Systems of Ethics in Porn

Courtney has been having some great conversation in their asks about ethical porn and I think this really highlights how much people may have different priorities for what makes something ethical.  Academic discussions of feminist ethics in porn from the past tend to focus around a media analysis lens and avoiding what has been named as problems: objectification, looking at body parts and not whole bodies, not having facial come shots, showing male and female pleasure in equal amounts. Wth this media analysis perspective, it tends to be very audience-centered.

Fair-TradeA lot of my background is responding to these issues and applying a strong feminist media analysis lens to my own work. But I also recognize that that’s not what makes something ethical. What one viewer may see as objectification and unequal representation of pleasure, the performers may see and a specifically negotiated scene that respects their boundaries around being stone and wanting to be anonymous. The viewer centered lens can lead to some odd situations, like when one person saw one scene I directed and voiced a concern that the white woman was being dominant and the woman of color was being submissive – a concern quickly alleviated when I explained I had no role in that decision and it was about the specific desires and choices of the performers. That’s why even though I keep a strong media analysis lens on my work, my ethics are always performer centered.

Courtney is bringing up yet another concern of ethics, which I might call economic centered, and it’s a real legitimate concern.  I know plenty of performers who’s primary concern around ethics of the productions they work with is if they are getting paid fair market value for their labor – which unfortunately is not possible for most feminist porn production companies.  We can pay fair market value for the sub-industry of feminist porn work, but we can’t match mainstream industry standards. As someone committed to ethics in porn production, this is a very difficult and frustrating situation to be in.  One that is made worse by our target demographics’ hesitancy to spend money on porn. For one, when you’re catering to queers, women, and trans people in particular, our community tends not to have as much “disposable income,” but additionally I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone express the sentiment, “Why would anyone pay for porn when there’s so much free porn out there?”

Well, I’ll tell you just from my own budget, I’m waiting on sales from current projects to see when I can shoot again. Working on Doing it Again has maxed out my budget. Yet I’ve got literally a hundred applicants who really want to do a shoot.  As well as a dozen performers I’d love to work with but can’t afford and who I worry about insulting with an offer to perform at the rates I can afford.  Economics can be a significant sticking point when it comes to ethics.  Ironically, it’s an area that the “ethical porn” production companies typically fail at. I admit that I’ve had a major problem in that area – hell after working five years establishing my production company, I’ve never actually paid myself and only reinvested profits from sales into the next project.* That’s a tenuous situation I’ve come to realize I can’t continue.

All this is to say that there is that being ethical is not a binary yes/no kind of question. I don’t know of a single production company that gets all of these issues right. That’s true for porn, and for Hollywood, and for indie-films, and the tech industry, and the garment industry, and pretty much every single industry in this capitalist world we live in. It’s certainly better to strive to act ethically. But for someone to say that their work is ethical without question, or to point fingers at someone else’s work that’s unethical, it’s really important to break that down.  What exactly are we talking about? Ethical compared to what? Ethical for who?

 

 

 

 

 

*Full disclosure: I haven’t been “paid” but I have used Handbasket funds to cover travel to conferences, cover some food at shoots or on the road, buy a computer, and other totally legitimate business expenses. So that’s kinda a form of compensation, but still nothing that could help with my rent or something like that. I also have benefited from the accompanying notoriety in order to get other paying gigs. So whether or not I’m being compensated is kind of a gray area and depends on your interpretation of accounting. Still, it kind of feels like an unpaid internship for myself in that kind of “working for the exposure” kind of way.

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