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Radical porn: privilege and balancing risks

This is part ii of a two-part article: the first half can be read here.

Balancing risks

I had an interesting chat with Leia Ann Woods (who has produced spanking porn herself, although doesn't do so currently) about this issue recently on Twitter. She pointed out that the owners of membership sites will inevitably care about, and feel a loyalty to, the preferences of their members and supporters. If all their members complain about something, chances are the website owners won't show it again - or at least not often. This is the "market forces" argument writ small, and it's interesting.

The first factor I see here is that any start-up attracts a specific audience. Your market, your personal audience as a producer, is not the whole wide world: it depends on who you promote your work to, how you do it, what aspects of your product you feature in your marketing, your personality, your tone. And yes, it depends on where you are in the world, what you look like, what you sound like. Online businesses have increasing control over this process, as social networking makes it easier to reach the people who are most likely to be interested in your work. So I don't believe that a website owner is purely at the whim of fate when it comes to the tastes of their membership. To some extent, producers select their audience.

Once you have your audience, either you can stick with it and indulge their whims come what may, or if you want to change your product, you can take the risk of alienating them and attracting a new audience. I have no doubt that evolving your product or approach, particularly towards greater diversity, does carry risks. It's also understandable that few business owners consider this a risk worth taking in our failing economy. The result is that producers, on average, shore up the status quo even if they'd like to be doing something different, because they aren't able to take risks with their livelihood.

This idea of taking and balancing risks struck me as important and interesting. It's something every producer has to confront during the life of their business, and also applies beyond the porn industry. Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Anyone working in any creative industry needs to strike a balance between what they want to create and what will sell. I've learned this as a fine artist and as a graphic designer; musicians and writers understand how this goes. It is just as true for porn.
  • All of us have some sort of intuitive understanding of what sort of thing is 'popular' or 'mainstream' (although the definition will differ from person to person); what will bring in the highest profit. Often this isn't just about how well a certain product sells but how much it costs to produce; the cheapest products tend to have higher profit margins. Economies of scale also contribute. Think about the difference between a one-off, hand-knitted cardigan and a similar garment produced on a factory line in China. By and large, we can visualise a creative spectrum with large-scale industry cheaply producing popular products at one end, and small-scale, individually crafted, unique or original products at the other.
  • Every producer has a creative streak, a vision of what they like: they wouldn't be doing this otherwise. Every producer also has to position themselves on this spectrum of production, striking a balance between the quality and originality they would like to produce, and the budget and practicalities within which they have to operate. Economic privilege plays a part: if you're independently wealthy you're able to take far more risks with being 'original' and 'creative' than if you depend on your work for your livelihood and need to produce what sells, even if it's not the sort of thing you'd buy yourself.

Therefore: if I criticise producers for being at the mercy of market forces, I'm to some extent showing my privilege. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to take risks with their product. If you choose to cater to a small minority of consumers, either your product needs to be very expensive (and if that small minority tends not to be wealthy, you don't have a workable business plan) or you need to accept you won't make much money. If that doesn't amount to a living wage, you'll need access to other income or assets.

Cards on table: personally speaking, I have no savings after investing them all in this website, and my family are not wealthy, but I do have earning potential in other industries. While I hope Dreams of Spanking will earn enough to repay my investment, I fully expect to have to use freelance work to bolster my income from it in the first few years. Partly because realistically, I expect it'll take time until the website is in profit, and partly because this gives me a little more independence to produce the porn I want to see. If I'm not wholly dependent on the site for my livelihood, I can take more risks. Being able to do that is a privilege: not everyone has the skills or opportunity to earn decent daily rates as a freelancer.

If your product meets expectations of what is 'popular' in some ways, this frees you up to take risks in others. If your product is already risky, you may not have the leeway to take on any additional risk. For instance, if you run an M/F and F/F spanking site that is already creating imaginative, detailed storylines and investing a lot of money and effort in costumes and props and so forth, many would say you're compromising your profitability for the sake of artistic satisfaction. Do you then also have the leeway to add in something as 'risky' as male spankees? There's certainly a case to be made that highly profitable, big corporate porn sites have more flexibility to try new things than independent producers barely covering their costs.

Let's scale this down to the level I'm operating at: a site centred around a single performer. Most porn performers (and this is a tricky thing to talk about, so apologies if it comes across oddly) have personal attributes which combine to give a good impression on video. In my case, for example, I'd say I'm fairly well-spoken, intelligent, well-educated. None of these things I claim particular credit for: they're accidents of birth and opportunity. Additionally I'm female, cisgendered, not fat, able-bodied, primarily a bottom/submissive, I can take a lot of pain, and nature has given me a rounded bottom. The combination results, I'm told, in a certain sex appeal. None of these attributes are chosen or earned (I guess I'd be fatter if I didn't exercise and watch my nutrition, but my genes incline towards a middling sort of body type, rather than a naturally thin or fat one). Of course, there are many ways in which I don't fit the Playboy type of 'sexy', and I couldn't be a mainstream glamour model, but within our little scene I seem, by chance, to have attributes which are considered appealing.

I'm not saying this because I have a big ego, because I think sex appeal is generally an important attribute, or to imply that I consider myself better than anyone else. Hopefully, it should be clear that I consider the collections of personal attributes which are considered attractive within different social groups to be fairly arbitrary. I by no means think that being cis female, able-bodied etc makes me innately sexier than anyone who isn't. What I'm doing is deconstructing how we as a social group define 'sexy', and thinking critically about where I stand in relation to that.

What it comes down to is this: all of the attributes I listed above have given me an advantage when it comes to performing in, and producing, kinky porn. Collectively, they get me access to play, and access to paid work as a performer. Yes, of course I've worked hard and had big ideas and all the rest of it. But if I were a male spankee, trans, fat, disabled, didn't have well-educated parents, or even wasn't able to or inclined to play hard, then starting my own website would be a very different proposition. Without my privileged educational background, I would probably have had less confidence in my abilities, and found it less easy to teach myself the skills I needed to set up a business as a producer. If enough of my personal attributes didn't match what we're used to seeing in porn, I would probably have to work entirely with hired performers rather than appearing in my films myself.

If I was a male bottom - even if I were beautiful, deeply submissive and could take a lot of pain - I'd have found it very difficult to build a career as a porn performer*, let alone a producer. Men may have many social privileges, but equal representation as sex objects isn't one of them; and this is even more true of male submissives.

* The spanking porn industry is pretty small. I don't know any fulltime spanking models: most people either have vanilla jobs alongside, or they earn money from private sessions. Even a female bottom needs to start her own website if she wants to make spanking videos more than a handful of times a year. A male bottom has even fewer performance options than that.

Privilege, and what you do with it

So it comes down to privilege, and what you do with it. Privilege is multifaceted: as a woman I deal with a lot of stuff men don't have to; but overall, thanks to my class background and so on, I think I'm pretty fortunate, and especially so in this particular context. Although being female and a bottom is a social disadvantage in some ways, as a porn performer and aspiring producer, it definitely makes some things easier.

The way I see it, however much I dislike the screwed up social system that means I have more access to play and more access to paid work because of my gender, body type and role orientation, I can't change that fact. What I can change is how I respond to it. As far as I'm concerned, having this specific porn-performer-privilege gives me two responsibilities. Firstly, not to judge others for not taking the same risks as me. I can't assess the potential impact of taking a creative risk for anyone else; only an individual producer can do that. If you could take risks, want to, but are maintaining the status quo out of a fear of change, that's a matter for your own conscience.

Secondly, since I seem been granted some advantages, I should use them to help fix the broken system.

It would be very easy for me to launch a F/F and M/F site featuring me and perhaps other (young, white, slender, cisgendered, able-bodied) women getting spanked and leave it at that. It would probably be popular. And the status quo would be maintained. People who looked like my performers would continue to have advantages (in finding play partners, in finding porn which represents them, in being able to find work in porn if they wanted) over people who didn't. The kinky social hierarchy would remain intact.

Isn't the decent thing, once you become aware of having privilege, to use it to help close the gap between those with, and those without? Could any reasonable person come to an awareness of inequality and not want to work towards levelling the playing field? I don't think it's fair that my partners Tom and D, my dear friend Jimmy Holloway have fewer work opportunities as a performer than me because they're male. Seeking greater diversity in porn isn't just about appealing to a wider audience: it's also about making it more accessible.

Anyway, I sort of have this personal rule: if there's something you can do to fix it, and you don't, you should stop complaining. For years now I've been griping about the lack of hot male tops in spanking porn; the lack of hot male spankees; the fact men often aren't paid; the persistent online commercial segregation between male and female, fat and thin, trans and cis, /F and /M; the fact that most kinky porn caters to this fallacious "male gaze" that only likes looking at one type of body; the fact that no straight male webmasters are willing to feature M/M on their site.

I started producing partly because I had this nagging feeling that I should put my money where my mouth is. So that's what I'm doing. And actually, I don't mind taking a few risks to do it.

Comments

hell yeah!

I support you! I'll post about it in my blogs, too. :D

good luck

I think its good to push the boundaries as if you dont nothing will ever change.
I do thing there does need to be more in the way or good story lines and costumes as it makes the whole experiance so much better.
M M spanking is not my think but should be available for those wishing to perform and watch in good quality

Glad you agree, red! I know some people who outright prefer not to have the "distraction" of costume and plot so I won't please everyone, but it's nice to know that at least some are on the same page as me. I don't want loads of exposition but if anything in the setting is jarring, it'll distract me. Context and consistency are key.

Kudos for believing that M/M should be available even if it's not your personal kink. There should be more guys like you!

As an aspiring writer of erotica (well, I've written and "published" on story forums, but not much else) I must say I will always prefer "Porn With a Plot", however much or little there is, I need to see some believable motivation for the scene that is being performed. "Oh you've been a naughty girl, get over my knee *spank spank spank* "ow, ow, ow", get up and leave, just doesn't spark anything. I want to be able to *feel* the scene, not just view it. As a female submissive, I want to identify with the punishee. If they are not living it (or appearing to) neither am I.

Narrative Ape

As a number of cleverer people than me have said over time, including Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen in Science of the Discworld, our species label of homo sapiens is a slight misnomer. Rather than being the 'wise man' the VIctorians thought we were, we might better be described as Pan Narrans, the story-telling chimpanzee.

Narrative, the sense of structured time that we create our consensus reality with, is the biggest thing that makes us what we are. In the porn context, it's why I historically have been much more interested in kink art than kink film. With a good drawing (Paula Meadowes springs to mind) I can create my own narratives which work perfectly for me.

Matching up to that challenge while making live-action porn means you really do have to think about context, idiom, pacing, and all the other aspects of fiction that are familiar theoretical ground to a prose author but seem alien to some producers.

As a male top, I completely agree with you; if the punishee has no emotional arc, if there is no sense of context beyond the scene to the characters I'm watching, and (crucially) if I get no sense of personal involvement from the models as well as the characters, film tends to leave me cold.

Nodding! Yes, this, exactly. To get anything out of a scene I need to identify and empathise with the spankee, and I can't identify with a cardboard cutout.

And don't get me started on spanking stories that use sound effects to describe the action! Brrrrr. :)

Thanks Kitty! As you said on Andro-Aperture - now that Filament isn't continuing, the rest of us need to step up and carry the baton of making female gaze erotic male imagery. It still baffles me how much feminist and female gaze porn excludes cis male bodies or heterosexual encounters from their material.

End of the Thread

Filament are closing up?

Yup. Next issue's going to be the last. Suraya cites personal reasons for not continuing, but doesn't feel she can hand the project over to anyone else.

A lot to think about

This is in answer to both of the posts on this subject.

These posts have raised a lot of issues and perspectives that I agree with.

Although it is in a manner of a family of sites rather than on one website, I think that it is necessary to recognize the achievements of the Kink.com organization in fulfilling the objective, not only of catering for an across the board audience of preferences but also doing so while being a financially successful venture (as far as I know). Of coarse this in the BDSM genre rather than in the spanking world but it is an obvious "one in the eye" for the naysayers.

It is easy to say it cannot be done and it is hard to be one of those that prove that it can. If though, no one was ever prepared to prove that it could be done, we would all be still living in trees. I wish you the best of luck with this venture and hope that I can offer at least a little support, where and when it is possible.

These posts have left me with a lot to think about and I do intend to do a lot of thinking on this matter. Especially on my own prejudices against watching and taking part in M/m play. Personally I think that we are all prejudiced in one way or another. The difference between the good guys/gals and the bad is that one group is willing to recognize and deal with those prejudices and the others that think that it is fine to remain prejudiced.

Prefectdt

Personally I find Kink's F/M content rather abhorrent - to me it encapsulates the entire stereotype of content which focuses on the female top to the exclusion of the man:
http://malesubmissionart.com/post/91850568/an-unimportant-uninteresting-man-is-hidden-behind

Bound Gods at least isn't gendered in the same way, although its still "hardcore" at the expense of any of the intimacy and human connection which would be required to turn me on. I guess I'm not their audience, but it's still not a particularly human, ennobling or positive representation of male submission to my mind.

Still, yes, you are correct that in featuring /M content at all Kink.com has been groundbreaking. But in my opinion, it's time to take it to the next level and they're uniquely placed to do so. Why not include male submissives on The Upper Floor? From looking at Kink's range of sites it's clear that male submissive content is still in a minority. To me, that implies that they think women make better/more attractive/more appealing submissives, and to be honest with you it puts me off everything they do.

Absolutely with you on everyone being prejudiced. All we can do is try and recognise and own them where they exist, and avoid acting on them if we can help it.

Thanks for the support, and for the comment - I'm glad to know you're reading.

Random thoughts

Well written and thought provoking post, as usual. In particular I think your attitude to using your (in your own view) privileged position to push boundaries is creditable.

One thing though; I'm a white middle aged male, overweight and a bit short of hair; I appreciate this would make it (extremely) difficult to get employment in spanking videos, but, looking around, there are tops who share these characteristics, usually in videos that they themselves produce. The guy behind spanked in uniform springs to mind (he looks quite a bit like me, although I don't wear glasses and I carry a bit more weight).

I don't find them appealing. I don't mean to criticise their looks (which would be pretty hypocritical of me); I just don't enjoy watching them spank particularly.

In fairness I tend to be very critical of most male tops; if I am not turned off by their looks then their personalities (as they appear on screen) repel me. An example would be most of the male tops at Girls Boarding School.

I do, of course, concentrate on the bottom in these circumstances.

I have far less problems with female tops, whether spanking men or women. In F/F spanking I can concentrate on both halves of the arrangement, and this is the ideal. I can't understand heterosexual men who only like M/F spanking, but I accept that this is my preference.

This is becoming a bit more rambling than I intended; I think it would be better suited to a post on my own blog (http://timthetum.blogspot.com/).

One final thought; while I enjoy certain bottoms more than others (yourself included - not false flattery I promise) if I like the top then I am happy to see all body types spanked - I always liked that Shan's site was happy to post videos with bottoms that did not necessarily represent the physical ideal.

You see, one of my things is the authenticity of videos (for example I dislike bare bottomed caning of schoolgirls, as I do not believe that this really happened) and it's certainly safe to say that not only slim white females get spanked!

Thanks again for making me think about TTWD.

All the best

Tim

Ooh, which is Shan's site? I'm not sure I know it...

Great comment, thanks very much. Interesting to know that the limited variety of male tops (partly because so many of them are website owners rather than hired actors) impacts male watchers as well as female. Personally I'd love to see more male tops being hired for their looks/youth/acting skills rather than studios relying on the same few faces again and again. Not necessarily because they're unattractive (I do like watching Paul Kennedy and Stephen Lewis spank, for instance - they both have a lot of presence) but simply because the more options we have, the likelier it is that different tops will appeal to more viewers. Imagine if there were only two dozen female bottoms in the UK industry, and half of them were all the same body type - large ladies of middle years. However sexy these ladies might be, it just wouldn't do - viewers would demand more variety. Well, that's exactly how I feel about the current dearth of male tops!

Everyone has such specific tastes that it's impossible to really name an "ideal" which will suit all preferences. It can't be done. Okay, our culture tends to project the idea that slender, youthful, physically fit figures are the sexiest, and so yes, I'd love to see more male actors who fit that description in kinky porn (we're already well supplied with women who fit the bill). But really, I don't want to see any one thing - I want to see a broad spectrum of types and physiques in every role - men and women, tops and bottoms. It's a lot to ask - certainly more than one producer can take on singlehandedly - but I think it's a better thing to aim for than any one physical ideal.

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