8/24 Sex Workers Undermined By Capitalism w/ Dr. Heather Berg

August 24, 2022

Emma hosts Dr. Heather Berg, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University St. Louis, to discuss her recent book Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism. Emma hosts Dr. Heather Berg, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University St. Louis, to discuss her recent book Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism. Emma first dives into yesterday’s primary results in NY and Florida, walking through the crushing victories of socialists Krysten Gonzalez, Gustavo Rivera, and Jabari Brisport in New York City and Maxwell Frost in Orlando, before looking at real-estate and NYT-backed Dan Goldman’s victory despite three progressive candidates passing 10k votes. Then, she’s joined by Doctor Heather Berg as they dive right into her class-based analysis of porn and sex work, and how she came to this field of study, walking through the field’s historical focus on consumption and representation in the industry despite the intrigue Dr. Berg found in the grey market nature of the work, occasionally being criminalized and always a precarious element of the gig economy, leading her to look to the void of worker commentary on working conditions in the industry. After a brief conversation on the (unsurprisingly) laborious and mundane nature of this labor, and how it departs from other gig industries (much easier to work for oneself), Dr. Heather Berg and Emma walk through the history of porn and sex work in the US, beginning in the 1970s’ supposed “golden age” of porn, and why, despite the heralding of pieces like “Deep Throat” and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” the majority of pornographic productions in this era saw lower-budget films with lower-quality working conditions, before the switch to video in the 1980s saw profits soar, with better pay being met with longer work weeks and more hardcore productions meaning greater physical labor (and more anti-porn backlash from Christian fundamentalists). Alongside the video boom, the HIV/AIDS epidemic saw the beginnings of organizing in the industry, as sex workers and porn stars saw themselves at the forefront of the public health efforts, creating their own standards of testing across the industry, leading up to the digital boom of the 1990s, where a mass increase in piracy (largely supported by the production elements of the industry) saw workers’ claims to the fruits of their labor start to vanish, with companies like Pornhub springing up to centralize the production with limited redistribution of profits and offering a blueprint for the more clearly “gig” work of Onlyfans that would come about a couple of decades later. Wrapping up, Dr. Berg and Emma tackle the state of the industry today, exploring how the discriminatory policies and pay around certain identities come from the ingrained standards of the late 20th Century, the efforts of organizations such as BIPOC Adult Industry Collective not only to make demands of management but to provide the infrastructure for workers to become completely independent from management, and why the issues around working conditions in sex work and porn are not due to their nature as “sex” but their nature as work.

And in the Fun Half: Emma discusses Biden finally being pushed to do the bare minimum to address the student debt crisis (hitting both means-testing and grant-specific qualifiers), before Kowalski from Nebraska shares his take on the 10-20k in relief. Emma and the crew also tackle the brief fall of Andrew Tate, walking through Hasan’s debate with him, and James from Fort Worth explores book banning and Christian fundamentalism in schools. Jamaal Bowman has an expert response to the NY Democratic Party pitting progressives against each other, and Denis Prager endorses a Naz-so-bad slogan called the three Ks. Plus, your calls and IMs!

Check out Heather’s book here: https://uncpress.org/book/9781469661926/porn-work/

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