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Hold the Champagne

Hold the Champagne

January 19, 2009
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" "We're a fairly successful but even more visible vice business in a socio-political climate that's both anti-vice and anti-business." "

As we're all finally coming to understand, it's impossible to discuss financial issues intelligently without taking politics into consideration. Starting at the top, we need to face the fact, clearly understood by both gentlemen in question, that Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. Bubba wasn't exactly a friend to porn, what with his ink at the bottom of both the CDA and the original iteration of 2257, but he was willing to let it pass by with a nudge and wink. He did disband the Justice Department's anti-porn unit and there were no adult obscenity prosecutions under his administration.

While I don't fear Obama pandering to the religious right with such prosecutions in the future, I don't think he has a nudge or a wink in him. He may have a pretty clean, if short, voting history on First Amendment issues as a legislator, but he and his subordinates may be open to arguments from their own side of the fence that could work against us more damagingly as a group than the scattershot indictments favored by his predecessor.

The most ominous sign of what may lie ahead is the Obama campaign's altogether-too-cozy relationship with U. Michigan law professor and radical feminist porn-basher nonpareil Catherine MacKinnon.

Back in the Eighties, tribal elders may recall, MacKinnon led a headline-grabbing attempt to legally define pornography as a form of sex discrimination, thus opening its creators to potentially ruinous civil litigation. That plan ultimately failed due to opposition from civil libertarians, mainstream feminists and, ultimately, appellate courts. But the strategy it represents lives on, and MacKinnon still advocates it vocally.

What she hasn't been particularly vocal about until recently is presidential politics, but when Obama was struggling with feminist resentment for trumping Hillary Clinton, MacKinnon came off the bench for him with a big endorsement in that peerless tribune of progressive thought, the Wall Street Journal. She stumped for him. She helped him. He owes her. That's the way the game is played in the part of the country political class from which both hail.

Though MacKinnon's brand of anti-porn zealotry was largely marginalized during this industry's great expansion over the past 10 years, it's recently seen a spurt of new activism, particularly on college campuses. Every day, it would seem, a new anti-porn feminist blog or antiporn feminist documentary like the Reefer-Madness-style "documentary" "The Price of Pleasure" appears on the scene.

Looking more closely at the recent election, we see some seemingly contrary currents at work in a way that shouldn't be ignored. Obama won by a few points against the most unpopular president since Hoover, against a campaign that will be studied in the history books as a negative example, but other victories that day suggest he received no mandate for sexual liberation. Three states, including California, had constitutional amendments on their ballots banning same-sex marriage. All three won. In San Francisco, arguably America's most tolerant city, an initiative to decriminalize prostitution was soundly defeated.

Clearly, a nation waking up with a very bad economic hangover from years of overindulgent consumerism, of public piety and private vice, was in no mood to party. Why indeed would so many people vote to strip others of a right so basic to personal happiness? That they did suggests more a longing for the past than a hope for the future.

All of which brings us to the prospects of not only diminished discretionary income with which to buy what we make, but potential regulations that could add to our troubles when it comes to making what we make.

I would never previously have expected this state to embrace some of the preposterous schemes to legally enforce some kind of safe-sex regimen in the creation of sexually explicit media, such as have been suggested by a few public health officials in these parts since 2004, but after Proposition 8, I'm not so sure. I used to consider myself lucky to live in a pretty tolerant part of the country, but I don't feel quite so lucky at this point.

Add to these newly exposed veins of public narrow-mindedness a generalized enthusiasm for greater regulation of commerce brought on by an orgy of madly destructive laissez faire capitalism, throw in some resurgent identity politics, and you've got a recipe for official meddling made worse by the lack of any serious attempt to oppose it.

Those opposed to Proposition 8 did not have their shit together. Neither do we. After years of identifying the religious right as our principle opponents and the particular politicians they supported as our greatest threats, we're dug in with all our guns facing the wrong direction.

We're a fairly successful but even more visible vice business in a socio-political climate that's both anti-vice and anti-business. How badly can this really affect us? Look to Europe for some dark hints. Left-of-center Social-Democratic governments on much of the continent have recently sought to re-define what we think of when we use the word "European."

The U.K.'s new ban on "extreme pornography," championed by anti-porn feminists like Catherine Itzkin, makes possession of materials depicting a variety of simulated acts criminal for the first time. In Holland, banks taken over as part of a government bailout are cutting off the merchant accounts of X-rated websites while Amsterdam city officials shutter the windows of the city's fabled redlight district. In Sweden, patronizing prostitutes is now illegal and Norway seems prepared to enact a similar law. Germany, once the major source of the kind of porn banned under the U.K. statute now imposes some of the strictest regulations on lawful pornography in the industrialized world.

While much of this had been done under the rubric of halting human trafficking and preventing violence against women, evidence suggests that these laws have only brought back old abuses from earlier attempts of prohibition, but that hasn't stopped the steady march of such measures across the E.U.

What form might similar infringements take here? That's exactly what we don't know yet. We can probably assume they won't be content based. That's a third rail for liberal politicians the way gun control is for their conservative counterparts. But it's a safe bet that efforts to control access to adult Internet content, which has become a central rallying point among anti-porn activists right and left, will intensify and efforts aimed at "reducing demand" by treating pornography possession as an enhancement to the severity of other offenses and assorted restrictions only lawyers can devise are not unlikely.

Our best bet for now is to strengthen our ties to our traditional political allies, First Amendment supporters and mainstream media producers who might be the next targets of "regulation for the public good," by mounting a strenuous effort to make our own case to the public before those who despise us and seize control of the high ground amid a generalized anhedonic funk gripping the nation.


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