Christopher Zeischegg [aka Danny Wylde] on Art, Horror, Racism, and, of course, Porn

wyldefisherEarlier this month LA-based artist Luka Fisher reached out to me through the site’s email, calling my attention to an art project that may be the first of its kind. Christopher Zeischegg, more commonly known online as porn star Danny Wylde “On The Moral Imperative To Commodify Sexual Suffering“. Accompanying the short story was a silkscreen print created by Fisher, which was in turn featured in a high-concept art commercial directed by Matthew Kaundart. Through this correspondence I was given the wonderful opportunity to discuss the story with Zeischegg, as well as pick his brain on a number of other topics.

Before proceeding onto the interview I would strongly encourage you to read his story, or at least watch the video, which I’ve embedded below. I would also like to warn you that both are decidedly not safe for work before proceeding.


So before we really get into things, Luka Fisher, the artist who emailed me and who collaborated with you on the release of your short story, described you as a “BuzzFeed sensation”. Would you say you live up to that title?

[laughs] Well, I would say I don’t live up to that title. I mean, Luka is a friend of mine and he’s an artist producer in LA. I think more than anything he was just trying to get press and attention for this thing we did; trying to get keywords. As far as being a “Buzzfeed sensation”, I’ve been in a few videos about porn stars, et cetera.

I didn’t participate in that press release. I would not call myself one.

I also noticed that in their [Buzzfeed’s] feature they describe you as a “porn star”, whereas most places I could find state that you’re no longer an active part of the industry. I was wondering if you could clear that up for both me and my readers.

I retired actually about two years ago from mainstream porn. Though I have been submitting videos to Make Love Not Porn. I also do some other sex work that I’m not going into for legality issues. I retired two years ago. But, y’know, stuff is out there forever on the internet, so people kind of associate that with you.

So the reason for this interview even existing is because of your short story, “On The Moral Imperative To Commodify Sexual Suffering” [which I’ve asked my readers to check out first], which of course presented alongside a piece of static visual art-

Some Such _Fisher1

-as well as a short film. On top of all that you’re also one half of a Chiildren, a metal band, so I think it probably goes without saying that you’re by most definitions an artist-

Yeah, I guess so, I would agree to that.

before we really dive into the story I thought it would be cool to hear your thoughts on pornography as art.

Well, in general I don’t think it is. I can say that there are some examples of people who are doing art within porn, and I guess one of them is even my current employer, or one of them, James Deen. I work for him a lot in production and last year we did some higher end art films [7 Sins, we made a porn version but there’s also a cut-down version going around].

But my interest in porn did not really participate in art, especially in the beginning. It was just something to get through school. And then continued doing that for some years after. Because it pays better in retail, you know what I mean.

I don’t think typically it is, though. It’s just entertainment to jerk off to. That’s what most porn is. I don’t have anything more to say about it. We’re not doing anything important with it, there’s no real higher cause. We’re just making stuff so people can jerk off to it.

Which I guess you could call art. It’s a nuanced conversation. It’s entertainment.

“On The Moral Imperative To Commodify Sexual Suffering” is at least partly fictional, given that you’re alive and talking to me today. Some of it is rooted in reality, however, particularly the section about your retirement. Can you reveal anything about your decision to splice what I can only describe as “horror” onto your actual life-

I don’t think Matthew, the filmmaker, knew this going into it, but I think my aesthetic in working with a lot of art forms, literary or otherwise, is related to that. I enjoy the horror aesthetic and so forth.

Violence as a metaphor is something I’ve used as a kid, since I was into horror movies and metal music, stuff that uses those tropes. Growing up and moving away from porn, at least as a performative career, I’m also looking at trying to do visual art in those contexts. Even, and maybe especially, through this piece. I wouldn’t actually say it’s fiction at this point. At least in terms of dying, all the way up to the end where I get murdered. It more or less is real.

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Fisher’s silkscreen print was made using Zeischegg’s blood.

And maybe I don’t have those certain feelings 100% of the time, but yeah. I don’t know, it’s kind of a literal and visual art angle I’ve gone with for a while. I released a book earlier with a similar tone. An autobiography of sorts with a lot of violent fiction.

I know you just said that your interest in the genre goes back to childhood, but do you think there’s any sort of relationship between horror and porn? I’ve been thinking about how there are a few genres where your success can be gauged by the audience’s reaction, comedy and horror, and maybe porn is sort of the third one. I know that your book that you mentioned, The Wolves That Live in Skin and Space second book, sort of explores these themes.

Yeah, they both kind of work on these novelty and spectacle ideas. Especially with something like splatter horror films or something like that, where the gore is a big deal. In cinema we see every year that these things get more and more severe. Maybe in porn it’s the same way. You do a gangbang, and then double anal; people are always trying to one up the spectacle. It also involves the viewer where they’re sort of taking on this visual fetishism as a spectator.

I think there are similarities between porn and horror in that way. Mostly the spectacle nature of it.

The email I first received for this opportunity was titled as “Ex-Porn star takes on pornhub in his film+essay for somesuch stories”, which very clearly frames it as in indictment of the website. As far as your purpose for the story, and knowing that art’s message is in the eye of its beholder, would you say that’s accurate?

In that case, sure. I mean, I don’t think that my essay is going to do anything in the public eye to change their minds about PornHub. But I do think that MindGeek [the corporation that owns and runs the site] has totally fucked the porn industry. I’m not the only one that holds that opinion.

Slate ran an article called “Vampire Porn” about MindGeek and how they’ve become a monopoly in the industry by abusing production distribution practices. One of the quotes in there was, “imagine if Warner Bros. owned The Pirate Bay,” or something along those lines, which I think is a pretty accurate description of what they do. Because they own the majority of larger [porn] studios in the industry and they also own most of the bigger tube sites which operate, at least in part, on pirated content. These days they’ve kind of roped in production companies to advertise content there in hopes of bringing legal traffic to their respective websites.

danny pornhub

Ironically the short film is featured on PornHub, and is shown here with a banner ad reading “It’s finally worth paying for”.

I do think that they’re no more evil than any sort of pirated content website, but in terms of porn, porn doesn’t have mainstream advocates. No one in the “real world” is really talking about it so anyone who fights that shit [PornHub’s business practices] is usually from the inside, and it’s hard to explain that to someone else because it’s already deemed a morally ambiguous industry.

If you were to get into porn right now it wouldn’t be worth it.

Following up on that idea, would you say that at one point it was worth getting into porn?

Financially speaking, at least, yeah. At least up to 2008 when MindGeek came into the picture and, along with a lot of other factors around that time, started this collapse. The economic situation, in the US at least, and the housing market crash affected a lot of things. Around that time this company was moving in and no one really paid attention to it. Now they own Xtube, YouPorn, some of the most highly trafficked site on the internet.

From my understanding you’re not even able to advertise on the main page from a different company. Most everything- Brazzers, Mofos, Twistys, Men.com- a lot of their actual production studios are featured on the ads you see on these different tube sites that they already own. Or they’re hidden as a cam site they operate, or some fake shit like “grow 12 inches in a month” or something like that.

They’re definitely shooting themselves in the foot in a way by making porn free. Making everyone comfortable with that. Music is essentially free now and has been since the turn of the century. And I think every young person is used to that; buying music is unheard of. It’s the same thing with porn, so what could MindGeek’s economic strategy be going forward?

I’ve heard some insidious rumour, and I can’t verify this. I heard from someone that they’re basically a datamining company. So if they have a 68 Alexa rating [66 at the time of this writing] at large percentage of the world traffics your website. If you have a key researching their browsing patterns, whatever, they could sell that. It’s feasible, but again, completely unsubstantiated.

howpopph

You mentioned earlier that you work in part for James Deen. Would you say that his business has been affected by MindGeek?

I would. But I don’t know the exact figures and I won’t speak on behalf of his company. I just work in production and post-production, so I think it would be stupid to say what we’re making. And I don’t want to ruin his relationship with people. I say this not as an official employee, and again he’s not my only employer, though he is my primary one. I think very highly of him and I think we do good work, just on a pretty small scale.

I think he’s probably the biggest male porn star in the world right now. And I think it’s kind of weird that there’s any real struggle to have a foothold in the industry with how much time and effort and energy he puts into it. If you go to PornHub or some other site there are model profiles and he has like 8 million views or something like that. What’s actually turning into paid consumerism is a very small percentage of that if any. And it’s a relatively small company, he only employs a few people on a regular basis.

jamesdeen

Right now as far as who’s on set most of the time it’s just James and me. That’s our production crew. We update a little bit and add more people depending on the project. You can ascertain due to overall budget cuts in the industry (he operates outside of MindGeek) that the money’s not there that used to be. There used to be more than two people on set to make a movie. That’s just my experience from being on set, sometimes as a performer, for the past 10 years or so.

We still do good work, we make it happen. But from a financial point of view, yeah, it probably affects us.

Now I’m pretty sure the reason Luka reached out to me in the first place was because of a post I wrote back in 2013, about your part in The Walking Dead porn parody (that featured you in some pretty unfortunate makeup). In it I quoted your acknowledgement of the problem [racism in pornography] in the industry:

“So this is my lesson and my apology. I obviously can’t just do whatever I want in a porno and say, ‘Hey, it’s just a stupid porno.’ People are paying attention. Thank you for paying attention. I hope I don’t disappoint you again.”

Now that you find yourself on the other side of the camera would you say that things are any different from the way they were just two years ago?

Let me just say that I don’t necessarily think anything’s changed since then. As far as that situation goes you have to see my headspace. First of all I think it’s very easy as a White person, certainly as a White male, in the US. You hold a privileged position. That is not a very unpopular purview; it’s true.

I arrived on set and didn’t know what was going on. Someone says “you’re gonna be this Asian guy on The Walking Dead.” I’m like, okay, that’s kind of weird. [laughs] Everyone is like, “haha, you’re gonna be great, it’s funny.” We’re all really in this context of being that it doesn’t affect anyone, it’s just funny. We’re not doing anything bad. It’s stupid, I was stupid. It’s embarrassing in the aftermath. I don’t know if I can say anything besides I fucked up and people pointed it out. And I’m happy people like you are willing to make that a conversation.

As far as in porn I’m aware of the same thing still happening. Maybe not yellowface specifically but other things I pointed out in my apology. Porn kind of fetishizes racist and ethnic tropes. And I grapple with that in certain ways. It’s interesting in terms of certain marginalized populations. If you’re gay for example you can internalize homophobia, which in my own sexuality I’ve done in the past; I’m not 100% straight.

I have had clients in the past who get off by asking me to call them “faggots”. I’ve done that in my own sex life. I had a black client in the past who, uncomfortably, liked delving into race play. A dominatrix friend of mine used to have a Hasidic Jewish client who would have her storm around in basically SS regalia, yelling out anti-Semitic remarks. In my head I don’t want to police anyone’s ability to have a fantasy, however fucked up that may be. At the same time the weird dynamic in the porn industry, like many others to this day, is that it’s White male producers. There are exceptions to that rule, but it’s common in most media.

If you’re the standard White guy making racist porn it’s, y’know . . . I don’t know what to say exactly but it’s tricky. Some of us made the argument in the past that we employ more Black male actors than any other company, but in most situation it’s presented like “My Daughter’s Fucking a Nigger”. We’re putting that out into the world. It’s a very complicated thing to talk about.

Talk to the guys [Black male adult performers], some of them won’t do it, and some of them will if it’s presented. I always wish this situation in its entirety was different. I don’t necessarily want to speak on behalf of those people because if you’re Black male talent and you’re doing this job you have a reason. Maybe you don’t have a lot of alternatives.

I feel like at this point in time I’d rather not say I know what the answer is. It’s best to speak to the people who are doing that work, or not doing that work, or who that work affects.

One facet of racism in the industry that not many people know about is interracial porn, or the high price that’s set on it. The idea that having sex with a Black man is the sort of act that’s on par with anal or a gangbang or something along those lines, and therefore pays more-

It depends on who you work for. We don’t do that, we [James Deen] don’t pay more for interracial scenes. That is an actual thing in the industry, though. I see girls on Twitter say “I’m doing my first interracial!”

IR

I’m not faulting them for making money. At the same time it’s one of those social tropes in porn. It makes you want to bite your tongue and it is treated as this big deal, extra stuff, sex with a Black person. Which I think is pretty fucked up. I don’t even really understand, when you break it down, why that is necessarily. Even trying to consider the racist motivations behind why it’s more expensive to have sex with a Black guy, I dunno.

I’ve dated girls in the industry and some of the responses on social media from porn fans are not even subtly racist, but outrightly so. My first girlfriend had guys who would call her a “nigger-lover” for having sex with Black guys on camera. It just feeds into this whole thing. It’s 2015 and this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is. And obviously two or three years ago I was doing yellowface on film and I didn’t think to say no. I can’t then go and be surprised that this shit is still happening. It is.

As you’ve said a few times you’re currently still working production on porn films. Have you ever considered stepping away from the industry entirely?

Kind of at first, when I first quit performing. Then it was this large scale immediate rush just to find work. When you’re in the industry you get to know people, it’s easier to do a job for someone you know. Working for James was the best situation overall. I have flexibility with my schedule and decent pay. I just think he’s kind of the best at what he does, so it’s more or less easier to shoot for him. With James you get a good scene almost always. I don’t know at this point that I’d want to work for anyone else in the industry.

As far as stepping away entirely, I have thoughts about that but don’t think it’s feasible in the near future. Not sure what I’d do for money outside of that. Besides writing, all of these other things. It’s difficult to make a living doing that-

[laughs] Everyone wants to be the next great American Author-

-[laughs] I’m not holding my breath on that. It’s just something I enjoy.

Would you say that being at least a semi-successful writer and musician has been easier due to your career in porn?

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Kind of. I don’t know if my work is more financially viable than anyone else’s. But y’know, these days publishing and everything else is in the toilet. It’s difficult to get people to pay for media. So having any kind of celebrity attached to your name is a selling point.

Before my first book had been published I’d been writing a blog for four years to get attention for my own writing and so forth. Eventually someone reached out to me when I started publishing excerpts from my book, a small press called Queer Young Cowboys. So it was kind of a nice thing to happen. But yeah, I think it’s definitely because they’d seen my porn, saw that I was writing about porn, and saw an opportunity to work together there. And certainly with my second book it was with the publishing company that did autobiographies for other porn stars. I was able to be introduced that way.

Finally I’d like to thank you for what has been a legitimately fascinating look into the industry, as well as your own career and art. To close things off is there any work of yours you’d like our readers to check out?

Yeah, sure. I mean, I’ll plug the book and the band I guess. There is that book that came out this year, The Wolves that Live in Skin and Space, I guess an autobiography horror hybrid. And then I have a band called Chiildren which is an industrial metal band out in LA. You can check us out on Facebook, and you can find other stuff through there.

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3 responses to “Christopher Zeischegg [aka Danny Wylde] on Art, Horror, Racism, and, of course, Porn

  1. Pingback: [Doing Our Very Best to] Finish Strong | Culture War Reporters

  2. Pingback: The Wolves that Live in Skin and Space: A Book Review | Culture War Reporters

  3. Pingback: Creating Compulsively: A Conversation With Ingenious Artist Luka Fisher - Beta Amadeus

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