Can pornography save stories?
Let me start with a confession. I’m one of the reasons Sense8, the envelope-pushing show by the sisters Wachowski, was cancelled by Netflix. Like too many of you, I didn’t watch it. I had heard it was radical and impressive and well-cast, but it never quite made it near the top of my watch-list. In recent times, Netflix has gone from enabler to executioner and has begun to guillotine underperforming shows, and Sense8—chopped off after season 2—was one of those casualties I heard about and shook my head. It’s always sad when something genuinely different gets axed before it can realize its full, awesome potential.
Fans of the show did more than shake their heads. Sense8 is a show about eight psychically interlinked strangers in different parts of the world, and it evidently broke down doors of diversity and normality, across races and sexuality. All that, plus season 2 ended in a cliffhanger. A proud war cry was tweeted around the world, and proved loud enough for Netflix to allow Lana and Lilly Wachowski to complete the story they were telling. They announced that there will be a feature-length final episode next year to give the fans and the storytellers closure.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
xHamster, one of the leading porn sites, has thrown its unlikely (and possibly made of zipper-encrusted leather) hat into the ring by suggesting that the Wachowskis come to their site and make their show without creative interference. “We’re not talking about a parody, or something less than, but an actual revival of the series,” reassures the letter from xHamster, adding that they “get more visitors daily than The New York Times, ESPN or the Daily Mail. In short, we have the eyeballs, and the revenue.”
This sounds patently absurd. A critically encouraged show by two major league film-makers produced by and streaming on a naughty website? Preposterous... and yet rather tantalizing, both from a storytelling and a fluid-sexuality standpoint. This is, after all, a show involving “polymorphous perversity”, and perhaps it may actually work better in an already sexualized environment among a significant percentage of viewers who are, shall we say, open to extreme ideas.
As creators, it is well worth considering what would happen to a television show if you threw hard-core sex into the equation. The potential of fiction positioned at the opposite end of censorship is tremendous and unexplored. The hypothetical questions raised are amazing: Will explicit sex add to the verisimilitude or will it distract from the drama? Will audiences seeking adult entertainment find that all this plot and narrative interferes with their porn, or will rival pornographers begin to tell actual, non-pizza-delivery stories?
Also—perhaps most importantly—will the next Game Of Thrones spin-off turn us all into alarmed and revolted young heirs, accidentally chancing upon seriously weird incest when all we wanted was to playfully climb a tower?
“Sense8 is already a very sex-forward show but I do think that it could be more explicit,” Alex Hawkins, vice-president of xHamster, told GQ magazine. “But really, that’s up to the Wachowskis and the actors. We just want to be a platform for their vision.” These are just the kind of sounds creators want a producer to make, and quite frankly, making the right sounds is the easiest part of producing. There is much room for scepticism, considering the incredible publicity xHamster has garnered outside of its dedicated user base with this generous offer, and the possibility that if taken up on their offer, they may turn into yet another financier who demands enough flesh for its pounds.
The likelihood of xHamster actually producing a future season of Sense8 is pretty darned low, to be honest. The property is owned by Netflix and they aren’t likely to fork it over, not least because it’ll make them look like un-creative ogres. Also, the Wachowski sisters haven’t officially responded to the benevolently written offer in any way. To be completely honest, this is as valid an offer as me telling Beyoncé she’s free to come shoot her next music video in my living room. It’s just that xHamster has a gigantic living room that far too many people evidently visit.
The offer does also—very importantly—open up the idea that any site can come in and produce the next big thing. You don’t need a track record to back something you love, and the internet ensures that everyone can stream everything, all around the world. Will this lead to a proliferation of patrons trying to maintain and even exceed television’s golden age? As pipe dreams go, it’s a pretty pleasant one.
There is one thing that makes me want to believe in this scenario, and that is the fluidity of the Wachowskis. Born as brothers, the Matrix directors smoothly transitioned into sisters over the years, and I believe Lilly and Lana, women who have embraced differences, might be less judgemental of a website giving people pleasure in a way that is not traditionally considered above board.
At the very least, I hope xHamster or other red-band websites get to produce some good storytelling, even if it isn’t Sense8. Just think of the time the world will save from having to clear its browser history.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online.
The writer tweets at @rajasen
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