Paid to watch porn, an Israeli dad insists it’s no dream job
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Paid to watch porn, an Israeli dad insists it’s no dream job

Jason Frederic Gilbert writes Hebrew subtitles for movies, some of them porn. (Hillel Kuttler)

Jason Frederic Gilbert writes Hebrew subtitles for movies, some of them porn. (Hillel Kuttler)

OHR YEHUDA, Israel (JTA) – During working hours, while his 4-year-old son is at nursery school, Jason Fredric Gilbert closes the door to his small home office — less to keep out the noise than to prevent his mother-in-law from walking in on him while he’s watching pornography.

It’s not as outlandish as it sounds: Watching X-rated films is Gilbert’s day job.

Gilbert, 37, works for an Israeli company that translates and subtitles foreign television shows and movies — including a sizable pornography portfolio — into Hebrew from English. The movies, once titled, are destined for stations offered by the major cable providers Yes and Hot. Domestically produced offerings, which are generally less popular, tend to end up on the website Pornhub.com, he said.

“The stuff we get for TV is pretty vanilla,” he said of the foreign X-rated offerings, primarily good-looking women having sex with hard-bodied men. “There’s no kinkiness, no fetishes, no bondage.”

Gilbert, who provides subtitles for about 30 X-rated films a year, calls it “healthy” porn, free from misogynistic or abusive behaviors or story lines — to the extent that pornographic films have story lines.

His job for the Tel Aviv company Trans Titles involves reviewing documents from the company’s translators and matching the dialogue’s Hebrew words to the scenes. Much of the translations follow perfunctory, predictable porn dialogue, he said: “Ooh,” “aah,” “Oh, God, Oh, God,” and “Want to go at it again?”

But smut does present some unique translating challenges. Colleagues often ask for Gilbert’s help in devising Hebrew versions for sexually explicit English idioms. When his creative juices aren’t flowing, Gilbert opts for transliterating the terms. 

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, once quipped that Israel will have become a normal country when Hebrew-speaking prostitutes and criminals roam the streets. He might have added to that list Zionist pornography subtitlers.

The reason Gilbert and others translate and subtitle porn in the first place is the same as why any foreign film or TV show must be translated and subtitled: Israeli law mandates it.

It’s an honest day’s work, perhaps. But titillating, not so much.

“You just zone out for two, three hours and move on” to the next assignment, he said of the X-rated portion of his job.

Gilbert had aspired to a loftier career, having studied film at Temple University in his native Philadelphia. He’s proud of the 2005 film he directed, “The Coat Room,” set in his hometown, and of a documentary he made in 2011 about his first year of marriage. (Both films are in English.) He’s also proud of his wife, Maya, who works for a technology company, and their son.

He became involved in X-rated films in 2003 after landing a position with hotmovies.com, a pornographic-film distribution company in Philadelphia. The work involved watching the movies and penning favorable blurbs for the firm’s website.

“I honed my writing, writing reviews for porn films. If you write 30 a day, you have to be creative — and write quickly,” he said.

Gilbert’s parents moved the family to Israel in 1987, when he was 10. He left for America in 1996 to attend college, then returned to Israel in 2007, serving belatedly in the Israeli army, where he produced, directed and edited recruitment films.

After being discharged, Gilbert interviewed at an advertising agency in Tel Aviv. While in the building he noticed another tenant, Trans Titles, and stopped in. He has been employed there ever since. 

His pay isn’t so hot: just over minimum wage, Gilbert said. (Minimum wage in Israel is about $1,075 monthly.)

Not all subtitling companies want to take on porn, however, since it can alienate family-friendly clients. Israel’s Elrom, which estimates that it dubs 90 percent of all foreign films shown in the country, dropped pornography from its portfolio three years ago after landing Disney as a client.

Trans Titles executives say pornography makes up only a small portion of the company’s work, and that it allows subtitlers opt out when they feel uncomfortable. But Gilbert isn’t fazed by the X-rated content.

He said he’s long been able to disconnect emotionally from all the filmed sex.

“I’ve seen enough porn for two lifetimes: straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, midget,” he said.

But Gilbert sometimes wonders what the point is.

“I can understand why you’d have a storyline leading to the sex scene,” he said, “but why do you have to subtitle the sex scene? No guy … is going to read the dialogue.”