In December 2007, the same month that Vivid sued PornoTube, rumors began to circulate in the industry that Brazzers also owned the increasingly successful and much-loathed PornHub. When GFY’s amateur sleuths turned up connections between domain names and corporate registrations that suggested common ownership, “Brazzer” (a.k.a. Youssef) responded vaguely that he had been “approached” about starting a tube site but had “refused” because “it would be 100 percent against the core interests of our business.” This answer did nothing to dispel suspicions, and Brazzers quickly came to be viewed by its many industry critics as an almost The Firm–like criminal corporation. On GFY, the founders were scorned as “thieves,” “a cancer,” and “foosball faggots.” At trade shows they kept a low profile. “They’d probably get their asses beat,” says Jason Quinlan, from LordsOfPorn.com, who says traffic to his company’s paysites has declined 40 percent in the last four years.
But the Brazzers crew, who were adding other tube sites to their portfolio (Tube8, ExtremeTube), took it all in stride. And plenty of companies did do business with PornHub, unable to resist the lure of its traffic. “We call them keyboard warriors,” Antoon says of the GFY trash talkers. “When we see them, they buy us drinks.”
The woman on my MacBook screen, whose username is xTattooSurprisex, has punky two-tone hair and wears a scoop-neck top that reveals her ample chest and a clavicle tattoo reading BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. I chose xTattooSurprisex for my “private chat” because she looked American. (Most of the girls on LiveJasmin.com, the biggest cam site, seem to be from Russia.) When I tell her I’m a journalist and just want to talk, Roxy, as she introduces herself, immediately types that she is camming “not by choice.”
Roxy moved to New Mexico from Washington State to get away from her alcoholic mother, who, she says, was stalking her and caused her to lose her job at the Cheesecake Factory. She’s 20, and has been doing this since July. She says that she was going to lose her house if she didn’t get a job, and the money’s not bad. I’m paying LiveJasmin $1.99 per minute, of which Roxy receives about 70 cents. She tells me she might make $1,200 a month. She doesn’t want to do this forever, but at times it can be fun, most of the guys are nice, and she just ignores the mean ones. Some of her orgasms are fake, she says, and some are real.
Unlike recorded porn, live cams are immune to piracy, which has made them especially successful as a business proposition. In this sense, the cams function as anti-tubes, but the two technologies have together opened up an entirely new frottage industry, so to speak: a grassroots, DIY porn democracy where anyone with a bedroom, a cam, and a web connection can set up as a one-woman or -man operation. LiveJasmin has some 40,000 registered cammers. “Today,” porn distributor Farrell Timlake says, “cams are the closest thing to amateur.”
“Amateur” is a semantically slippery term, as Timlake will tell you. A graduate of the Kent School in Connecticut, he spent a good deal of the early nineties submitting his own home sex tapes to Homegrown Video, which functioned as a kind of VHS video exchange for swingers. In 1992, he and his brother Moffitt (Exeter and Stanford), bankrolled by their mother, bought out the company, which they run together and which has, so they plausibly claim, the largest library of amateur videos in the world. Since then, Farrell and Moffitt have watched “amateur” move from almost a fringe fetish to one of pornography’s most popular aesthetics—and, as such, one co-opted by the pros.
Pretty much all the porn labeled “gonzo” and “reality” these days is a put-on, Timlake insists. In the Dancing Bear series, a male stripper wearing an enormous bear head performs for a bachelorette party until several fairly respectable-looking women suddenly lose control and start fellating him. “That stuff looks pretty real,” he says. “It takes a minute, but where are there roomfuls of women willing to have sex with a guy?” Watch a few of them, and you’ll notice the same women reappearing. Another series, Dare Dorm, claims to pay real college kids for tapes of campus orgies, but Timlake isn’t buying it. “I can always tell, because most college kids can’t afford as many tattoos as those people have.” Occasionally, as in Fuck Team Five and Fuck a Fan, a series will be a pro-am hybrid, in which porn stars have sex with civilians (though even they are likely cast). A recent vogue for “ex-girlfriend porn”—purportedly uploaded by vengeful former boyfriends—democratizes the celebrity sex tape but is also phony (actual unauthorized home videos would pose legal risks to the hosting websites).