SXSW Review: Pornocracy

If you are of a certain age you remember the shift of media from the traditional physical distribution of CDs, DVDs, etc, to a more nebulous digital platform. You also may remember the rise of piracy and torrenting due to this. Classic distribution and production companies began flailing in their attempts to stay profitable within this drastic paradigm shift. We all remember Metallica and Napster, we all remember studios going after daycares showing films without permission. Lost in all of this chaos was another million-dollar industry, the porn industry.

Pornocracy, the new documentary from Ovidie, explores the fallout from the destruction of the traditional distribution market and what that has meant to production companies, and more importantly, the female performers. As the documentary points out, though, the danger is not simply one of pirating and shriveling profit margins it is one of monopoly and nefarious business practices.

When digital piracy erupted, a few companies were quick to exploit this. With the advent of Youporn, Pornhub, and a plethora of other sites that offer content for free pirated content, pornography became a kind of cart blanche system of instant gratification. This means that performers, especially female performers, were asked to do more for less at a disturbingly increasing rate. I will leave the more lascivious details for the film to reveal, but suffice it to say that for a female actress to even make a dent in the industry she has to, quite literally, put herself in harm’s way.

Pornocracy goes on to reveal the rise of Fabian Thylmann and his conglomeration of porn websites. This monopoly, combined with the lack of digital copyright controls, has caused the industry to spiral into a system that profits the few shady figures at the top of the system while leaving the talent struggling to survive.

If this all sounds familiar, it is. Goldman Sachs is even involved in this one too. It is the classic tale of the record industry, of the film industry, of real estate, of every market that has resulted in a small percentage of billionaires sitting at the top of it while the artist and creators are left at the bottom of the pyramid begging for scraps.

So why, unlike the above mentioned industries, have we all heard so little about this controversy? As Ovidie and her film point out, it is probably because this is an industry that already lives on the edge of social accessibility. It is the same condition that plagues sex workers in all arenas of performance from achieving unionization, employee rights, health insurance, and so on. When your industry is already seen as unethical by a large portion of society, it is hard for the industry to demand ethical treatment. It typically falls on deaf, and hypocritical, ears.

This is where the documentary is most successful. When the film delves into the treatment of the sex workers the story becomes a melancholic traipse through hypocrisy, sexism, and zealotry. The rampant corruption is allowable only because of the general disinterest in protecting the industry itself. When Pornocracy spends its time with the sex workers and the reporters trying to expose this web of tax havens and shady business dealing, that is it when it is at its most effective. When you see the faces that are affected by the faceless, Pornocracy is a powerhouse of a documentary.

When Pornocracy suffers, it suffers due to the weight of the corruption itself. The corruption is so widespread and so layered that it is nearly impossible to effectively connect it all. When Pornocracy tries to connect the corporations and its players, the film bends a bit under the weight of it all. It all feels too broad in scope. It is understandable that Ovidie would attempt to shine a light into the shadow of corruption, but this portion of the film seems to lose a bit of the humanity and sympathy that was so successfully fostered before.

In general though, Pornocracy is a powerful documentary that will force a viewer to reconsider their approach to their consumption of adult entertainment. With that said, there is no doubt that it is most powerful when it focuses its sights on the smaller scope, the performers, the individuals who suffer under this current market. That is when Pornocracy is heartbreaking.

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