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Cock the Vote

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Back in June, when Nathan Martin and a few of his friends decided to launch Fthevote.com, they viewed the project as something of a lark.

   “We were trying to figure out a way to get involved in the election,” recalls Martin, a twenty-seven-year-old art professor from Pittsburgh. “What really troubled us was how divided the country had become. Each side had their own propaganda spokesmen, but there was really no conversation between voters one-on-one. So we figured we if we threw sex out there, that might help start a conversation.”

   They launched Fthevote.com the following week, on July 4. The premise was pretty simple: liberal volunteer “models” would agree to have sex with Republicans, if the serviced Republicans signed a pledge promising not to vote for George W. Bush on November 2.

   “It wasn’t like we expected anyone to go through with any sex act,” Martin says. “We were just trying to find a way to inject some humor into the process, because everything’s gotten so dire. It was like: If I’m voting for John Kerry, I might as well get some sex in the process, because I’m not getting that much from Kerry.”

   The response was both inspiring and terrifying. Within a few
weeks, Fthevote had mushroomed from a dozen models to several hundred, most of
whom posted photos, along with profiles. At its peak, the site got 1.5 million hits
per day. (It’s still getting several hundred thousand daily.) The signed pledges starting pouring in, as well. “At a certain point, we realized, ‘Wow, people really are fucking for votes,'” says Martin, though he says there’s no way to insure the pledges are going to be honored.

   More recently, a crew of models embarked on a road trip, hoping to spread the Fthevote gospel by going to bars and flirting with people. In September, they traveled to New York for the Republican National Convention. “We went to the Marriott and W Hotels, because that’s where
the delegates were staying,” Martin says. “But that wasn’t very successful,
because they all seemed really drunk. I don’t think they understood what we were
talking about.” Andre 3000 of Outkast interviewed a few models for a documentary
he was making about the convention protests. This was the upside.

   The downside was that Martin and his cohorts quickly became
the whipping boys of the right-wing media. They appeared on dozens of talk radio
programs. “Sean Hannity called, but he wouldn’t put us on his show," recalls
Martin. "He would only take a female model. I guess he wanted someone who he
thought
he
could
rip
apart really easily.”

   He and the other founders of Fthevote.com have stopped returning calls from conservative media outlets.

What does it mean that Election 2004 has become an online pimpfest?

They’re simply worn out. This is to say nothing of the individual Bush supporters, who have expressed less TV-friendly forms of rage.

   Martin had to remove about thirty model profiles from the site, mostly women, because they were getting inundated with emails, some of them violent. “I myself got emails that said, ‘You fucking homo faggot, you’re going to die.’ We’ve gotten nasty phone calls, a few death threats. A couple of guys called claiming to be police officers, and threatened to have us arrested for soliciting prostitution.” He eventually had to consult a lawyer.


By contrast, the founders of Votergasm.com have had a smoother ride so far. The site’s goals are somewhat less partisan (and more hedonistic) than Fthevote.com. “Vote and have sex — that’s basically it,” says director Michelle Collins. “Four words. We’re trying not to get too muddled in the details.”

   The site, which went live in early September, is the brainchild of nine recent college graduates, many of
them, like Collins, aspiring humorists. It features slick pictorials of scantily clad young voters, an explicit comic strip, and a “hot or not” game in which visitors rate whether a person looks like a Republican or a Democrat. Visitors are encouraged to register to vote and to electronically submit one of three pledges. “Citizens” promise to withhold sex from non-voters for the week following the election. “Patriots” pledge to have sex with a voter on election night and to withhold sex from non-voters for the week following the election. “American Heroes” vow to have sex with a voter on election night and withhold sex from non-voters for the next four years.

   More than 5,000 people have submitted pledges so far. As with
Fthevote, there’s no system in place to verify pledges.

   “We started the site because we felt not enough young people were voting, or having sex,” says Collins, a twenty-three-year-old Brooklynite who graduated from Columbia with a degree in art history. “The whole point is to sexualize voting, to change the perception of the act from this thing where you walk into this cold little booth alone to something much hotter.”

   The ultimate goal is to produce 100,000 new voters and 250,000 votergasms by the morning of November 3. Collins plans to do her part: “My ideal election night would be to vote, then go do my hair and makeup and go straight to a Votergasm party and drink my face off and get dragged home by a sailor for the weekend and have as many votergasms as I can muster.”


All of this sounds perfectly laudable, but it begs the question:
What does it mean that Election 2004 has become an online pimpfest?

   Martin and Collins argue that politics was overly sexualized long before they came along. “If the right wing can use the repression of certain sexual lifestyles as part of their appeal, what’s wrong with using sexual liberation in the same way?” Martin asks.

   “People thrive off sex when it’s negative, but when it’s positive, it becomes something dangerous,” Collins adds.

   It’s tough to argue with either of these claims, especially when you consider the perspective of young voters. The formative political drama of their lives — more slavishly covered than either of Bush’s wars — was the Clinton/Lewinsky

Is
the prospect of getting laid the most constructive
way to engage young voters?

scandal, during which our national discourse
was reduced to come stains and Cohiba cigars.

   And yet the most valuable lesson to emerge from our Monica fetish was the peril of sexual voyeurism. For two full years a transparently cynical right-wing slime machine used sex to keep our elected president from governing effectively.

   So is the prospect of getting laid really the most constructive way to engage young voters? This year’s election will determine a great deal about their
sexual future: whether they will have a right to reproductive choice, to certain
forms of contraception, to marry whom they would like to marry. But it will also
determine how tax dollars will be spent, whether the natural environment
they inherit will be protected, whether they will be able to find a job, or decent
health care, whether they will be sent to kill or die in foreign countries.

   The Democrats lack the courage, or eloquence, to raise these issues in a manner that resonates. The Republicans, whose entire agenda relies on fear and misinformation, are delighted to play to an ignorant electorate. Fortunately for them, the press seems content to treat the election as a popularity contest only vaguely related to how each candidate might actually govern. It’s no surprise that sex made its way into this moral and
civic vacuum, but is this kind of activism really increasing national political
awareness? Are Fthevote and Votergasm enthusiasts gaining a better understanding
of why, beyond getting some nookie, it might be important to vote? Neither site
posts summaries of the candidate’s positions on the major issues. Toward
the
end of our interview, I asked Collins if the idea had occurred
to her.

   She paused. “Huh,” she said. “Not really.
But that’s an interesting idea. I’m going to write that down.” Then she told me that I should check the website for a possible Votergasm party in my
area. “That’s the main goal at this point, the parties. Or, actually, the voting
is the main goal — that and the parties.”
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Almond‘s new essay collection is (Not that You Asked). It is, like much of his work, filthy.

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©2004 Steve Almond and Nerve.com