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Photograph: Time Out

Inside the controversial Netflix documentary The Money Shot: The Pornhub Story

Behind the scenes with Martin Patriquin, the Montreal journalist featured heavily in the film, who tells us about breaking the story and his favourite dive bar.

Laura Osborne
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Laura Osborne
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It's the definition of Sex and the City.

An article published in The New York Times in 2020, which shared the experiences of multiple women who were sexually exploited as minors through having their assaults posted on Pornhub—a very popular adult-content website—gained a lot of attention.

Martin Patriquin, Quebec correspondent for The Logic, published an article that ran in The Logic about the Montreal-founded company behind Pornhub beforehand, and later in the National Post.

Director Suzanne Hillinger has created a documentary called Money Shot: The Pornhub Story, explores the platform's history and the ethical dilemmas that arise from user-generated pornographic content, with the city of Montreal as the backdrop.

Patriquin, featured heavily in the Netflix documentary The Money Shot: The Pornhub Story, shares how he got involved with the film, the biggest misconception about Pornhub and his favourite spots in Montreal.

How did you get involved with the Netflix documentary The Money Shot: The Pornhub Story?

Through the reporting that I was doing on MindGeek. I got the job at The Logic in 2019, and the focus, obviously, is tech startup and that kind of thing. Among the first things that I did was a big takeout on MindGeek, because fundamentally, Mindgeek is effectively a porn company because they own some of the biggest porn titles in the world. They're big tech without being big tech. So that's how I approached it, and that's the story that I wrote.

You’re referring to the story you published for the New York Times article came out?

I like to say it's the one that came out, I think it was three months before the Nicholas Kristof New York Times [piece], which had a bit more impact. But, yeah, I did it before that.

What was the biggest misconception about Pornhub before this documentary came out?

Prior to the New York Times stuff coming out, there's sort of two facets to it. There was Pornhub. Everybody knew about Pornhub because Pornhub had pretensions to the mainstream. If you look back before it all exploded, they were doing advertising with fairly big brands, Heinz included. They were sort of skirting the mainstream in terms of trying to get references of them on sitcoms and TV shows, and the whole wink-wink, nudge-nudge, pro-sexuality, pro-openness marketing of PornHub. What was interesting to me was how disconnected MindGeek was from Pornhub.

What is the relationship between MindGeek and Pornhub?

MindGeek, being the parent company with dozens of other pornography titles that it owns—but if you go on to their website there's no mention of any of them. I think the biggest reference that they had, or the most obvious reference was “adult titles” or something like that. It [MindGeek] basically pushed itself as a technology company that can get eyeballs in front of their product. And that was the interesting thing to me, because if you were a zombie and you happened to stumble on the MindGeek site, there is absolutely no chance of you having any clue that it had anything to do with pornography.

Pornhub
Photograph: Time Out/Shutterstock

Why is it important for Montrealers to watch this documentary?

Fundamentally, we talk a lot about how tech is huge in Montreal and it is. AI, Mila… there's a huge startup culture and video game culture in Montreal. But the big Kahuna, the one that started it all—one of the reasons that all of that is here—is because MindGeek got here first. And that sort of follows, in a weird way, exactly one of the themes in the documentary. Which is at the forefront of all technology on the Internet is pornography. Pornography is what drives because it's so pervasive. And because it's so pervasive, it's so lucrative. And because it's lucrative, people want to make the product not necessarily better, but get it in front of more eyeballs. 

The company itself is not Montreal-based, it's actually based in Luxembourg for, I think, tax and privacy reasons. But fundamentally, it is a Montreal company. Even to this day, there seems to be a pipeline from Concordia University to Mind Geek. The founders were from there, and the number of people that are Concordia alumni and work at MindGeek is actually astonishing.

What was the most unexpected thing that you’ve learned since you started covering this story in 2019?

It's one of the themes that the New York Times piece, the Nicholas Kristof piece, sort of tweaked on it a little bit, which was the extent to which it was Wild West. Despite what the company said. The company's line was always, “We have enough moderators to monitor every single piece of content that goes on the site.” It's not true. Or at least if that is the case, you have the world's crappiest moderators. Because they have terms of service like any other website. Stuff like “No content that features nonconsensual sex” and “No racism” and all this kinds of stuff. I could find this stuff with a few search words, and then I’d call the company up and say: “This is in your terms of service. This is what I found.” 

One of the things that wasn't in the documentary was when I put the N word into a bunch of their sites, it was replete. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views of these videos that are degrading, featuring racial tropes, everything—the kind of awfulness that you can imagine was there. And I call them up and I say: “This is on your site.” And they go, oh, thank you. And it would be gone half an hour later.

My point is that it was there at the beginning. It's not that they actively sought this stuff out. I don’t think they did. But it's just as bad because they were indifferent to it. In the wake of the piece that I wrote, I talked to a bunch of performers, and the performers themselves would say, people that were on Modelhub, for example, who made a living on Modelhub, would say: “We’ve been telling the company for years and years that this stuff is on there, and they didn't do anything about it. And now we are suffering for it because we can't process payment with Visa or Mastercard because of all this. Fundamentally, the performers that are on there, that make their bread and butter [on the site], suffered a fair bit because of the company's oversight—or lack of oversight.

As The Logic's Quebec correspondent based in Montreal, where’s your favourite watering hole?

I like Bar Courcelle in the summertime. And among my favourite biggest shitholes is a place called Taverne La Chic Régal. It's about 40 feet from my house, and it's a classic Quebec tavern. Cheap beer and hockey and VLTs (video lottery terminals).

Best cheap eats in the city?

I like the beef box, no fries, from Station Berlin. Also, the crispy chicken sandwich at Clarke's.

Favourite Montreal neighbourhood?

Pointe-Saint-Charles.

Milky Way Cocktail Bar
Photograph: Pointe-Saint-Charles | Elizabeth Gartside |@parfumdefemme

What’s the city’s best kept secret?

I can’t tell you that.

What about your favourite thing to do in Montreal that doesn't involve food and drink or porn?

That's like 90% of my time. Napping. I don't know. I'm going to sound like a dork, but I love biking, so I bike a lot on the Lachine Canal.

Lachine canal
Photograph: Amir El EtrLachine canal

Martin Patriquin is The Logic’s Quebec correspondent. He joined in 2019 after 10 years as Quebec bureau chief for Maclean’s. A National Magazine Award winner, he has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Walrus, Vice, BuzzFeed and The Globe and Mail, among others. He is also a panellist on CBC’s “Power & Politics.”

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