A faked photo of Jessica Alba
I’m looking at an image of Jessica Alba. In it, her face looks just like it does in every red carpet photo you’ve ever seen of her, but her body looks a little unfamiliar – the most striking differences being that it doesn’t have any clothes covering it, and that it’s having some anal sex with a guy in a gold silk shirt.
This photo is, of course, a fake. As far back as I can remember, there's been a big online demand for this particular brand of smut that involves stitching the heads of celebrities on to the bodies of porn stars.
Usually, the people who create the fakes – almost all of whom seem, understandably, to work under pseudonyms, such as “Lord Hollywood”, “Knight in the Wired” and “Pirate Duck” – post their work to online forums, where it's critiqued by fans and other fakers. Occasionally, fakers get into head-to-head “duels”, with other forum users voting for the winner. Of course nobody with an internet connection actually pays for fake nudes of female celebrities, so the fakers practice their craft merely for forum kudos. Or, if you're being more thoughtful about it, because it allows them to subvert Hollywood’s control over their fantasies – young starlets in low-cut tops, frolicking in bikini scenes, mounting motorcycles in short-shorts for no particular reason – and repackage them into something more risque for the gratification of both themselves and legions of enthusiastic wankers.
One such fan is Mr Charles. When I meet him in a Starbucks, I learn that Mr Charles is in his late-forties and, judging by his slightly baggy blazer, guess that his small potbelly may once have been 15 pounds heavier. He’s greying around the temples and wears thin, black wire-frame glasses. For whatever reason, he has chosen a pseudonym that makes him sound like a post-war slave-owner. Picture a senior manager at a software company and you're probably not far off the man I'm looking at.
He tells me that he has a wife and two daughters, but hasn’t seen them for over a year. “You don’t realise it when you’re on the path,” he mewls. “You don’t realise how it’s not just something you do any longer only when you’re bored, but something you do because you need to do it. Daily. Hourly.”
Mr Charles began surfing fake celebrity porn forums five years ago, when his wife and two little girls were out of town. He doesn’t remember exactly how he came across his first fakers forum, but thinks he wound up there after searching for sexy photos of Jessica Alba on Google. He’d just watched one of her movies on TV and wanted to masturbate about it before going to bed.
The images he found on this first forum were leagues beyond the bikini shots he’d initially hoped to find; there were hundreds of images of Alba, contorted into every conceivable position: missionary, doggy, cum shots, double – even triple – anal. He recalls that he masturbated four times before bed that night.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” he gushes. “Remember when you were 13 and just discovered masturbation? How good that felt? How powerful? It was like that.”
Over the next few years, Mr Charles would return to the forum – and other forums like it – at first weekly, then daily, then sometimes hourly. He even began to browse the forums whenever the colleague he shared his office with stepped out for lunch. “I just needed more,” he says. “My wife became unattractive to me. These images were more than your normal porn. Suddenly I could have any of the young actresses I saw in movies and on TV at any time and in any position.”
Mr Charles says that the fake images he masturbated to seemed real enough to him that it felt like he was actually joining his favourite stars in their most private, intimate and erotic moments – an engagement Hollywood always teased, but could never allow. He opens his laptop and shows me some of his most beloved images, not shy about browsing through a folder of 900 very explicit photos in a very packed coffee shop, before arriving at the one of Jessica Alba getting to know the guy in the gold silk shirt. The pseudonym on the photo is the mark of a prolific faker known as “Black Magnus”.
“This is the one that changed everything for me,” Mr Charles says, as if he'd witnessed a holy revelation or shaken hands with an alien rather than simply found a Frankensteined image of "Jessica Alba" getting anally penetrated in the recesses of the internet.
He explains that, two years ago, he happened upon this particular fake of Alba for the first time. He’d never seen it before, even though it was by Black Magnus, his favourite faker. Mr Charles first stole a peek at it when he got to his work computer in the morning and logged into one of his favourite forums. The mixture of pain and pleasure on Alba’s face played on his mind for the next three hours, and when his colleague left for lunch he couldn’t wait any longer. As soon as the door shut behind her, he started masturbating.
And then his colleague opened the office door. “She actually screamed,” he says.
A faked image of Natalie Portman
The resulting investigation led to Mr Charles’s dismissal. Unbeknownst to him, his company had begun tracking the web history of all its employees. His browsing history was all there: Alba having anal sex, Natalie Portman in a bukkake session, former Disney stars doing stuff that Disney would presumably not be very happy about them doing.
“When your bosses see that you’re looking at pornographic images of some very young actresses… well, I would have quit in shame if they hadn’t fired me,” he says, before adding that he never viewed fakes of underage actresses. “Matter of fact, faking underage stars will get you immediately banned in most forums.”
Mr Charles came clean to his wife and promised to get help for what he now realised was an addiction. But the resulting depression from his firing, the loss of trust from his wife and his inability to find another job – combined with his promises to stop looking at fakes, but his powerlessness to do so – led to her leaving him ten months later, taking his two young daughters.
I’m about to ask Mr Charles if he still looks at fakes, but – given the collection he’s just taken me through – I already know the answer, so ask instead why he continues to indulge in the very thing that made his life fall apart. “Why does an alcoholic need a drink?” he answers.
Years before Mr Charles’s firing, a 17-year-old Italian boy named Marco was whiling away his lunch hours drawing comic book heroines in a notebook, most of the time with their clothes torn to shreds, instead of socialising with his schoolmates. “I couldn’t explain it then,” Marco says, “but I drew these fake people with their clothes off because I wasn’t good at having real relationships – much less feeling comfortable around girls. I think the drawing of the obviously unattainable fake comic book superheroes was a way to release my teenage sexual frustration. Plus, I always liked to draw.”
Another fake nude of Alba
Unsurprisingly, Marco’s reclusiveness and his drawing of unobtainable women may have also had something to do with his relationship with his mother. A year earlier, his father had run off with the woman he hired to clean their house, leaving Marco and his mother to fend for themselves – something his mother wasn’t much good at.
The more his mother withdrew from life, the more panic attacks Marco found himself having at school, which led to increased bullying from his classmates. It wasn’t long before he started self-harming, before eventually becoming bulimic. Things came to a head shortly after Marco’s 18th birthday, when his mother killed herself. His father didn’t show for the funeral. “I knew I should have been mad at my father, but all my anger went towards my mother,” he says.
Over the next two years, Marco’s self-harm increased. Drug use and thoughts of suicide became a constant problem. Any job he managed to get, he quickly lost. But it wasn’t until one night before his 21st birthday that things hit rock bottom. “The thoughts of suicide had become so prevalent that I could literally hear them in my head,” he says. “I don’t know what stopped me, but I managed to walk out the door and made it to the hospital.”
Upon his release from the hospital, Marco was referred to a treatment centre where he attended cognitive behavioural therapy sessions for six months. “It wasn’t until I did an extra session with an arts therapist that I began to turn the corner,” he says. “She was the most non-judgmental person I’ve known. She asked what made me happy and I just answered, ‘Drawing unobtainable women.’ And she said, ‘So do that.’”
So that’s exactly what Marco did, beginning to draw his comic book women again, before getting a job at a local internet cafe and messing around with a pirated version of Photoshop – a platform that allowed him to create far more lifelike superheroes than ink on paper ever could.
“I’d show my photoshopped drawings of superheroines to a friend I made who worked late shifts with me at the cafe,” Marco says. “To my surprise, he had no shame in admitting he loved the topless ones. He even had me print some out for him. We laughed about it, but I did. It made me feel good.”
A faked image of Mila Kunis
The next week his friend came in with a memory stick containing several hardcore pornography images, as well as multiple photos of Keira Knightley, Shakira and Mila Kunis.
“‘You think you can make me up an image?’ he said to me,” Marco recalls. “It was a challenge, since it was manipulating existing images. In many ways it’s much harder than just drawing your own. The first wasn’t that good, neither were the next five or six. With cartoon art, like you find in comics, you don’t need to worry about lighting, but in creating photorealistic images, the ability to match lighting and shading is what makes it.
“But I got good fast, and my friend soon made me aware he had been sharing my images on online forums. When I checked them out it was odd – there were dozens of comments praising my images, and there was also this big community of users who liked the same stuff I did. I felt not only accepted, but respected for the first time in my life.”
Over the next year, Marco made dozens of fakes, his reputation on the forums growing every time he released a new one. He then started winning duels with other fakers, which gained him even more praise. And though he knew that plenty of his fans were only looking at his images to get off, Marco was creating them as both an emotional release and also as an acceptance of who he was.
“At first I would just sign the images with my real initials, because I was no longer ashamed,” Marco says. “But the more I made, the more people online started requesting their favourites. They’d especially love my Natalie Portmans and Sarah Michelle Gellars, and they really liked the Jessica Albas, who I always liked from Dark Angel. At the same time, many of my fans also said I needed a better pseudonym, like the other great fakers had, than just my initials.”
So what pseudonym did he choose? “Black Magnus,” he says, adding that the recognition and encouragement of his talents gave him a confidence that, just a few years earlier, he could never dream of having.
It’s that confidence gained through creating celebrity fakes, Marco says, that enabled him to fully kick his self-loathing. “I know many might not consider it ‘art’,” he says, “but that therapist was right: it has the power to change your life.”
All names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. The fake images in this story are posted as examples of other fakers’ works and were not created by “Black Magnus”.
Michael Grothaus is a journalist whose first novel is about America’s addiction to celebrity, explored through a porn addict’s involuntary entanglement in the world of sex trafficking among the Hollywood elite. He is represented by the Hanbury Literary Agency in London. You can follow him on Twitter: @michaelgrothaus
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