Coming of age as a punk-rock kid in the early '90s was an emasculating experience.
Feminism invaded the Pacific Northwest's music scene at its apex a decade ago via record labels like Kill Rock Stars and K, while the region was setting trends that infected the entire country (read: Nirvana). Growing up, I lived all over the States, but like my peers, I couldn't escape what was happening in the upper left-hand corner of the country. As a result, we boys were bestowed with an itchy guilt about heterosexuality that we'd never earned.
Amid the area's explosion of punk and indie bands, primarily out of Olympia, Washington, Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill were painting words like "RAPE" and "SLUT" across their midriffs, screaming "It's hard to talk with your dick in my mouth" on "White Boy," "Don't need your atti-fuckin'-tude boy, don't need your dick to fuck" on "Don't Need You." Bikini Kill and its Riot Grrrl posse were churning out 'zines, seven-inches and albums full of righteous vitriol directed at me and my punk-rock brethren; we sang along and bought the records and mimicked the message, but the resulting undercurrent was shame. We loved those girls, we'd have loved to see them naked to be quite honest, and in return we got to feel -- if not quite like rapists -- at least enablers simply because of our chromosomal variance.
It didn't stop with Riot Grrrl. Political pop/punk outfit Propagandhi -- boys, mind you, our peers -- told us, "And potential rapists all are we," and fed us lines like "If everything desired is objectified, then maybe eroticism needs to be redefined. And I refuse to be a man.'" (Italics theirs.) The only politically correct sexual stance for a punk-rock boy was homosexuality, 'cause gay boys weren't a threat to our tattooed and pierced punk princesses.
Not inclined toward that option, boys like me kept our copies of Penthouse well hidden and our Kill Rock Stars shirts well laundered.
Ten years later, it's liberating for those of us who survived Riot Grrrl with our punk-rock cred still intact to see the tides have turned. But at the same time, it jacks up the level of youth-envy -- not only did my generation miss the bare-tummied, low-rise jeans, post-Britney high school girls era, we now have to watch, and grudgingly appreciate, the rise of Generation Y's embrace of girl-and-boy-friendly punk pornography, best epitomized by the monolithic SuicideGirls.com.
The SuicideGirls Burlesque Tour is rolling through the Big Fish Pub in Tempe this Monday, showcasing the onstage version of the site's pinup-girl aesthetic. Models from the site (Siren, Snow, Stormy, Brandy, Tegan and Violet, if you know your suicidegirls) will be performing choreographed stripteases to a punk-rock soundtrack; their act reportedly includes belly dancing, flame tricks, electrical tape, and pink cupcakes. Luckily, with a few months of my 20s left, I'm not too old to appreciate it.
SuicideGirls was founded in Portland, Oregon, in 2001 by Missy and Sean Suicide, young pseudonymed entrepreneurs who discovered and exploited a gap in what appeared to be the thoroughly excavated online pornography market. Put up real punk-rock and goth girls, with all their piercings, tattoos and varying body types, with an artistic aesthetic akin to the pinup girls of the '50s; better yet, make it a community, where the girls post extensive profiles of themselves and keep blogs, and the paying members can interact with the girls as well as other members. Missy and Sean created, as they like to point out in promotional materials, a "lifestyle brand."
The point of origin of both Riot Grrrl and SuicideGirls is significant. Olympia, Washington, is home to Evergreen College, a liberal arts institution with pioneering (and, some say, extreme) women's studies programs. Many of the musicians and writers who fueled the Riot Grrrl movement were straight out of Evergreen, lending a distinct femi-Nazi flavor to the bands' output.
And Portland, home of SuicideGirls, lays claim to more strip clubs per capita than any other city in the nation. It's also Mecca for tattooed and pierced alterna-types and home to a thriving independent rock scene. Even the name SuicideGirls has a distinctively Portland etymology -- Portland author Chuck Pahlaniuk, of Fight Club fame, coined the phrase in his book Survivor, about a suicide cult's lone survivor and his 15 minutes of fame.
In its brief history, SuicideGirls has racked up amazing numbers that illustrate just how far the sexual norms of Gen Y are from the repressed paranoia of 10 years ago. The site claims 500,000 unique visitors a week, 95 percent of them from the 18-to-26 age bracket, and more than half of the members are female. Even more interesting are the traffic stats, 20 percent of the traffic being the pinup photography, the other 80 percent is amongst the community sectors of the site. Besides the girls' profiles and blogs, as well as the members', SuicideGirls has an extensive Web board, a searchable calendar of events, regional and interest-based groups to join, and a "Hook-Up" section for singles. It's Friendster with tits and ass.
Ten years ago, DIY porn magazines were scarce and Internet porn was in its infancy, but if you were a punk-rock boy with a pile of Hustlers or Barely Legals around, you were pinned squarely in the rapists' camp. There wasn't pornography that fit the punk-rock/independent aesthetic. Today the alterna-kids are building entire communities around pornography.
SuicideGirls is capitalizing on its idiosyncratic "lifestyle brand," partnering with record companies and bands for promotions, marketing SuicideGirls apparel and merchandise (Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl has been photographed with an SG sticker on his guitar, Atmosphere's MC Slug has been caught onstage sporting an SG hoodie), developing a coffee-table book and DVD, and sending the SuicideGirls Burlesque Tour across America. They'll need the momentum; in the wake of its success, imitators have proliferated, and its predecessors, like BurningAngel.com and RaverPorn.com, have benefited from SuicideGirls' popularity (I've found that IndieNudes.com is a great compendium of DIY erotic sites).
I'm waiting eagerly for the SuicideGirls Burlesque Tour to get here. I'm sure I'll be amongst my peers there, similarly aged punk-rock boys looking to relive our youth vicariously through the fresher, freer generation baring its flesh. It's okay to admit that we like looking at naked girls; it's just too goddamn bad it took a decade of shame for us to figure that out. -- By Brendan Joel Kelley
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