madison young
Type
Article
Category
Capitalism
Porn

DIY porn under capitalism

Last year, feminist pornographer Madison Young sat in the kitchen of my mountain cottage eating vegan pancakes and discussing the revolutionary potential of DIY porn. Since the advent of the Polaroid camera in the 1960s, people have been taking and sharing explicit images of themselves. The availability of digital cameras two decades later sparked a proliferation of amateur, gonzo and ‘realcore’ genres of pornography, where individuals created unedited, low-fi films documenting ‘real’ desires and featuring ‘ordinary’ bodies. With the explosion of queer and feminist pornographies in the 2000s and a cultural investment in authenticity and ethical production, DIY porn acquired significance as a politicised intervention into mainstream netporn – with the potential to influence not only its representational practices but also its commercial operations.

The idea is alluring – that DIY porn is ‘sabotaging’ corporate porn monopolies and ‘democratising’ the kinds of bodies and sexualities represented on film. As a performer myself, I’ve written about porn as a form of protest and been inspired by Madison’s call to change the world ‘one orgasm at a time’.

In an era of ‘Porn 2.0’, where websites feature user-generated content, performers are now also producers: we create our own material, and have increasing control over distribution and revenue. DIY porn promises to revolutionise conventional relationships of worker/producer, labour/profit and make a political intervention into the representational practices of porn.

In Australia, Sensate Films coined the term ‘slow porn’ to move away from capitalism’s drive for consumer-driven, goal-oriented content production, and to appreciate process, labour and ethics. Gala Vanting has a ‘choose your own adventure’ model release where performers have greater control over the product and its revenue. Image: galavanting.com / Aven Frey

In August 2016, Young released the DIY Porn Handbook: A How-to-Guide to Documenting Our Own Sexual Revolution. The book urges individuals to ‘Make the porn you want to see!’, and provides hands-on advice for shooting, editing, distributing and ‘guerrilla marketing’ films. Inspired by Riot Grrrls and Bikini Kill, Young’s background in DIY art informs her practice through zine-making, pasting, stencils, postering and screen printing. Her book is a call to arms – an invitation for individuals to actively participate in changing the face of porn, and imagine new ways of representing ourselves.

The beauty is that almost anyone can do it. Enabled by increasing affordability and intuitiveness of cameras, computers and webcams, technology historian Jonathan Coopersmith argues that distinctions between performers, producers, distributors and consumers are now blurred. Porn production is no longer confined to corporations or studios: porn can be filmed on your smartphone, in your home, by your friend – giving rise to new genres like ‘iPornography.’

But how revolutionary is DIY porn?

Although it may be a withdrawal from big business, DIY porn remains part of a capitalist economy. It reflects market forces, trends towards ethical consumption, and shift toward artisanal, locally-made products. DIY porn may even replicate conventional labour relationships or resemble an entrepreneurial start-up venture.

bondi hipsters

In their satirical crowdfunding campaign video ‘Kuntfunder’, Australian comedy duo Bondi Hipsters say that while a builder wouldn’t seek donations to build a house in order to sell it for profit, asking friends and family to fund creative projects to better one’s own career is ‘socially acceptable’

DIY porn can be important in building communities and archiving queer histories. Domino and Meredith, editors of not-for-profit Slit Magazine, founded their queer feminist project as a photographic, filmic and textual ‘album for the community.’ Their issues are held in the National Library of Australia. In the editorial to their fifteenth issue, Domino and Meredith describe how Slit aimed to ‘find cracks in the structure of capital’ to create ‘a symbiotic relationship between voyeurs and exhibitionists, not buyers and sellers.’ No-one is paid to contribute, but no-one earns income from the product, and the focus is on ‘creating sex culture with the ambitious aim of trying to carve out some possibilities for a non-commodified sexuality.’

In this sense, DIY porn prioritises use over exchange. That is, DIY porn is useful beyond the monetary value for which it will sell – it supports local skill-sharing and is about participating in, creating and documenting sexual subcultures. A proliferation of underground porn film festivals, panels, workshops and exhibitions act as spaces for dialogue and connection, where producers – importantly – receive feedback from their communities.

Is this the techno utopia envisaged by early web pioneers, or should we be more suspicious of DIY porn economies? In many contexts, DIY porn still involves the sale of a commodity – indeed, the DIY Porn Handbook includes sections on logos, networking, watermarks and cross-promotion.

In her academic research on sexual identities under late capitalism, Rosemary Hennessy points out that queers are considered ‘avant-garde, even chic’ in fashion and entertainment. Philosopher Paul Preciado, who terms our era ‘pharmacopornographic’, writes that, ‘We are being confronted with a new kind of hot, psychotropic, punk capitalism’ that wants to put our orgasmic potential to work – by transforming it into private property. There is cultural capital here to be monetised.

DIY porn remains shaped by market forces. It appeals to a trend towards ethical consumption and a new consumer-citizen who seeks to vote with their dollar. Ten years on from No Logo, Naomi Klein argues that big businesses are now trying to escape their brands, emphasising the notion of community over chains with no-label, one-of-a-kind products linked to social causes. To distinguish themselves from mass-produced and pirated porn, producers are now marketing their work as artisanal and niche. Young even says of her work, ‘It’s the difference between eating at McDonalds, or at a local restaurant that makes everything from scratch with local produce.’

As DVD sales decline and film piracy increases, producers are seeking innovative ways to diversify their income streams by marketing DIY porn as a tangible, limited-edition collectors’ item. Sex toys have become bespoke, boutique, designer goods – pitching to what some have described as ‘the hottest growth market in the adult industry’ – the women’s market. Young, for instance, creates her own autographed original anus prints using archival ink and watercolour paper and uses these as hand-made packaging for her DVDs which she sells at festivals for a premium.

Is this the future for porn, where we collect custom-made porno memorabilia the same way we collect vinyl records?

Madison Young’s handmade custom anus print

As both a porn performer and producer who ran a solo subscription site for three years, I know from personal experience that independent smut makers are engaged in a constant hustle to produce financially viable content and earn enough to live. So how do we put our money where our mouth is? In porn, what works for a producer – minimal budgets, cost-cutting, model releases for unfettered use or shooting an entire film in a single day – does not necessarily benefit the worker. In DIY porn, performers can end up taking on more unpaid tasks – holding the camera, supplying the wardrobe, doing the makeup, writing the script or promoting the scene – but the revenue may still be concentrated in the hands of the producer.

DIY porn is low-budget – in some cases even ‘no-budget’, relying on friends and community to donate skills, labour, locations or equipment. What we lack in funds, we make up for in the rich resourcefulness of queer artists and creatives. This coming together, especially to showcase community efforts, epitomises the beauty of DIY porn. But the risk is that ‘community’ can become a convenient front for the outsourcing of cheap labour to those who have creative but not financial resources.

The appeal of DIY is about creating a culture of self-sufficiency (think dumpster diving, bicycle workshops or community gardens) that doesn’t rely on professionals, corporate infrastructure or expensive equipment. But when DIY porn becomes about profit-making, and using skill-sharing, bartering and trading as a means to extract labour, then DIY porn no longer is anti-capitalist; it becomes integral to capitalism.

So what is the answer? Scholar Micha Cárdenas argues that, ‘If queer porn producers and performers want to move the genre forward as a postcapitalist possibility, then queer porn sites should be structured around collective ownership, decision-making and capital distribution.’ This means that instead of being paid a once-off performance fee, performers share ownership of the final product and its use.

Sensate Films provide ‘choose your own adventure’ model releases to ensure all parties benefit in ways that are meaningful to them, including having a say over how and where the film is sold and marketed and how the profits are distributed. Genderqueer porn star Jiz Lee’s chapter in the DIY Porn Handbook reveals the value of shared content. According to them, it provides long-term income through ongoing royalties, supporting new producers who do not have start-up capital, and offering ‘the potential for a more level playing field.’

suicide girls

Suicide Girls encourage hopefuls to submit photo sets, interact with members and share selfies for free in the hope they will be selected Set of the Day and win $500. Image: Zahra Stardust / ShotbyAsh

DIY ethics involve an awareness of labour inequalities, wealth accumulation and private ownership, and a commitment to foregrounding cooperation, collaboration and collective benefit, during both production and distribution. It means democratising both the process and the profits.

The DIY Porn Handbook is a call to work with what we have, to make experimental films that can ‘change the world.’ If we want to change not only sexual representation but class inequalities, if we want to serve, empower and benefit our vibrant communities, and use porn as a medium to do so, then a shift towards collective ownership of the product, profit and decision-making is a way to ensure that no-one is left behind. Bring on the worker-owned DIY porno cooperatives!

 

Image: Madison Young – feminist producer and author of the DIY Porn Handbook / Zahra Stardust

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Zahra Stardust is writing her PhD on DIY pornography at the University of New South Wales. She has chapters in books such as Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Pornography, Protection and Privacy (3L Media, 2015), Queer Sex Work (Routledge, 2015) and The DIY Porn Handbook: Documenting Our Own Sexual Revolutions (Greenery Press, 2016). She has published in journals Porn Studies, Research for Sex Work and the World Journal of AIDS. She is a former Penthouse Pet, Hustler Honey and award-winning porn star. www.zahrastardust.com

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Comments

  1. In 1968, just before my mother died from breast cancer, a young girl I shared a desk with Brough in two Polaroid shots of her naked mother.
    I was so shocked. My teacher saw her showing me and took the photos away. Such a terrifying moment as in my day we never saw anyone without clothes.
    She told me they had catalogued the entire family nude.
    I was astounded but put it out of my mind.
    Articles like this remind me of it.

    When ever you impose your sexuality overtly no matter how you do it’s still an imposition in my mind.

    With 7 billion people on the planet we need no extra stimulation as the hormones react and activate us enough as it is. Forget about porn.

    Cultivate your inner self and express it in an healing and kind manner when possible.

    Over a certain maturity, sexuality as a political ‘anything’ is ridiculous. Hormones are in control and you can exploit them any way you choose.
    Is it positive to do so…that’s the question.
    Thank

  2. so do you consider the naked polaroids to be porn? not sure if your example applies to the context of the article above…

  3. I agree that the naked polaroids are out of context, but perhaps the shock felt at the naked human body, in what I think sounds like quite a beautiful archive, underscores the missed point of the article here.

    Further, I don’t agree that ‘sexuality as a political ‘anything’ is ridiculous.’ There are many ways that sexuality has been used as an act of political subversion among Queer communities. As Stardust has stated, I think the statement today is made at the point where profits are distributed.

    When Kim Kardashian posted a naked selfie in the name of reclaiming the gaze and it really just helped push her own personal brand, I didn’t consider that a grand statement. When performers and producers come together to reimagine pornography in a shared marketplace, sure I can get behind that.

    Great read. Thank you.

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