IMAGE: WOMAN WRESTLERS AT PORN CONVENTION
Big Boss Woman is pronounced the victor by  programmer-referee Mark Heninger during a wrestling match Friday at IA 2000.
By Mike Brunker Projects Team editor
MSNBC
updated 5/7/2001 9:41:06 AM ET 2001-05-07T13:41:06

The barely clad women who grappled for hours on end in an elevated ring at the Internet porn industry’s answer to the Comdex computer show represent the latest in “niche marketing.” That’s according to the company that Webcasts the bouts — and much more — to the world. But as the carnal convention showed, the women also are a metaphor for an industry that is locked in an internal struggle over what it is, and what it hopes to become.

Unlike the tussle in the ring, which was intended to promote a new pay-per-view video-streaming sex service with an unprintable name, the industry’s struggle wasn’t featured at the three-day IA 2000 cyberporn industry trade conference, which ended Sunday. Nevertheless, the battle over the industry’s direction has been every bit as obvious as the acres of flesh displayed by exhibitors and exhibitionists alike in the Big Easy’s cavernous Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Opposing child pornography
At a seminar on Friday, Alec Helmy, who runs a number of adult Web sites and is the founder of Adult Sites Against Child Porn, and Andrew Edmond, CEO of Flying Crocodile Inc., called on the entire adult industry to identify the traffickers and report them to authorities. Later, a separate bunch of adult Webmasters staged a charity auction that raised more than $45,000 for the children’s advocacy group Soc-um.org.

Andrew Edmond, CEO of Flying Crocodile
But even as the Webmasters were being applauded for their philanthropy, several women dressed as young schoolgirls were roaming the convention floor, handing out brochures and posing for photos with plaid skirts hiked up and hands on one another’s breasts and buttocks. Other ads for “teen content” could be found in the official IA 2000 show guide.

Such sites most likely use young-looking adult models to avoid running afoul of federal child pornography laws. But since the law also stipulates that representing someone as being underage is illegal, the so-called “teen” sites are at the very least pushing the legal envelope, according to attorney Gregory Piccionelli, another speaker at the child porn seminar.

Sites that feature young-looking females are not the same as child porn, said Karl Bernard, president of the Quebec-based Gamma Entertainment.

“I don’t think it is appealing to the same kind of people who like child porn,” he said. “A lot of men will look at young women on the street but they won’t look at children.”

Parry Aftab, executive director of Cyberangels, an Internet safety group.
But even if they are legal, the mixed message they send is unacceptable if the adult industry hopes to succeed in its efforts to differentiate itself from the purveyors of illegal child porn, said Parry Aftab, the executive director of Cyberangels, an Internet safety group whose 7,200 volunteer members search for child porn on the Web and report the sites to authorities.

“You can help in this fight more than anyone else,” she told the few dozen adult Webmasters who attended the session. “But pretending … you have child porn puts you smack in the sights (of authorities) and they will come after you.”

Getting out the vote
The adult industry’s effort to publicize its crusade against child porn and acts of philanthropy comes at a time of political uncertainty. Many cyberporn entrepreneurs fear that a victory by Republican George W. Bush in November’s presidential election could open the door for obscenity prosecutions, an area the Clinton administration has ignored in order to concentrate on online child porn.

Attorney Paul Cambria Jr., who counts Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt and musician Marilyn Manson among his clients, warned that a Bush victory could indeed mean a return to the era of “prosecution and persecution” that prevailed during the Reagan administration, when a commission led by Attorney General Ed Meese declared that pornography is “harmful” to those who watch it.

“We only have to look at what Father Bush has done. We have only to look at what George W. Bush has said to … know that the entire political machine would come with him,” Cambria warned at a seminar titled “Adult community meeting: Vote Democratic.”

Other experts noted, however, that the online adult industry can expect to come under additional pressure even if Democrat Al Gore is elected, citing the criticism that his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, has leveled against the mainstream media for exposing children to material containing sex and violence. The Cyberporn industry is susceptible to identical criticism because many sites show hard-core material outside the “credit card window” that is intended to stop minors from accessing inappropriate material.

The majority of the 3,000 or so adult Webmasters, content providers and support service representatives who gathered in New Orleans didn’t appear to be too concerned about a potential political shift. All but a few dozen of them skipped the morning seminars after partying into the not-so-early morning hours at ostentatious celebrations hosted by some of the biggest cyberporn outfits.

Impromptu exhibitionism
The party procession began Thursday night with the Players’ Ball, which raged from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. and featured music by noted rap and hip hop artists Too Short and Slick Rick as well as some impromptu sex acts on the dance floor, said party organizer Darren “D-Money” Blatt.

Kevin Blatt, president of Sun Down Media Group
Another lavish entertainer was Cybererotica, which built an oversized convention hall exhibit complete with firehouse poles for its dancers and hosted a party that company President Jonathan Silverstein said was attended by roughly 2,000 convention-goers. Silverstein declined to say how much the exhibit space and party had cost, but when asked if the bill would exceed $1 million, he replied, “Not quite, but pretty close.”

Some of the other approximately 200 exhibitors who paid $25 a square foot for their more modest booths said renting the space was a waste.

“To me this is nothing but a handshaking event,” said Kevin Blatt, president of Sun Down Media Group and brother of Darren. “The one thing we lack as Webmasters is face time, and this is the one time when we can do something about that.”

“I haven’t seen one deal happen at the trade show,” he added, referring to agreements with small-time operators to send Internet traffic to the big players in return for a share of any revenue that is generated. “The ones I’ve seen have happened in cabs, on buses and at the parties.”

But for those with “content” — video, photos or audio — to sell, the conference hall floor appeared to be the place to be.

“They opened the hall at 10:30 on the first day and we’d paid for our booth by 11,” said Susan of Erotic Shots photography, who declined to give her last name.

For those without booths, however, the show is both a learning experience and a chance to ask questions about the confusing array of “cash-for-clicks” programs and other aspects of the industry that frequently befuddle newcomers.

“I’ve never seen a business with so much b.s.,” said one new adult Webmaster who declined to give his name. “I’ve been in the Internet since there wasn’t one, and this is really something else.”

Americans lead the porn pack
Florian Albers and Mattys Lambrests came all the way from Holland to see what their American counterparts are up to, and to determine whether it would make sense to include an American site in their plans for an international suite of porn sites in different languages.

“The Americans are the leading companies in the industry, so there is a lot to learn from them and to see what they’ve got cooking in the kitchen,” said Lambrests.

By midafternoon Saturday, the pace of deal-making was waning and a lack of sleep catching up with many conference-goers. The most excitement centered on whether Dennis Rodman would appear to promote RodmanTV.com, a 24-hour-a-day Webcast from his home.

“I talked to him last night and he said he’d be here for sure,” said one Wicked Pictures staffer, glancing at her wristwatch for the umpteenth time.

“Yeah, but he was drinking when he said that,” a colleague reminded her grimly.

Rodman eventually showed up, a bit bleary-eyed.

By this time, even the seemingly inexhaustible women wrestlers appeared to be feeling the effects of nearly two full days of mock tussling.

But despite the occasional bump or bruise the gig entails, Cherry Sundae said she prefers wrestling to doing porn and is thinking about leaving the pay-for-sex industry behind.

“I like to fight and I like to compete,” she said as she prepared to do battle with Big Boss Woman one more time. “I’ve done porn on and off since ’92, and it kind of ruins your personal life after awhile.”

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