By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by James Bunoan
Posing is easy, says Hannah. By the end of her first photo shoot, she was trashed on whiskey—"It kinda settled my nerves!" she says and laughs—and having a blast. And then she was naked. And pretty soon after that, she was naked on one of a wave of adult websites selling what's basically punk rock porn. Girls like Hannah—not her real name—are where the action is on such sites as Friction USA, Burning Angel, leader-of-the-pack Suicide Girls, even a site originally based in Long Beach called Punk Erotic (featuring, among other models, "Bee from OC"). Some get up to tens of thousands of visitors a day, charging members a few bucks per month to see thousands of crystal-clear color photos of what Suicide Girls calls "the hottest, cutest, sexiest Goth, punk and emo girls we can find." And after about a year, these girls with pretty good hair and not-always-so-good-but-hey-we-all-liked-the-Misfits-at-one-time-too-right? tattoos have won more of an audience than pretty much any dirtball little punk band around for the same time has ever even approached. Punk has a new face now: probably young, probably white and probably topless, and if you wanna see more, you better get out your credit card. And, says Hannah—a classy, statuesque girl who looks good in black, at least in her free sample pictures—it was no trouble at all. The part about skinny little punk rock boys point-and-clicking up her pictures with one hand down their pants? "It'd be really funny," she says. "Better than them cutting ads out of Victoria's Secret catalogs."
* * *
It's tempting to read punk porn as a rerun of the way punk itself started: a bunch of maverick kids knocking a tottering industry on its ear and making up their own rules as they went along.
But that's not what happened. Punk didn't get naked until way after the porn party got started: the do-it-yourself methodology and female-inclusive aesthetic of punk porn sites may be antithetical to the mainstream dinosaurs (i.e. porn films and magazines), but it's old news on the Net. Call it proto-punk porn: by the late '90s, a new wave of living-room smut merchants were putting their friends on the web, a breed related to but somehow distinct from established amateur pornographers. Web designer Jennifer Ringley may have been the first: in 1996, she set up a camera in her Pennsylvania bedroom and a website at jennicam.org, transmitting a little skin and a lot of regular daily life to anyone who cared to watch. And a lot of people wanted to watch—USA Today called her "one of the only people to achieve celebrity solely through the Internet." It wasn't all that explicit, as websites go, but the idea was throbbing with potential. Then in 1999, a guy named Killshot thought he had a fun way to learn a few things about programming HTML; what his Raver Porn site really gave the world was a Never Mind the Bollocks for anybody with a digicam, a dedicated server and a female friend with weird-colored hair. Here was the proof that anyone could make anything they wanted; here was a challenge to go do it yourself.
"It got a lot of attention right away because no one had ever seen anything like it," Killshot says. "And I'm really glad that I was able to maybe help inspire some people to do these kind of sites. I really hope this can show the porn industry that porn doesn't have to be nasty, that women like porn just as much as men so long as it's done in a respectable way—not advertising 'Hot Russian Teenage Cum Sluts That Want Your Rock-Hard Cock!'—and that porn can be really interesting and fun, not just for people to get their rocks off."
That's the difference, says this new wave of pornographers. These punk sites run like bedroom record labels, not like big businesses. The person behind the camera—and behind the cash register when you become a member—is more often than not a woman; at the shoots, the girls get to do whatever they feel comfortable doing, instead of playing to some producer's idea of what's sexy.
So far, it feels pretty good—way better than stroking it to Belle and Sebastian record covers.
* * *
Punk and porn have had a strangely uneasy relationship for years, but the chemistry—and the money—is apparently finally there. And as everyone's websites strut toward their one-year anniversaries, there's still an almost-idealistic sense of innocence: it's fun, it's cute, it's clean, it's sexy, it's DIY, and it's not hurting anyone, right?
Then why does it feel like no one has thought about the hard parts—well, besides those hard parts—yet?
Punk porn looks great on paper, looks even better sizzling away on the computer screen. But when you start asking the tough questions—about making easy money off a nation of alienated kids, about reducing a supposedly still-meaningful subculture to its basest fashion statement, about setting a pretty narrow standard of beauty where no standard was set before, about playing with the idea of sexuality and community and maybe not really thinking it all the way through—you really feel like a total dick. But punk porn begs the obvious question: Once you strip a girl naked and charge $9.95 to peek, you've got the porn part down. So where's the punk?