No, not the being terrible person thing, lots of people know about that already. Rather, lets talk about a particularly noxious kind of person who attaches themselves to libertine communities and pleasure parties: the pimp, and how he embodies a particular part of The Problem.
A Background: Who is this random guy and why should you, the reader of a porn blog, care?
Recently my various worlds collided. I’ve intimated before I do super nerdy stuff like roleplaying. That doesn’t make me shocking- venn diagram between kink and LARP is almost a perfect circle. Therefore I won’t delve too much into telling you what roleplaying is. I will warn that if you were here to get your rocks off, a better fit would still be my archive of femdom stories, as this way lies spicy feminism.
Still with me so far?
If you are involved in roleplaying enough to poke your head out into the larger online community, you’re probably aware of a new suite of allegations against a games writer, Zak Smith (sometimes called Zak Sabbath).
An artist and games creator, pornographer and promoter of adult arts in games media, Zak Smith has been the repeated subject of blown whistles. This time, when a number of his partners came forward and called him out, it seems to have stuck better than two years ago, when a games company, Whitewolf, decided to publically come out and say they didn’t find any truth to the allegation that he liked to harass people online.
At almost a year to people loudly yelling at Whitewolf the games company for employing a known hazard, Zak Smith’s former romantic partners came out and said he abused the fuck out of them, and indeed used them to benefit his internet slap fight habit to help re-enforce his ability to harass people.
And as Zak Smith has publicly bragged about, the reason why this is germane to you, the reader, is that this famous dude also wears his kink membership hat with pride. We’ve given him a platform for us a bunch without telling him not to.
As is the way of online media, Zak Smith has, historically, been a bit of a lifestyle brand, wearing his wife and her adult entertainment work, as well as the bodies of other women attached to him as extensions of that identity. Although also famous for his work for Dungeons and Dragons, he’s particularly attached to the famous World of Darkness games franchise (it’s larp, tabletop, computer games, card games- you name it!)
(note bene: WoD is a ‘mature’ cousin to Dungeons and Dragons with lots of bdsm and fetishy stuff in the materials, both through a goth aesthetic and the subject matter largely focusing on their flagship franchise “Vampire”, a game about power dynamics)
Right, you say, I’ve burned my copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and vowed to never buy his tat again. But other than being same old same old, what makes this case stand out?
So here’s the accusation: the behaviour Zak Smith exhibited is textbook Objectification.
The best archetype I can use to describe Zak Smith is a pimp. Not in the oogie boogie woo woo sex traffickers gonna getcha horror stories, but in the sense that matters, a parasite that exploits the objectification of women while adding back nothing.
He didn’t even make his crap – “I hit is with my ax” and other creative endeavors showing adult film actresses gaming to their benefit, it was another chance to show it off to other straight white men that they could game with their fantasies. He was the Hooters of gaming podcasts, not because the women he worked with weren’t interesting, funny and had valid things to contribute, but because he cheapened all that shit to promote the person he actually cared about (himself) to raise his street cred with straight male nerds.
The problem with pimps, even in the classic sense, is not sexy art and sex for money, it’s that comparatively advantaged people attach themselves to marginalized communities, make it all about them and what they want, and use the fuck out of women, queerness, etc…
Much pixel-type is being laid about people’s feelings on the subject, largely affirming that it past due. People are doing a good job of Believing the Victim, which is good- means that #metoo business gained a little traction. Normally all this would warrant from me is a few tweets agreeing that Mandy Morbid, Viv Vivid, etc… deserve respect and protection.
But I will add this:
You probably know a Zak Smith or two in your local kink community. Whether the self promoting creepy rope top who leers at anything female; the braying ass who uses being poly to collect humans for coup counting; or the starry eyed munch babbler who thinks that he is a more enlightened being by dint of where he goes to get a hard dick, all these people are particularly notable by the way they dress themselves up in the struggles of other while largely being straight white dudes.
This is not to say being a slutty man is not indeed, valid, wonderful and your right, or that men can’t be organizers or contributors. It’s that tendency in which others, usually women, become subverted into objects. Not artists or workers. Porn stars make art, sex workers work with their bodies. The distinction here is the people who cannot separate the person from the product.
For Zak Smith, BDSM and poly (unicorn poly, natch) provided a convenient smoke screen to own, abuse and modify women to his hearts content. And then turn around and cry sexism and prudery at anyone who disagreed with him. In the case of the Mandy Morbid (and other persons) anecdote we’re lucky enough that she decided to give us her testimony on the way out, he even flat out used her name and social media accounts to write, pretending to be her, because he could hide behind the very real shit she had to deal with because of her artwork.
While he, lets be honest, could slap hot naked goth chicks onto things all day long and merely make a few people who weren’t buying the product anyway harumph. That was a large part of it, and notable in his visual arts, that he depended on naked alt girls and blurred what he could claim (his technical skill) with deciding their voice for them.
Precisely because of his desire to smush together sex and gaming, as well as selling something people wanted, he’s long benefited from being able to call his critics prude or sex negative or even sexist. It’s a complexity that I think my readers are familiar with- the desire to have sexy art that is also ethical.
Zak Smith has not behaved ethically, indeed if you read Mandy’s account you will see him trying to wield her marginalized status like a sword to his, and not her advantage. Likewise he’s not LGBT ally, as her bisexuality was bragging rights and access to more women to him to use and control. And there in is the stick that I want you, the reader, to note.
It’s a pointy stick, jutting out there, pretty obvious, in pretty much every community, but more notable in the arts and sex communities like kink where this has the most room to overlap. A kinky guy with access to porn stars and roleplayers, of which a fair percentage of them see the terrifying train wreck of abuse that was his life as living the dream? Wow, is he everything that’s wrong with sexy art.
Obviously I am not anti-sex, or even anti people who identify as male (although if this post gets any traction I can bet there are a few motherfuckers in duck and cover position screaming they are tired of being lectured for being men) but precisely because I make porn and get my literal and metaphorical tits out upon occasion, I like to try to be responsible and warn to beware of pimps.
It’s a challenge, the line between painting flesh vases for your dick flowers versus a celebration of humanity in every wrinkle and pothole of human experience. That is also the line in which the concept of ‘attractive’ vacillates between a restriction and a pleasing popular aesthetic. But if this longform blog post gives you any useful take aways, look to who is profiting from the sexy.
Zak Smith, a pretty garden variety creep in many respects, got particular power by not just fucking with the women in his life, but using them as a sales thing for his brand.
Breaking down the conventional sexy paradigm is not enough. No identity or role is so specific and obscure that there is not some man out there who believes he is doing a favour by being sexually attracted to it. Fat women, bi women, pale women, femdoms, women with physical disabilities- it’s not at all harmful someone gets off on that, but the point of harm is as per usual, when some asshole with his dick out wants a cookie in his non-wanking hand and screams like a small child when he isn’t show exactly what keeps the stimulation going.
If you want to keep objectification significantly reduced you need to turn a pretty heavy level of scrutiny on all that lovely porn and lovely porn adjacent sexiness and ask who it is meant for and who, ultimately benefits.
And if the answer is a troll of a man living a dream that pretty much all popular media uses as comedic shorthand for “lucky bastard” but he is wailing about oppression or claiming to be part of a secret society promising a liberal life better for everyone, welp, poke it hard and weed for pimps.