Saturday, May 2, 2009 Under (Lame) Attack

There's been a bit of a controversy out in San Francisco during the last week. It started on April 22 when a local alternative weekly paper, the San Francisco Weekly, published an article by Matt Smith called "Bound and Gagged." Smith, it seems, had discovered that a city program to train workers in multimedia was being used by employees of, the world's leading fetish porn website. Smith quickly reported this to the government of San Francisco which denied access to its services.

Smith writes:
Talk about an economic stimulus. California taxpayers have paid $46,791 so that employees of the San Francisco pornographer might produce more perfect web-based depictions of motorized dildo impalements on; do a better job displaying women as they're bound, gagged, and repeatedly electrically shocked on; and more effectively transmit images of, well, people doing pretty much what you'd imagine they'd be doing on

That's right: California's government has been subsidizing torture-based pornography. The subsidy has been routed through the California Employment Training Panel (ETP), an agency set up to make state businesses more competitive with foreign and out-of-state ones by paying contractors who train in-state workers. (...)

Sadly, this story doesn't have a happy ending, at least from a porn industry perspective.

After I submitted a state public records request to find out how much money Californians had been paying to train workers of Cybernet Entertainment LLC —'s formally registered business name — I received a letter from ETP general counsel Maureen Reilly, who said the government had been unaware that Cybernet was in the business of narrowcasting videos depicting sexualized torture.

Well, isn't quite the monster that the Weekly claims in their sensationalist article. Its policies to protect its workers' safety put most other porn websites to shame. Performers always practice safer sex, which is neglected by many production companies. Like all good BDSM scenes, the scenes in videos are the result of negotiation with the submissive. These negotiations, along with a post scene check-in with the submissive, are video taped and included on the site to dispell the illusion that actual violence is occuring. For a first hand account of what it is like to work at, I highly recommend a truly fantastic 2007 article in the New York Times Magazine or a recent episode of The Ropecast in which Gray Dancer describes a week he spend directing and rigging rope bondage for videos there, or

The reaction to Smith's article was immediate, strong, and probably not what the San Francisco Weekly expected. San Francisco is, after all, a pretty sexually liberated place! Posters are appearing in the Castro calling for a boycott of the Weekly. Tee shirts with the logo at the top of the post are on sale here.

Some of the responses that have been popping up in the sex-positive press.

San Francisco sex writer Violet Blue responded to Smith in her weekly Open Source Sex column in the San Francisco Chronicle:
So we've learned, according to Smith's terminology, sexual penetrations at Kink are "impalements." Women who work at Kink (who incidentally script their own scenes) are "bound, gagged, and repeatedly electrically shocked." To him, Kink makes "torture-based pornography." He states that Kink is "(...) in the business of narrowcasting videos depicting sexualized torture." Smith entices us to believe that what performer Lorelei Lee does is "something women would rather not do, but they feel they have to."

Lee tells me that her job at Kink represents, "The respectful, consensual, pre-negotiated, intimate, and often-joyful interaction that is BDSM. Every staff member at, from the talent department to the directors to the production assistants has been trained by the company to make the health and safety of their models a top priority. This policy of prioritizing worker health and safety is in obvious contrast to many other big employers in California. Further, I find Mr. Smith's implication that I, as a model and porn performer, have been coerced, victimized, or exploited by my job to be profoundly degrading and insulting. To imply that I have not exercised the same autonomous judgment as anyone else has in choosing a career, is to completely dismiss my will, intelligence and rational capability."

In the Huffington Post, Stephen Elliot writes:
The article is heavily anti-porn, and anti-BDSM, focusing on women being dominated, avoiding mentioning Men In Pain, a site with women dominating men, or TS Seduction, where men are dominated by transexuals.

Gay lifestyle site The Sword writes:
Watch out, Jessie Helms -- someone younger and hungrier is about to push you down the stairs! SF Weekly writer Matt Smith has he's gotten porn site banned from a California-subsidized program that trains Bay Area video professionals because the site is "medieval" and grosses him out. (...)

While we're at it, we should probably also take away Kink employees' rights to unemployment benefits and healthcare protection. Because it's not like they are a legally recognized entity in California, and it's not like they pay payroll taxes or anything. Oh, wait--they are and they do. But it doesn't matter when you're a second-rate city paper trying to sell pitchforks and torches.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: is a legitimate, legal San Francisco business that employs 100 people, treats them and pays them well, has transformed a wasteland of an empty building into a going concern ... and I think it's great that the people who work there (who also happen to be part of the film and media industry in San Francisco) got to use a state job-training program.

SF Weekly's Matt Smith has written an indictment this week against S&M porn producers for being able to send their video editors to state-funded classes at the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC). Why? Because kinky shit grosses him out and he feels taxpayers shouldn't be funding the training of Kink's workers, despite their being employees of a legitimate, taxpaying California business. (...)

Smith even goes so far as to invoke the 1998 Supreme Court case National Endowment for the Arts vs. Finley, which stemmed from the late 80s conservative brouhaha over "obscenity" in NEA-funded artworks started by one Jessie Helms. That's a hellava model to follow, Matt!

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