The US economy is said to be flourishing. Unemployment is at record lows and job growth has soared to record highs.
November’s reassuring employment report featured payroll increases of 266,000 and had offered the Trump Administration a counterpoint to anxieties about its then trade war with China.
President Donald Trump’s tax cuts did – in raw numbers – boost the American economy in 2018, helping to spur economic growth and fuel an increase in factory jobs.
A Grim Time, Even for Porn
But – and it’s a HUGE but – statistics from the government and other sources do not reflect the quality of the jobs available for many low- and middle-class job seekers. What they do offer is a conundrum.
Newly created jobs have emerged in almost every sector. The clamor from employment agencies for more workers only keeps getting louder.
Yet many Americans working part-time or full-time remained below the poverty level in 2019, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. And quite a few complain that a steady, secure job that pays a middle-income wage is hard to find across a gamut of skills.
The problem of feasible wages is not confined to America’s mainstream economy. Even the porn industry has taken a hit.
Whatever your opinion about adult films, it is one of the most viable media formulas in the world today. Pornhub, the pornography website, draws 80 million visitors a day. Exact figures for the size of the industry are scarce, but experts put total sales around a billion dollars a year.
But our new century is a grim time to screw on camera for money. Once, porn stars were simply performers. Now, being successful means managing a small online business – requiring a whole new range of skills to succeed.
Tube sites and piracy have reduced the demand for adult performers’ work, and thanks to webcams, anyone with a WiFi connection can become a porn performer.
“I run two other websites…”
To stay profitable in this new porno paradigm, porn stars have to be technically savvy in operating numerous online platforms and apps like OnlyFans and NiteFlirt.
They have to be responsive to changes in remuneration models and algorithms and prioritize the most profitable income streams.
They also have to be self-disciplined when it comes to scheduling and producing their own productions.
“I spend most of my time in front of the computer,” says porn star Jelena Jensen. “I don’t really perform very much. I run two other websites.”
It’s all about the brand
In this online world, “porntropreneurs” – a word coined by the Australian anthropologist, Sophie Pezzuto – crucially rely on self-branding.
Just as Apple invests resources in marketing to garner a devout following, a strong personal brand allows performers to attract loyal fans. This, in turn, helps them to stand out from the many amateur pornographers who constantly upload free material.
“Fans seek you out to learn more about you,” one performer says. “You are a fantasy and you’re building that world for them.”
More content shared translates into more followers, which ultimately means more income.
Viewers click on links during videos or in posts that take them to websites where they can buy clips or join the current cam show.
Similar to other social media influencers who advertise sponsored products, performers may lock in sponsored partnerships from sex toy brands, beauty clinics, and even marijuana dispensaries.
A Sign of the Times
Pornography is a set of cultural practices reflective of our political, economic, technological and social circumstances.
From being a battleground against rapid social and economic changes in the late 1800s to becoming a flashpoint in the 1970s and ’80s around issues of sexism and violence against women, porn has always been about more than just smutty images. It is part of society, and so reflects society.
“The rise of the porntropreneur can, in a similar vein, be used to understand some of the broader economic and social issues of today,” says Pezzuto.
Trump won office by exploiting the frustration among working-class voters in traditional manufacturing states, where millions of American workers lost to Chinese competition. He and his administration assert that tax cuts and tariffs are now helping to create jobs.
But are the Trump Administration’s policies really working at the grassroots level?
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio – a state Trump won convincingly in 2016 – says some workers there are increasingly disillusioned over the president’s failure to deliver. Many lost their jobs when factories like the General Motors plant in Lordstown shuttered their offices, says the 67-year old Democrat.
“We’re sensing and seeing a betrayal of workers and promises broken over and over again,” he told the New York Times last August.
The senator has proposed several bills that he says would allow tax incentives for companies that invest in the United States – and, hopefully, pay workers well.
Parts of this article originally appeared in a report written by Sophie Pezzuto for The Conversation.