Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak with Volodya, amateur porn performer and administrator of Freedom Porn, “a pornographic site for anarchists and activists.” At first glance, Freedom Porn looks more like an educational website than an amateur porn site: there are articles on free speech, radical perversion, ethical smut, sexuality rights in Russia, and safer sex. There’s even a manifesto of sorts that uses phrases like “radical and revolutionary thought” and “breaking down the chains of puritanical thinking”—all topped with the affirmation “You can be a porn star!”—instructing readers on how they can upload their own smutty writing, images, and videos.
The porn a few clicks deeper into the site is by turns awkward and perverted, a raucous mix of knee socks and cock shots that sometimes burlesques commercial porn and other times mimics its well-rehearsed forms. Almost all the amateur videos and photos are solo acts, and an overwhelming number involve masturbation. “Dunlop Plimsolls Fetish Wank 3” by Richard the Wanker and RioTDoll’s “Wank At Work” deconstruct masturbation tropes in ways that are both cheeky and strangely hot. And then there’s the politically sacrosanct. “Obama Porn” and “порно-ритуал” (“Fuck Putin”) by Volodya yoke anti-imperialist sentiment with anal insertion, ejaculation, and flag desecration.
Volodya was uncomfortable with my attempts to pin Freedom Porn to the politics of one global region. Although we spoke of the recent reduction of freedom of expression in Russia, we also talked a lot about the invisibility of Western censorship. “I think that Russia right now can be used as an example of the exact things that are happening in the West but which aren’t visible because it’s tough to look at oneself from the outside,” he told me. “For example, the way that propaganda is applied in Russia shows the signs of ruling elite studying the propaganda model of the USA and improving upon it.”
The Rumpus: On your profile on the Freedom Porn website you say, “We need to take porn away from capitalist fuckers.”
Volodya: Today there is very little porn that is mainstream which is outside of the porn industry. The porn industry has the monopoly on what porn is and what it is not. I mean there are obviously some amateur sites, and there a lot of porn dumps—Porn Tube, Youporn—where people just upload anything, but even there, people mostly upload commercial stuff that they have on their computers. It’s not something that people that have made themselves.
I think that there should be a place where the main goal is to create something new. That’s basically what Freedom Porn is. We’re trying to have something which is not commercially-oriented because I think a lot of times commercial interests can define what you do so that you are afraid to cross certain boundaries or the other way around, where you think that you have to do something which you might not be comfortable with but this is where the market is. Politically, I am anti-capitalist—it’s not only porn per se—but since it’s a porn site, well, that’s the first thing that Freedom Porn has to do.
Rumpus: You also say, “We should not be reinventing crap but experimenting with sexual imagery in a free way.” That kind of speaks to what you are saying, that your focus is not just sexual expression but expression in a general way.
Volodya: Yeah, because for me it can either be a gender expression or a political expression. It can be just an expression of a mood. The fact that something is sexual or uses nudity does not necessarily mean that it’s sex, and also it’s about not reinventing something.
Most porn out there starts with a strip tease, goes to a blow job, a little bit of cunnilingus, sex, and then he comes on her face—it’s all over. If somebody wants to do that, then they should be able to do that.
People often create the same stuff just because it’s easier. It’s not easier, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind. I mean some times you want to do the same stuff that someone else is doing, and that’s fine. However, I find that a lot of alternative porn out there sort of takes the other extreme. It says since we are alternative we must definitely do different stuff—that’s how normal porn does it, so we’re going to do it differently—so the pendulum can swing the other direction.
I want people to feel comfortable making an exact replica of what they see everywhere else, and at the same time, they should be feeling comfortable making something which is completely different. Both are okay. It is okay to enjoy commercial porn. It is okay to do something which is like commercial porn, and it is okay to do something different.
Rumpus: Last year, founder of Screw magazine, porn pioneer and crusader, Al Goldstein died. He was notorious for using anger as a source for his expression. He said, to quote a 2001 interview,
To be angry is to be alive. I’m an angry Jew. I love it. Anger is better than love. I think it is more pure. There is so much to be angry about. Because people are ripped off. The election went to the wrong person. The good guy usually loses and society sucks.
Freedom Porn describes itself as an anarchist site. Often I think of anarchy as associated with anger, with outrage, with acting out. Do you see any connection between anger and anarchy?
Volodya: For me, I don’t. I know that such a mentality exists within the anarchist movement. I personally find anger to be a negative thing. There is a very good phrase that goes back to the 18th or 19th century: anarchy is the mother of order. A lot of times, people think of anarchy as chaos, but for me, anarchy is the most constructive thing.
I agree with Bakunin who said that destructive urges must become constructive. He was talking about this urge to destroy when you see something you don’t like. Yes, you get angry about what is happening, but the anarchy itself is the doing something part, and for me, anger is not a driving force behind my politics. It never probably has been.
Rumpus: The site describes being a proponent of ethical porn. What is that to you?
Volodya: Well, there is a page on the site where I describe what Ethical Smut is supposed to be. I see it as something like what Fair Trade became for food products, for example, or clothes, where you try to pervert the system from the inside so to speak, taking what already exists and pushing it in the right direction. Slowly.
A person should have the right to not only give or not give consent, but a definite right to withdraw consent at each stage of production or distribution. Everybody should have that right. It’s not only about the actors or models. The photographer, for example, should also have a right to say, “Hey I’m not feeling comfortable shooting this. I do not want to be a part of this.”
In Fair Trade, they track and make sure that everybody has fair pay for the job that they do. If there could be this mark on porn—you go in the store and you see an Ethical Smut mark on it [and] then you know that it’s not what radical feminists or conservatives are talking about on television. It’s not someone raped in front of the camera twenty-four hours a day.
So you can know that this is definitely ethical or at least as ethical as it can be. But it doesn’t have to be yes or no. I could be ethical stage 1, ethical stage 2, so you can actually move toward something. You don’t have to say, “Well, we cannot achieve stage 4 so we’re not going to try.”
I don’t know if that would ever catch on, but I think it may in some niches. Fair trade is not huge thing, but it does exist and it does push certain society in the right direction; it’s not a revolution, but at least it helps us live in a slightly better world.
Rumpus: Do you think sometimes though that people turn to porn not because they want to be ethical but because they want to be unethical, that there is an interest—in sexuality and in going to the Internet—in blurring that distinction between porn and reality? Ethical porn sounds like a great idea, but is being ethical what drives people to porn?
Volodya: I think if you have a way of defending yourself against moral crusaders who say, “If it looks brutal, if it looks nonconsensual, it must be nonconsensual,” and there is proof that it is consensual, then it frees people up to create fantasies, and consent is the only law.
There will be some people—some very, very extreme cases—who will say, “Well, I want to know that it was nonconsensual,” but I think you will actually alienate those people out of the group of normal porn viewers who want that fantasy of nonconsent but do not require it to be nonconsensual.
Rumpus: Or maybe they don’t want the burden of feeling the guilt, I suppose, that it might have actually been nonconsensual.
Volodya: You see, I think there are probably, some people, for whom it’s not the guilt, for whom it is the thrill. There are people like that. I think that it is a tiny minority, but it is a definite, existent minority.
As for the guilt, I don’t know because today porn is so anonymous. It’s something so private, which is shameful already, that you don’t actually add any moral or ethical concern. It’s something that you do. You watch porn, and it’s so much outside of your normal life that when you stop watching it and it’s all over you no longer think about it until the next time.
Most people don’t watch porn with their friends. I mean there are people who do—I have heard of these porn and brownie nights. I’ve never been to something like that, but I think people like that would have some ethical concerns. It’s something I heard from the polyamorous community. It’s an interesting idea. I would love to have friends with whom I could get together and eat brownies and watch porn. And I think in that sense, when it’s a part of your life, you start thinking about it as part of your life, but when it’s outside your life, you push it out of your mind and you say it doesn’t really matter. You watch it, you jack off, you cum, that’s it. It’s over. It’s not there anymore.
So, I don’t think the moral implication really hits people. They don’t care when they see sites, Exploited Teens or something like that. There’s nothing about exploitation there, but I am sure many people will go there because the term exploited is there. It’s something thrilling, but they don’t care. They probably would be even more thrilled if it looked more real, and if they actually believed that it was real, but if porn were more of an acceptable part of our society, an acceptable part of our lives, then that ethical implication might start hitting them.
Rumpus: Yeah, ethical porn could bring more vanilla people into greater acceptance of porn, and then it would mainstream porn a little bit more instead of segregating it into the private netherworld that people don’t share about themselves.
Which leads me to the question: Is there anything that you won’t post?
Volodya: I obviously won’t post anything which is illegal in the place where the servers reside for the simple fact that the site will be shut down. They will also shut it down for copyright infringements. For example, I copy stuff which gets posted on Wikimedia Commons, but even when a person says it is their work but it looks like it probably isn’t, I don’t copy it, because it very likely came from a commercial porn site. I don’t want to be shut down because I copied one picture. I would much rather have the site created by the people. It’s much more interesting, and it more fits with the politics that I am trying out.
Also, I will not post anything under licenses which are not free. Free licenses are licenses where you must allow other people to copy, to distribute, to alter. You post it on my site, you give other sites the right to copy from it, profit from it, and change it.
In fact, Creative Commons’s non-commercial licenses are more capitalist than Creative Commons’s regular licenses. I can try to explain the politics there. When a distributor releases something under a non-commercial license, they preserve their monopoly to profit from it. They say that anybody can change the work, distribute it, look at it, et cetera, but the only party who makes money is that original distributor. And corporations are not the only things that are considered “commercial” by these licenses. A fundraiser would also be disallowed. With free licenses, you give other people the same freedom that you have, the freedom to copy, to distribute, to alter, to create collages, and to profit.
Rumpus: Would you prohibit something content-wise?
Volodya: Yeah, if I am forced to, or if it actually goes against what the site about. The site is about freedom, so I won’t prohibit anything which prohibits freedom of distribution. If somebody comes along and, say, has a bunch of has a bunch of Nazi swastika tattoos and wants to post something, I would probably allow that, and then I would probably make a ton of stuff myself in reaction to that. If you want to play that game, I can too, but I will probably have more time and energy than you have.
Rumpus: Well, here’s an example. I’ve seen some homemade-looking porn where someone seems to be recording their interaction with a prostitute, and I have wondered, did they get that person’s consent, and if they did, did she get like twenty-five bucks, and do I really consider that consent?
Volodya: Or here’s another one. Candid shots. I have a copy of a video—I download everything which is proposed for deletion on the Wikipedia Commons—by some people who installed cameras in women’s changing rooms
Rumpus: I’ve heard of this happening.
Volodya: Yeah, and they uploaded it. They were the creators of the video. They uploaded it under a free license. You can’t actually see faces on those photos, but I still did not copy them. Now the question becomes, If the people being filmed were to upload it themselves, how would I react? And the answer is I don’t know.
Rumpus: You have a piece called “Up the Skirt,” where you are mimicking a situation like this.
Volodya: Yes, that video energized my fantasy, and I wanted to do something like that.
But yeah, there are those borderline cases. Partially that’s why I’d want the site to become more community-oriented, so it’s not me—the great dictator Volodya, the decider—so if somebody uploads something like candid shots, I would have more input from people to make up my mind. Because there are these weird cases. I want to push it as far as it can go, but at the same time, I do not want to cross ethical boundaries.
Rumpus: The site provides a number of links to alternative porn sites. What are your favorites and why?
Volodya: Out of those on the list at “List of Ethical Pornography Resources,” I personally aspire to imitate these four in some ways: Vegporn, Fuck For Forest, Bike Smut, and Masturbate for Peace. They are all unique in what they are doing.
Vegporn is the only porn site that explicitly promotes veganism; I love the fact that on there one can find the mixture of politics, porn, and food recipes.
Fuck For Forest, these people are fucking wonderful. Almost everything that they do I would have done differently, but it’s exactly what this world needs, more diversity. Going to FFF is akin to buying something in a charity shop. Somehow you are getting yourself something great for less than elsewhere, while at the very same time donating money for a cause.
Bike Smut is not a site, it’s more of a festival. But it does have a site, and on there one can find tons of porn for bikesexuals, pedalphiles, and cycleamorists.
Masturbate for Peace is not a porn site. It really isn’t. It is a political statement that peace is good and that you need to be vocal about it. When others say that masturbation cannot bring the end of war, they just reply that neither can walking from place A to place B, and that’s all that most demonstrations do. I’d like to think that every time that I masturbate this planet comes one masturbation closer to world peace!
Rumpus: Sites like Queer as(s) Fuck and Fuck for Forest have a decidedly political edge. How is Freedom Porn different from those sites?
Volodya: Queer as(s) Fuck is about cross-posting awesome porn to fap to it. It’s great sexually, and it is through the sexual content posted there that their politics show. With Freedom Porn, it’s how the porn arrives to you that is the political statement. Of course, accidentally, since many people, who have contributed directly to us are politically oriented, they make porn that would probably be welcome on Queer as(s) Fuck as well. There is an overlap, but the goals are somewhat different. I think that this is a perfect example where two separate, even if smaller, projects are much better than a single one that would attempt to do both things but do both poorly.
Fuck For Forest is about raising money for a cause. Freedom Porn has had three financial contributions other than myself, which helps with some operational costs. Also a friend of a friend was kind enough to donate the bandwidth for the video distribution. This really helps since it was beginning to be almost impossible for me to sustain the payments on my own at the time the help came. If we were trying to do what FFF does, it would be a complete disaster. We’d be sucking the money out of whatever project we were trying to support rather than contributing to it. But we are not about finances. In fact, I personally have always envisioned Freedom Porn to be an anti-capitalist project.
Rumpus: “Miss Liberty Facial” has been in the top five favorite posts for the last five months running. I loved it the first time I saw it. What do you think people like about this video and what makes it, in your opinion, among your hundreds of posts, so popular.
Volodya: Well, sometimes I do not know what people like. There are videos that I upload, which I am sure will become instant successes and they go forever unnoticed. But actually “Miss Liberty Facial” is something quite good in my opinion.
The reason why it’s being noticed is probably that it is “radical.” Something that feels almost illegal. I think many people watch it as a humor video and not necessarily as something pornographic.
Perhaps also some kind of anti-USA sentiment plays a part in this success. In a way it is sad since anti-Americanism is not the same thing as anti-imperialism. But maybe people will see this video because they found it funny, and then notice that there is an Anarchist Book Fair in their region, and who knows what’ll happen then.
Oh, and of course, having “facial” in the title helps its search engine results.
Rumpus: I know we’ve already talked about this a bit, but how do you see masturbation as a sexually political act? Or do you?
Volodya: Most of my videos are of masturbation because either I have no partner or the partner that I have is not interested in making publicly available photos or videos. It is liberating in the sense that I do not need anybody else to do a video. Oh, and [it’s] definitely [political] in the sense that Masturbate for Peace mean it.
Also, I just like masturbation. Even with a partner I do not enjoy many forms of sex that a penis-possessing individual is expected by our society to enjoy. So I wank. It’s not out of rebellion or political stance, but just because I want to.
All images from Freedom Porn.