Suicide is painless?

Katie Suicide Girls.jpg
Sick of hearing about Suicidegirls.com? Read today's City Pages for some serious second thoughts: "Subscribing to the site also means subscribing to a certain idea," write Jessica Hopper and Julianne Shepherd. "Its viewers get to lust after girls with shared cultural interests ('shaved pussy; loves Fugazi!'), and the models' 'feminism'... exonerates the guilt behind the gaze." One question: Exactly what are viewers guilty of? (Or what might they/should they be feeling guilty about?) My two colleagues never say, although their argument against Suicide Girls, who arrive Saturday in Minneapolis at the Fine Line with their burlesque, does outline a scandal that's news to me: The business is run by a guy, and a bunch of the iconic SGs (including Katie, pictured) have left, making accusations of misogyny, abuse, and ghostwritten journals, while joining a blog to air their grievances, Tales from the Dark Site. (See also: Gloomdolls.com.) One former model calls Suicide Girls "the Wal-Mart of alt-porn" in an article linked on the forum.

This is rich terrain for irony, obviously. But Jessica and Julianne come close to letting their entertaining anti-hypocrisy become anti-porn...

"Suicidegirls.com hinges itself on the idea that there is no male gaze, that pornography can exist outside the bounds of subject/object relations, that there is no soft-focus power imbalance inherent in paying to look at naked girls."

Gods Girls.jpg
Which assumes your agreement with the opposite: There is a male gaze; pornography can't exist outside subject/object relations; there is a power imbalance in paying to look at naked girls. Well, yeah. But these statements are incomplete to the point of misleading: That "gaze" is a complex and changeable thing. Pin-ups, the WWII-era phenomenon to which Suicide Girls owe much, arrived just as women were being looked at through needier male eyes (as economic agents in factories, or sexual agents in soldier fantasies). There is a subject/object relationship every time one person looks at another person as a sex object--something every breathing animal wishes to become at one moment or another. (I've barely looked at Suicidegirls.com, but I imagine subscribers are also well aware that the autobiographical info, like most "reality" media from Playmate Q&As to Myspace confessions, is just fodder for more fantasy.)

And if we agree with non-fanatic economists that there are "inherent" power relations in all markets, why single out paying for the sight of nude women?

The real news story, for feminists and labor-activists in the sex-entertainment industry, is how conservative Suicidegirls.com is. As reported recently on Susie Bright's and Shannon Larratt's blogs, SG has been early to surrender to the government's latest anti-porn witch hunt, preemptively taking down bondage photos that might be prosecuted by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Apparently, SG had called the FBI against a potential competitor (over alleged hacking), and, in an effort to make themselves credible witnesses for the prosecution, turned over "a list of every single photo set that contains bondage, blood play, urination, etc." (according to SG's Steve Simitzis). Only later did it occur to them that the list might be used to other ends.

Suicidegirls.com is also reportedly threatening lawsuits against ex-models who are launching their own site, Godsgirls.com (see photo above, and Myspace page here--though apparently Myspace has censored comments about Suicide Girls). There's no mention of that project in the City Pages piece, but then, that would involve supporting pornography.

Update Friday: More commentary at the Sacredwhore.org blog.

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