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Bi(partisan)-Curious

Q. Boyer
In discussing threats to the future of the American adult industry, it has long been fashionable to assert that the far right is the primary enemy facing our future. Conservative activist groups like Focus on the Family and Citizens for Community Values provide plenty of evidence for that assertion, and it's easy to fall into a dichotomous view of the politics of porn wherein Republicans represent would-be censors intent on banning porn, and Democrats are champions of free speech, under whose auspices the adult Internet industry blossomed into its current form.

If life were that convenient, then we could all vote Democratic and be comfortable that we were supporting an industry-friendly party. In truth, there is really no such thing as a pro-porn politician in America — certainly not at the national level, where even the most tangential connection to the adult industry can prove a political liability.

Let's face it, in a political climate where Republicans and Democrats agree on very little, one way to guarantee broad support for a legislative measure is to have it target online pornography. Yes, in this one narrow area, bipartisan politics is alive and well inside the Beltway.

Similarly, outside of the government, the Christian Right is hardly alone in being anti-porn. For decades, left-wing feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon have decried porn as both cause and symptom of a deeper, more sinister subjugation of womankind. More recently, noted linguist Noam Chomsky added his pedantic voice to this "all porn is degrading to women" chorus on the left, as well.

These figures from feminist left are as ideologically far from Focus on the Family as it is possible to be on most subjects (like abortion, for instance), but they are oddly in-step with the likes of James Dobbins when porn is the subject at hand.

The good news is that American support for the adult industry where it matters most — among consumers and producers of porn — is solidly bipartisan, as well.

Cruise any of the popular industry message boards and you'll find ample evidence of Republican business owners and webmasters. Any thread calling out industry Republicans is answered quickly and forcefully, and while many of these exchanges amount to substance-free pissing matches, they underline a crucial point: Those who support the right to create and consume porn are as politically diverse as those who would have it banned.

Just as it would be a strategic error to focus on the religious right and ignore the threat to our industry posed by the feminist left, it would be a mistake to assume that all potential allies are to be found on the same side of the aisle, as well.

As so-called Web 2.0 features are increasingly adopted by adult websites, we are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to directly involve our customers in the discussion about the "Right to Porn." At its core, that right is their right, as without their right to consume the adult entertainment products we create, our right to create those products would be hollow — not to mention entirely unprofitable.

Rather than simply encouraging users to get out and vote, or trying to steer them toward supporting specific political candidates, we should be encourage our customers to make use of the forums we provide them to speak their mind about their right to obtain and view pornography. I'm not suggesting that we turn our commercial adult sites into political discussion boards, but by encouraging our members to have this discussion, we arm ourselves with further evidence that porn is something a significant portion of the voting public wants, and not merely something that we foist upon an aberrant and addicted few, as many of our critics claim.

In many ways, adult sites are an ideal forum for consumers to voice their opinions on porn. We offer a reasonably anonymous environment for expression, and their views are far less likely to be met with heavy-handed moral judgment from the reading audience than they would be in a mainstream forum.

Another benefit of encouraging such discourse is that these discussions add an element of serious political value to an adult website — something that could prove useful when defending against an obscenity charge. It's debatable whether this would actually help in court (or even be considered as evidence, given one court's recent ruling that Max Hardcore video trailers could be viewed as the "work as a whole" by themselves, separate from his website), but it certainly couldn't hurt.

Speaking of courts, the one venue in which the adult industry appears to have been racking up an unbroken series of victories is the court of public opinion. Over time, the all-important community standards that underpin the Miller test have been steadily trending in favor accepting greater and greater degrees of sexual explicitness.

It's easy to forget that less than 90 years ago James Joyce's "Ulysses" was banned in this country for being obscene. The obscenity trial targeting "Ulysses" stemmed from action taken by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, members of which were flabbergasted by the publication of an excerpt of the book's masturbation scene in a literary magazine, and took immediate action to block the full publication of the book in the U.S. The ban on "Ulysses" stood for 12 years, from 1922 to 1934, before being overturned.

One can only imagine that members of the NYSSV must have been spinning in their graves in 2007 when a New York jury returned a not guilty verdict on obscenity charges entered against Glenn Marcus, the webmaster of the severe BDSM website SlaveSpace.com. Marcus was convicted on sex trafficking and forced labor charges, but the jury acquitted him on obscenity, finding that the site's depictions were acceptable to the cosmopolitan community standards of New York City, and its thriving BDSM scene.

So we arrive at the best political news that the adult industry could hope for: in what many observers have described as a "war" against self-proclaimed arbiters of decency and defenders of the exploited, our side is winning. In fact, in a time when many companies are fretting about their financial bottom line, rampant content piracy and other negative trends, social acceptance of pornography is the one area in which the charts are heading in a positive direction.

In August 2006, attorney and author Frederick Lane appeared on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" to promote his book "The Decency Wars." During his interview of Lane, Stewart posed a rhetorical question that nailed squarely on the head a point that must be a source of tremendous frustration to porn's opponents, both right and left wing: "The free market has spoken on this issue: the people likey the porn."

What our opponents frame as an issue of decency, we frame as a matter of choice, of taste and of fundamental free-market-style liberty. In making that case, we should reach out across the political spectrum to all our potential allies, from the free speech liberals to free market conservatives and all points in between.

To define our allegiance strictly along party lines is to offer our hand to those who will never shake it. Instead let's offer that hand to our true supporters; the delightfully diverse population we call "customers."

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