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A pale, shirtless boy in his late teens is sitting in a dim, bare room. His phone is propped up on a desk in front of him, beneath a rigged-up ring-light device. “I want you all to fucking like the fuck out of my live. Sit here and spam it,” he says, leaning closer to the phone to peer at his own recorded image and the feed activity on the screen. “And, while you’re spamming it, fucking pay me. I want you all to go broke tonight. . . . just tip me. Tip me a fucking twenty right now, O.K.?” A curly-haired boy in a light-blue T-shirt enters the room, sits down, and joins in, addressing the feed’s viewers. He name-checks a client who had apparently just sent in money, calling him “a fucking example for all of you fucking betas.” The taunt then turns into a directive: “You should all be doing what he is doing and serving us.”
These two boys are part of a group of friends—captured by Enrique Pedráza-Botero and Faye Tsakas in their short film “Alpha Kings”—who make their living by practicing financial domination, known as findom, on the OnlyFans app. The two filmmakers, recent graduates of the M.F.A. in Documentary Film program at Stanford University, began working on “Alpha Kings” more than a year ago, when they realized that they shared an interest in the sex-work-adjacent economy that has emerged online in recent years, and specifically in findom. In the niche kink, a submissive partner receives a sexual charge by giving money to a dominant. “What was fascinating to us is how these kids felt, given the current economic climate, given the rapid shrinking of the middle class, that this was genuinely the best opportunity for them to achieve the trajectory of the American Dream that isn’t really possible for Gen Z in the way it used to be,” Tsakas told me, when I recently spoke with her and Pedráza-Botero over Zoom. “We were also interested in the fact that it was a group of boys who all did this together, in a kind of social-bonding way.”
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Tsakas and Pedráza-Botero found the group of guys on Twitter—a platform on which they can openly offer their services as financial dominants. “Their profiles are very public. They’re not doing any of this in secrecy,” Tsakas told me. “It was important for us that these were people who would be able to be vulnerable and talk to us about what they do,” Pedráza-Botero said. In the film, the boys, who live in a suburb of Houston, Texas, are seen interacting with clients online—sometimes shirtless and flexing, occasionally showing their feet, but often receiving money simply for appearing on camera and doling out the occasional morsel of verbal abuse. “I’ve been sitting here chilling and I made almost a grand. . . . I’m making money right now, talking,” one of the boys tells the filmmakers as he lies supine and passive, holding his phone. “We were fascinated by how they would leave the camera on for hours and do mundane things, and people would actually pay for that,” Tsakas said.
As I watched the film, I was struck by how much these self-proclaimed alpha kings reminded me of young male TikTok influencers, who might film themselves pranking one another, or doing complicated choreography routines. Though they are involved in a decidedly less wholesome milieu, the boys in Pedráza-Botero and Tsakas’s film, with their moplike haircuts, their smooth, hairless torsos, their pearl chokers and diamond-stud earrings—all contemporary signifiers meant to arouse desire—resemble their more vanilla counterparts, who in recent years have been gaining droves of followers. “The kind of work the boys do is very tied to the celebrification of culture in America right now. It’s a new arena of fandom,” Tsakas said of her film’s subjects. “Influencer culture has paved the way for this kind of work to exist.” The boys know that there is value in their youth, and that their turn as findom masters might not last forever. “One of them told me, ‘I’m going to do this as long as I’m young enough, as long as I look like this,’ ” Tsakas said. A member of an earlier generation—with different opportunities and ideas about work—might immediately worry about the potential fallout from becoming known and recognizable from an OnlyFans persona. But at least some of the boys see “Alpha Kings” as an opportunity for financial gain. “In one of our calls, one of them said to me, ‘It’ll probably give us a hundred thousand followers and we’ll make more money,” Pedráza-Botero said.