Friday, September 30, 2005

time to cancel my membership?

i've been a member of suicidegirls for a while. not my favorite porn/erotica site; not even my favorite alt-porn site. but i joined and kept my membership, dropping by occasionally to browse because 1: the girls are hot, 2: the photosets are well composed, and 3: they had a good "story".

the sg story was that the site was founded by missy as a place where "punk" and alterna-girls could empower themselves by posing for pinups. the girls weren't just models: they were active, cherished members of the community with their own journals, and they had complete creative control over their sets. it's generally very soft—often too soft for me (no penetration ever and even glimpses of public hair seem somewhat rare), but presumably that was because the girls themselves wanted their sets soft... though i did sometimes wonder whether sg would post a truly hardcore set if that's how the model wanted it. (my conclusion was that they wouldn't, and i longed for a site somewhere in between sg and eroticbpm [formerly known as] that would at least occasionally get a bit more hardcore like ebpm does, but with new content added more frequently, like on sg.)

sg always looked pretty slick for an "alt-porn" site, with high quality (though soft) content, and quickly became the premier alt-porn site, with a bustling community. (i was never particularly interested in the community part.) and recently the sg empire has grown and grown, including a feature on hbo's real sex, a national burleque tour, an affiliation with playboy, and a new dvd that is apparently distributed by epitaph records.

recently i stopped by the site and noticed that they were now posting something like four new photosets a day (an average of one set every six hours, according to the site). this was a marked change from the old format, which was two sets a day: one from a new suicidegirl and one from a "classic" girl. but i didn't think too much of it.

until yesterday, that is, until i happened to be browsing boingboing and i came across this post.

Punk rock pinup site Suicide Girls has been the subject of much internet rumorage recently, on two fronts. First, problems between management and models; second, rumors that an FBI porn squad "cracked down" on SG, ordering the to take down certain images.

wha huh? a mass model exodus? an fbi investigation? as the boingboing post points out, sg wasn't ordered to remove any content; they voluntarily removed it just in case, which sort of damages their image of protecting the artistic vision and expression of their models and photographers:

The language of this post led many to assume the FBI must have contacted SG to order that they take down images. That didn't happen. It would seem unlikely that a still-in-formation antismut force would pick SG as its first target, anyway, given the abundance of far more hardcore sites on the internet -- SG doesn't feature penetration or actual sex acts, just cute goth girls frolicking about in nothing but their tattoos. Despite this, rumors continued to proliferate on blogs and mailing list ("feds shut down suicide girls!!!", "FBI fscks SG!", "Bush bones goth erotica site!").

But today, SG's Missy explains that the image takedown wasn't the result of contact by the FBI or any other authorities -- the site's management chose to pre-emptively remove certain photos. Missy tells Boing Boing:

While we do not believe any of our images are illegal, SG has removed a number of images in order to ensure that we are not targeted by the U.S. Government's new "War on Porn."

We have received no formal government notice to remove these images, however, in the course of our involvement, as witnesses, in a federal criminal prosecution that does not target SG, we have been made aware of the risks posting such content poses the owners of the company.

Given the U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' new war on porn task force and it's intent to bring obscenity charges against their loosely defined "Deviant" imagery, we have removed any images with fake blood and any images we felt could be wrongfully construed as sadist or masochist.

the fake blood and bondage sets were never my favorite, but i know a lot of people who are into that sort of thing. and isn't stuff like that what makes an alt-porn site "alt"? shannon larratt and many others take sg to task for readily taking down their content, without even being asked, when faced with even the slightest suggestion of possible first-amendment troubles.

but what's this about being "witnesses" in a "federal criminal prosecution"? in a follow up, a (male) sg representative explains that sg was simply helping prosecute someone who allegedly "intruded" into sg's computers. the prosecutor wanted a full list of all the nastiest stuff on the site, in case the defense were to bring it up in court in an attempt to discredit sg's testimony. (ad hominem attacks like "they make nasty porno, therefore you can't trust 'em" sometimes work on juries.) sg happily complied, but then thought "hey, now that the feds have that list, they might try to use it against us!" now such a strategy sounds a lot like entrapment, which is illegal. and the feds have much better targets since there are about 50 million sites out there that're more potentially offensive than the raunchiest stuff on sg. but sg claims that the mere existence of the list was enough to frighten them into taking the content down.

still, even taking this version of the story with no salt added, it's hard to accept missy's classification of sg as "witnesses" here. okay, it's a criminal case, so sg isn't the plaintiff. but if someone mugs you and you see their face, that doesn't make you a witness—you're the victim. and if the mugger goes to trial based on your testimony, that still doesn't make you a witness—you're the victim and the accuser.

so what's the case really about? when you take the story with a couple grains of salt, the flavor gets richer. here's what the other side has to say:

DN was conceived in January 2003.

Sean sent an email to the founders of Deviant Nation about 3 months before they actually got served. This email sent in February informed them that SG was in the process of filing a lawsuit against them after zotting them all.
Several months later, 2 out of the 4 DN founders were served with a complaint alleging, among many things, that they had hacked SG and stolen their code to create DN. The suit claimed that a SG user cgrant had hacked them with Administrator access in APRIL 2003. So they were suing them for stealing their code in April but notified them of the suit a month before. (Very intelligent by the way). SG's complaint asked the court to award them $500,000 in damages.

A lawsuit is very real and not something you want to deal with. It is no fun and costs lots and lots of money, regardless of how innocent you are. You can't ignore it, you must respond, and if you don't want to get raped, you'll have to hire a very expensive attorney.

That's the point: sue the fledgling (poor) startup so they have no money or time to create their site. In this country, you can just sue your competition into non-existence before a word even gets to a judge.

The 2 founders that were served were forced by SG to sign a non-compete agreement which barred them from creating any websites. They were dropped from the lawsuit immediately. (That seemed too easy.) We want $500k or sign this paper? Why drop the $500k in damages they supposedly had? I'd want my money if I had all those damages - screw the non-compete! Was Deviant Nation that big of a threat that the non-compete agreement was worth more than recovering $500k in supposed damages?

it gets stranger and muddier from there.

but wait... already this post is growing so long and what about all the models abandoning the site?

30 models have left in the past month. 150+ have left in the last year or two. and when you read their thoughts about why they left, the whole sg "story"—the marketing narrative of sg as woman-owned woman-friendly empowerment through nudity—begins to crumble. it crumbles right down to its origin: for starters, they claim that "founder" missy is only a hard-working figurehead, and the site is actually run and founded by a misogynistic, abusive, anti-semitic, neocon man named sean suhl.

this post on this livejournal community has a nice, brief list of some of the allegations. (here's the "read this first" post for the group.) here's an excerpt:

--Some earlier models have debatably invalid contracts.

--DVD models were told different things regarding their compensation and were treated poorly for questioning this.

--Earlier SG debacles included stranding 3 models in NY at the Courtney Love MTV special for several weeks, with dire consequences for one model, who left.

--SG panders to punk rock, when it's views are secretly the farthest thing from the ideology of punk, and they've tried to "punk up" their models in some sets by adding hair dye, chain jewelry, etc... to make the models LOOK MORE PUNK (that's so offensive to me)

--The community that SG supports is a facade. The owner of SG detests his community and has frequently expressed a desire to shut it down and continue to profit from it

--Models have been threatened with having their imagery resold to "sleazy sites" if they decide to leave or speak ill of the site, I've heard from two top models

--SG employs threats and fear to keep their models bound to them

--SG has debatably given models money for drugs to perform onstage

--SG has created different "rules" for different models, having nothing to do with contractual situations, without pre-informing them that they will have different rules to abide by, or risk being removed

--SG has falsified information to support or cover up many of their outrageous acts

--SG attempts to discredit or silence anyone who opposes them, even off of their site

--SG once claimed eventually they would turn the site over to the models when it made money

--SG started by using women who were down on their luck at the grand rate of $100 for 3 sets + 2 videos, in one top models case. Many of their earliest models were homeless, destitute, struggling exotic dancers in Portland, possibly one was underage in sets still showing

--Models' accounts are being closed and sets archived if they pose for another site. (Might I point out that they were told they COULD pose for other sites as long as they didn't submit any pics that had been accepted by SG. At least last I heard.)

--Some models are upset that their sets are being used for promotional purposes without notification or permission.

--Models are unhappy with what compensation they're receiving for sets and tour work.

--SG ownership has been censoring models' journal entries when they say anything negative about the site or go against Sean's right-wing political views.

--Bulresque tour models are uspet with the treatment they recieved during the experience, some of it including verbal abuse from management.

wow. and the list goes on. if you want to read more of what the girls are saying, there is tons of information to wade through in the sites i've linked to. tons. even if only, say 1/4 of it is true, there is something pretty foul going on behind the scenes at suicidegirls.

so for me, i think it's time to cancel my membership. i was never a huge fan anyway (though i must admit i was recently blown away by this photoset, where long-time model amina was finally brave enough to pose for a set in which her prosthetic leg was visible... the leg was airbrushed and done so well that i didn't even realize it was "fake" until i was about halfway through the set). there are lots of wonderful girls on the site and i wish them all well, but i won't miss the site itself after i unsub. instead i should look into godsgirls or one of the alt-porn "alternatives".

and this post might now officially be the longest ever in this blog, so i'll shut up and publish now.


dj empirical said...

thanks for this, guy.

i've been a member for a while, but i also havent been overly active in the community.

i recently heard about a model who'd left and the politics were a bit sketchy, but i hadnt heard the details.

i think i'll look into this....

Anonymous said...

You should come check out Deviant Nation. Sign up for to be a beta tester. We should be launching next month at the very latest.

Anonymous said...

The site is now being boycott.

Anonymous said...

Prada stuff links: