opinion

It's Not Your Father's Porn

Stephen Ochs
Just as alternative music was a response to the record industry's formulaic radio fodder, a new brand of porn has sprung up to offer a visual and philosophical counterpoint to more mainstream porn websites and videos.

It's called "altporn."

You won't find spray-tanned models with silicone implants on altporn sites. Instead, Suicidegirls.com, Burning angel.com, Blueblood.net and the rest of the pack feature girls with tattoos, obscure musical tastes, nontraditional beauty and brains. Generally, the content isn't as hard as a lot of other porn, but according to fans, these alternative sites offer consumers something many mainstream adult sites lack: a personal touch.

"It's not really about the aesthetics, it's not just, 'Oh, these girls have tattoos; these girls have piercings.' It's about the attitude that separates us from everything else," explains webmistress Joanna Angel, who has run Burning Angel for the past three years. "There are a lot of really smart people in the adult industry who start porn sites or porn companies with a distinct method of making money very quickly — and it works — but with Burning Angel, we didn't pay attention to what would make money. We did what we felt like and what we thought was cool."

In spite of (or because of) the "we're-not-doing-this-for-the-money" attitude of many alternative webmasters and mistresses, altporn is proving very profitable for some. The ground swell of viewers may have started out as strictly grassroots, but attention to altporn in the mainstream media is bringing this once underground phenomenon above soil. Wired has written about Suicide Girls many times since its inception, and the New York Times recently profiled Angel. While she won't give out exact figures, Angel reports that her site has grown in membership steadily from its start, and Suicide Girls, the first "breakout" altporn site, is practically an institution on the web. The site has ranked in the top 3,000 of all websites and boasts more than 10 million posts on its active message boards.

Fetish photographers Amelia G. and Forest Black have been shooting "counter-cultural erotica" since 1992, before it was called anything, and now are offering an affiliate program for webmasters who want in on the burgeoning scene. Amelia G., who helped create seminal altporn magazine Blue Blood now runs Spookycash.com.

"We are the only serious affiliate program for it," Amelia G. says. "Any of the sites that really come out of the subculture can be promoted through Spookycash."

But even Amelia G.'s affiliate program is a little alternative. "We're not treating it like any other niche," Amelia G. says. "There are people who would love to be part of our program, who I wouldn't accept because I don't think they're doing what they do for the right reasons. There are people who approach it like, 'Girls with purple hair sell? OK, I'll do that too!' and the next week, they'll try to crank out a foot fetish site. While there's nothing wrong with being in it for business, that's not what my niche is about. Like any fetish thing, the people who are really into it can tell if someone else is really into it."

Forward-thinking video pornographers have recently taken notice of the trend as well. Hustler Video/VCA has recruited altporn director Eon McKai to shoot his unique porn for a wide audience. McKai, whose "underground" credits include shooting pictures for early Suicide Girls as well as directing a music video for underground glam band Louis XIV, has had three films released by VCA, "Kill Girl Kill" and two volumes of "Art School Sluts."

"I got my way into VCA and convinced them that a hardcore adult film that catered to this kind of crowd would be a success," McKai said. "When I'm looking for performers, if she has any kind of hipster vibe to her at all, I get interested and try to find out how to hook into what she's about and build a scene around her."

Whether one-shot sites, affiliate programs or videos, many believe alt sites are drawing a different kind of consumer. "Suicide Girls is the only porn site I've ever paid to be a member of," Robert S., a Los Angeles film producer, told XBiz. "There's something hipper about it. I'm not turned off by typical porn chicks, but after awhile, you want to see something new, someone who's sexy and confident enough to say, 'Hey, I'm different.' "

According to Angel, the draw of sites like Suicide Girls and Burning Angel is partially due to their non-adult content. Many altporn sites offer articles, active message boards, record reviews, social commentary and just about anything else their owners think is interesting. "It's a whole package. Even though you don't have to pay for the band content or read the articles, the fact that they are there next to the other content makes people want to pay for it," Angel says.

Joanna Angel offers some helpful advice for those hoping to cash in on the altporn trend: Stick with what you know.

"Go with your gut feeling. Every time I went against my gut feeling, I turned out to be wrong. Even if you fail, you know you failed of your own accord and not because of someone else."

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