The founder’s light spirit percolates through the list—his absence of judgment, his openness, his desire to be amused, his indifference to the profit motive. Dedicated users troll the list at work for gossip or laughs, and they trust that when they offer up their souls on the list, they will gain understanding, or an audience.
Consider this anonymous screed—in the Rants and Raves category—from a Washington, D.C., woman maybe hoping her lover wouldn’t see it:
“You cannot trick me, Small Penis, into thinking you are large—by pounding away like a jackhammer. In fact, when you do this—I almost totally forget about you . . . It is true, Smally, that when I first saw you I did not get that certain rush of glee and pupil dilation that a giant cock will cause. I have small breasts—when I take off my shirt (I don’t even need a bra) I am sure I am not providing a moment that would be filmed in glorious slow motion with a soundtrack. Small Penis, small tits are subtle. You can be too. You will never fill me in that ‘good lord YES’ amusement-park ride way—but, remember—that is one slice of the spectrum.”
Of course, sex has always powered the Internet, and Craigslist hath many turbines. When it showed up in London two years ago, there was a media storm over the Casual Encounters list, with its frank opportunities for adultery. The Erotic Services category is a fairly straightforward list of purveyors of prostitution, who are, presumably, pleased to be freed from any reliance on pimps.
“This is something that was traditionally left up to science fiction,” says Michael Ferris Gibson, director of 24 Hours on Craigslist. “In Logan’s Run [made in 1976]—which they’re remaking this year—a guy comes home and gets on his computer and says, ‘I really feel like having a date.’ All these different women manifest. They teleport in. You also see this in sixties Utopian science fiction: relationships that were very transient and enabled by technology, and some people would say it has a hedonistic vibe to it. Well, using a system like Craigslist, it’s real.”
Yes, people also get married on Craigslist, and in Gibson’s movie, but with the list’s phenomenal growth, its Northern California book of virtues is sure to bump up against conservative sensibilities. “Do my laundry, get a blowjob . . . ,” a 28-year-old in Boston posted recently. She then went on with perfect pitch for American sales speech: “I’ve got what’s about 8-12 loads in the corner of my room (my laundry hamper is SO overflowed). I’ve got the washer, the dryer, detergent, and all that. I just don’t actually want to do it . . . If you fuck up a load, well I’m a fan of getting things done right, so you’ll either wash & dry them again, or you won’t get rewarded. I’ve got Wednesday off from work, or I guess Sunday could be laundry day.”
Or consider Kate, a 25-year-old Manhattanite, for whom Craigslist was a bust when she sought a room (people who post rooms “think they’re very easy to live with”) but was great when she sought “sane, like-minded” men for—the term of art—NSA relationships.
“I wanted to find someone who would meet my terms—that is, a nice person who wanted to have safe sex with No Strings Attached,” she told me in an e-mail. “I posted W4M [woman for man], and got 200 responses in ten minutes; I was completely floored by it! . . . I responded to about ten of these, and ended up meeting with four men overall, and having sex with three. I found it very easy to establish ‘ground rules’ and limits, because I had no intention of ever seeing these people again. It was very freeing! . . . It’s so hard for most women to go out and demand what they want in the bedroom. I think Craigslist can help to change that.”
When I showed that e-mail to Newmark, he said that the list reflects “basic American values, and freedom of choice couldn’t be any more basic.” He also likes to say that there is no real contradiction between the basic values of people in red and blue states, or the West and Islam (or in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he has supported the group One Voice). This struck me as somewhat softheaded, Newmark’s everybody-is-good doxology. The only Muslim city on the site is Istanbul.
Some have abused the freedoms Newmark has afforded them. The child-prostitution case was a grisly one in Martinez, California, where a 22-year-old mother who is said to have advertised her own services on the list is being investigated for taking an offer for $500 to have sex with her 4-year-old daughter. Newmark assisted the police, as he has assisted New York law enforcement in tracking down apartment scams. Newmark says he spends half his time in customer service dealing with these scams. The $10 listing fee should help a great deal with this problem.