Tag Archives: PornHub

Mia Kalifa, The Porn Industry, And Why Her (Lack Of) Earnings Matter

mia-khalifa

Imagine that you’re young, low on money, and in need of a quick buck. You do a few side-gigs, like drive a taxi or do some yard work. You make some money up front. You’re grateful for it. You wish you didn’t have to do it, but you still did and you’re ready to move forward with your life.

Now, imagine that same work you did ended up making someone else a boatload of money that continues to flow in, even though you’ve long since finished your part. Maybe while mowing the lawn, you discovered a priceless artifact under a tree stump. Maybe while driving a taxi, your car became the site of an infamous crime. Anyone with a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV can attest to that.

With those ideas in mind, let’s talk about Mia Kalifa. If you don’t know who that is, just ask any straight man with an internet connection and a suspiciously large supply of tissue boxes. You might not get an honest answer, but rest assured, she’s a known public figure and not just because she has over 15 million followers on Instagram.

One of the reasons why she has so many.

She’s worth talking about, but not because she’s a former porn star who still garners a great deal of popularity, despite having not worked in the industry for years. Recently, she made the news after revealing that, even though she was one of the most popular porn stars in the world for a time, she made a total of $12,000 for her entire career.

For someone who was that successful in an industry that’s already exceedingly crowded by an abundance of content, that just doesn’t seem to add up. Most working people make more than $12,000 in a year, even if they’re paid minimum wage. They even get to keep their clothes on. What’s going on here?

There is a context to that story. By her own admission, she was in the industry for about three months. She only got paid a flat rate of about $1,000 for each scene she did and, given how few she ended up doing, it’s still more than minimum wage. She basically made $12,000 for approximately two weeks of work. Ignoring, for the moment, that the work involved making porn, it’s not a terrible rate.

However, what stands out most about her story is that she continues to generate money for the companies that initially paid her. To this day, those scenes she shot still generate traffic for popular sites like PornHub and that traffic still makes its parent company, MindGeek, some additional profit.

Most people don’t know, or want to know for that matter, that the most popular porn sites and studios are owned by MindGeek. Think of any site your significant other won’t admit to visiting. Chances are, they own it. They’re basically the Amazon of porn. They’re so big that there really isn’t a close second.

It’s because they’re so big that Ms. Kalifa’s story isn’t unique. Most people who enter the porn industry, be they male or female, have to go through MindGeek in some form or another. They’re basically a monopoly and because of that, they can get away with shady practices, such as underpaying workers or short-changing them with fine print.

Listed above are sites few will admit to knowing.

Most porn performers, including Ms. Kalifa, only get paid a flat rate per scene. They basically function as independent contractors, which means they’re not salaried employees who get benefits. They’re basically Uber drivers, but with sex. Unlike Uber drivers, though, the top performers can actually make a lot more, but they’re the exception and not the norm. Most performers are in Ms. Kalifa’s situation.

It’s not a situation unique to porn. Other elements of the entertainment industry have used similar practices for years. The music industry has plenty of examples of successful artists who sell millions of albums, but still go bankrupt because most of that money went to the companies they worked for rather than the artists themselves.

It even happens in the comic book industry. Few individuals have created and drawn more iconic character than Jack Kirby, but because he was a work-for-hire, he didn’t technically own his creations. The companies he worked for, both Marvel and DC Comics, owned them. As a result of this, there were some lengthy legal battles with Kirby’s estate. Not surprisingly, the companies won.

Think of any industry that involves performing or creating some kind of art. There’s a good chance that there are cases where someone creates something that becomes successful, but the creators themselves don’t profit from it. Only the companies profit.

Again, there’s a context to that. In industries like music, the top one percent of performers earn over three-quarters of the revenue. Most creative endeavors fail to turn a profit. As someone trying hard to break into the publishing industry, I can attest to how common failure and rejection are. These industries, as shady as their practices might be, need to make a profit and that often requires enduring many losses.

That’s exactly why Mia Kalifa’s story matters. It doesn’t just shed light on the less glamorous aspects of the porn industry. It highlights how the actual people behind popular media don’t reap as much of the benefits as we think. For porn stars, current and former, that’s made even harder by the stigma and taboos surrounding the industry. Ms. Kalifa endured those unpleasant elements more than most.

It’s a system that’s only getting worse. There was a time when porn stars could make considerably more money and even earn some residual income from the booming DVD market. Thanks to the advent of streaming media and excessive piracy, that’s no longer the case. It’s why many porn stars are turning to escorting or licensing products.

Given the dirty nature of the business, few politicians or advocates will loudly proclaim they want to help the people in the porn industry. The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in the sex industry. Laws are making sex work more restrictive and more dangerous to everyone involved. Performers will end up with the stigma, but the companies will get most of the profits.

To some extent, what happened to Mia Kalifa’s career is a microcosm of what’s happening to entertainment in general. We’re currently in an era where big companies are acquiring as much intellectual property as possible. Companies, be they major movie studios or porn producers, have a vested interest in controlling the content at the cost of the performers.

Since so few entertainment products turn a profit, these companies have too much incentive to short-change performers and creators. There’s no law that requires companies to give performers a small percentage of future earnings. There’s no law that stops them from exploiting the content created by performers, even if those same performers don’t want to be associated with the work anymore.

Given the money and influence of these companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, Mia Kalifa did us all a service by making people aware of this very flawed system. The fact that she did this while fully clothed and being brutally honest in a world that lives in alternative facts might be her best performance to date.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, prostitution, sex in media, sex in society, women's issues

Artificial Intelligence, Deep Fakes, And The (Uncertain) Future Of Reality

deepfakes

Picture the following scenario that may or may not end up being a common occurrence in the near future. It’s not a thought experiment. It’s not a prediction either. It’s just a possible manifestation of what our future might hold.

It’s late at night and you decide to check out some porn. You struggle to decide which one you want to watch. You’re in the mood for something new so you search a little more. You find some elaborate scene where Amy Shumer is a transvestite and she’s doing it with Justin Bieber.

Eventually, you settle on the hottest new scene that just came out the other day. It has Kevin Hart, Steph Curry, and Michael B. Jordan all taking turns with Scarlett Johansson in a sauna in Paris. The scene plays out. You love ever minute of it and decide to save it.

I admit that scenario was pretty lurid. I apologize if it got a little too detailed for some people, but I needed to emphasize just how far this may go. It’s an issue that has made the news lately, but one that may end up becoming a far greater concern as technological trends in computing power and artificial intelligence mature.

The specific news I’m referring to involves something called “deep fakes.” What they are doesn’t just have huge implications for the porn industry. They may also have major implications for media, national security, and our very understanding of reality.

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In essence, a deep fake is a more elaborate version of Photoshopping someone’s face into a scene. That has been around for quite some time, though. People pasting the faces of celebrities and friends into pictures from porn is fairly common. It’s also fairly easy to identify as fake. The technology is good, but not indistinguishable from reality.

That may be changing, though, and it may change in a way that goes beyond making lurid photos. Computer technology and graphics technology are getting to a point where the realism is so good that it’s difficult to discern what’s fake. Given the rapid pace of computer technology, it’s only going to get more realistic as time goes on.

That’s where deep fakes clash with the porn industry. It’s probably not the biggest implication of this technology, but it might be the most relevant in our celebrity-loving culture. In a sense, it already has become an issue and it will likely become a bigger issue in the coming years.

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It started when PornHub, also known as the most popular porn site on the planet, took a major stand at removing deep fakes from their website. Specifically, there was a video of Gal Gadot, also known as Wonder Woman and a person I’ve praised many times on this blog, being digitally added in a porn scene.

Now, it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds. This wasn’t a fully digital rendering of an entire scene. It was just a computer imposing Gal Gadot’s face onto that of a porn actress for a scene. In terms of pushing the limits of computer technology, this didn’t go that far. It was just a slightly more advanced kind of Photoshopping.

Anyone who has seen pictures of Gal Gadot or just watched “Wonder Woman” a hundred times, like me, could easily tell that the woman in that scene isn’t Ms. Gadot. Her face literally does not match her physique. For those not that familiar with her, though, it might be hard to tell.

Image result for Gal Gadot

That’s exactly why PornHub removed it. Their position is that such deep fakes are done without the explicit permission of the person being depicted and constitute an act of revenge porn, which has become a major legal issue in recent years. These are PornHub’s exact words.

Non-consensual content directly violates our TOS [terms of service] and consists of content such as revenge porn, deepfakes or anything published without a person’s consent or permission.

While I applaud PornHub for making an effort to fight content that puts beloved celebrities or private citizens in compromising positions, I fear that those efforts are going to be insufficient. PornHub might be a fairly responsible adult entertainment company, but who can say the same about the billions of other sites on the internet?

If that weren’t challenging enough, the emergence of artificial intelligence will further complicate the issue of deep fakes. That’s because before AI gets smart enough to ask us whether or not it has a soul, it’ll be targeted to performing certain tasks at a level beyond any programmer. Some call this weak AI, but it still has the power to disrupt more than our porn collection.

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In an article with Motherboard, an artificial intelligence researcher made clear that it’s no longer exceedingly hard for someone who is reckless, tech-savvy, and horny enough to create the kind of deep fakes that put celebrities in compromising positions. In fact, our tendency to take a million selfies a day may make that process even easier. Here’s what Motherboard said on just how much we’re facilitating deep fakes.

The ease with which someone could do this is frightening. Aside from the technical challenge, all someone would need is enough images of your face, and many of us are already creating sprawling databases of our own faces: People around the world uploaded 24 billion selfies to Google Photos in 2015-2016. It isn’t difficult to imagine an amateur programmer running their own algorithm to create a sex tape of someone they want to harass.

In a sense, we’ve already provided the raw materials for these deep fakes. Some celebrities have provided far more than others and that may make them easy targets. However, even celebrities that emphasize privacy may not be safe as AI technology improves.

Image result for celebrities taking selfies

In the past, the challenge for any programmer was ensuring every frame of a deep fake was smooth and believable. Doing that kilobyte by kilobyte is grossly inefficient, which put a natural limit on deep fakes. Now, artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where it can make its own art. If it can do that, then it can certainly help render images of photogenic celebrities in any number of ways.

If that weren’t ominous enough, there’s also similar technology emerging that allows near-perfect mimicry of someone’s voice. Just last year, a company called Lyrebird created a program that mimicked former President Obama’s voice. It was somewhat choppy and most people would recognize it as fake. However, with future improvements, it may be next to impossible to tell real from fake.

That means in future deep fakes, the people involved, be they celebrities or total strangers, will look and sound exactly like the real thing. What you see will look indistinguishable from a professionally shot scene. From your brain’s perspective, it’s completely real.

Image result for realistic digital obama

One of these is real and the other is fake. Seriously.

That blurring of virtual reality and actual reality has huge implications that go beyond the porn industry. Last year, I pointed out how “Star Wars: Rogue One” was able to bring a long-dead actor back to life in a scene. I highlighted that as a technology that could change the way Hollywood makes movies and deals with actors. Deep fakes, however, are the dark side of that technology.

I believe celebrities and private citizens who have a lot of videos or photos of themselves online are right to worry. Between graphics technology, targeted artificial intelligence, and voice mimicry, they’ll basically lose control of their own reality.

Image result for reality fake

That’s a pretty scary future. Deep fakes could make it so there’s video and photographic evidence of people saying and doing the most lurid, decadent, offensive things that it’s possible for anyone to do. You could have beloved celebrities go on racist rants. You could have celebrities everyone hates die gruesome deaths in scenes that make “Game of Thrones” look like an old Disney movie.

The future of deep fakes make our very understanding of reality murky. We already live in a world where people eagerly accept as truth what is known to be false, especially with celebrities. Deep fakes could make an already frustrating situation much worse, especially as the technology improves.

For now, deep fakes are fairly easy to sniff out and the fact that companies like PornHub are willing to combat them is a positive sign. However, I believe far greater challenges lie ahead. I also believe there’s a way to overcome those challenges, but I have a feeling we’ll have a lot to adjust to in a future where videos of Tom Hanks making out with Courtney Love might be far too common.

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Filed under futurism, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

More Women Are Watching Porn (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

I don’t often talk about the porn industry on this blog. I know that sounds like an oversight, but it’s a deliberate oversight. In my experience, porn is just one of those things that either bothers certain people to no end or is just shrugged off by everyone else.

We know it exists. We know it’s a big business that has always existed, to some extent. Sure, it’s controversial. Some still try to fight it, but to date, nobody has ever won that fight and the sheer amount of porn that exists is proof of that.

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, who also happens to be a straight man with an internet connection, I’m very much aware of porn, the industry that makes it, and the consumer base that fuels it. While erotica novels aren’t quite as taboo as porn, it does have many similarities. “50 Shades of Grey” proved those similarities aren’t that subtle.

In addition, those same trends can also reflect evolving attitudes towards sex, sexuality, and how people treat intimacy. One might be forgiven for thinking that everything involving sex, intimacy, and how we consume erotic content is devolving into chaos. However, in the midst of all these unsexy trends, I’d like to offer some news that should further complicate the evolving sexual landscape.

According to recent data released by PornHub, also known as the most popular porn site on the internet, 2017 saw the biggest surge in porn consumption came from women. More specifically, the search term “porn for women” increased in popularity by 359 percent. Even if you’re terrible at math, you understand that’s a significant increase.

It’s an increase that the porn industry is noticing, among others. They kind of have to notice it because women still make up half the population last I checked. Even though catering to mostly men has helped make porn a multi-billion dollar industry, it still has room to grow and women are the key, just not in the way the industry is used to.

Whether it’s due to the impact of “50 Shades of Grey” or the impact that feminism has had over the past few decades, more women are consuming porn than ever. Granted, that could just be because more women are willing to admit it, but the data is there. This is happening, regardless of what men or other women say about it.

The type of porn they’re consuming is also noteworthy, if only because their patterns of consumption are different from those of men. According to Vice.com, the type of porn women search for varies in terms of theme and genre. They’re not wildly different from men, but it does highlight some differences in terms of the erotic content both genders pursue.

While I’d love to talk more about the types of adult content women are seeking, if only to highlight how I can work that content into my novels, there’s a particular detail to this story that I want to highlight. I have a feeling it’ll be controversial for some. I’m willing to take that risk because I think this is worth saying.

More women consuming porn is a GOOD thing for both genders.

Take a moment to finish rolling your eyes. I understand that sounds exactly like something a man who regularly writes about sex robots and sex-positive superheroes would say. That doesn’t make the statement any less valid.

While I won’t claim that trends in women consuming porn are all good, as the breadth of human nature is far too broad for a claim that bold, I strongly believe that this is one of those trends where the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s not just because it shows women are more comfortable exploring sexy things. I actually think the positives run much deeper than that.

That’s because in recent years, the porn industry has only ever made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Between the recent spike in porn stars committing suicide and uptight politicians declaring it a public health crisis, it’s safe to say that porn has a public image problem, to put it mildly. However, I think the foundation of that problem goes beyond the explicit content behind it.

To illustrate that, it’s necessary to point out an unusual quirk in the effects of porn on men compared to women. There have been plenty of studies on how porn affects men. Some of it documents negative effects while others reveal positive or no effects. For women, though, the effects are considerably different.

It often occurs whenever there’s a correlation between a negative consequence, like broken relationships and porn consumption. Whenever that correlation exists for men, it rarely occurs to the same extent, if at all, for women. That means that even if there are harmful effects of porn consumption, it does not affect women as much as men.

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To further complicate those insights, as often tends to happen in sexually-charged issues, research has shown that couples who watch porn together are either not negatively affected or enjoy greater levels of satisfaction. That means when it comes to the effects of porn, context and attitudes matters. I’ve mentioned the importance of context when it comes to assessing masculinity. It seems to apply even more to porn.

That’s why I believe women consuming more of it is a good thing, in terms of evolving that context. Unlike other hobbies, porn is unique in that it involves sex and sex often other people. When only one part of that equation is consuming the content, then that content is going to skew in the direction of those consumers. That’s just basic economics.

In this case, those skewed economics can have unpleasant consequences. To those who claim porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex, this is why that occurs. When the consumer base is so narrow, it’s going to become unbalanced. We saw that in the disparity of contraceptive development. Porn did the same.

Over time, that has the effect of narrowing the appeal of the content. To those not consuming that, it takes on a strange, if not taboo context. In the past, this has been reflected by women seeing men’s consumption of porn as creepy or perverse. It’s not unlike how comic books used to be seen as something for kids. Then, they evolved to capture a wider audience.

With women entering the consumer base, the porn industry has a chance to change that narrative. If women are watching more porn, then it becomes less taboo. On top of that, it expands the industry. I’ve talked before about how taboos fade or die off. One of the most potent ways taboos falter is when there are economic forces working against it.

In a sense, the best way for women to make the porn that men consume more equitable is to consume it themselves. By giving the industry a powerful incentive to balance out the content, they create the necessary incentives for producers to make the kind of erotic content that both gets them off and spices things up with their lover. It’s ironic that this is how to make the porn industry friendlier to women, but it’s also somewhat fitting.

As it stands, women’s taste in porn are still evolving and the industry is still figuring it out. However, there are a number of sites out there looking to tap this once overlooked market. In wake of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, there’s even a new sub-genre of porn called ethically produced porn. Think of it as fair-trade coffee for sex.

Regardless of how some feel about the porn industry, in general, or women entering a consumer base once dominated by men, their presence will have an impact. That impact may make some uncomfortable or upset at first, but I believe in the long term, it’ll be a net positive.

We’re entering a world where it’s not taboo for a woman to say she enjoys watching porn. It’s also a world where men don’t have to be as ashamed or secretive about their own porn consumption. I think when those respective taboos fade, it’ll be easier for men and women to have honest conversations about what they like, what turns them on, and everything in between.

Sure, it’ll be awkward. Men and women talking about their respective porn consumption is bound to cause more than a few stressful conversations. However, if the end result is a more open and honest understanding of our sex lives, then I honestly say that extra awkwardness is worth it.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality