How the Internet killed the porno star

While a blessing to its consumer – getting revved up has never been so easy – Internet porn is the silver dagger plunged into the heart of the industry. And its demise is no cause for celebration.

Lakshmi Chaudhry June 07, 2012 14:30:46 IST
How the Internet killed the porno star

Internet smut is bigger than ever. From politicians in the legislature to college kids at internet cafes, watching sex clips and movies online is now a bona fide national pastime for – at least for men. There are over 24 million pornographic websites available on the Internet, and around 43 percent of internet users log on in order to get off. Pornography has never had it so good. Right?

Wrong, says Louis Theroux in an interesting essay in The Guardian. [ Read How the Internet Killed Porn here] While a blessing to its consumer – getting revved up has never been so easy – Internet porn is the silver dagger plunged into the heart of the industry. Pornography is dying as a business. And the very ubiquity and ease of access that has made porn bigger than ever is also killing it:

...[S]ome time around 2007, the "business of X" started going into a commercial tailspin. The arrival of free YouTube-style porn sites meant that consumers could download pirated scenesfrom the vast backlog of old content for free. The phenomenon of DIY amateur sex – part-timers uploading their videos on sites such as clips4sale – also put a dent in the professionals' pay cheques. Suddenly an industry that was a byword for easy money, raking in billions by exploiting the anonymity of point-and-click purchasing, was fighting for its life.

Piracy is fatal in a business where consumers believe, "when it comes to porn, not paying for content seems the more moral thing to do.

How the Internet killed the porno star

Internet porn is the silver dagger plunged into the heart of the industry.

Countless companies have gone out of business, and the number of new releases have dwindled to a modest trickle. The bigger outfits like Vivid have responded by focusing on quality: fewer, glossy flicks with high production values and an emphasis on narrative. Or in other words, they've shifted to making movies in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And the aim is to make these new pornos, ahem, family-friendly.

"Where the business is going now is it's acceptable to sit down with your wife and girlfriend and introduce her to pornography," industry mogul Rob Black tells Theroux. "But the stuff you're going to introduce them to is the stuff I'm making."

The Blacks of the world may survive, but porn actors have nowhere to run, especially in the lower ranks. They find themselves unemployed in a lingering recession, saddled with a resume that equips them for little else other than having sex on camera.

However Sunny Leone may want to spin her decision to go on Bigg Boss – and jump on the Bollywood bandwagon -- she is just one among the many top-rated female porn stars scrambling to build a mainstream career in the face of impending doom. Movies themselves have become a sideline that women leverage to build other kinds of business, i.e. private sessions, be it on a webcam or in real life.

"[T]he women can make far more money having sex behind closed doors than doing it on film and, in fact, the practice is widespread. For many female performers nowadays, the movies are merely a sideline, a kind of advertising for their real business of prostitution," writes Theroux.

While Theroux doesn't make the point, the mainstreaming of porn in the West is also one of the reasons for its demise. A pornified culture defined by stripper poles in the bedroom, celebrity sex tapes, Girls Gone Wild videos makes it a-okay for ordinary folks to get it on in front of the entire world. It's almost impossible to compete with innumerable amateurs who make sex videos or install webcams in their bedroom just for fun, or as a lucrative hobby.

Online smut has also morphed into ever more bizarre avatars, such as the recently defunct Is Anyone Up, a revenge porn site which allowed people to anonymously submit nude pictures of those they wanted to humiliate. And then there's the ever-popular pastime of circulating private sex clips of unsuspecting lovers, their public shame enhancing the titillation factor.

"The way it is now, within five years I don't see how there could be a professional porn actor," a retired actor tells Theroux.

The internet killed the porno star. And pornography, as well, at least of the traditional kind.

But is this reason to celebrate? As Theroux rightly notes, "It's not easy to sympathise with the porn companies, which made so much money for so long by embracing a tawdry business and a dysfunctional work-pool." But he does underline the plight of porn industry workers whose future is precarious, at best, and raises the morality of not paying for a product you use, however dubious its morality.

Theroux, however, fails to acknowledge a more disturbing reality: porn, much like the indestructible cockroach, can never be exterminated. The internet has killed one purveyor of smut, i.e. the official industry of porn, mostly movie companies in the United States that are subject to strict monitoring and workplace regulations. With their demise, we may end up with a wild, wild west of pornography, an online wasteland of ever more shocking content created by vulnerable actors at the mercy of predatory, unmonitored outfits scattered in dark corners of the globe. And that's all the more alarming in an industry where the line between consent and exploitation is all too blurry.

Online sexual content, on the other hand, knows no boundaries, be they geographical or moral. And that Russian rape porn webcam of the future may well turn out to be all too real.

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