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Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Pirates of Porn

I was sorting through some files and I came across this piece I'd forgotten all about. I wrote it for a magazine last year but they found it a bit too pro-barebacking, and controversial. It also seemed to the editor a bit too specific, suggesting some level of knowledge of bareback/porn (although I'm not sure this is true). I wrote a much more neutral (and duller) piece about bareback sex that was then never published but this earlier piece was left forgotten on my hard-drive. I've therefore decided to share it here so at least somebody reads it.

The Pirates of Porn

The recent screening of Ryan Sullivan’s film, Island at the Paris Porn Film Festival made quite an impact on the blogging and gay porn world. The 67minute film is a re-edit of Sullivan’s video blog of updates on his journey as a film-maker seeking to document the goings on at the self-styled most controversial bareback gay porn company in the world, Treasure Island Media (TIM). The San Francisco based company brands and views itself more of a cult than a porn studio with its founder, the rich and reclusive Paul Morris as its twisted messianic master.

Its skull and cross bones brand image, which some TIM models and fans have tattooed upon themselves is emotive of marauding pirates – as is the central brand name and its distribution arm, New Barbary Coast. In the world of porn, the TIM pirates are simultaneously the bad guys and also a desirable, perhaps even, romantic ideal. Forget the bad boys, these are the bad men.

Manly not boyish; these are men who fuck raw, whose bodies come in a range of shape and sizes, for whom body hair is not feared and removed. These are so called ‘real men’ and TIM seeks to present them in what it regards as a natural habitat.

Sullivan’s Island began in December 2008 and sought to survey this habitat of TIM. Over the course of fifty episodes to date, the series follows Ryan’s early tentative steps within the company, his guarded reception, and his initial introduction of key TIM characters before ultimately signing a contract with TIM as a pornographer, and his own personal journey and development following the signing. The films intercuts raw footage by Sullivan – sometimes introspective footage of local landmarks and locations in San Francisco- together with porn footage, footage of porn being shot and ‘back-story’ footage of TIM projects, model interviews and so on. Sullivan is never heard in the films and uses the device of text on the screen to indicate moods and key story elements, reminiscent of old silent pictures.

The films also play with our own perception of truth and authenticity, with viewers questioning if what we are seeing is real. We are introduced to Sullivan’s brother – John Sullivan. John left home at an early age after coming out and became estranged from his family. Ryan found a video among his belongings after he had left, a TIM video, What I Can’t See, released in 1999. The film sparked Ryan’s interest with the company, believing that if he understood that film and what it depicted, he could in some way be closer to his brother. The announcement in 2010 by Ryan Sullivan that Island would be an extra on What I Can’t See 3 together with earlier TIM porn footage of John wearing a blindfold suggests that Johns Sullivan will feature in the new film and this extra is part of the elaborate marketing. That said, it may equally be nothing more than a logical point to release Island to a wider audience; providing additional value to TIM customers in much the same way that Cole’s Wild Breed features extras of Cole’s drawings, animation, and even a music track as part of furthering the TIM culture or cult.

As Island progresses we learn that John Sullivan has come to TIM to work and that he is HIV positive, and we follow Ryan as he processes these discoveries. In one scene we see a blindfolded John be kissed by Ryan – although apparently John does not know it’s his brother. In the most recent episode, we learn that John’s father sexually abused him as a child. In other episodes we see Ryan playing around with depicting death on camera, whilst others feature ‘out-takes’ from porn, blood pouring from an overly fucked arse, a cock smeared with blood from a burst lip mid blowjob and in one particularly affecting scene, we witness a model breaking down and crying that he’s not sure he can continue on a porn shoot due to problems with his boyfriend and his relationship. His apparent reluctance to take part it intercut with his arse being pounded by another guy, suggesting coercion or desperation to perform, and further cementing TIMs reputation as twisted and fucked up.

At a time of rising HIV rates globally, the presence of a gay porn company that does not use condoms is one thing, that it revels in it’s presentation of raw hard fucking is another. It’s use of the language of barebackers – and sometimes that of bugchasers adds to the controversy of the brand with film titles such as Breeding Season, Knocked Up, Plantin’ Seed, and Loaded whilst many of the films also celebrate semen with titles such as Cumsloppy Buttholes and Sperm Bank. Other films simply celebrate sutty fucking with TIM exclusives Brad McGuire, Christian and Dawson seemingly competing for how slutty they can appear in their films. The film Dawson’s 50-Load Weekend would seem to place him in the lead.

Morris is seeking to present men as wild creatures, reflected in the title of London Director, Liam Cole’s latest work for TIM: Wild Breed. These are men presented as authentic, raw stripped down masculine butch guys. In contrast to the styled, trimmed and tanned scene queen twink, TIM’s films seek to present something more ‘authentic’. Cole’s Wild Breed features men cruising on Hampstead Heath and scenes shot in London’s sex club, Playpit and thus the more private aspects of modern gay sexuality. It seems we can admit to enjoying a Friday night orgy, but we can’t quite admit to getting fucked at Hampstead Heath. TIM’s films therefore seek to explore and expose raw gay sexuality.

This is men as we would seemingly be if all of society’s constraints were lifted. If we were liberated from expectation and notions of ‘correct’ behaviour and simply gave way to instinct, this is how we’d fuck. It is founded on the belief that in our ‘natural’ state we fuck hard, fuck raw, and fuck often.

The presentation of bareback sex is itself an act of authenticity. It challenges the fiction of most porn that features condoms. It seeks to say “this is what you really want, and this is what many of you do”. If rubbered-up condom sex is the ideal, it is also the fantasy. Bareback sex is in contrast a presentation of ‘true’ sex.

The continued demand for bareback porn – outstripping it’s ‘safe sex’ rivals lends credibility to those who argue that bareback porn is gay men’s true desire. Whatever our public declarations, it seems on some level we still want it raw.

Ryan Sullivan’s Island can be viewed at: http://www.ryansullivanisland.com/ Please note, the site is NSFW.

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Chris Ashford said...

Ryan Sullivan's Island is included as part of the newly released 'What I can't See 3', which is now available for download and pre-order. The price seems a bit steep so I'm sure many of you will download it illegally and for free instead. Anyhow, here's the NSFW page for buying/screen shots/further info etc. The film features three scenes with John Sullivan (Ryan's alleged brother): http://www.treasureislandmedia.com/TreasureIslandMedia_2007/cart/WHAT-I-CAN-T-SEE-3.html

TJ said...

I don't know if I buy the natural argument. As far as I know condomless sex isn't fetishized in str8 porn. The level of interest/awe is more a result of combined history and politics surrounding male-male sex. What's gonna happen when they finally find a vaccine, that's the real question...

Chris Ashford said...

I think you're right in many ways TJ but it's natural in the sense of 'authentic desire'. Yes, that desire is a product of politics, socialisation and regulation. It's true straight condomless sex isn't fetishised to the same degree but then condoms are note 'expected' in the same way as in gay porn. I think we basically agree on that stuff.

The vaccine point is really interesting. I think a vaccine is the only thing that will stop HIV/AIDS. Prevention measures will never achieve the same goal. Once a vaccine is developed, I would expect condom usage to collapse but I suspect another health moral panic would then follow relating to something else. It is however, a fascinating 'what if'.

Micah said...

The market demand for bareback porn speaks for itself. While I certainly don't judge people for using condoms and attempting to play "safe." I also don't mind if those same men secretly find bareback porn intriguing of sexually compelling. Though, I see no harm in them at least being honest that they think "it's hot as a fantasy, but its not something they feel comfortable to act on." As for me, I have absolutely no regrets about being a poz bareback bottom tramp that engages in as much freaky, twisted, sexual activity as I can fit in when I'm not busy with work and day to day life. Though I would love to be in just one TIM film to contribute to cause.

 
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