When Gawker Media founder Nick Denton was surfing the Internet checking out the nascent crew of Web loggers -- more fashionably known as bloggers -- he was struck by the clever wit he saw on Jonno.com, the site written by New Orleans resident and New York transplant John d'Addario. But it wasn't just the writing. One of Jonno's more popular posts, Denton recalls, was "Cute Dead Guy."
"They were Civil War-era photos he'd found," Denton says by phone from his office in New York. "They were daguerreotypes of soldiers about to go off to war, he picked the most good-looking. It was genius. It was found porn, and found porn is always the most pornographic."
And no porn is more "found" than on Fleshbot, which d'Addario edits from the Faubourg Marigny home he shares with his partner, Richard Read, the co-founder of the theater troupe Running With Scissors. In just 20 months, d'Addario has helped turn Fleshbot -- the third of Gawker's 13 blog sites -- into the third most popular blog on the Web, behind Free Republic and the Drudge Report and ahead of Gawker's flagship site.
According to the latest estimates by comScore, which tracks Internet traffic, in the first quarter of 2005 Fleshbot welcomed about 1.186 million "unique visitors" -- those who have visited the site over a 24-hour period. And that's in the United States alone; Denton estimates the international traffic could be twice as much.
Navigating Fleshbot can be a dizzying experience, and not just because of the seemingly unlimited array of stuff to view. As with most things Internet, one click is the mother of a thousand other clicks before you realize you're lost in a forest of nudity and sex. It takes forever just to enjoy a complete sampling of the first offering, "Babelogs," which offers a daily menu of other Internet porn sites featuring nude models -- like Nude Paradise Hotel, Babes Kick Ass, PSP Porn, Bods for the Mods, Usual Girls and Stinky Donuts, for just one day's example.
Other features include "Wet Spots," a kind of notebook featuring miscellaneous topics and recently found sexy photos; reviews of upcoming DVD releases, usually linked to the porn-video trade bible AVN; at least one sampling of images of some male hunk du jour; the latest in Japanese anime porn; and lots of exposed celebrity "slip" shots: nipples, "up skirt," anything where something unintentionally is caught by the camera.
That d'Addario is a gay man surfing the Web at least 12 times a day looking for stuff for mostly straight people to get off on isn't surprising to either d'Addario or his boss -- and not in a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy kind of way.
"I write Fleshbot in the first-person plural," d'Addario says in between drags from his American Spirit cigarettes, during an afternoon interview in his kitchen. "Speaking the 'we' is really me. It's Jonno sitting here in New Orleans in his sweatpants and chain-smoking, coming up with all this stuff. Personally, I'm a gay man who's more interested in straight porn than gay porn. Gay porn is too much of a documentary form for me. Straight porn is more fantasy. That's just where I'm coming from.
"Out of necessity, there's stuff that doesn't turn me on personally, so it's stuff that I have to detach myself from to look at and write about it."
That detachment is underscored by a witty take on the subjects of the day. A recent "Wet Spot" set-up is a classic example: "We've been doing our best to try to ignore it, but if we had to live with the image of Tara Reid's ass seared on our retinas for the rest of our lives, dammit, we figured you should have to as well."
There's no question that Fleshbot stands in stark contrast to the site it is perhaps most compared to: Nerve, whose mission statement declares that sex "is a subject in need of a fearless, intelligent forum for both genders," one with "clich-shattering prose and fiction as well as striking photographs of naked people that capture more than their flesh."
Without naming it specifically, Denton basically calls such an approach pretentious: "I hate nothing more than that literate-snot approach to porn. Black-and-white photographs with hairy armpits don't really do it for most people. It might win you a coffee-table respectability, but it's not going to win you an audience.
"People ... don't want artistry. You're supposed to be able to j--k off to porn. We definitely have achieved the j--k-off task."
Such frank comments are typical of Denton, who likes to demystify all things Gawker and its goals, as chronicled, among other pieces, in a recent New York Times profile. But there is something more important going on with Fleshbot, which by its all-encompassing approach shows that there really is such a thing as a sex-positive approach to life, no matter how absurd that approach may be at times. The Web does many things, obviously, but one of its greatest achievements has been its ability to show just how wide the World Wide Web -- and, by extension, its people -- really can be in all its complexity. And just as the porn industry based in California boasts a $10 billion market, Fleshbot shows that people of all stripes enjoy their sex in all stripes.
"I tend to concentrate on porn that tends to come from a good place," says d'Addario, who adds that when they started Fleshbot he and Denton agreed they'd ignore three subjects: "kids, dogs and poo."
"There's a lot of porn that's out there that's depressing," concedes d'Addario, who works with assistant editors in New York and San Francisco and gets about half of his links through viewer tips. "I try to avoid that as much as possible. I don't want to have a jaundiced view of sex or porn. I still want to preserve that which is fun and positive. I've been accused of having a Pollyanna view. I'll get the random email from people who say I haven't discussed how all these people's lives have been ruined by porn.
"Well, people's lives are ruined by working a minimum-wage job at Wal-Mart," he says. "So you can't blame porn for ruining lives more than anything else. It's because sex has such a stigma still."
Indeed, d'Addario follows all the First Amendment issues surrounding pornography and provides updates on the site. On a recent home-page offering, just below the "Wet Spot" link to AVN's announcement of porn star Jenna Jameson's 2006 wall calendar, is an update from Xbiz on the Free Speech Coalition's request for an injunction against the controversial Section 2257 of Title 18 of the U.S. criminal code that critics argue will make the porn industry's record-keeping requirements so problematic it would virtually shut the business down.
More than a year and a half of searching for and posting all those "nip slips" and fetish sites would take their toll on all but the perviest of purveyors, but d'Addario soldiers onward, still getting a kick out of how porn "says something about pop culture, the human psyche and what people find attractive," though "the one thing it has done is it's sucked the joy out of enjoying porn for its own sake." The last thing he wants, he says, is "to find yourself at the dinner table with your mom and she brings up how Jenna Jameson doesn't do double penetration."
He still wants his porn to have an air of mystery, he says, invoking that prophetic line from director John Waters: "I thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty."
- Before he became the editor of Fleshbot, John d'Addario was considered one of the first and best of the Internet bloggers.