Altporn 101 with Cutter Smith

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Juliette Tang continues her journey into the altporn world.

Recently, I chatted with Annaliese of the famous altporn site God's Girls about nudity, tattoos, and DIY photography. In this installment of altporn interviews, I got the chance to talk to Cutter Smith of Altporn.net, the blog to read if you're a fan of altporn. We literally talked about everything -- Cutter is a veritable encyclopedia of altporn knowledge, and his site reflects his thoughtful, intelligent, and knowledgeable obsession with observation of his favorite genre of porn.

SFBG: First, what is the story behind Altporn.net?
Altporn.net: AltPorn.net was launched five years ago with a mission to be the centralized source for fans of the altporn scene. The scene had been around for a while, but was starting to gain more mainstream attention, and we wanted to keep a focus on what we feel are the good attributes of the genre. Here is a quote from our original first post and explains our origins well: "Probably the coolest aspect of this is the DIY-vibe of many of these sites. They aren't necessarily run by guys like the Colonel from Boogie Nights -- many of them are run by men and women who want to express something less degrading and cynical than what the mainstream adult industry is producing. So my interest here is to highlight some of the cool stuff coming out of this movement." And we've been doing it ever since.

SFBG: How did the whole altporn thing begin?
Altporn.net: Blue Blood launched as a pretty glossy high production values, yet still very punk rock, D.I.Y, erotic zine in 1992. They billed themselves as counterculture erotica, featuring punks and goths and good genre fiction, and after 16 years they are still one of the top three altporn entities today. So, they are widely given due credit. If you look at the covers of the early Blue Blood magazines, it still looks exactly like the most current stuff coming out in altporn today, with purple-haired super-tattooed real life lesbians and orange-haired eyeliner-wearing rocker boys having sex with their punkrock girlfriends. When the internet came along, the three membership sites that get credit as being the first altporn sites all launched in 1999, and they were Blue Blood's GothicSluts.com, Blue Blood's BarelyEvil.com, and a site called RaverPorn.net, which is now EroticBPM. The term altporn didn't come into use for the genre until years later though.

SFBG: What gives altporn a "look" that's so different from other forms of mainstream porn?
Altporn.net: The attributes that make altporn different and unique actually go much deeper than just the look. Sure, on a surface level, funny colored hair, tattoos, piercings, dark gothic and punkrock clothing, etc. But what is really important is a certain sense of reality. Porn valley can dress anybody up to look like anything they want, but you know it's pretty fake, and that can be insulting to the audience. That is where a lot of the community interaction that is vital to the genre comes in. People want to know that what they are looking at is the real deal, so even if a girl isn't covered in tattoos, they know her from the sites and they know she’s really a super cool girl enjoying what she's doing. She's someone they can connect with.

SFBG: How has altporn changed since the early
days until now?

Altporn.net: Early on it was very zinestery. People were not worried about market share and all that. They wanted to make something cool and different. Some still do, but some have gotten timid about pushing the envelope. Public relations has become something altporn producers are actually concerned about and that has lead to a lot of bullshit, for lack of a better term. Sites like SuicideGirls telling everyone from Spin to Rolling Stone that they are women run and have an all woman staff, which is total nonsense. We do our best at AltPorn.net to cut through a lot of the hype and try to offer factual reality checks when we can. So, we publish researched history, statistical charts on real site traffic and popularity, interview people directly to address crazy rumors, etc. Another thing that has changed is the model culture that has sprung up along site of altporn. That has actually introduced a lot more business concerns. They want to make it into some sort of career, and although there is nothing wrong with wanting to get paid for what you do, they made the sites a lot more concerned with turning a profit in order to pay they models the rates they want. For better or for worse, that changes things. Now, instead of cool friends getting together and making hot punky gothy sexy stuff, some people want to be paid by the hour and seem to care less and less about what the actual sites are even about. It wasn't like that in the early days.

SFBG: What makes altporn so appealing to you guys?
Altporn.net: People like what they like. Different genres of music appeal to different sorts of people. So, on an aesthetic level, altporn offers an alternative look, as well as the community interactivity to prove it's authenticity. Altporn is appealing to people on a socio-cultural level, rather than simply being a product packaged for a current mainstream look. As a genre, altporn offers a lot of creative latitude and encourages real audience involvement. So, people feel a part of it. They can get a real sense of belonging and make genuine friendships and connections, based on mutual interests as well as shared aesthetics.

SFBG: Is there an altporn community amongst the different people who make altporn?
Altporn.net: Yes, but it's a somewhat dysfunctional community. Some site owners really get along and some really don't. To an outside eye, a lot of altporn looks kind of the same, but internally, especially given the varied cultural idealism that goes into each individual project, it can sometimes take on a real sectarian trench warfare tone. Blue Blood came out of the zine revolution in 1992, Suicide Girls came out of the web 2.0 movement in late 2001, and Burning Angel started as an altporn site in early 2002, but really found it's voice and spotlight as they positioned themselves within the more traditional video porn industry, each adding their own punky alty aesthetics and production values. These different perspectives and ideals don't always make for cordial meetings, but from what we've seen, most of them do get along.

SFBG: Are there any trends in altporn you think are having a transformative impact on the entire genre?
Altporn.net: One thing I think is important to express is that AltPorn makes the trends and porn-porn tends to follow them. Traditional porn is conservative in a weird insular way. It tends to copy outside things. Even industry-created "altporn" tends to just rip something else off as some sort of smarmy mockery, and that really isn't very alternative at all. Some of them might be entertaining videos to watch, but ripping off Russ Meyer or Greg Dark is more bratty hipsterism than bold punk rock smut. I think one of the unfortunate trends is that altporn is starting to worry about being safe, from an artistic political point of view. Girls that absolutely couldn't get work in traditional porn did a lot of the alt sites early on and now, years later, the traditional porn industry is clamoring to get a hold of these girls, while at the same time a lot of the altporn sites are starting to make things that look more like mainstream industry porn.

SFBG: You maintain that altporn is decidedly not mainstream. In what ways does altporn incorporate current subcultures to set it apart?
Altporn.net: AltPorn is subcultural erotica. Without genuine subcultural attributes, it quickly becomes self parody. All the originators in this genre were driven to create sexual media that appealed to their own community and their own communities aesthetics. So, the goths created goth erotica and the punks created punk erotica and the ravers created raver erotica. I suppose hipsters create their own as well, but being simply hip doesn't seem to have the same cultural distinction that sets it far enough apart from general pop culture. Most porn stars are actually pretty hip, they date rockstars, they follow the trends.

SFBG: Is altporn going to "go hipster"?
Altporn.net: AltPorn requires a cultural component and it generally wasn't created to appease the predominant culture. Pretty much all the AltPorn sites, both known and obscure, have community features where their audience and their contributors can interact, and they are usually not very concerned about mainstream popularity. I suppose some sites might appeal to a hipster crowd, but
it's harder to nail down newer subcultures, especially when they are nearly indistinguishable from modern pop culture. If an ideal altporn archetype walks down the street, the general reaction is "Whoa, that's different, " and I just don't see that happening for hipsters. But I can see a lot of hipster-created porn wanting the cool points of the genuinely alt, so they will certainly tell you it's altporn every chance they get.

SFBG: Since our newspaper is located in San Francisco, can you tell me what you know about the altporn community in our city?
Altporn.net: A lot of cool creative things come out of San Francisco. It's always been an eclectic city that encourages individuality and genuine counterculture, so it seems like a natural fit. Some of the altporn originators come from the Bay Area and there are always so many great iconoclastic individuals doing cool creative things over there. One of the things we like best about the San Francisco scene is that it fosters a real mixture of influences and tastes. You have sites up there like Kink.com, where you can see cool punky tattooed girls doing crazy sexual stuff. It seems like the fetish scene mixes with the punk scene and the goth scene mixes with the Burning Man crowd and everyone kind of gets together. At least, from an outside perspective that's our impression. Maybe internally it's all segmented and rife with internal conflict, much like altporn, but that's the nature of cultural evolution.