| 9°C Dublin

Pornhub laid bare as an unsavoury tech giant in Netflix documentary

Streaming review


A Pornhub sign hangs at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas last January. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty

A Pornhub sign hangs at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas last January. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty

A Pornhub sign hangs at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas last January. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty

Each week in this column we review the biggest streaming releases of the week but there is one streaming service that is ignored, despite the point that it releases content which, cumulatively at least, eclipses Netflix, Prime and Disney combined: Pornhub.

Rare is the adult film that breaks into the wider public consciousness (1972’s Deep Throat, reviewed by the New York Times and broke box office records, was an exception) and mostly a discreet veil is drawn over the oceans of smut that make up most internet traffic.

But porn, and market leader Pornhub, continues to shape the wider culture and has been at the forefront of themes that have convulsed the tech and entertainment industries in recent years: exploitation of women, piracy and getting a fair shake for content producers.

In Moneyshot: The Pornhub Story (Netflix), writer/director Suzanne Hillinger begins by showing that the company behind Pornhub, Mindgeek, is a sober, deeply corporate outfit, with not a fluffer in sight.

When Pornhub began to disrupt the porn VHS market by allowing free or cheap streaming, the existing porn industry was as unprepared as movies, music and publishing, so porn actors had to resign themselves to their work being given away.

But then the platform began to work with the established studios and, in even more of a game-changer, allowed the actors themselves to monetise their performances. Suddenly, as with YouTube (indeed one of the actresses interviewed compares herself to a YouTuber) a new meritocracy was created.

The problem, as Hillinger’s talking heads tell it, is that Pornhub became too big, too greedy. Even as it moved into the mainstream, renting billboards in Time Square and became the cheeky face of the entire industry, it continued to allow copyright infringements and illegal content, some depicting child sexual abuse, to be uploaded to its platform.

​In this, sadly, there wasn’t much difference between Pornhub and other tech giants. And indeed long before Twitter et al considered it, the porn industry was at the forefront of introducing human moderation (can you imagine a worse job?). But a new coalition of anti-porn activists, lawyers representing people who had been exploited and Christian evangelists swung into action to take on the company. This in turn set the scene for adverse media attention – there is an extensive interview with Nicholas Kristof whose 2020 New York Times piece, ‘The Children of Pornhub’, shone a light on the platform’s murkiest corners – and courtroom showdowns.

Pornhub responded to this pressure by taking down thousands of unverified videos but meanwhile the porn actors themselves continued (and continue) to plead that any attempt to shut Pornhub down will limit their ability to earn money.

​I was struck, watching this documentary, how literally Hillinger had taken the edict to “follow the money”. It’s really a story of a big business with an unsavoury product and colourful, disenfranchised workers.

She never really delves into the impact porn has had on our culture or, except in the most jokey way, the things it reveals about society and the changing nature of sexuality. A clip from Jimmy Kimmel’s show is played in which the host says the news that “divorce” is the most popular porn category in Arkansas might be “the saddest thing I’ve ever heard”, but that’s really as close as we get.

Video of the Day

A newspaper headline flashes across the screen saying “porn wrecks marriages” but this assertion, which may have a degree of truth (some research has compared the affect of porn on the brain to that of cocaine), is lumped in with broader moral majority concerns.

Part of the documentary’s thesis is it was Pornhub’s size and ubiquity that made it a target for legislators and law enforcement. But perhaps it’s also that very scale and its corporate parentage that makes it susceptible to public pressure.

Late on in the film a tweet pops up: “If you think Pornhub is bad you’re going to hate where people go when it’s really shut down.” We can police this tawdry platform out of existence seems to be the message, but nothing is going to change the seemingly insatiable market it was serving.

Best of the rest: Newcomers on the block

This show prompted gasps when it premiered at festivals in America last year. It tells the story of an obsessed fan of a pop star who sets out on a cross-country journey which leads her into some dark adventures, featuring graphic murder, quite a bit of sex, and binge eating.

Ted Lasso
Apple TV+
This is the third, and possibly final, season of the cuddly coach whose sunniness serves as a counterpoint to the grim realities of top-flight football. He’s won his team a promotion but has lost his star player – but you know he’ll somehow breeze his way through.

Dramas about climate change can feel like the opposite of nourishing escapism but this series, set in a bleak future almost 20 years from now, stars the likes of Meryl Streep, Forest Whitaker and Marion Cotillard so it’s basically the law that you have to watch it.

Most Watched