It hadn’t been fourteen hours since I received an e-mail from the Village Voice letting me know that a budget cut was forcing the publication to retire both of the NakedCity blogs that I had a message from the web editor of the New York Observer asking if it was true that the blogs were getting killed.
I hadn’t even told my parents when the Observer‘s story about it went live. Though certainly not without some vexation at the intrusion, I know the way of the web. Today’s commentators are destined always to become tomorrow’s fodder. The masses must be fed, after all, and nothing is more appetizing than the demise of something.
Except, perhaps, sex.
In the past months I have spoken with people at Playboy and Fleshbot about properties like that of NakedCity, tossing around the incredible paradox posed by sex on the internet. The masses can’t resist sex. Any story about sex on any publication goes through the roof with views. Sex sells, goes the tired saying, and when you look at it this way, it does.
But make a property devoted solely to sex and you find yourself in the precarious situation of being completely unable to show serious financial reward for your efforts. Sex, apparently, sells everything except advertising space and any hope of a decent search ranking.
When the Village Voice approached with the idea of the NakedCity sister blogs, we envisioned a project that playfully showcased the cultural differences between New York and Los Angeles, with sex-related stories framed by text conversations, tweets, Craigslist and Backpage postings, accounts of hookups and pictures. As I noted on a post there:
We no longer have myths – not in the same way that the Navajo, Inca, Chamorro, Inuit, and Aztec did. But have our desires. If you think about it, our erotic writings are an incredible artifact; they literally leave the cultures from which they spring naked.
Look at the Marquis de Sade — yes, his work is brutal and colored with his own philosophy, but who can miss the glimpses of that time’s corrupt lawgivers and philandering clerics? These same glimpses of time and place appear in every story from the anonymous Autobiography of a Flea, which depicts the hypocrisy of Victorian England, to Emmanuelle, which gives us a taste of the leisurely life of diplomats in a foreign land, to the diaries of Anais Nin and Henry Miller, which offer to us the ins and outs of Paris.
Sexuality and the nature of desire change constantly, subject to the dynamics at play within a culture. There is an incredible dynamic between a culture’s sexual narrative and its social reality.
The journey wasn’t without its internal adventures: like everything else, NakedCity made its fair share of pivots, from a serious editorial foray into the uncomfortable space inhabited by sex in the mainstream media, to killing the galleries of real photos people posted on networks like Craigslist so we could focus exclusively photos of people enjoying the local nightlife.
Porn, I would learn, cannot be done half-way. When you’re up against an arsenal of user-generated content, free streaming sites, torrents and paying sites, a site with limited and static graphic imagery cannot compete — no matter how clever the snark or hip the lol. You will suffer all the restrictions a porn site suffers (being blocked by providers, blacklisted by DNS, and losing whatever ground you legitimately made on Google), without any of the rewards.
Profitability, in this scenario, is incredibly difficult to achieve; users who encounter content that is not safe for work or blocked by their work-place providers will access sites on their mobiles where ad models do not perform.
I’m fortunate that Sex and the 405 was never about revenue. To be honest, at first it wasn’t about readers, either. I originally started the blog because I got too many cool press releases between columns and could never find a place to store the information. When the site started, it was just going to be a little digital notebook I accessed from anywhere — in the event I ever did start writing a column that needed to reference something I’d once read or discovered about sexuality.
When KTLA came knocking not three weeks later, I joked that it must have been a slow news day. But a part of me also realized that there was a need for reporting about sex that was not sensationalist, link-baity or condescending, a space for reporting that offered a sex-positive angle without being too stern or afraid of making a few jokes.
Having no advertisers meant I couldn’t pay my contributors, but that didn’t stop anyone from sharing their stories. It’s liberating not having to worry what anyone might think if their ad appeared next to a piece about a cookbook filled with semen recipes or one that elaborated on the Christian virtue of nudity, and while I would love to pay everyone who contributes the sort of rates we once enjoyed in the days of Orangina, this blog will never adopt any advertising that hinders people’s ability to make intelligent commentary about sex.
But not all blogs have this luxury, least of all blogs run by publications in a tense metamorphosis between old and new media who still respect their writers enough to offer them the sort of pay that enables a decent lifestyle.
And so we come to the end of this rather haphazard eulogy. NakedCity, more than the great cultural experiment I envisioned you’d one day become, you instead offered one of the most intensive syllabi I have ever endured.
To those who will miss the blog, still your little hearts. We’re up, redesigned and ready to go here at Sex and the 405, and while we refuse to be limited to the vicinity of the 405 — despite a name that draws an excess of attention to this brutal freeway — we do keep a finger on the pulse of this here city you know and love. And if that’s not enough, you do also still have the LA Weekly‘s AfterDark LA.
And yes, you can tell Barbie Davenporte I said that. As soon as I’m done enjoying my impromptu vacay, I’ll be coming after her job, so by all means consider that last paragraph the pimping of my next venture and not any sort of acknowledgment.