At the back end of last week I caught a documentary by Louis Theroux on BBC – ‘Twilight of the Porn Stars’. It’s available until sometime tomorrow on the BBC iPlayer for those of you who have access to it, but if not it will no doubt be repeated sometime, or segments of it will wind up on YouTube or whatever.
The essence of it is that he revisited a bunch of people in the porn business he first interviewed 15 years ago to see how they’re doing. His interview style – the wide-eyed, straight-laced naive innocent asking questions that are dorky, blundering and insensitive – doesn’t sit well with me, but a few interesting propositions emerged.
Firstly, the business is in bad shape (or had least has morphed in very significant ways). A lot of the market share has moved from films made by well-known production companies to webcam sessions, and to amateur porn that’s often widely available for free. In addition huge amounts of pirated material is freely available. I don’t hold any particular brief for porn production and distribution companies, and I have some nuanced arguments I could make about piracy – though as a ‘creative’ myself I do think it’s morally wrong. But the bottom line is that it’s as difficult now, if not more difficult, to generate an income from porn as it is from any other skill or talent.
Secondly, this may signal the end of certain types of job. In particular, the professional male performers (though not female ones) are likely to find themselves with less and less work – even though, realistically, very few men have the ability to have an erection more or less at will, hold it for long periods of time and come on demand. I’d venture to add that the ‘gonzo’ style of porn may well even mean far less demand for professional camera operators and post-production workers in the industry, especially since even some mobile phones (cellphones, if you’re in the US) can now produce semi-professional quality footage and editing is possible on many laptops.
Thirdly, insofar as there have been shifts in the content offered, some of those Theoroux interviewed felt that the market is now much more based around couples watching together, and some of the excesses of previous years such as de rigeur anal sex are no longer relevant – because, they said, in real life anal sex isn’t perceived as something that should and does happen at some point in almost any sexual encounter. The points were made by, among others, Rob Black (aka Rob Zicari), who comes across as not quite being on this planet but has been able to stay in the business for around two decades, so I assume he knows what he’s talking about.
And fourthly, there’s a short segment at the end where Theroux muses on the problems many porn performers seem to have with relationships, and he has an interesting proposition:
‘I’d found an industry that 15 years on was more demoralised and still taking the privacy of its young cohorts while paying them less. And yet the world of porn is also a refuge; somewhere people fleeing lives of chaos can blend in and feel valued. Though it can inflict wounds on those who work in it, it could also occasionally surprise with its tenderness.’
Hmmm. Two points there, and I suspect they both have some weight and that there are people for whom the latter is true – though I wouldn’t want to rely on it as a stereotype, and I can think of other occupational worlds in which both observations would hold up.
Any thoughts, anyone? Especially if it’s a business you know well?