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How The Internet Turned Kink Into An Industry - Actuality

After 20 years of living with the mass Internet, sexual experimentation has become a specialist racket, a place one visits if one can afford the gear, like a scuba diving vacation in the Caribbean. The times have made us bizarrely conservative as a precondition to selling us back normalcy as if it were an exotic good. is among the biggest industrial authorities on sexual deviance. Famously run from the abandoned Armory building in San Francisco’s Mission District, the company began under the name in a dorm room at Columbia University in 1997. Peter Acworth was in his first year of a PhD program in finance and decided to mix his interests in bondage and business management.

It was an elemental period for the Internet, millions of people were gaining access but there was still an uncertainty as to what one should expect from that access. A few clicks away from the rickety monoliths of AOL or Yahoo!, it was obvious that the reason for the Internet’s existence hadn’t actually been invented yet, and so everyone milled past one another, exchanging micro-experiments and general enthusiasm for things that seemed trivial or in poor taste everywhere else.

This spectacle at the margins of social acceptability became the foundation for a new generation of authoritative cultural brands. The veneer of sobriety and skeptical disengagement that characterized offline media was flooded by manic enthusiasm for the unsightly or unconsidered. The Internet worked best not when it sought to replace old forms of media but when it became a garish bazaar of everything old media had no room for. It was an industrial phenomenon to extract mass market value from everything that had no yet been commodified into a profit-driven symbol of its former self. If there was a way of finding a General Motors of paraphilia, it would have to run through the Internet. Acworth was the perfect combination of entrepreneur and naive enthusiast that would make this industrial transformation possible.

Captured in Kink, a new documentary by Christina Voros, director of the award-winning short film The Ladies and cinematographer of the forthcoming As I Lay Dying and Child of God, Acworth’s creation appears as less of a corporate entity than a guild of directors who occupy their own particular subsets and are responsible for making several new movies each week for their own subsites. Alongside the enduring, Kink hosts more than 30 specially focused sites including Water Bondage, Naked Kombat, Sadistic Rope, Dungeon Sex, Foot Worship, Electro Sluts, and Butt Machine Boys. Though each of these sites appear as their own self-contained entity, they are all run from the same servers, administered by the same support staff, and use shared cameras, editing bays, production staff, and prop vaults as all the others.

Kink is an earnest and straightforward look at the business of binding, spanking and electrocuting the nude. It’s a glib catalog of vocational details accumulated from extended time in Kink’s office space, a fabric of voyeurism assembled from a neutral distance that feels more like conflict-avoidance than active engagement with a subject and their claims. There is a palpable incuriosity about the larger context in which Kink operates, with little reportage outside of Kink’s office, nor even an perceptible aesthetic framing of its subjects within an intimate point of view, no contextual marks like Errol Morris’s jagged jumpcuts and awkward silences, nor the gothic sublimity of Pumping Iron’s silken monstrosities disappearing into pools of staged shadow. The movie is thankfully explicit and unsensational, neither underemphasizing the nature and intensity of each shoot nor overstating the symbolic significance of any scene.

The movie unsentimentally captures the interplay of sex and wage labor, implicitly pointing to a baseline of sexual normalcy in order to sell the marketable novelty its transgression. Like many other sex sites, the industrial demands to maximize output while minimizing production costs have essentially collapsed video production and photography into one conjoined labor, with individual stills for photo galleries harvested from movie sets, a reasonable corner-cutting reflective of what matters most in the company’s approach to sexual media.

In a statement released alongside promotional materials for the film, said its most important corporate value was upholding “a safe, sane, and consensual environment.” Like most values, these are more aspirational than actual. The pressures of casting for several shoots a day are immense, ensuring most performers have little rehearsal time, are hastily screened, often don’t meet their director until the day of the shoot, and are given only a safe word to use in case something in a scene is no longer tolerable. Kink’s pace of production remains so high it guarantees none of the bureaucratic structures necessary to practicing those ideals are economically viable–longer periods between casting and filming, extended rehearsal and planning periods, shoots spread across multiple days to mitigate the pressures of wanting to soldier through to keep the crew and director happy, resources for counseling both before and after the shoot to ensure each performer’s personal history is honored and protected throughout the shoot.

Instead, Kink relies on “aftercare,” a BDSM practice in which participants come down from the intensity of an encounter with gentle affection and repeated affirmations of gratitude and appreciation. Aftercare is a wonderful practice, and one highly atypical of most other forms of wage labor, but it’s hard to not wonder if that brief oasis of time is sufficient to honoring the safety, sanity, and consent of performers given how quickly shoots come together and wrap. In some fundamental way, the business kink is in the underlying expression of this economic pressure, the unbending need to create revenue to cover costs, pay salaries, and report profits so that all of the material and bureaucratic support necessary for caring for its workers will always feel too costly. Even its structure of a small number of fulltime support staff and directors profiting from a huge pool of freelance performers who earn a fraction of the salary and none of the benefits of the full-timers is model for how business is done online in any industry.

Casting ultimately defines the industrial phenomenon of kink more than any particular act, the erotic charge is produced less by what is happening than by the unspoken fantasies about whom it is happening to. There seems to be a never-ending supply of workers willing to be put through these motions. Though they come in varying intensity, these acts are less deviations from the norm than variations on the historical constancy of sexual experimentation, from the use of oiled vegetables or high-pressure water streams to produce orgasms to treat female hysteria, to the sweetly intimate filth that always seems to accompany true love. Writing to Nora Barnacle, James Joyce offers a not so unfamiliar conflation of love and excrescence: ”Some night when we are somewhere in the dark and talking dirty and you feel your shite ready to fall put your arms round my neck in shame and shit it down softly.”

If there is a predominant aesthetic to, it is formulaic repetition more than sexual deviance or creativity. There is something profoundly rote and unkinky about the websites’ constellation of interests, which reproduce the same scenarios over and over again—someone sitting on a Sybian or being whipped while standing on cinder blocks with their head in a noose. When seen duplicated in a cascade of minor variations, the impression is less of sexual discovery than of farce, the same punchline repeated to an audience of amnesiacs, feigning shock, excitement, or eroticized revulsion at the plausible made literal.

What one learns from sex is that there is no such thing as normalcy, and the closest to a baseline one can establish is only ever true for two people. What is seen as alternative to that is impossible to depict in boilerplate, a rite represented in film or photo and distributed to millions in their moments of leisure, boredom, or loneliness. Before there can be kink, we must invent a society of stiffs against which it can be measured, and it is this ahistorical pathology of thinking sex a rubric that makes things like Foot Worship and Bound in Public seem like valuable contraband. The industrialization of kink normalizes the bathos of wage labored adulthood with news from a parallel dimension where anything can be sex, while we remain trapped in this present where everything can become a job, even sex.

Credits images: from web


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