Did the Internet kill "Girls Gone Wild"?

The Joe Francis empire faces bankruptcy, marking the end of an era. But don't worry, you can still see naked ladies

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 1, 2013 8:42PM (EST)

"Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis      (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)
"Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

When the world is tired of sloppy drunk chicks taking off their tops for trucker hats, it is tired of itself. World, we must be damn weary. The Joe Francis "Girls Gone Wild" empire has filed for bankruptcy protection.

I'm sure you're absolutely heartbroken over what will happen to the man who's made a living finding young women whose judgment is deeply impaired and coercing them into acts that range from a flash of boobies to reportedly losing their virginity to him. Across the nation, women everywhere are so sad, they're leaving their shirts on and can't even muster a single, forlorn "whooooooo."

There was a time, just a few years ago, when Francis seemed to have the Midas touch, a moment when everything in his path turned into nipples and girl-on-girl makeout sessions. Francis was said to have been worth $150 million, and his future looked like it would continue to be more of the same. After all, what's a more reliable moneymaker than youth and poor decision-making?

But we're not living in the infomercial era anymore. And Francis has seen his share of troubles in recent years, including a string of legal woes, most notably courtesy of Steve Wynn and his multiple lawsuits against him. The Las Vegas entrepreneur says Francis now owes him close to $30 million: a $2 million original gambling debt, and the awards of a defamation and slander suit against Francis. Francis' bankruptcy protection filing also mentions other claims against the company, including a $5.8 million one from a woman who says "the company used naked images of her without her permission." You've got to sell a lot of "naked and hot amateurs" to pay that kind of tab.

In his disclosure of the filing Thursday, Francis put on a typically festive face. "The only reason 'Girls Gone Wild' has elected to file for this reorganization is to restructure its frivolous and burdensome legal affairs," he said in a statement. "This Chapter 11 filing will not affect any of 'Girls Gone Wild’s' domestic or international operations. Just like American Airlines and General Motors, it will be business as usual for 'Girls Gone Wild.'"

And yet, somehow, teenagers taking off their tops while a nearly 40-year-old man patters incessantly just off-camera doesn't sound exactly like building cars. I sense no imminent bailout from the White House, if that's what you're holding your breath for, Joe Francis. But feel free to hold your breath anyway.

We are no longer living in a world where we have to rely on one creepy tan guy to dole out jiggly treats to an eager, gazongas-starved audience. GGW launched in 1997, a time when, if you wanted some soft-core fondling action, you had to order a DVD. A DVD! That was long before Skype, before the iPhone, before WorldStarHipHop, before Side Boob Daily, aka HuffPo. Now, you want to see girls? Going wild? Yeah, it's called the Internet.

Perhaps, as he suggests, all is indeed otherwise right in his land of "pussy craving" "whore teens." I certainly doubt the demand for that kind of thing ever goes away. But Francis is no longer the only guy with a camera and some Mardi Gras beads anymore -- not when anyone with a phone can be a pornographer or a porn star or both. He is not the brash youth he once was, swaggering effortlessly into a sea of whipped-up spring breakers. And if he once seemed the modern heir apparent to Hugh Hefner, he seems to have reached that goal – but not as the cool leader of the harem. Rather he looks like the useless older man, presiding over an outdated form. And with this latest and very large setback, "Girls Gone Wild" looks increasingly like a franchise whose time is just plain gone.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Bankruptcy Business Exploitation Girls Gone Wild Joe Francis Nudity Sex Spring Breakers Steve Wynn