opinion

A Call for Self-Regulation

Joanne Cachapero
Porn patriarch Bill Margold is sending out a warning to the industry at large: Self-regulate or suffer the consequences. Calling for the formation of an organization he would like to see called AMERA, or the Adult Media Entertainment Responsibilities Association, Margold has outlined a proposed code of standards and ethics that includes, as he puts it, "the common 'sense-orship' of extreme hardcore material, so the mainstreaming of triple-X can continue without further abhorrent, reckless and offensive creations."

"I'm calling for the end of extreme hardcore material," says Margold, "which is the crux of what AMERA is all about."

Based on what he originally called the Six-Point Plan, Margold has further suggestions for regulations: a 21-and-over age rule for performers in hardcore scenes, compulsory IV drug testing along with HIV testing currently required, refusal to employ performers that are escorts (outside of legitimate houses of prostitution) and boycotting foreign talent who lack legal documentation to work in the U.S. Finally, a legislated "porn tax" akin to taxes already levied on alcohol, gambling and cigarettes, which Margold says would legitimize the adult industry in the eyes of the federal government.

"I think that society is sick and tired of what we are vomiting upon them," Margold says, "and I think they would like us to tone it down, so to speak."

Citing the furor over revised 18 U.S.C. § 2257 record-keeping regulations and public scrutiny brought on by the seemingly inevitable mainstreaming of adult entertainment, Margold's motivations appear genuine. When he speaks, his opinions are filled with respect for the industry and concern for the performers he calls "kids."

But he also is keenly aware of his phrasing, with a showman's knack for speaking in quotable language, and he readily admits that he hopes his comments will be "incendiary." Whether he is a visionary advocate for adult entertainment or an anachronism crying out that the sky is falling remains to be seen. Even more difficult to determine is whether people in the industry will find his proposals worth consideration, or misguided and unnecessary, or if they will pay any attention at all.

Hardcore Response
Max Hardcore is a man of extremes. Describing the content featured on his website, MaxHardcore.com, he says, "I've always been at the leading edge, the pointy end of the stick when it comes to hardcore. I've always pushed the envelope."

Like other content producers in the extreme niche, Hardcore has confronted his share of legal and ethical issues and concedes that extreme hardcore may bring unwanted attention to adult entertainment.

"There's a certain segment of society that feels very strongly about extreme content and, moreover, any pornography in general," Hardcore says. If it were up to them, even magazines like Playboy would be banned."

"Artists, writers and philosophers down through history have been persecuted for their beliefs and their works, but that doesn't mean their work was wrong," he adds.

"Shocked and dismayed" at what he feels is Margold's promoting censorship within the industry, Hardcore says, "If we go one step towards self-censorship and reducing a certain output, in this case extreme work, then what's next? One might suggest, 'Let's not show any penetration,' until you can't do anything anymore. So, no, I think it's dead wrong and I'm totally against it."

Margold's ideas are radical in their conservativism, especially coming from a performer whose career began in the 1970's when the production and distribution of pornography was still considered illegal. In 1986, he testified before the Meese Commission on obscenity in support of the adult industry and was a pioneer in paving the way for what is allowable today.

His comments also stir up a mish-mash of gray areas and fine lines relating to freedom of speech, definitions of obscenity and censorship, further confused by the current administration's anti-obscenity stance and changing societal trends, which indicate a growing acceptance of adult material.

What's Extreme, Now?
At 62, Cousin Stevie of Showtime's Family Business fame is a contemporary of Margold. Stevie calls into question the fundamental issue of defining what is "extreme."

If Margold's goal is to impose limitations that would create a kinder, gentler type of porn, then Stevie asks, "Who's gonna define what's extreme? Me? You?"

"Years ago, anal was extreme," he says. "Anal isn't extreme anymore; it's in almost every video... What's a hardcore scene? It goes back to defining things, and I'm opposed to defining."

Addressing age limitations, Stevie was willing to consider a 21-and-over rule especially, he says, "If that's what gets the government to back-down off this 2257 stuff, then I certainly agree with that."

To some extent, he supports the idea of an advisory committee, adding, "We need to organize, have meetings and vote on what we think are important issues. It's a multi-billion dollar industry. The electronics industry has theirs, the film industry has theirs, and we really should."

Suggesting "a sub-committee under the Free Speech Coalition that talks to people from a legal advisor standpoint about what they think they can allow," Stevie says he would like to see more industry unity, not further fragmentation. "To have another group that might be opposed to what another group is saying, I think is a major mistake."

FSC Alliance?
Margold responds by saying he would not be opposed to AMERA affiliating with the FSC, though he visualizes "a group that is concerned about the preservation of X in the entertainment alphabet on a psychological, philosophical and humanitarian basis."

Ultimately, technology and the consumer may decide what type of content is accessible. Joone, vice president and creative director at Digital Playground, was philosophical in his response to regulation of content.

"The problem is that as much as you want to police the U.S, you can't police the world, and the Internet has no boundaries," he says. "So, I don't know; if somebody is downloading something from Germany into the U.S., how would you protect the innocent? You can lobby and do as much as you want here, but you're not going to stop it, and that's the problem. To stop it, you have to take away the Internet, and I don't think that's going to happen."

While allowing a broader audience to access adult material, the Internet also has invited unprecedented scrutiny of what was once an underground phenomenon. Technology for the purpose of limiting access to certain types of content seems to be perpetually racing to keep up on the information highway.

With the onset of cellphone downloads and podcasting, major wireless carriers such as Cingular, SBC Communications and Verizon recently announced plans to comply with voluntary guidelines issued by CTIA, the wireless industry's largest trade group. Wall Street guru Jim Cramer, on his MSNBC show Mad Money, stated that by adopting ratings systems for audio and video content, he believes this will leave the door wide open for cellphone delivery of pornography. When asked if the Federal Communications Commission might crack down on cellphone porn, Cramer stated "that's exactly why the private companies designed their standards: to get the FCC off their backs."

Corporate Adult
This all strangely underscores what Margold is suggesting. "As adult becomes more and more corporate, it becomes more and more susceptible to the mainstream and vice versa," he says. "It becomes more and more commonplace. Every bit of that underground onus has been eliminated because of the Internet."

"I think Bill's heart is in the right place," Jim McAnally says. McAnally is the proprietor of GonZo.com and consultant for AEBN.com and EarlMiller.com. "He realizes that industry regulation is inevitable. If the regulation doesn't come from the inside, you can bet that regulation will be imposed at the federal level or, even more likely, from outside corporate pressure."

Margold agrees: "If an outside force does it because there is so much money available, we won't like it if somebody else does it to us."

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