Ours is a hot-button industry, at best in a good way, in which politics and business are wired very close together. In the middle of an election cycle already way over into O.T. and plenty of bottom-line troubles of our own, the last thing we’re eager to do is go out and engage a few more ideological opponents in the public square, but it’s precisely the timing that makes this urgent.
Much of the derisive talk about the “pornification” of American culture is blowback from our own attempts to gentrify the more upscale precincts of smut into the bigger, richer neighborhood of trash, including WWE wrestling, reality TV and celeb gossip. Those efforts toward even pseudo-respectability have paid real dividends for the larger porn players, and for late-night premium cable nets, but it’s come at the cost of supplying our most ardent foes with lots of extra ammo. The Internet has been most helpful to them in the same way.
The censorship industry is hugely profitable. As is always said of porn, reliable numbers are hard to come by, but the dollars are there, in the collection plates of James Dobson’s church, in the book sales and lecture fees collected by authors like Robert Jensen and Pamela Paul, in the government grants handed out to leftist agitators such as Melissa Farley, whose political views are entirely hostile to Bush administration dogma on all other issues, for “research” proving that legal prostitution in Nevada is a cause of social blight.
And many of the dollars collected are tax-exempt by way of religious or charitable connections, however dubious, which make them good dollars indeed.
If we made good money selling a somewhat sanitized image of what we do to a rather skeptical public over the past few years, why wouldn’t those who viewed those profits with both envy and alarm not do as much for themselves by riding the swing of the public opinion pendulum toward a much uglier image of what we do?
None of these developments, representing largely inevitable demographic processes, can be prevented, nor should they be.
We of all people need to walk the walk when it comes to freedom of expression, including those claimed by voices we’d rather not hear.
They’ve got a right to an opinion, but we don’t have to help them sell it. And by our inaction, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
That, among other reasons, should be motivation enough to pursue legal remedies against those who work either the tent-show revival circuit or the university lecture tours, showing giant powerpoint images of box covers, advertising, web pages and screen captures of work made with our own money. We don’t need to silence these tubthumpers, as they like to accuse us of doing whenever they get on Fox TV, which is often.
But if the FBI warning we put up at the headers of our DVD programs mean anything, they make it clear that what follows belongs to those who created it and anyone else who puts it to unsanctioned use over our objections does so at their own risk.
Moreover, even more ominous than the opposition’s indifference to intellectual property rights, which they dismiss under the “fair use” doctrine as attempts to suppress reasonable criticism and commentary, is their blatant defiance of 18 U.S.C. 2257. They aren’t just tilting the playing field, they’re moving the goal posts, flooding the stadium and drugging the refs.
At this very moment, you can go to the recently created URL of anti-porn feminist campaigner Gail Dines (so wonderfully deconstructed by the indispensable Penn Jillette on a mid-summer episode of his Showtime series “Bullshit”), StopPorn Culture.org and download a “slideshow” prepared by Dines, Bob Jensen and their colleague Rebecca Whisnant meant as a “teaching aid” for those wishing to alert their contemporaries to the “harms” of “pornstitution,” as that crowd likes to call it. You’d think such clever phrasemakers could sell their wares without appropriating ours, but nooo.
There are 140 slides in that presentation, virtually all containing examples of either the packaging of X-rated magazines and videos, or examples from inside that packaging. Trademarks and brand names are clearly displayed, along with the most disturbing images of the contents of that packaging they could get their mitts on.
Dines and her pals have been screening this clumsy piece of agitprop all over the country for the past couple of years. Now, evidently, they’ve decided to slop it onto the web where anyone might see it.
And I do mean anyone. A simple mouse click declaring that the viewer is over 18 gets you right past a front door that names no keeper of records, identifies no location where records are kept and offers none of the statutory warnings required by federal law to ward off minors.
These “secondary producers” don’t have the records proving that all performers shown in their “productions” are over 18. We do.
What’s needed is a combination of opposition research, as its known, and appropriate legal action. We need to send observers to public programs and electronic venues where our work is being shown without our permission and under conditions that we would never permit.
Let’s not forget that the most disturbing of all the counts lodged against John Stagliano concerns the exposure of a trailer for an X-rated video in such a fashion that it might be viewed by minors, even though no specific minors are alleged to have seen. Certainly, dragging that Powerpoint horror show around from campus to campus creates a much larger danger of such a thing happening.
Of the 140 screens in the Stop Porn Culture road show, 29 contain non-2257-compliant images of explicit sex, for a total of 88 such images. Under the law as written, that’s 440 years’ worth of prison time, and if we went about our affairs with such blatant disregard for that law, you can bet we’d serve every minute of that time.
That’s why we need to alert the authorities, as we routinely do when we become aware of trafficking in child pornography, as soon as we become aware of our adults-only creations being tossed casually about where anyone can see them.
And while the fair use issue may well be legitimate, the particular nature of the images professional pornbashers use requires evidence of consent on the part of those who participated in making them, and we are the only ones to whom that consent was given and the only ones with the right to assign it.
I know no one wants to pay more legal fees or invite more official scrutiny, but if we really are the legitimate enterprise we claim to be, we must respond to the deliberate and destructive misuse of our products by those whose agenda is to put us under just as we would to pirates who merely wish to steal us blind.