Sex & Relationships

Why I Love Weird Porn

The glories of DIY 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.

Noah Brand is the editor-in-chief of the Good Men Project.