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Bourgeois Porn Paradise

By Maggie Gallagher

David Brooks once famously described college-educated American suburbanites as "Bobos": bourgeois bohemians. But why stop there? Bobos meet Bopos: the new bourgeois pornographers.

Meet, for example, Peter Acworth. He is not just another pornographer. In the middle of the dot-com boom of the 1990s, this son of a British sculptor and an ex-Jesuit priest dropped out of Columbia University's doctoral program in finance after he read a newspaper story about a fireman who'd made nearly a half-million dollars throwing up a porn Web site, something any fool could do. Today he's the founder and head of one of the nation's most successful fetish porn Web sites, and the subject of a glowing profile in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

I won't advertise the name of his company (what is Google for?), but the porn-niche he occupies has its own set of initials to describe its own "community," according to the Times: BDSM, or bondage, discipline, domination, submission and sadomasochism, (which, if you think about it, should really be the BDDSSM community, but hey, don't let the alphabet tie you down).

I am getting old. Using the word "community" to describe people who share unusual lusts together strikes me as, well, odd. Whatever happened to the guys in funny hats who join lodges named after animals? (Hmmm, don't answer that one.)

Peter Acworth, who used to tie himself up all alone in those lonely years before his worldly success helped him find girlfriends willing to do this for him, launched a bondage site partly for obvious reasons and partly as a shrewd business decision. With bondage, he told the Times, he knew what the customer wanted. If it feels good, market it!

Out in San Francisco, he has acquired a staff of 70 employees, like Pamela O'Tey, the accountant who is also head of her local PTA, or the Harvard alum who helps with marketing. Online porn is big, respectable business now.

His company recently purchased the State Armory and Arsenal, a 200,000-square-foot building in San Francisco's Mission district, a building on the National Register of Historic Places. It's big enough to house both offices and studios. In the basement, with pumps shut off, an underground creek filled the old National Guard shooting range with several feet of water. According to the article: "Acworth was ecstatic. He imagined models waist-deep, with helmets and headlamps, or someone suspended over the waterline in a cage. 'It could be very cinematic,'" Acworth told the reporter.

I also won't tell you in any greater detail exactly what sort of sexual acts Peter Acworth makes and markets. You'll have to read The New York Times for that, because I write for family newspapers. But I will tell you that Peter Acworth is not all about the money. He sees his company has having a certain social mission: to "demystify" fetish. So that people like him who once felt conflicted about their sexual desires, "would realize they're not alone, and in fact, that there's a big world of people that are into this stuff and that it can be done in a safe and respectful way. Loving partners can do this to each other."

What would he think if he walked into Wal-Mart and found racks of constrictive leather corsets? "I think that would be great," Peter Acworth told the Times. He'd probably be unable to make money at that point, adding, "But I won't mind that. A life goal will have been completed."

Ah, America, land of dreams! Where even the BDSMers can be as bourgeois as the next man, and inflicting pain on your beloved can be just another form of good, clean fun.

Which raises for me one final question: Doesn't anybody want illicit sex anymore?

Copyright 2007 Universal Press Syndicate

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