We Should All Be In Favour Of PornHub’s Non-Adult Experiment



The adult site’s experiment with edgy mainstream content opens up interesting possibilities for ‘difficult’ artists rejected elsewhere.

People are reacting with amusement to the news that PornHub is about to release a non-porn movie – the art-documentary Shakedown. But – if we leave the historical issues of piracy and sex-industry decimation aside for a moment – this actually seems like a smart move. Let’s explain why.

As YouTube and other video hosting sites become ever-more censorial, matching the sexual paranoia of most social media sites and service providers like Apple, so there is an increased need for filmmakers to find a space where sexually provocative but not necessarily pornographic films can find a home. If mere nudity is enough to get you thrown off platforms ranging from Instagram to Facebook to YouTube and Vimeo, then artists of various stripes will need a new home, especially as the market for physical products diminishes.

There are obvious problems with PornHub becoming that platform, not least of which is the name – not everyone is going to feel comfortable with that. And then there is the reputation of the company – as much as it is now reinventing as a legitimate host of legal clips and original productions, it’s hard to forget that this is a company built on stolen product, one that drove several companies to the wall thanks to lost income as people viewed the free material (and we all did it, so we’re probably as guilty really, if not as financially beneficial). If PornHub has cleaned up its act (and as with any site that allows user uploads, that cleaning up is always going to be a touch questionable), then we applaud it – and certainly, the company seems to be making the effort to be both a more legitimate source of content than it was under previous regimes, and the home to creative artists who might want to play with sexual imagery – look at the work with people like Brooke Candy and Bella Thorne, or the films by Woodrocket. And there are already some people using PornHub to host non-porn material, including those booted off other platforms.

The first ‘non-porn’ release from the company is a documentary by Leilah Weinraub, covering several years in the life of a black lesbian run female strip club in Los Angeles. Lest you think that this is not too far from the usual PornHub fodder, we should point out that Shakedown has shown at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, Tate Modern, MoMA PS1, and Weinraub’s first solo show at gallery Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Harlem, NY and festivals internationally, and that after the PornHub exclusive through March, will head to the Criterion Channel before ending up on iTunes to buy in the summer.

There’s going to be a dedicated page for the film (which is free to watch) and Weinraub will be making weekly chat appearances. All in all, it’s an interesting experiment.

If PornHub is slowly reinvented as a free expression platform, where artists can be free to explore difficult ideas, and people can post difficult opinions, then that sounds something worth exploring. Certainly, it seems that the mainstream video platforms are becoming both more corporate and more censorial of both imagery and ideas, and there’s much to be said for an established site picking up that slack. It might still need to have a way of posting to a linked site with a less provocative name… or maybe this will be the final reclamation and legitimisation of porn that we’d long imagined to be a lost cause. We’ll be watching this development with interest.

You can visit the Shakedown page here: pornhub.com/art/shakedown

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