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"Can we, as a country, all agree

xmag.com : February 2003: How To Impress a Suicide Girl

Sunday nights at Sinferno Cabaret are a descent into a crowded salon of fleshy desire where fashionably tattooed, pierced, black clad attendees in various stages of alienation parade their physical wares before the unforgiving marketplace of venereal hipness. The air is awash with molecules of lust as flashes of tattoos on pale skin, electricians'-taped nipples and naked female torsos appear and re-appear while stage lights and deafening DJ Addiction-powered techno-slam cuts through this smoke-filled chamber of dissolution. Suicide Girl Siren is introduced by MC Kristine Levin and begins moving to the music in a topless satanic-hula-mistress costume with an ornate red Mardi Gras mask and a flowing skirt of green fabric shreds. Her body is decorated with pieces of red tape upon which are written the words "LUST", "SEX", "SAVE ME", "SIN", "BELIEVE IN ME", "SADNESS" and "TOLERANCE." The tape is removed at random and thrown into the audience while the scent of libido hangs heavy in the air.

 

The Suicide Girls. Within the cultural chasm created by a formulaic, fetish-cheap, shaved and augmented L.A. sex industry has blossomed this unassuming group of honest-to-goodness girls-next-door, accidentally spawning a wildly popular, female centric, reality-based porn movement. And Portland is ground zero.

A feature on the Portland-based Suicide Girls in the Feb. 2003 Spin magazine entitled "The Punk Pornographers" is just the latest installment in a building swell of laudatory media attention focused on this loosely knit

network of web-enabled übergirls who have been defying and re-defining the porn-industry's uninspired one-dimensional depiction of female beauty. Since its launch in September of 2001 by Spooky and Missy, two website designers who started the site as a diversion, Suicide Girls has attracted a number of media heavies from MTV and Nightline to Playboy magazine, and a fanbase of over 300,000 visitors per month.

"Missy and I both had some experience building websites but nothing in the adult realm, mostly mainstream media sites and that

kind of thing," Spooky remembers. "When we moved to Portland there was not a lot of work in that so we decided to create our own site with some of our friends just as sort of a gag, hoping that it might pay a few of the bills or at least be sort of a fun project to work on when we weren't busy building really boring corporate sites."

Mounting attention from more than 30 FM Rock stations across the country fueled awareness of the site, and soon something that started as a joke became a worldwide phenomenon.

For $9/month or $48/year a subscriber can

access photosets and journals of around 100 Suicide Girls whose piercings, tattoos, unusual looks and/or goth/punk/alternative countenances set them apart from prevailing pornstar parameters. A specific style and attitude that screams Suicide Girl is a requirement for acceptance and suggests a form of quality control on a site that is totally managed and self-produced from within.

Chloe is a former mortgage company employee turned Suicide Girl who handles all of the shipping orders and sets up appointments to meet with the local models in addition to performing basic office duties. "We take a lot of things into consideration when choosing a Suicide Girl," she says. "They have to be somewhat intelligent of course, interesting and they have to have something to add. If a girl really wants to be a Suicide Girl, is very creative with her sets and has genuine style and shows genuine effort, then we'll take her. We're not looking for anything in particular, just something that stands out."

As the only male in the company, co-founder Spooky acquiesces to the female driven machinery of the Suicide Girl steamroller. "The only employee of the company that is not a Suicide Girl is myself. Everyone else who works for us is a Suicide Girl. It's not that we've hired people and they've become Suicide Girls; it's that we've hired Suicide Girls from the beginning. When it came time to hire someone for a position, we knew the Suicide Girls and they were friends. They knew what the company was all about and it made sense to hire girls that were already involved in what we were doing. So many of the girls had volunteered to do stuff on their own without being paid in the beginning that once we had the money to hire

employees it seemed natural to use the girls that were already working with us." Originally featuring models only from the Portland area, the site quickly garnered broader attention and began receiving applicants from remote locations worldwide. "It certainly grew in Portland the fastest and the earliest, though now Portland is really a very small market for us," says Spooky. "We have Suicide Girls from places like England, Sweden, Norway and Israel now."

"If they are in Portland they have a meeting with Chloe who is one of the Suicide Girls," Spooky continues. "She is the one who meets all of the girls initially and decides whether or not they should have a second meeting. If she feels there should be a second meeting, the girls meet with her and Veronica, who is the Photoshop person and in charge of all the pictures on the site. If Chloe and Veronica both like the girl they schedule her for a shoot and she gets to be a Suicide Girl. If the girl lives outside of Portland then there is a different process that involves submitting photo sets via email or working with one of our remote photographers in another city. All of the remote photographers are Suicide Girls themselves. In almost any city there is a Suicide Girl already so anyone who is interested can go and talk to her about becoming a Suicide Girl."

Veronica admits that a great part of the attraction to the site for the Girls is the control over how they will be portrayed. "All the remote models take their own pictures, edit their own pictures and decide what their pictures are going to be about. Every girl has to be self-sufficient and take care of her own image and how she wants to present herself. There is none of that "hungry cumslut" image being projected onto them without their direct knowledge."

This warm fuzzy promotion-from-within, model-friendly approach pioneered by the SG folks is viewed as nothing short of insane in the traditional adult web-world. Allowing the models to have input as to how they are represented and the absence of a detached, impersonal "all business" management was predicted to be a path to ruin.

"The Suicide Girls have more say with what goes on with the site than ever before." Spooky adds proudly, "Certainly when we started it that wasn't as true as it is now because when we started it was sort of an experiment and we didn't really know what we were doing. We spent a lot of time listening to two conflicting groups of people. People that work in the adult industry told us that we're doing it all wrong. They would say, 'You don't know what you're doing! This is a disaster! You have to charge $35 a month! You can't let the girls say that they want to have their pictures removed and then remove them! You can't be friends with the models in any way! You can't hire models to work there! They're crazy people! They're drug addicts! etc., etc.' And then we had the models who were saying things like, 'Hey we really like the site. Why don't you do this?' or 'I want to take all of the pictures myself and just send them to you and you put up what you think is good of me.'"

That the Suicide Girl image and lifestyle automatically resonates with so many implies that creators of the site accidentally tapped into a huge international adult subculture that had previously gone unnoticed. The righteous sense of community among the models and their fans inspires the company to continuously include new features on the site which increase the networking possibilities for all involved. "We have the message boards and different open forums where you can make your own board if you want," says Chloe. "Almost all the models keep a journal on the site and the models can comment on each other's journals. A lot of the members in different cities, especially in L.A., have become friends and they hang out and go to different events together. Also when I became a Suicide Girl I started getting out more and I started meeting a lot of the girls and started hanging out with them which was really nice. Once a month we have these get-togethers where all of the girls come over and we have dinner and drinks and I

come to all of those. When Spooky offered me a job here that was a great thing because I could quit my boring mortgage job and do something fun."

By all reports the Suicide Girls L.A. chapter seems to have a remarkable penchant for organizing outings that have been attracting a segment of the L.A. entertainment community. "Recently 100 members of the site went to Disneyland together," Spooky says. "They organized this trip and they all went and took pictures and put them up on the site. They had a huge slumber party in L.A. where all of the members slept over at someone's house and there were like 75 people there including people like Fairuza Balk. A bunch of the girls went on MTV with Courtney Love and they opened for Andrew W.K. when he came through town. Art from Everclear has had them on the radio show. The whole thing has gotten a lot of exposure and I think that other people have sort of joined the community because of that."

As millions of porn websites continue to push the envelope, leaving no fetish, sexual perversion or bizarre behavior unexploited in pursuit of the pornsurfer's dollar, the Suicide Girls continue to attract attention with a relatively tame formula that seems to work. "I hear a lot of people say that they don't like pornography but they like the Suicide Girls," Veronica says. "The girls don't feel like they're being objectified in their photos and I think that's kind of the difference between pornography and the Suicide Girls. It's not negative."

No dripping labia, graphic sexual depictions or non-Suicide Girls (i.e. males) are to be found at suicidegirls.com, which automatically imparts an atypical, almost retro quality to the site. The music webzine "Glorious Noise" describes the site quite simply as "a community of young punk girls who are occasionally photographed in states of undress and the people who love them."

"When I think of pornography I think of spread shots and facials and things like that," Chloe adds. "This is very tame. The pictures are a lot more "pin-up" style than anything else. It reminds me of something that Betty Page would do. It's something that I feel comfortable being involved in and of course all of the other girls do, too. All of the girls can use their own freedom and creativity and there is nobody telling them what to do. Women are portrayed in other ways than just as bodies. They can keep their journals and their profiles that say something about them. I have had numerous members tell me that they joined because they just had a lot in common with the girls. It's something very different than anything else that is going on right now."

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