Under harsh, clinical lighting, with a background cloaked in darkness, a zaftig, heavily tattooed woman fellates an enormous and alarmingly hairless penis. The hairless penis ejaculates, and a ominous computer voice intones that dribbling cum stains resemble "writing in Arabic, or sometimes Sanskrit." As the woman stares at the cum, the voice dramatically pronounces that "if she could learn to read that writing, she would know her ... entire ... future." The penis writes a tiny bit more Sanskrit, and the scene fades to black.
What is this? It's not Andy Warhol's Blow Job (1963). It's the opening blow-job scene from a movie called Hospital, produced by Vivid Alt, an imprint of the mainstream porn production studio Vivid. Vivid Alt produces alternative pornography, or "subcultural erotica." Altporn is, on a basic level, porn that features models who are representatives of real-life subcultures like goth, punk, rave, emo, rockabilly, and hipster. Instead of buxom blondes who appear to have traipsed out of the Playboy Mansion on a cloud of pink boas, altporn features models who are often tattooed, pierced, and generous with the DIY Manic Panic hair dye. In a weird porn-imitating-life-imitating-porn switch, two big stars of altporn, Sasha Grey and Charlotte Stokely, currently star in campaigns for American Apparel.
Alternative porn is nothing new, at least not since the advent of the Internet. While magazines like Hustler and Playboy have formulated the aesthetic of mainstream print pornography, the Internet created a democratic space inside which divergent interpretations of sexuality could be easily presented. Blue Blood is generally credited as launching counterculture erotica in 1992 with the glossy, erotic zine that featured punks, goths, and erotic fiction. But Altporn did not take hold on a large scale until the late 1990s with Web sites like GothicSluts and EroticBPM. By the time alt-erotica site SuicideGirls appeared in 2001 (not quite full-blown porn, but a contributor to the altporn genre just the same), altporn was a full-fledged subset of porn. Today there are hundreds of altporn Web sites, with names like Crazybabes, Burning Angel, Broken Dollz, Razor Dolls, Supercult, and DeviantNation.
For Eon McKai, founder of Vivid Alt, porn is an intensely personal form of expression. "I'd say at no time especially at Vivid Alt no one is told to make a certain type of movie that isn't coming from some place inside of them." McKai states that he and other altporn directors are merely "expressing the aesthetic that they find in their life, that they live in their life." In fact, many people involved in the altporn industry believe that what they are creating is a meaningful form of personal expression. Most people involved in altporn view their work as fundamentally different than mainstream pornography. Cutter, of AltPorn.net, explains, "AltPorn makes the trends and porn-porn tends to follow them. Traditional porn is conservative in a weird insular way. It tends to copy outside things." Cutter doesn't think that altporn appropriates or copies from existing subcultures. He and others view altporn as being organic, DIY, independent, and fundamentally authentic.
All alternative subcultures are inherently interested in the notion of authenticity, and particularly in determining that which constitutes genuine membership into the group. Maintaining authenticity is a crucial part of how subcultures survive. Because subcultures are groups that are in part defined by their opposition to the mainstream, they are innately concerned with the "authentic" or original moment of resistance. Members of the altporn community are just as interested in the notion of genuine membership as the subcultures they depict.