opinion

Fetishism Swings Back

Victor Hoff
You might know the story of Cassandra, the Greek muse who was forever prophesying about danger at every turn only to be subsequently ignored. Had she been alive in our time and employed in the gay porn industry, she would surely have more than enough to Tweet about.

Between its short term problems (an economic downturn that has battered the industry and a glut — one might argue a deluge — of amateur content) and the much, much more serious long term problem of free content, the gay adult industry is reeling in a way that has some people asking how the major studios can compete in a climate as unforgiving as this one?

But it would still be a colossal error in judgment to somehow write off an entire industry that has taken its licks. The point is the gay porn industry is resilient and if industry heads are nervous about current conditions, you’d never guess it by their relaxed, confident manner. We spoke with a few industry captains about one genre in gay porn that does, in fact, appear to be expanding — the fetish genre. And, as we discovered, not only it’s not your leather daddy’s fetish anymore.

So what defines Fetishism today? For that, we turned to Brian Mills, noted director as well as director of production for Titan Media. He began by explaining what fetishism is not. “Non-fetish activity basically involves five basic activities: kiss, lick, rim, suck and fuck.” He is quick to point out, too, that their presence in a movie does not automatically disqualify it from being fetish, but it’s what Mills identifies as “over-aggressiveness” that separates “vanilla” sex (your “basic five”) from fetishism.

“That can be expressed through aspects of bondage, forced sex — or at least in the respect that one of the people is restrained. Also, other types of body functions that are not necessarily sexual but have been eroticized … that can be water sports and scat.” He continued, “Also, pain play which subjects people to extreme physical sensations which don’t necessarily equate with pain: piercing, flogging, slapping and even punching.” There are other realms from the innocuous, like toys, to the more — to say the least — edgy, like electronic urethral stimulation. In fact, one might argue, that just about anything — say, men in business suits, “thug porn,” or wrestling in raspberry-flavored Jello — can come to define fetishism because it’s as much about what you get from it as what you put into it.

But why has fetishism taken hold today in a way that only 20 or 30 years ago seemed almost dangerous and pathological? “Diffusion of shock,” observes psychologist and sex therapist, Susan Carlini. “In today’s culture — and thanks largely to the Internet — the most depraved forms of human behavior have been cataloged in a way that wasn’t available 10 years ago: bestiality, child pornography, incest, violence. When, with the click of a mouse, one can watch a journalist beheaded by terrorists or a man being sodomized by a horse, fetish video seems dangerous, but safe. So to watch two people engage in sexual acts in a controlled environment where a hand is placed in another person’s anus seems mild by comparison. Preferable, in fact. This is not to suggest that fetishism is necessarily pathological — in fact, it’s quite healthy and harmless, but compared to truly abhorrent behavior, eroticizing acts on the more extreme end of the sexual scale and making them so democratically available, diffuses the initial shock of what we’re watching.”

A good question to ask at this point is how did the fetish market begin to grow again, or at least establish a noticeable presence in one as glutted as this one as far as content goes? Has it been that the predominantly white, athletic 20-something crowd (the kind found in spades on popular websites like Corbin Fisher and Randy Blue and in many videos of the period) is not only satiated but five to 10 years older now since its initial popularity, it is naturally turning to something else?”

We asked a prominent gay porn blogger if the fetish we hear of has come to mark the edge of a new trend. “I’ve seen a lot of growth,” he said. “[Michael] Lucas and Titan [Media] have introduced lines. Hot Desert Knights announced that they are going more hardcore. Hot House and C1R produce new fetish titles on a pace with their past fetish titles, and that’s just in the past six or so months. And even that’s just DVDs. Besides, hardcore fetish fans are as close to a guaranteed audience as studios can get these days.”

After all, like all brand loyalty, the industry has had to successfully market to a perpetually younger demographic driven by varying tastes and aesthetics. So how does the industry market fetish products? How — for many people — does fetishism not conjure up some “Silence of The Lambs”-esque image of leather-clad “daddies” (read: the nice man from the liquor store by day) in dark, fetid rooms? “That’s interesting,” said Michael Roma, Hot House Entertainment art director. “The models are younger. When Steven [Scarborough] started with Club Inferno, the models were ‘mature’ and, at the time, the fetish videos were dark. But Steven brought them out into the light and started placing handsome, young porn stars in them. And, over time, young guys have learned that it’s not something that’s taboo; that it’s not something reserved for old guys in back rooms. Take a look at our lineup: Jackson Lawless, Danny Parker, Ryan Razz — all kinds of really hot, young guys.”

In the end fetish video eventually meets up with the hard, cold reality of the dollar. So what matters most is quality. Studios are fighting one of the most brutal economic climates for gay porn and the threat that free content presents cannot begin to be overestimated. Studios are competing with a continuing barrage of new material but for a new generation coming of spending age, paying for pornography is a thing of the past and if it’s amateurish, so be it. Fetishism gives viewers something different and the biggest producers making it — Titan, Hot House Entertainment, Treasure Island Media, Dark Alley Media, Kink.com — realizes that by having a growing segment of passionate consumers, it validates the makers of fetish content who appear to be in something of a renaissance.

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