Basic beads for flashing," Pele told me earlier. "For fancy beads they'll have to do a little something extra. Boob diving or two girls making out."
But the boys choose to stay in the corner near the stage, hoping for the best. This might be a stretch, but I suddenly wonder if the accessibility of autoeroticism, along with the decline in marriage rates, has engendered in kids a kind of passivity about sex. It's easier to wait for the action to find you --- via a porn tape or streaming video or, on a lucky Saturday night, girls flashing you at a rock club --- than it is to go out and find it for yourself.
What the soft-porn GGW DVDs offer viewers --- and how they differ from most pornography --- is a chance to feel at the center of the attention of the giggling girls who face the camera and lift their shirts. It's like the grown-up version of when kids cheer themselves after hitting a home run or jumping off the swing at its apex. That roaring cheer sound you make in the back of your throat: the crowd goes wild! Except in this case it's the girls who go wild. And they're going wild just for you.
It's 11:30 p.m. and the women are finally showing up, and not a moment too soon for me. Tony, PhilyB, and their pals had just gotten the bright idea to ask me to show them my breasts. I don't feel that bad for them.
Amazingly, the girls entering the club are Girls Gone Wild types --- blond with slim boyish bodies and breasts of varying sizes. Where are all the hot mamas, the curvaceous Latinas, the groovy black chicks, and all the other non-vanilla wild women? By omitting this kind of woman from their DVDs, GGW is doing more than promoting the fantasy of the girl next door showing you her breasts. It's promoting the idea that the girl next door showing you her breasts is skinny and white. I'm no census taker, but it seems to me that most of the women in America are curvy and come in a variety of colors.
I race over to one of the few groups of women. I'm dying to know why they'd flash the cameras. But these women are determined not to. They're here from Webster, they say, and they just want the Girls Gone Wild T-shirts. One says she won't flash because she has a child and "no one wants to see these." Another says she probably won't let strangers see her breasts, but she would show her friends. A third says she's in education and she would normally flash but "the last thing I need is for the kids to say, 'Miss A., were those your boobs we saw on TV?'"
When a cameraman approaches offering a GGW T-shirt to anyone who dances on stage, the young women are torn. "I really want the T-shirt," one says. "Do I have to show my boobs?" The cameraman says she cannot show them. As it turns out, the laws prohibit on-stage nudity in clubs like Water Street. Uh-oh. I wonder if the boys know this. The girls, relieved, grab shirts and run to the bathroom to change.
In states where laws restrict nudity, the Girls Gone Wild bus --- with its big bed and wood veneer paneling --- is where the serious action takes place. Neither the male patrons nor the press are allowed on board. Activities, I learned from viewing two Girls Gone Wild DVDs, include baring breasts, baring bums, girls making out in that fake porno way, and a kind of light cunnilingus which, like the kissing, seems to be more about the male gaze than female pleasure.
I can't imagine why anyone would do this. I was hoping I'd find out at this event. But, like the frustrated boys here in the club, I might not get lucky tonight.
Now there are women on the stage. It's midnight and the audience moves toward them like iron filings towards a magnet. There are just seven of them dancing in a row between the guitarist and the drummer. Among them are the four from Webster who said they wouldn't show their breasts. On stage they are chaste, wearing baby-blue Girls Gone Wild tummy shirts and swaying languidly. No girls going wild here.
Oddly, the boys in the crowd cheer not at the dancing girls but at the video cameras when they appear on stage with their halogen halos directed down at the audience. Everyone's here to be seen.
After just a few songs the dancers disappear backstage, and the band continues to play. Almost immediately the guys in the crowd start to slam dance, hurling their contorted bodies at one another. In the blink of an eye, the sexual tension has turned into violence.
It's nearly 1 a.m. The band left the stage twenty minutes ago. The seven dancers are nowhere to be found. Guys are leaving the club, hunched over against the cold night. Suddenly a clutch of diehards clumped near the stage start to chant.
"Show us your tits! Show us your tits!" Above them, like angels floating on a cloud of male expectations, the women who had been dancing on stage appear on the balcony. They peer down. The boys chant. The women back off. The video cameras light up the balcony. More chanting. Tension builds.
A couple of women appear, leaning over the metal railing. At least one of them said earlier she wouldn't flash. I'm surprised to see her lifting her shirt with the others. I'll ask her why. I head for the balcony. The guys are going berserk. And then, as suddenly as they appeared, the girls are gone.
The chanting resumes, louder. A bouncer is standing at the bottom of the balcony stairs. He won't let me up. I go back to the crowd.
Once again, a few women peer over the railing. The boys stand like marionettes with their heads attached to strings tied to the balcony. Fixated, hopeful.
Two of the women who seemed so modest earlier turn their backs to the crowd and start to inch down their jeans. I wonder why they've changed their minds. Their thongs appear. The marionettes sway, praying that maybe, just maybe, sweet merciful Jesus, they'll get to see the girls' hot white asses.
Suddenly, the boys are jerking around, bouncing right and left. The view, the heaven-sent view, is obstructed.
"Move the sign," they scream, jostling each other. A white plastic banner advertising 94.1 FM The Zone is tied to the balcony railing. It's in the way. "Move the damn sign," they beg.
The young women, oblivious, pull their pants farther down. Only the Zone sign, the world's luckiest sign, sees the whole thing. The girls wriggle their pants up and disappear into the darkness of the balcony.
Mantra Entertainment, the company responsible for the popular Girls Gone Wild DVDs advertised on late-night infomercials, is expanding its brand to include a chain of restaurants and an upcoming MGM film. Here are some quick facts about the company:
• Mantra offers more than 100 titles, including GGW Endless Spring Break and GGW Girl Power.
• It just introduced a new line of Guys Gone Wild DVDs.
• It's owned by 32-year-old Joe Francis, who started the company eight years ago and built it into a multimillion-dollar-a-year corporation.
• Both the company and Francis have multiple lawsuits and criminal cases pending against them, including racketeering, obscenity, and enticing underage girls to expose themselves and engage in sex acts.
• GGW came to Water Street Music Hall on Saturday, February 26, as part of its Rock America tour, which brought national frat-rock bands and the promise of local girls unveiling their breasts to rock venues across the country.
• This isn't the first time GGW has had Rochester in its sights. The show planned to stage an event at Tiki Bob's last year, but it was shot down by the city before it arrived.