It takes only a couple of keystrokes to refocus your browser from your average fake-breast-fetishizing porn site to Suicide Girls (www.suicidegirls.com), but it take even less time to notice the difference between the two. Sure, the façade is similar: "Naked girls!" screams the Suicide Girls header, while a prominent message extols visitors to break out their credit card to check out the good stuff hidden from guests. But then there are the girls, who resemble Jenna Jameson like Frank Black resembles Frank Sinatra. Peering from the page are the kind of women you're more likely to find at First Avenue than at www.fucksluts.com: mostly skinny, mostly on the believably breasted side, and mostly (heavily) tattooed.
In fact, the women on display at Suicide Girls look a lot like the indie-rock chicks you'd expect to see at a Strokes show but never thought you'd get to see naked. Look further through the site and you'll find fervent music-dork discussion boards and tour info, and lots of journal posting, where, for instance, one model worries rather endearingly about her recent kidney checkup. Suddenly, Suicide Girls starts to look less like regular porn, and more like--well, more like porn for people who cry to the Smiths but ain't gonna let that get in the way of a little sumpin' sumpin'.
Or perhaps, as these sites would have it, they're not even porn at all. After all, you'd be hard pressed to find the word anywhere on the site, or for that matter on any of the slew of websites, such as Friction (www.frictionusa.com) and Supercult (www.supercult.com), that are joining Suicide Girls in retooling the online adult industry for the hipster set. Yes, each of the sites builds upon an age-old porn framework, offering monthly memberships (ranging from $6 to $10) that buy you access to a selection of softcore girlie photos. Yet the emphasis is ostensibly less on meat-market maneuvers and more on old-fashioned indie-rock community spirit. On these sites, naked pictures are only the beginning. Friction includes columns, poetry by a professor at Chicago Wesleyan University, and a chance to meet (and possibly pose for) the photographer as he heads on tour with his group Minus the Bear. And on the more community-minded Suicide Girls, each photo portfolio is accompanied by a journal where women discuss their feelings with SG members.
"I am: queer white female," writes Eve, a slender, pouty-lipped 19-year-old who name-checks David Lynch and Chuck Palahniuk and looks a tiny bit like Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein. "Blue/green/grey eyes, newly black hair. a student, a wanna-be writer, cynical and bitter and jaded as hell. bored. very bored."
Not that community guarantees anyone the response they're looking for. As one somewhat less romantic member replied, "Hmmm...you'd be perfect except for the aspiring lesbian thing."
But don't worry--these sites know that talk only gets you (off) so far. There are tits aplenty for the less conversational-minded, though chances are those tits belong to a girl as handy with a vintage 8mm film camera as she is with a webcam. From the more badass stylings of Suicide Girls to the mod posturing of Supercult and the cutesy tone of Friction, there's a naked girl for just about every hipster sensibility. A quick sampling of popular photo spreads includes a Scandinavian cutie named Kendra enjoying naked Cheerios, a playful threesome of pink-panty-clad young nubiles, and a punked-out and multi-pierced indie girl lounging with her collection of ultra-desirable clear-vinyl 12-inches. You can almost see the perennially heartbroken Lou Barlow quaking in his cardigan, and it's not hard to imagine the source of his confusion. When the hell did indie rock get this goddamn sexy?
¬ Of course, alternative sexuality in 2002 is not exactly revolutionary. Popular sex columnists and activists like Dan Savage and Susie Bright, and webcam pioneers like Jennifer Ringley (www.jennicam.com), have long since brought frank sexuality out of the brown bag and into the popular consciousness. And the Internet quickly realized that a female-friendly take on male-dominated porn could be a seriously profitable venture. Cake(www.cakenyc.com) has taken its "entertainment for women" (read: women-centric sexual shenanigans in swank New York clubs) from homespun enterprise to the pages of Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. Meanwhile Nerve (www.nerve.com) has been peddling its brand of literate smut since 1997, blending erotic fiction, reporting, and photos with phenomenally popular and sexually charged personals (the same ones that currently grace the City Pages website). This service has almost singlehandedly transformed the personal ad from the last resort of the desperate to a new kind of status symbol for the sexually aware--and, while you're at it, a great moneymaking scheme for Nerve.
Which points to the fact that Suicide Girls isn't so much an offshoot of some kind of emo-porn phenomenon (as a past issue of Spin put it) but rather just a good example of the classic free-market tenet: Where there's a market, there's a way. After all, sex sells, even (especially?) if you bundle it with the DIY aesthetic, a connection to the punk and indie-rock community, and a liberal dash of personal weblogging. In fact, Suicide Girls is only one facet of a market presence that has quickly cottoned on to the fact that Will Oldham aficionados can be just as horny as regular people. Check the phenomenal success of the Internet meeting spot called Make Out Club (www.makeoutclub.com), which brought overt sexuality to a culture not known for brazen sexuality. (Just a few years ago a band named Hefner, of all things, could sing, "I don't want to get laid, I just want to be held in your arms" on their debut Breaking God's Heart.)