Hello internet, I’m Jackie Fox and we need to have a serious talk about pornography, socialism, and the hidden economics of the internet. I think a good place to start is by looking at the current porn industry and how people get into our current capitalist porn market. Rashida Jones did an in-depth documentary, the 2015 Netflix produced Hot Girls Wanted, on “amateur porn” and while I think her takes are a bit prudish, there is some verifiable validity to her claims, though some in the industry would tell you to take them with a grain of salt.
Before we get started, a short disclaimer from the youtuber that I cite later on for his research into Mindgeek, We’re in Hell: “This video will be fairly critical of aspects of the porn industry. I’m just going to take it as a given that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making porn or doing any type of sex work, in and of itself. This is a no-SWERF zone, baby. So, get out! If you’re a friend who doesn’t know SWERF stands for, it’s ‘sex work exclusionary radical feminist,’ it’s a play on the term TERF, which stands for bigotry.”
In an online interview with Vice correspondent Gianna Toboni, Jones laid out her concerns about the modern porn industry.
“I have no problem with porn, also it doesn’t even matter if I have any problem with porn; it’s here to stay. But I personally have no problem with porn at all as adult entertainment,” says Jones, getting off to a defensive start. “I think it’s great that we have the freedom to explore our sexual fantasies and there’s like tools to do that. The problem with me is that there’s no regulation in the industry. The average age now where somebody watches their first porn now is eleven.”
Belle Knox, who became infamous after being outed as a rising porn star while she was attending Duke University backed up this statistic when she was interviewed on The View after being outed.
Knox: “I, like most people, have been watching porn since I was, um…”
Whoopi: “Since you were how old?”
Knox: “Since I was twelve years old.”
Jones continues her Vice interview by saying, “that would be fine except to say porn is like such a broad term. Like, porn can be anything from something really softcore and like, mellow, to like, hardcore violent torture porn — so like, I think for anybody to learn about sex from porn is dangerous, and I think that happens a lot.” So far, her argument is a little cringy and liberal, but stick around, we’ll get around to laying out the socialist vision for the future of porn in no time.
Toboni: “You covered amateur porn, so tell us a little bit about what that is.”
Jones: “So, it sounds like it’s not real porn, but it is. It’s basically just like another genre. It’s incredibly popular because it feels more realistic, but the truth is it’s not; it’s still cast and it’s lit and there’s scripts or whatever, but the idea is like young girls, at home, you know, and their dad’s, you know, away for the weekend…”
You can really feel that she’s kinda uncomfortable talking about porn in the interview, which is weird considering she just made a documentary about it but…
Jones: “Generally, if you’re eighteen and you go to Miami you’re done in a year because there’s not enough amateur jobs for you and you know you can get some other jobs, but the niche stuff pays more, and the niche stuff is harder on your body. You know, they can make $800 -$1,000 a shoot but they still have to pay for hair and nails and makeup and travel and plus you’re trying to. like, live in a lavish way, so it ends up not being cost effective… So, then you end up having to make further negotiations with yourself like, ‘will I do torture porn’, ‘will I do fetish porn’, ‘will I do sites like facialabuse where you’re doing like, forced blowjobs and you know, like vomiting. Things you just never expected to do; the less pretty version of porn.”
She concedes that not everyone shares her perspective on porn, “there’s an argument that some of the women who do it, and some of the women I talk about in the film and some people inside and outside of porn have; ‘if you’re making money, you’re empowered…’” This is an unintentional strawman of the same argument that Belle Knox made in her interview with the View.
Whoopi: “And so you know that what freaked a lot of people out is that you said you were empowered, which I totally got, but I’d like for you to explain to people why you felt that way.”
Knox: “Well, I’d like to first clarify that empowerment and degradation is completely subjective and for me I feel that in this backdrop of a society where women are so often robbed of their sexual autonomy and are subjected to sexual violence, the backdrop of, you know, misogyny against women it’s incredibly liberating and freeing for me to, um, have that choice to make in decision about my own body.” This is a point that Knox elaborates on in a piece she wrote for XOJane which seems to have been taken down since.
It’s also worth mentioning that Belle also did a long interview with Piers Morgan on CNN around the same time, and, in it, Piers really comes off as a judgmental dinosaur and Belle, to her credit, breaks down his prejudice with eloquence and reason. It’s a little weird, but with the original article taken down, one of the few internet traces of it to exist is Morgan reading a paragraph of it live on CNN.
There’s also a strong class disconnect in the interview; when talking about why she’s doing porn to pay her tuition at the most prestigious private university in North Carolina and Piers says, “and your parents weren’t in a position to pay for it?” Belle fires back, “it’s $60,000 a year; I don’t know how many families can afford that. That’s a lot of money.” If you’re interested, it’s worth a watch.
There is some truth to what she’s saying, isn’t there? Amateur porn can be rough on new models, even before they’ve had time to adjust to the industry and acclimate. How much of what you see in amateur porn is really role play, and how much is real and how much is a scared girl being introduced to womanhood?
And what if I told you it didn’t have to be this way? It’s scary because she isn’t in control, of the situation, or the narrative. She doesn’t really control the means of production. So, what is the other way? Is it… socialism? Not yet, but we are getting a lot closer already.
First, it’s worth noting that the internet wasn’t always like this, and here’s a brief history of porn and the internet by We’re in Hell: “The first online purchase with a credit card was to buy porn. And so not surprisingly, sex workers were among the first posters on the early internet. One thing that I think is really cool is that in the early internet, porn would be on these small sites that were usually completely run by the performers…. (over time) sites became bigger and harder to manage by individual people. And so, you would get online companies. These gave rise to aggregator sites, which starting out were just posting pirated content… deemed to be known as ‘tube’ sites. In some cases, they just straight up copy/pasted the code from YouTube, which, points for consistency. All the content is pirated. Why would you expect them to write their own source code?”
In recent years, apps like OnlyFans and live camming have become a more popular entry into porn, especially since the pandemic locked us all inside and told us not to touch strangers. It allows younger creators entering the industry to control the production and narrative of their own work. More importantly, with Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, it’s a way to build a resumé, to build a following, while remaining in control of your body and the scene.
And it’s not just solo porn either; couples, while a rarity on cam sites, are among the most consistently highly paid performers on any given site. And wouldn’t you rather, if you had the choice, come into porn with someone you knew and consented to, and who knew your boundaries? Someone you were comfortable with? Some of these performers go on to become highly paid “professional” porn stars. But they don’t have to go the amateur route anymore; they can come in with leverage. They can come in with a following.
By controlling the means of video production, they can get a leg up on the competition and this quasi-socialist model is starting to really dominate the porn industry. But do they control their pay? Is someone still extracting profit from their labor? Yes. This is still capitalism, remember. Cam sites eat up a lot of the money their performers make in fees. So, it’s not perfect, but it is changing the industry one camgirl at a time…
The Internet is a Porn Factory
But wait, is this really what it would take to “own the means of production” when it comes to making homemade porn? Sure, you may own the means of “production” in a literal sense; you have the camera to film, the computer and software to edit, but it’s important to note that Marx’s writing is set in the context of the industrial revolution while the economics of porn isn’t like the economics of an industrial factory. Sure, you can produce porn, but it’s not like you’re going to burn your own DVDs and stand on a street corner selling your own bootleg porno. At least, not in 2021.
Let’s face it, the internet and our ubiquitous access to it have changed porn, and porn was a big part of what made the internet what it is today. . s fascinated as we are by how the internet has changed the world around us, we overlook the thing that’s always been sort of a backbone of the internet.. he unspoken economics of online porn is a wild rid. . Right now, your porn video isn’t even so much a product as it is a raw material, and you need a platform to convert that raw material into money. This is the process of turning porn into money.
We’re in Hell: “When any of the many large production companies Mindgeek owns shoots a video first, a script is written by Mindgeek’s in-house team of writers… The script is sent to the director who is subcontracted by the studio and is also just like the rest of the cast and crew are non-union and paid a flat rate, no overtime, no residual. Once made, the video is then hosted either to be streamed behind a paywall or sold as a clip. Either a shorter version of the video or just a full video that’s old enough to no longer be lucrative will then be posted for free. The free content then is basically just used as advertising. Individual performers can then also, depending on the tube site, set up their own freemium accounts such as Pornhub VIP. Pornhub will also actively funnel viewers towards the accounts and performers they watch and also pays out a hell of a lot better than any comparable tube site, including YouTube. “
Mindgeek, a company so staggeringly large that they actually host some of my videos, is the largest of these companies by far. They own most of the big porn sites including Pornhub, as well as production companies and various other elements of the online porn infrastructure. On paper, they rival companies like Google and Amazon in some ways, despite having almost no name recognition with the public. Because regulators and people. in general. aren’t willing to talk about the porn industry openly, they’re able to maintain a vertical monopoly within the porn industry and pretty much ignore any laws or best practices. This actually makes their business model very similar to Google and Amazon in various ways, likely including the monetization of the data they collect from you as you take care of business on their sites.
In addition to stealing the business model and even source code from Google, Mindgeek and similar platforms are fueled by piracy and some really problematic hosting practices. For one, across their sites, they host a lot of stolen content, but more shockingly, videos of actual rape, underage performers, and revenge porn. On one hand, with as much content as is uploaded to their platforms daily it’s going to be nearly impossible to stop some of this stuff from getting through, but they aren’t trying very hard at all. Some rape victims have had to sue Mindgeek to get videos of their rape taken down. Though by the time it is, it could easily have been downloaded again and reuploaded, which might require a separate lawsuit to take down, and this is generously assuming the first lawsuit makes them do anything at all.
Perhaps worse, in a story that reminds me a lot of Amazon’s online sales empire, piracy is baked into the business model, and in early years was an effective negotiating tactic as they were building their vertical monopoly.
We’re in Hell: “The big issue with Mindgeek is their hosting of pirated content. Like I said, this is how tube sites started out. Imagine if Spotify started as Napster, but also still was Napster. And this is an important part of how they were able to take over the industry. Not saying that this is a conspiracy or anything, but when “Manwin” the company that would later become Mindgeek was first negotiating with foreign producers who might not want to accept whatever offer they were making. Manwin, because they still host pirated content, could basically say to them, ‘Look, your stuffs gonna wind up on our site? Either way, you take our deal, at least you’ll make something off of it.’ Again, I’m not trying to put any conspiracy theories out. I don’t believe that that was a literal conversation that anyone at Manwin or Mindgeek ever had with anyone. But that dynamic is absolutely why Mindgeek was able to dominate the industry.”
If that doesn’t remind you of the tactics that Amazon is using to establish resilient online vertical monopolies within their store, you just aren’t paying enough attention to Amazon.
Before I move on, I feel like I should point out that as many issues with Mindgeek as there are, they’re not so different from a company like YouTube in most ways that matter. In fact, YouTube can be worse than Mindgeek in many of these issues. And like I noted, and as many performers would agree, Mindgeek pays a lot better than YouTube.
Like YouTube and other free websites, Mindgeek collects a whole lot of your personal data. We’re In Hell: “Once again leading the way in technology, tube sites gather data on everything you do and everything you watch. . hese sites know things about your sexual preferences that you don’t know. Mindgeek has data on what clothes you think are hottest, what positions turn you on, and even what furniture layouts make you nut the hardest.”
Even if amateur porn stars all came together (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) and set up a collectively owned and democratically operated platform of and for the camgirls, camguys, and cambies, there is another layer to independently owning the means that turn your porn into money… ee, you still wouldn’t own the internet.
I know, it sounds weird to be talking about owning the internet because internet culture is a beautiful anarchism that feels as though the internet belongs to everyone. Even the “property rights” right won’t respect Facebook’s right to tell them to shut up and get off their lawn. The truth is, the internet is owned in a similar way to land, though we aren’t inclined to think of it that way. To own a plot of internet, you need servers and a certain level of web services and tech support.
Most companies don’t invest in buying internet real estate, instead renting space from a wealthy landlord. A recent, high profile example of this is Parler being kicked off of Amazon Web Services after a contractual dispute about their moderation practices. This is where the real money comes from on the internet, landlordism and rent-seeking behavior, and the two biggest property owners are Amazon and Google. This is the economic backbone of each respective company, and it’s what allows them to take the risks and chase long term gains by wasting money to cripple their competitors. No matter what website you do business with or visit online, you can bet the owner of the site is paying one of these two companies or their subsidiaries for web hosting or services.
Perhaps these truths about the internet are carefully swept under the rug because they would reveal two of the most massive monopolies that you probably interact with every day, with or without knowing it. And for the amateur porn star looking to own the means of production, this is pretty harsh competition.
If we had servers, web services, tech support, and our own community-owned platform where the rate of pay was decided democratically by the workers and talent, that would be a small bubble of socialized porn within a capitalist industry.
Now, here’s a real downer for some of you out there: in a post-revolutionary socialist world, porn might not really exist the way it would today. It’s hard to say from my perspective in 2021 if people in a future moneyless society would still be inclined to make porn to begin with. Often the top three reasons people get into porn are: they’re broke, porn pays a lot per hour, and they enjoy sex. In a socialist society, they wouldn’t be broke working their day job, so that’s the top reason down, and in a moneyless society, the second would be irrelevant as well, so the only people who would be making porn are people who just liked making porn.
Knowing some of the exhibitionists out there, I don’t think porn would go away in a society like that, but it wouldn’t be as ridiculously abundant in every kink and variety as it is today. Still, I think I could sleep easy knowing that poverty and hunger are a thing of the past even if it means there is a lesser variety of porn at my fingertips.
Socializing Social Media
By now you may have noticed that even if I didn’t have videos hosted by Mindgeek this would still apply to me and likely applies to you in some way as well. When we make money online, we will in some way end up paying rent to Google, Amazon, or both, in addition to the fees of a lot of online media hosting platforms like Vimeo or SoundCloud. Until we collectively own internet real estate as well as our own online distribution platforms, we don’t really own the means of production, even though making money like this makes us feel like independent petit bourgeoisie business owners. But we aren’t really as independent as we think because we’re still in effect working in a virtual Google or Amazon owned factory that’s invisible to us.
The good news is that the desire for a more open-sourced internet is absolutely alive and well, though a lot of online companies and platforms shamelessly profit from the use of open-source software, there’s also the potential that this could make creating our own community owned and operated platform pretty easily and in such a way as to be both very adaptable and quite professional as well.
There’s also the issue of replacing the role of Google and Amazon by supplanting their servers and web services with a community sourced alternative. This might all sound complex, and it is, but to me it’s more true to what the internet should be. There are several platforms and distributed servers in operation to host different things, but one that stands out to me as a great example of everything I’m talking about is Peertube.
PeerTube was created by a web developer known as Chocobozzz as a peer-to-peer alternative to YouTube, utilizing the WebTorrent protocol to share videos and the ActivityPub protocol in order to allow decentralization and to make it more resilient against censorship. Chocobozzz was contacted in 2017 by Framasoft, which had a campaign called Contributopia, the goal of which is to create alternatives to centralized platforms. In order to support him and his work, notably on improving the design and usability, Framasoft hired Chocobozzz.
Each PeerTube instance provides a website to browse and watch videos and is by default independent from others in terms of appearance, features and rules. Several instances, with common rules (like allowing for similar content, requiring registration) can form federations, where they follow one’s videos, even though each video is stored only by the instance that published it. Federations are independent from each other and asymmetrical: one instance can follow another to display their videos without them having to do the same. Instances’ administrators can each choose to mirror individual videos or whole friend instances, creating an incentive to build communities of shared bandwidth.
The system works via a federation of instances run by independent entities. Each PeerTube server can host any number of videos by itself and can additionally federate with other servers to let users watch their videos in the same user interface. This federation permits collectively hosting a large number of videos in a unified platform, without having to build an infrastructure comparable to that of the web giants. Each server is operated by and stays under the sole administration of a distinct entity.
I don’t know if I’m ready to move over to Peertube exclusively yet, but I think I’ll make my own instance and host videos that have been censored by other platforms there because I have so many of them. I also think that I’ll donate some money to help crowdfund their efforts, and if this idea sounds like the socialist future of YouTube, then maybe you can chip in $5 yourself.