Patreon — A Study In Pussification
Pussification: the state in which a society becomes less and less tough[i]
When the comedian George Carlin used the term pussification[ii] he was referring to the introduction of Harley Davidson themed restaurants and the evidence they provided that the tough brand had sold out to the soft world of weekend motorcyclists. It was a sign that the brand was no longer about “grimy outlaws and their sweaty mamma’s” but had prettied itself up to cater for “pussy boy software designers.” He laments the downfall of the Harley Davidson brand and the promise into fraud and meaningless. There is no better word than to use to describe the recent experience of Patreon. Welcome to the world of Patreon’s pussification.
Patreon Has Changed
Jack Conte created Patreon as a way in which support for artists could be transformed into income. It was an institution created with the very best of intentions and with his blood, sweat and tears[iii]. He poured his heart into creating connections between artists and their fans and got himself grimy and sweaty in constructing the revolutionary platform. However, somewhere between 2013 and now, something changed. The indie values and beliefs they stood for became drowned out by commercialist pressures. Now, both the artists and patrons are losing out, and the world has important voices being lost in the process. Let me give you a real example.
The Future Sex Love Art Project is a 250-episode documentary project created by Missy Jubilee[iv]. With over 180 million views, it has become the most successful erotic art film project of all time. Missy’s films have created a genre of erotica that is sex-positive, creative, healthy, intelligent, truthful, autobiographical, entertaining and insightful. Missy is a strong and very real female character and bravely uses her body in the films as a metaphor for truthful, brutally honest storytelling about human sexuality. Of course, being the Series Executive Producer, I could seem a tad biased. However, I am not alone. Missy has received countless awards for her films, including from the Berlin Short Film Awards, Hollywood International Festival, The Global Film Awards, the Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival and the Hollywood Gold Awards. Over 100 film festivals have asked Missy to submit her films this year alone. Note — none of these festivals permit pornography.
So all of these people agree that Missy’s films have real artistic value. They also agree on one other important thing — they are not porn. That is, all agree except Patreon. Despite all of the acceptance, acknowledgement and accolades, Missy’s films have been labelled as pornography and withdrawn from the Patreon platform. Missy has lost access to her income, and her patrons have lost the ability to support what they believe in.
Missy has been showcasing her films and receiving support through Patreon since 2014. In an interview with Jack Conte in June 2021, he states that pornography was never allowed on Patreon. So, reversing this statement, because Missy’s work was allowed for the past eight years, it was not previously deemed pornography. So why is it now? What has changed? The fact is Missy’s work has not changed — Patreon has.
Google Would Be Proud
The fact is Patreon is now a global, booming internet company with over 210,000 creators on the platform. They have experienced phenomenal growth in the past few years. They are now playing in the same league as YouTube, Facebook and TikTok. It is a harsh reality, but the strategies that brought their success are not the same strategies that will sustain it. Jack acknowledges this[v] and knows they need to behave differently to survive in the big brutal world of global giants. They have aided this transformation by hiring in an ex big-wig from Instagram.
And in this new world, Patreon is no longer in control of its policies. Their payers such as Mastercard, Visa and Paypal are imposing their own upon Patreon, many of which have been protectively tightened due to embarrassing events such as their association with child pornography on Pornhub[vi]. Missy is not the only one caught up in this transition from authentic brands to commercial censors. Patreon has recently suspended many creators of “adult” work[vii] including Vex Ashley and Kate Victoria, and they have developed a creator content policy program to increase engagement[viii]. Without the big banks on board, Patreon can’t continue to grow, and we all know that growth is the most important mission, especially if you are looking to launch an IPO and attract public shareholders[ix]. While Patreon is looking into cryptocurrency to gain back some ‘freedom’, it is still unseen how this may work. While they are trying to figure it out, artists are losing their livelihoods.
Jack is also coming to terms with being the head of a huge organisation and not fully controlling how policies are both developed and applied. He now has 200 employees, of which roughly 20 work in the Trust and Safety area. These people are now acting as guardians of what is art and what is pornography. If they are under the direction of the ex-Instagram guy, then they would be applying a very strict and conservative measure indeed.
Patreon is now stuck in the netherworld of words and actions, just like Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson brandishes a logo that signifies strength and stability while bending and shaping itself to the whims of those with the highest disposable income. Patreon promotes itself as the provider of both artistic freedom and income security[x] — a claim that seems too good to be true. It is — because they develop and apply invisible and nonsensical boundaries and remove artists’ access to income instantly.
They pride themselves on connecting fans to their sources of inspiration and then have no qualms in severing this relationship in a flash. They profess their philosophy of creator-first, a 1–1 approach, and strive to help and serve. Their actions, though, suggest the use of robots (seemingly human?), repetition and an incredible sense of righteousness to maintain a world of black and white — in or out. Google and Amazon would be proud.
Mixing Commerce and Art — Who Loses?
Jack knows about the pressure that comes when you mix commerce and art and the trade-off’s that stare you in the face each day.[xi]. I do wonder how Jack is answering his own question right now:
“Am I doing this for me, or am I doing this for my audience?”[xii]
Because from where I am sitting, it appears that Patreon is no longer about supporting creativity. It is about being seen as clean. It is no longer about art. It is about commerce.
Patreon used to mean something. It used to support the grimy outlaws who were taking risks with their art for the good of humanity. It used to be there as a beacon for the sweaty mamma’s who were putting themselves on the line to bring awareness, enlightenment and inspiration. Now their conceit has them focusing on the soft shit that is more acceptable to the giants they have come to depend upon. They have traversed the line between patronage and politics. Yes, so many incredible artists benefit from the platform — they are the winners. But what about the ones you do not hear from? What about those that are not being supported? These are the losers.
What About The Patrons?
And just as importantly, what about the patrons? In the Patreon case with Owen Benjamin in 2020, it was found that banning a creator
“disrupts the economic relationship between Creator and Backer. In legal terms this is called tortious interference with a business relationship.”[xiii]
Every artist on Patreon has a relationship with the people who love and rely on their work for entertainment, inspiration or both. They are also willing to put their money where their mouth is to support it. So, two fundamental questions arise:
- How dare Patreon mess with the relationship between artist and patron?
- How dare Patreon tell grown adults, its ‘members’, what they can and cannot watch.
Every single adult on that platform chooses what to view. And every single person chooses what they will pay for. It is the conceit that interrupts this relationship that drives other creators, such as Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris, to leave the platform.[xiv].
Patreon’s Definition of Pornography
Of course, any platform has a right and an obligation to deny support for illegal activities, including such things as sexual abuse and violence. However, while you will find a policy on nudity on the Patreon site[xv], and the mention that adult content should be reserved for patrons only, there is no available policy on pornography[xvi] This is interesting given Jack’s response in an interview about how he defines pornography:
“we draw that line very thoroughly with a very long, explicit content policy. By the way, it’s written so explicitly — when you’re writing a content policy, part of the way we approach it is that it should be so detailed that you could take a person off the street with no training. They could come in, look at an image, read the text, and nine out of 10 times, they would make the same decision that the team would make.[xvii]
So, without access to this policy, one should be able to fall back to the creator benefit guidelines, which states:
“Here the question really comes down to what your patrons are paying for on Patreon[xviii]”.
Concerning Missy’s films, the viewers are not paying for sexual gratification — that is obvious in their testimonials, one of which puts it bluntly, describing them as
Another testifies these films bring greater understanding and empathy for the plight of women in the world.
“Your words bring my past foolish lack of compassion for the feelings of women into painful focus.”
The Future Sex Love Art Projekt patrons are not paying to see Missy’s body or make themselves feel horny. They pay for Missy’s honest portrayal of her hope, pain, confusion, despair, excitement. They are paying for her truth to better understand their own. They are certainly not paying for sexual arousal as is suggested by any other freely available definition of pornography.
It appears that Patreon is using invisible standards, improvised policies and the blunt axe of censorship to ‘protect’ their members and their stakeholder’s reputation. This is incredibly distressing as it serves to uphold ignorance, keep people blind to the real world of sexuality, and keep women voiceless and powerless players in the sex marketplace.
From an even larger perspective, the pussification of Patreon impacts the growth of our human species. For as George Carlin also very wisely said:
“If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.”
Continually suppressing those advancing the understanding and appreciation of human sexuality, in all of its complexity and its grimy, sweaty reality, will keep society pussified into gender stereotypes and simplified notions of sex. It will thwart our growth, acceptance and compassion and only prioritise the normalisation of violence and degradation that persists through pornography. We need intelligent alternatives to dumb and dangerous porn. The fact that Patreon feels compelled to withdraw support for these alternatives makes it an accomplice in the pussification of its patrons and the outlawing of human evolution.
[xvi] The Patreon website was checked on 13th February 2022