Why I Love Weird Porn

A note: as a courtesy, most of the esoteric terminology in this article will not be clarified with links. Google is your friend, but be aware that you’re rolling the dice; some of these things will be disturbing or upsetting to you, others may end up pushing buttons you never knew you had. So, y’know, heads up.

One of the most important speeches I’ve seen in the last few years is Clay Shirky’s famous “Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus“, in which he lays out a theory stating that we are presently enjoying an unannounced renaissance in creativity made possible by the tools of technological empowerment.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.
And I’m willing to raise that to a general principle. It’s better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, “If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too.” And that message—I can do that, too—is a big change.

Now, I grew up around futurists, and one thing growing up around futurists teaches you is to have a hair-trigger bullshit detector whenever you’re anywhere near a futurist. If I don’t see immediately testable predictions that map to both the futurist’s theory and my own experience, I just file it away with the Long Boom and VR helmets. Shirky’s model of cognitive surplus passes that test with flying colors. People, young people especially, are getting home from work and school, sitting down, and making things. Making lolcats, fan tumblrs, stupid YouTube videos. Making indie games, webcomics, 3-D printable models. Making crazy Rube Goldberg machines because the internet gives them an audience for their silly project. Making a playable arcade out of cardboard because why the hell not?

Even watching TV is now a participatory act for many people. You vote for the winners, you jump in the online discussions, you help with the save-the-show write-in campaigns, you pick the best screencaps to put Texts From Last Night over. And the makers of TV know it. They plan for buzz, they build fan spaces, they put fan jokes into the show itself. Consumption is no longer passive; it has become a give-and-take between art and audience in which the audience is an active and necessary part of the process, shaping both the art itself and the outcome of the symbiosis between them. Tell your grandchildren that you lived in the generation when postmodernism came to life and ate the world.

Of course, technology being what it is, one of the major things people are using this incredible participation for is making porn. SO MUCH PORN.

There’s a term in the fan fiction community, “drawerfic”. It arises from the answer to “What was your first fanfic?” given by everyone who grew up pre-internet: “This thing I wrote in a notebook when I was 14 and kept in a drawer and never showed anyone.” Every little girl making porn (and not all fic writers are girls and not all fanfic is porn, but they mostly are and an awful lot of it is) thought she was the only one. Her creativity came pre-stifled and then it was back to Gilligan’s Island. Fan fiction only became a community, became huge, when these girls began meeting, began corresponding, began exchanging fictions as gifts and trades. First in homemade zines, then exploding beyond all measure on the internet. Now it’s one of the largest gift economies on earth, with untold millions of words a day being exchanged, people (mostly women) making things in exchange for other things people made. There’s your cognitive surplus right there.

Naturally, an awful lot of what’s being made is weird porn. Yes, there are many fanfics that are silly jokes, or character studies, or casefic, or otherwise not porn. There’s also universes of D/s, mpreg, knotting, and (for one-stop shopping) porn-oriented AUs like the Alpha/Omegaverse, in which the way MRAs perceive masculinity becomes literally true and a lot gayer. This is why, when Gail Dines argues that the internet has made men addicted to porn, and influenced men’s sexual fetishes until they make perverse demands on women, who themselves never enjoy porn and thus are free of sexual fetishes, I laugh until I can’t breathe.

Of course, I don’t want to imply that the weird porn of the internet is only restricted to women. Oh goodness, no. All genders and all types are accommodated, bless the internet’s cold black heart. And more and more, especially at the weird ends of the spectrum, people are becoming more than consumers of porn, they’re becoming producers. They’re using the tools technology has given them to engage with their kinks, and they’re drawing and writing and Photoshopping and molding the lovable 3-D people of Poser into configurations that god never intended. But then, who asked god’s opinion anyway?

I am not kidding when I say that I find incredibly esoteric and specialized porn to be one of the most life-affirming things in the world. Even… no, especially the stuff that doesn’t do anything for me. Every giantess crush site, every furry vore gallery, every Shintaro Kago shit-and-dissection-fest, every body-inflation discussion group, every set of specialized apron-fetish films, every dendrophile fan club, every time I learn a new word like “boytaur” or “OT3” or “docking” or “unbirth”… all these things bring me a genuine and unironic joy.

These things, these kinks, these flights of imagination, are the impassioned obsessions of real people, everyday people. At least one of your coworkers, at least one of your family members. And that’s not creepy, that’s wonderful. Every one of those weird kinks is a shout of human individuality in a world that wants to reduce us down to buying patterns and demographic trends. “I am alive!” they cry. “I am not an emerging new style, I am not a market segment, I am not co-optable, I am not coming soon to a theater near you, I am not approved for all audiences, I am not available in stores, I am damn sure not fun for the whole family and I never will be.”

Maybe you don’t find that life-affirming, but I sure do.

This is why people become makers of porn, participants rather than consumers. If literally all you want is women with too much makeup and hairspray joylessly fucking men with statistically-improbable megadongs in a universe where pubic hair was banished by dark magics in 2001, then “mainstream” porn has you covered and you can safely be a passive consumer. For the non-mainstream other 95% of us, we must look elsewhere. If what you really want is something made by people who understand your desires because they share them, you’re going to wander into a gift economy, and once there, you’re going to be a lot more popular if you contribute.

This is, I am not joking, an improvement on the previous 10,000 years of human history. Before, people lived their entire lives feeling they could never be understood, either suppressing their weird kinks or, in a few rare cases, becoming Irving Klaw or Robert Heinlein. Now we have 21st-century technology, which smiles and says “There are people who will understand, if you find them and make yourself understood. Here are the tools to do it.”

We use those tools to keep Community on the air, and we also use them to create animated GIFs of Jessica Rabbit with a huge dick. If either of those things strikes you as a strange use of time and technology, that’s okay: it’s not for you. And that’s the point.

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

Comments

  1. “… all these things bring me a genuine and unironic joy.”

    Oh, me too. I’m absolutely gleeful whenever I can learn about a new-to-me kink/trope/what have you through someone’s fic/art. Because for every one I read, it’s one more person who, through the “anything goes, come as you are” attitude of the net and fandom in particular, has said, “Okay, I’m comfortable enough to be open about this. This is my fantasy, I know it may not be yours, but I’m posting it anyway.” I don’t know how many times I’ve read in an author’s note: “This is my first time writing porn…” or “I can’t believe I wrote this, but…” and I love it. It gives me a little more courage every time to explore my own kinky id fantasies – and maybe share them too.

  2. TenGalaxies says:

    Erotic fanfiction has a three-pronged resistance to commodification: its legal status wrt copyright is undefined, it’s created within a community that actively resists making money on it, and it’s sexually explicit.

    Because the legal status of fanfiction has never been determined in a U.S. court of law, any company with fanfiction as “user-generated content” as their business model would run the risk of being sued. For fanfiction advocates, a major part of the defense of fanfiction as legal expression is that it is non-commercial in nature, so if you’re a site making money off it, it’s unlikely that you’d win that fight.

    The fanfiction community has mixed opinions on people making money off re-purposed fanfic (eg 50 Shades of Grey), but a nearly unified hostility towards the idea of anyone, even writers, making money off things that are blatantly still fanfic of in-copyright sources. This is magnified when the one trying to make the money isn’t even a part of the community. For example, in 2007 a company headed by men started a for-profit fanfiction site. A few fans who weren’t part of existing communities used it, but the rest of fandom exploded in anger. Some of those who were upset used the uproar to drum up support for creating a non-profit organization to defend fanfiction and to develop an open-source site funded only on donations. Their site, the Archive of our Own, is free to use and now hosts over 360,000 works of fanfiction.

    The sexual nature of erotic fiction clearly keeps it off mainstream sites like Facebook. The segregation of the mainstream internet into “safe for work” vs. “porn” sites means that erotica is restricted to mostly text-based blogging sites and forums that have looser rules. The biggest fanfiction site, fanfiction.net, doesn’t allow explicit material. So most erotic fanfiction goes to LiveJournal, which while for-profit obviously has no idea of the value of that community, as has been demonstrated for years by changes to the site that removed features important to fanfic and at least one spree of deleting content related to child sexual abuse in which they removed survivors’ groups and a Nabokov discussion group.

    And people selling standardized versions of weird porn? Well, some of that already exists. There are fringe pay sites for plenty of fetishes. There’s probably a market for more. But women haven’t been trained by our culture to buy porn. I think most of the people who actually pay for the content are men. And if it continues to be free, and good quality, why pay? The writing produced by experienced amateurs in a community that provides peer editing isn’t going to be beat by some romance novel style porn mill. Maybe there’s a market for live-action videos of those fetishes that can be done that way, but commercial written erotica is never going to beat out fanfic.

  3. This is a great post. Thanks for writing it noah.

  4. My first thought when you described wild uncommodified porn was “this situation is unstable”. I’m betting that once a market for any but the rarest sorts of porn has been shown to exist, there will be people selling standardized versions of it.

  5. @Paul: Yeeah, can’t help you there…

    @Jay: HIGHFIVE. …with your non-dominant hand. Thanks. 😛

    And wow yeah I -just- saw Ozy’s post, which I wholeheartedly agree with. Also, as far as search engine robots and the like, there are ways you can tell them to not acess and list your site if you don’t want them to. So if you’re just talking about ads on free stuff, then I got no sympathy. As for content aggregates, haven’t those always been around, in some form or another, since the printing press was invented? If you don’t want anyone sharing links to your stuff on places like tumblr where content is recycled and recycled and recycled (thus getting a bajillion more eyes on your work than was really ever possible before), then you’d probably be better off not making anything ever. Except pictures in sand at the beach. But make it close to the surf, so people don’t have time to take pictures of your masterpiece with instagram and put it on flickr.

  6. Jay Generally says:

    @L
    I’m empathizing so hard I should have stretched first. 😀 But what I make for me, I don’t really share very often; so where I really relate to the OP is my respect for people who do share.

    I can understand monkey’s frustration with Google, specifically, because when you do put your interests out there- on a message board, blog, online portfolio, whatever- a lot of people just use a web browser to scratch their Rule 34 itch with the image search and never even visit your site. So it does come off as a faint promise of exposure that you’re not even really getting so another site can make real money off of your efforts. Nobody expects to make money off of their picture of what it would look like if Mecha-Godzilla had breasts, but posting it on your blog for lulz or whatever to have Google use it to keep their hit count up, without contributing to yours, could be irritating. Nature of the beast, I suppose.

  7. L: “And wait, Paul, you’re that “wild macro” from a while back, right? Or was that someone else?”

    Lol. No that was me. And since I can’t draw, can’t afford photoshop, and can’t figure out Poser, I’m left with writing when it comes to making my own stuff. (Which I do passably well, except for an annoying inability to actually finish anything)

  8. Ozy: the problem as I see it is that let’s say you wanted to synthesIze your blogs into a book – and you could write a pretty kickass book just around Ozy’s Law. In the bad old days, you could put out the book and get something for your labor. Gender studies books aren’t usually big sellers, but they often have long shelf lives. Or you could go from a zine to being a pro at somewhere like Bitch or Bust. But now we hear that print is dying a worthless,

    I’m not trying to be elitist here, but I went through seven years of college (a BA and a communications degree) to hone my writing only to come against a culture that doesn’t value that anymore, for what I think are dubious reasons.

    L: I have no idea if my stuff has value commercially or in literary terms. But the ways things are going I’m not even going to get a chance to find out. You may not believe in free lunches, but do you believe in opportunity? Because the opportunities out there seem to be dwindling. And entitlement goes both ways; people seem to think that they deserve free content all the time.

    But again, if no one saw value in this work, the hosts wouldn’t be able to sell ads at all. And let’s face it – Google is making obscene amounts of money.

    Even if I’m not planning to put my writing out there I’m still affected by this because I work at a bookstore and I value books. I keep hearing about how publishing needs to get away from its old “business model”, but nobody seems to be offering a new one!

    How is this related to the topIc? Maybe only tangentially. I’m sorry.

  9. My point is that obviously *some* value is placed on this work, because some people are making money off it

    That’s assuming that the content actually has any value. You could go and register a free blog someplace and fill it full of Lorem Ipsum posts, and those ads will still be there. They need to make money in order to host your ass. What you’re asking for here is a free lunch; which I don’t believe in.

    Other than people who work for Medecins Sans Frontieres, few doctors work “just for the love of it.”

    And it’s all well and good that you want to get paid for the work you do–those doctors work long hours and do deserve to get paid– but do not say that it is the end-all be-all of personal achievement. Another thing; where is this money you’re talking about coming from? From readers and people that supposedly value your work enough to pay you for it. What if people just don’t value your work that much? Whose fault is it? Theirs or yours?

    Also, I’d just like to point out that these two statements of yours I’ve quoted are pretty much completely separate topics.

  10. I’m not sure how much of the people not getting paid for their stuff is actually different, though. Sure, I’ve made no money off this blog, but it’s not like I’d be making a ton of money off comparable writing twenty years ago; I mean, I’d probably be doing a zine, which is a net loss of money and has an audience of about six people. Similarly, all the fanfic and a ton of the original fic would have never seen the light of day outside of the author’s drawer and a few friends.

    To me, the big difference is that now a lot of people have an audience they wouldn’t otherwise, and there are more people making a little money as opposed to fewer people making enough to live on.

  11. L: the thing is that it’s getting to the point where no one can be expected to be paid.., other than the service providers and cloud hosts. Google, etc are giving creators free space and exposure, but even though no one is paying for their service, they get money from ads – a lot of money.

    At the moment I can’t afford to host my own stuff, so I have no choice but to use WordPress and the like.

    My point is that obviously *some* value is placed on this work, because some people are making money off it – unfortunately it’s rarely the people who actually do the work.

    If your stuff is good, you *should* be able to make a living off it! Other than people who work for Medecins Sans Frontieres, few doctors work “just for the love of it.”

    And I’m really not trying to be snobbish here, but if the most notable success in terms of Internet publishing is disguised Twilight fanfic, I don’t know if that’s worth celebrating.

  12. @Paul, Jay: I’m stupidly particular, really, about what I like. It’s not even a matter of what gets me off, because I don’t actually masturbate? But it’s a different kind of satisfaction. And, yeah… when I write and draw my own stuff, it’s the act of making it and figuring it out that is waaaay more satisfying than actually looking at it after the fact. So I basically have to make something every time I’m in the mood otherwise… the mood is wasted. (I don’t often get libido-ized on my own because ace-spectrum and medication.)

    I’ve been making my own porn when the urge strikes since I could remember, so it’s weird to step back and remember that I think most people, probably to keep from coming off as creepy, would find making one’s own porn and erotica sad. Though that’s generally directed at dudes, not so much women… and probably for reasons regularly outlined in posts on this blog.

    And wait, Paul, you’re that “wild macro” from a while back, right? Or was that someone else?

  13. @monkey: Bro, you’re talking to a comic creator here; webcomic people are the epitome of doing countless hours of labor over their works for little to no monetary gain in return, so I get where you’re coming from. But at the same time, even though I’m living way below poverty level, I’m totally OK with getting less than peanuts for my work. And it reeaaally gets my goat when it’s folks’ knee-jerk reaction to think that doing work for free is pathetic. (Not saying you’re saying that.)

    As for the rest… if you don’t like ads, then get your butt off the free services and get your own domain with whatever CMS you want. This, I believe, is the crucial difference between being pro-free/share culture and just plain having an inflated sense of entitlement. If you’ve got the gall to whinge about how your free services are delivering you said free service, or how they’re able to financially provide you with said free service, then you really need to work something out. Facebook is far from a necessity; if you don’t like them making money, then… I don’t know what to tell you. (Dubious business practices are, of course, a different matter.)

  14. Daisy:
    As a young woman, thought it was my wonderfulness, but now that I am a fat grandma, I finally figured out the reason.
    Don’t be so quick to say that. Sure that guy may have been taking your pic for a Very Long and Thick Natural Blonde Hair fetish site but at the same time there certainly other reasons that he could have been doing it…

    You can trust me on that.

  15. Jay Generally says:

    “But I’d be lying if I said that having to make all my own porn because of niche tastes wasn’t frustrating and boner-killing as all get out. I guess that’s just how it goes, though”

    Man, I could go on about that forever. Just forever. My wife, who is also a ridiculously talented artist but a much better writer than I am, once had problems with my reading erotic content and asked why I couldn’t just write my own stuff. I just… looked at her like she’d grown another head. Hey, I like to sing, and I get excited when I sing, but would I listen to music where I was the only singer? Heck no!

  16. L:

    “But I’d be lying if I said that having to make all my own porn because of niche tastes wasn’t frustrating and boner-killing as all get out. I guess that’s just how it goes, though.”

    Truth. But at least you have (I assume) the artistic talent neccessary for creating your own stuff. There’s something to be said for that. Those of us who are untalented have to suffice with “close but no cigar” 😛

  17. Great post Noah. In a weird way, inspiring. Off to google things that may blow my tiny mind

  18. L: Google thrives on free content, and provides blog space , etc, for “free” and then makes money off of advertising. I feel like the internet is becoming a feudal system

    I’m sorry. I’m grouchy because I’ve come to realize that I’m never going to make a living off of writing. I’m kind of Ahabing here.

  19. Nice. Yeah.

    On inside jokes:

    I still remember when Ralphie on the Sopranos (Joe Pantoliano, the actor who also played Cypher in THE MATRIX) asked what movie they had all just been to see, and they told him “The Matrix”.

    “Yeah?” says Ralphie, “I haven’t seen it.”

    The room I was in simply HOWLED AS ONE… and I thought, yow, we are not in Kansas anymore. That kind of thing only started with the internet and access to instant information. i.e. if you didn’t get the joke, you could immediately look it up. It’s no fun to make a joke, even an inside joke, if nobody gets it.

    People just now watching the show, now will instantly get the joke, since they probably have seen the movie before the TV show, when originally, when the joke was made, it was the other way around.

    Another thing

    Sometimes there is also the weird feeling that you are IN porn, if you belong to a fetish category. What used to be a fetish category involving the odd mechanic who would confide privately to me “I. LOVE. LONG. HAIR… your hair is….” (he obviously could not generate sufficient words, but it was enough to work on my car for free). Others have written to me after I posted a photo to Flickr to show someone how long my hair is and she said hers was longer (I won!)… “Is your hair NATURAL BLONDE? You are… so very rare and precious” and so on. I have been followed in malls for years. As a young woman, thought it was my wonderfulness, but now that I am a fat grandma, I finally figured out the reason.

    But recently, turned around in the grocery store and some man was taking my photo from behind. My behind is most assuredly NOT worth taking a photo of, so I knew. Also, he had that look: BUSTED. I pretended I hadn’t noticed. But see, if they are trading my photo on the Very Long and Thick Natural Blonde Hair fetish site, I think I deserve a cut. This is the part that ruins it for me: no financial compensation. Really.

    🙂

  20. I haven’t thought about this before, but you’re absolutely right. I work for furries doing art, and I’ve been asked to draw some really crazy stuff.

    And everyone I’ve dealt with (even the eastern dragon with alternating sets of male/female genitals all down its stomach) has been very nice. I’m sure that if I had ever met them in person they would be mostly indistinguishable from any other person. And in the past it’s true, they would have been left alone, thinking their fantasies made them creep or whatever (I grew up and went through puberty without the internet, and definitely experienced this alone feeling) – but now they can celebrate their kink, and I’m glad to have been a part of it 🙂

    Another thing I like about the internet, is that it allows younger people to explore their sexuality. I’m 22 now, but we got the internet when I was underaged, and man-oh-man did I appreciate the access to porn/adult content (other than porn. discussions about smart stuff that nobody IRL was willing to talk to a 14-year-old about). And not just to masturbate to, I mean for the same reasons this article brings up – made me feel less alone (the world around me had thus-far been telling me I was a non-sexual being).

    So yeah, thanks for writing this – it’s great!

  21. I love this so much. Noah articulated what I couldn’t about my love for the Internet.

    Monkey is correct: The Internet can be used for evil; not all internet culture is good and life-affirming. But I believe there will always be places on the internet where people meet and create and value each other’s weirdness, and for that I am deeply grateful.

  22. YES.

    That. All of that.

    The world of really weird porn is where I go to reaffirm my faith in humanity. But I’d be lying if I said that having to make all my own porn because of niche tastes wasn’t frustrating and boner-killing as all get out. I guess that’s just how it goes, though.

    Hear, hear, Noah.

    @Monkey: That’s the same sentiment that drove me away from the comic creator forum I’d joined full of immensely smart and talented people that I’d mentioned in a comment on Ozy’s “Daily Mail on Househusbands”. The problem you’re talking about is inflated entitlement, which is pretty much independent of consumerism or the lack thereof. And how exactly does fanwork become “free labor” for search engines? That makes absolutely no sense to me. No seriously, it doesn’t. Are you talking about crowd-sourced content for websites?

  23. I’m afraid I’m kinda cynical about the new Internet culture. I realize that people can express their own esoteric interests. I’ve benefitted from this, too.

    However, I’m leery about crowd sourcing (I realize this isn’t the main focus of the article, but it all relates). All too often a crowd can become a mob.

    And… We are still consumers, only now we consume Google and Facebook. I feel like a lot of stuff like fanfic has become free labour for the search engines and social networks. Sure, some people (EL James) get their due reward, but…

  24. Love this article! I really, really like your opening argument about participatory media – it’s a great rebuttal to the all too prevalent whining about kids not dooooing anything these days, just sitting in front of screens and passively receiving nonsense.

    And the porn stuff is great too. Weird porn ftw! Seriously, though – I never thought I’d read something about porn that warmed my heart, and this genuinely did. Cheers Noah.

  25. alt.sex.stories was the first erotica site I have ever visited, and it warmed my heart, because I could read descriptions of people doing strange things I wouldn’t want to do for reasons I could perfectly understand and even identify with. Men want to be useful and appreciated, against a cultural background where their urges are called brutish and their genitals disgusting, so they invent alien civilizations where cum is a delicacy. People want to be accepted unconditionally, and they roleplay kittens. People want to have an impact on others, to fill their partner’s head wit them and them alone, so they invent all kinds of d/s scenarios where that can be the case.

    Hey, other people’s sexuality is not that strange, brutish, opaque thing I’ve been made to believe! I can actually understand most of it! I am part of the human race!

    Part of me is sorry for those, like a segment of the creators who write about feminization, seem to do what they do because they are made to believe that what they want (in this case, to be seen as soft, cute, precious) is inaccessible for them in other circumstances. I am sad for the fact that the most detailed descriptions of female desire I’ve met in mind control stories, as noone trusts us to want men without being cheated to do.

    I’d like a world where people have better acces to their basic needs, where they are treated as legitimate, and they have more chances to get them fulfilled IRL. But having porn revolving around it is a neat thing regardless.

  26. For discussion:
    I think Noah hit the nail on the head with the following quote:

    “I am not an emerging new style, I am not a market segment, I am not co-optable, I am not coming soon to a theater near you, I am not approved for all audiences, I am not available in stores, I am damn sure not fun for the whole family and I never will be.”

    This, to me, is the important bit, because it distinguishes between the independent and the genuine.

    A lot of indie products can and do scream to be co-opted, to come soon to a theater near you, to be approved for all audiences — even if the creators themselves do not see it that way!

    What differentiates the independent from the genuine is that the genuine is a statement of identity, win or lose, heard or not. The genuine is not always popular, and it is never co-optable.

  27. This made me as happy as seeing a animated GIF of Jessica Rabbit with a huge dick, but in an entirely different way.

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