I pretty much ignored the sad story of Zoey Zane’s disappearance when it happened, because the press treatment was so disgusting and I didn’t have any useful insight on the story. However, I was pleased to see some hints of porn positivity in this article by Alan Scherstuhl in the Kansas City Pitch:

Here’s the victim in happier times. She’s spread across a beige bed in a beige room in what must be a beige apartment complex off a frontage road someplace. She wears a pink mesh top and black knee-highs but is otherwise exposed, with one leg scissored up and the other spread wide with gynecological bluntness. This is the point of the photo, of course, the only reason that it exists.

But that’s not what makes it arresting.

She’s grinning. She has slipped off her panties with a cheerful flourish, is waving them high above her head. The air blooms in them. There’s a blooming in her face, too, a look wholly unlike what we expect from women who make sex a performance or a business. [That’s a sad commentary on your expectations — Bacchus.] She looks pleased and surprised, the way you might if you somehow managed to yank away a tablecloth without disturbing the place settings.

She looks the way any of us look when we’re naked and goofy with someone we trust. Except better, of course. She looks better.

What? Porn girls can be happy? And the news has reached Kansas?

Sander’s death is shocking. But what isn’t is the fact that, in America Gone Wild, a “sweet, good kid” – as her grandfather described her to ABC – might take her clothes off for money and post her naked photos online. For half a century now, Hef’s Girls Next Door have been leaning nude on hay bales and stirring lemonade topless. Playboy bush is a perfect timeline of both the country’s increasing comfort with pornography and pornography’s corresponding discomfort with the natural. Before ’69, the magazine hid the bush entirely. When it appeared, it immediately began to thin, becoming less unruly every year – a patch, then a tuft, then a Velcro strip, then a sharp-lined eyebrow. And then, finally, to keep up with Penthouse and strippers and former Mouseketeer starlets, nothing at all.

The women changed elsewhere, too. Now they’re glazed over, poreless, their flesh like the caramel dripping in a candy-bar commercial. Breast implants are so common that a couple of times a year, Playboy publishes Natural Beauties as a sort of event: “real” as a fetish.

As the Girl Next Door goes, so – to an extent – goes the girl next door. Sander was shaved and tattooed, professionally tanned and pierced through the lip. But she still was “natural,” both in the categorical sense and in that real-girl essence that is the selling point of online amateurs. She looked real because that’s what she was: a real young woman trying – like so many of her peers – to look like a porn star.

The day-night writers prefer to think of Zoey Zane as someone separate from Emily Sander. But such real feeling pulses in that photograph of her grinning in that beige bedroom that it’s dishonest not to ask the hard questions. What if this is simply who she is? Who we are? At what point does pornography become documentary?

The article goes on to detail some of the tasteless internet “humor” that’s sprung up around Zoey Zane’s death, explaining it thusly: “Check any message board where Sander is discussed, and you’ll find yourself staring hard into an ugly truth: Many users of porn despise the women who turn them on.” Which may indeed be true; at least, it’s a theory we’ve discussed here in connection with ugly porn marketing tactics.

However, there’s still an obvious and gaping void between dead tree newspapers and the internet culture they sometimes try to report on. One might wish that Scherstuhl had seen this article in Wired Magazine, especially this bit:

If there’s one thing, though, that all these factions seem to agree on, it’s the philosophy summed up in a regularly invoked catchphrase: “The Internet is serious business.”

Look it up in the Encyclopedia Dramatica (a wikified lexicon of all things /b/) and you’ll find it defined as: “a phrase used to remind [the reader] that being mocked on the Internets is, in fact, the end of the world.” In short, “the Internet is serious business” means exactly the opposite of what it says. It encodes two truths held as self-evident by Goons and /b/tards alike – that nothing on the Internet is so serious it can’t be laughed at, and that nothing is so laughable as people who think otherwise.

To see the philosophy in action, skim the pages of Something Awful or Encyclopedia Dramatica, where it seems every pocket of the Web harbors objects of ridicule. Vampire goths with MySpace pages, white supremacist bloggers, self-diagnosed Asperger’s sufferers coming out to share their struggles with the online world – all these and many others have been found guilty of taking themselves seriously and condemned to crude but hilarious derision.

It’s certainly true enough that the folks abusing Zoe Zane’s memory don’t respect her. But what’s apparently not evident in Kansas is that they don’t respect anybody. There’s a whole internet subculture, prominent and youthful, that is aimed at self-importance and sacred cows and social propriety and any other sort of stuffed-shirtness they can find. They live for outrage, they think outrage is funny, and they don’t care what they have to tread on to get it. They are as distinctive in their online social presentation as, say, Goths are in their clothing. (Really, they are that distinctively easy to spot. Last night I dropped into a Team Fortress Two server they were infesting, and I could tell who was there by the offensive usernames and by the sound clips they were playing incessantly and in violation of that game’s social norms. Within two minutes, one of them had cried “The internet is serious business!” over his mike in response to somebody’s complaint about his behavior.)

Whatever you may think of the Serious Business Brigade (if you couldn’t tell, I don’t like them much because I treasure civility, which they tend to spit on) it’s pretty ignorant for a newspaper writer to Google up their spoors and write about them as generic internet users without, apparently, being aware that they exist as a distinct subculture.

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