NSFW

Why Porn Has Gotten So Rough

In ‘Pornocracy,’ a doc playing SXSW, the French porn veteran turned filmmaker Ovidie traces the collapse of the traditional adult industry at the hands of free streaming tube sites.

03.11.17 8:57 AM ET

“It’s become more rough. It’s become generally more… humiliating,” offers Julianna, a top porn agent. “Anyone can open the internet and find anything they want, and when you watch this, you go, ok, what’s the next step? You’re always curious about going deeper and deeper and deeper.”

Julianna is the co-founder of Julmodels, an agency for porn performers based in Hungary. She is also one of the subjects of Pornocracy, an eye-opening documentary about the state of porn playing at SXSW. The crux of the film, directed by the French porn veteran turned director Ovidie, is that free XXX tube sites have not only left the adult industry in tatters, but are a pox on society: a danger to sex workers, forcing them into extreme acts of degradation due to dwindling demand, and to our youth, allowing them unfettered access to hardcore pornography.

The latter issue looms large in Ovidie’s harrowing film, a stygian exploration into porn’s white collar underbelly that likens its hoodied, pierced creator to a Lisbeth Salander-esque hacktivist truth-bombing the system. In one particularly cringe-inducing scene, Pierre Woodman, a renowned DIY porn filmmaker, captures the corrupting influence of tube sites. 

“The root of it all is that internet piracy is killing adult movies, streaming content that should only be for adults but that is now unfortunately available to young people as well,” he says. “And I’m fed up with hearing every day during casting sessions a girl who says, ‘Oh I’ve known you since I was eight years old.’ That’s just too much.”

After navigating her way past performers, handlers, and producers, Ovidie’s quest leads her to the kingpin: MindGeek, a multinational corporation with a near-monopoly on free streaming porn. The conglomerate owns all the sites in the Pornhub network, including YouPorn, RedTube, GayTube, Tube8, and Pornhub; as well as the porno studios Brazzers, Digital Playground, Reality Kings, Twistys, and the bulk of Playboy’s digital and TV operations. But the sprawling company, which previously operated under the names Mansef and Manwin, has run afoul of the law on numerous occasions. In 2009, the Secret Service seized $6.4 million in funds from two fidelity bank accounts controlled by Mansef, with Feds accusing the syndicate of money laundering; and in 2012, its then-owner Fabian Thylmann, a young German programmer once hailed as the Mark Zuckerberg of porn, was arrested on charges of tax evasion.

What Pornocracy does is raises plenty of questions concerning MindGeek’s operations. Why is it headquartered in Luxembourg, a notorious tax haven, when most of its operations appear to be run out of Canada? Do Wall Street hedge funds have a controlling interest in the company? Who is actually pulling the strings? How are these sites not violating copyright laws? And why is the money allegedly being routed through various countries to performers?

“They’re a fishy, weird company,” says Stoya, a Digital Playground contract girl from 2007-2013, in the film. “My Fleshlight royalties, when the wire transfers come in, go through banks in places like South Africa. They have offices in Ireland. It’s a bunch of men with Greek last names and thick Greek accents claiming to be Quebecois.”

It all began with the “great crash of 2006.” That year, adult DVD sales experienced a sharp decline. The cratering coincided with the arrival of YouPorn, porn’s version of YouTube featuring millions of pirated XXX videos that are free to stream. In 2011, YouPorn was purchased by Manwin, which proceeded to gobble up most of the other tube sites—before acquiring the adult industry’s leading production studios as well. Female performer’s wages dropped from around $3,000 to $600 a shoot, and even the biggest and brightest porn stars now flock to “extreme” sites like Kink for work. Today, many of the premier porn studios are struggling; pirated videos, on the other hand, make up approximately 95 percent of the porn consumed across the globe.

Ovidie, the director of the documentary 'Pornocracy.'

Courtesy of Magneto Presse

The filmmaker Ovidie

“Up until 10 years ago, the industry consisted of a constellation of smaller producers who produced and sold their own content directly on DVD or via VOD,” Ovidie tells me. “Within the past 10 years, the entire industry has been taken over by big tech companies, multinationals managed by businessmen based in tax havens who don’t have any real connection to the porn industry. These people are not there on-set during shooting; they have no contact with the workers or the actual production process. What is happening in porn is exactly what’s happening in many other sectors: an ‘Uberisation’ of the workforce, with huge platforms who have no consideration for performers.”

The answer, Ovidie says, is for various governments to begin regulating these tube sites in order to protect minors from accessing them, which will in turn grant the adult industry a degree of latitude.

“In France, my film and the issues it tackles was taken very seriously on a national level, and politically by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. They are considering putting in place legal protections for minors. This is the most urgent thing that can be done,” she says. “The Tube sites have no system to protect minors from watching, as opposed to paid porn sites where you generally at least need a credit card to watch. On the Tubes, the access is immediate, and they don’t verify age. They are free, easy, and accessible via a phone. The age of porn site consumers has gone down dramatically, and the effects of this are catastrophic. If free access to porn is limited, then producers can get their funding back, start working legally again, and pay their talent fairly.”