Monday, March 20, 2023

Doc Watch: Money Shot: The Pornhub Story (2023)

Watched:  03/19/2023
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Suzanne Hillinger

This was.... fine.  

Like it or not, Pornhub was the 12th most visited site in January 2023 (as of this writing), and when people had some time off, maybe the 3rd most visited site in December 2022.  In an era where we've shattered the monoculture, it's possible Pornhub is the great denominator.

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast that discussed the history of Pornhub, how it impacted pornography distribution, how that impacted performers, etc...  I won't get into it here, but that podcast was 2017, and this doc more or less blows past *all* of that in about twenty seconds to cover more recent history.  Given the title and stated agenda of the doc, it's a wild choice.  This doc is in no way a complete history of Pornhub, it's a dissection of a specific moment for Pornhub that is already fairly well known, was covered in the press, and which receives minimal new insight into the events probed, the inner workings of Pornhub, or much else.

If you think ignoring porn because it is naughty is the only correct path, I can't help you.  Porn has been *the* tip of the spear for finding novel use for emerging technologies and innovations and making things cheaper and easier to access for the everyday person since someone carved a boob into a clay tablet.  

It's also always the scapegoat and whipping boy for a culture in which people refuse to talk about porn existing when, again, Pornhub is clearly in everyone's browsing history.  I'm not an expert or sociologist, but I've been on this planet long enough to know this is an infinitely more complex issue than is discussed in polite society.

Essentially the doc blows right past the first decade of the history of Pornhub as a disruptor, and only hand-waves en route to other issues that it was basically Napster for porn.  Not the first and far from the last "tube" site, but it was 100x more efficient than Napster while essentially allowing people to upload whatever they wanted and allowing others to view it.  It was an ad-based model, I believe, so just by hosting content and making it roughly findable, they were able to print money.  

Again, check out that podcast, because in 2017 OnlyFans hadn't occurred yet, and the porn industry was desperately seeking innovation in order to survive.  And it found it both within the walls of Pornhub and in other efforts.  

But what the doc is primarily concerned about is the pseudo-fight that occurred for a couple of years that resulted in essentially new and safer policies for everyone.  

After setting up the notion that Pornhub has enabled performers to break free of contracts and studio stranglehold on their careers in the first act, the film pivots to (some of) the obvious downsides of a totally unregulated porn site and how anyone could upload anything*,  it turns its attention to people who were uploaded without consent.  Which was a massive issue and one that it seems bewildering they didn't manage from day 1.  I literally can't understand how anyone would be legally protected from hosting content of minors, and seeing themselves put onto a porn site without a written agreement.  Section 230 is written broadly, but this seems like flagrant abuse (I am not an attorney).  

What the film does do well is discuss the gap between enthusiastic adult performers and this kind of content, which seems like it doesn't need explaining, but apparently, for some people it does.   In a way, the content covered is almost so.. obvious... it's sort of boring.  What gets discussed is how the credit card companies eventually got involved and Pornhub and others were forced to react and the few weeks in there where it wasn't clear what would happen.  Which... man, it's porn.  Someone else who put five minutes of thought into solving the problem would pop up and the world would move on.  

In a lot of ways, this feels like it should have been a multi-episode doc series with a whole lot more participation from all sides, more performers, vastly more history and context, etc...  so this doc feels like looking at a canvas through a pinprick and saying "yup, that's the whole thing".  It's clearly not.

The doc also plays hide-the-ball with who people are and agendas to have a third act twist that feels neither revelatory nor surprising if you remember a few years ago on twitter, while also being deflating and remind you there are no heroes IRL.  I don't intentionally follow this stuff, and I was aware of the most public of the social crusaders and her actual agenda which was more or less stated on twitter the minute she appeared.

One witness to Pornhub's supposed systemic harassment of staff if they blew whistles at the corporate level is trotted out, and she's not entirely convincing as a victim of much of anything other than going against what was a clearly wrong and unethical policy, but one her employer was hanging onto. So she got cross-wise with her bosses.  Which...  honestly, I get, and it sucks, but am not sure that's the same as systemic harassment.  That's a fundamental ethical disagreement with your employer.

And the quasi-antagonists of the doc never really get held to anything or admit anything, so we're basically left with heresay that they're kinda hypocritical.  They may think they can really get porn off the internet, and may genuinely want to do so, but starting with actual victims isn't really a problem?  But maybe give them a chance to explain their graphs about how adult film is exactly the same as human trafficking.  That would be good.

I dunno.  Just not a lot here.  It feels like maybe this should have been a focused article in the Sunday Times or something.  Someone will eventually do a sprawling docuseries of which the events covered here will be a part, but this didn't really put much new info forward, dropped a lot of relevant info.

*while not discussing the collapse of the studio system of adult film, a significant point of interest -


Paul Toohey said...

Way too many documentaries these days feel like they are just expanded wikipedia articles sadly.

The League said...

Especially on Netflix. And I don't really get it. So much of what they *could* do seems so obvious, but it feels like they have a budget and a timeline and a scope they're willing to work with. It makes the directors and producers look bad, tbh.