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Looking Back

Michelle Freridge
Two years ago, I entered the adult entertainment industry and deliberately tried to understand how it functions from an objective point of view. Based on my experiences in the industry over the past two years, it seems to me that adult is at a crossroads in American politics, culture and business, and there are two focus points that are tangled together: 1) sexually explicit content and 2) industry business practices.

Clearly, there is a moral and political attack on sexually explicit content in progress that is more conservative than anything this industry has seen in years. Constitutionally, free speech arguments in litigation and lobbying are the most effective and the best tool for this job. I mean "best" in the sense of creating the most positive long-term political, cultural and business impact.

The attack on industry business practices is more difficult to fight against in part because of a checkered history that still taints the industry today. This taint of "illegitimacy" is not just in the minds of the general public or the industry's detractors; it is common among many people in the industry as well.

In spite of the fact that today adult entertainment is as legitimate (though less organized and less powerful) as Hollywood and the music industry, many industry folks see their businesses (and especially their competitors) as "ugly," "corrupt" and "morally bad." Although there are bad apples in every barrel and crooks in every industry, these bad apples do not characterize an entire industry such as Hollywood the same way they do the adult entertainment industry.

Changing this internalized negative image is the key to fighting the negative images in the media.

How can we claim to be responsible, respectable, everyday business people when in the back of our heads, and in our hearts, we believe that we are not only different from (read not as good as) all other businesses but that what we do is wrong? Not all industry folks feel this way. There are many people in the industry who have very positive images of themselves, their business and the industry as a whole.

But these self-hating industry folks seem to fall into three categories.

First, there are business people who use good business practices but believe that the rest of the industry is made up of immoral crooks. As a result, they keep themselves entirely separate, or they attack the people they believe are "wrong" and are unwilling to associate with other industry businesses, let alone work together toward a common goal.

Second, there are many small-business people who do not know very much about doing business or about the industry but get into it because of the potential financial rewards. They simply do whatever seems like the cheapest way to do business and make the most short-term profits. As a result, some of these folks make poor business decisions and may cross the line of legal business practices out of ignorance and shortsightedness. Finally, a small number of high-profile people who identify themselves as "rebels" and "outlaws" do not see themselves as business people at all but live out their porn image and do business from that identity. As a result, their business practices are often unprofessional, abrasive to others in the industry and offensive to the general public. Some of these folks (but not all) may cross the line of legal business practices in areas of the law that have nothing to do with sexually explicit content.

Interestingly enough, the high-profile and constant argument within the industry about sexually explicit content, self-censorship and content that is "extreme" or "too hard" misses the whole point. Business practices with issues that address public and government concerns that are not tied up in moral or religious rhetoric are the deeper issue that the adult entertainment industry must be responsible for in order to grow into its potential as a powerful industry.

This industry is legal. This industry in an economic engine that generates tremendous profits, employment, taxes and is good for the American economy. This industry is driven by millions of consumers who enjoy healthy adult sexuality in the privacy of their homes. This industry can be modern, professional and respectable. Some companies already enjoy that reputation.

This industry could be very powerful, but it has to be organized, and in order to organize effectively, we have to address the image we have of ourselves, each other and the public image of the industry. The best way to address that image is to focus on the reality of industry business practices and promote positive professional best practices.

All three of the types of folks described above contribute to the ongoing negative image of the industry in their own way. The cure for a poor image is not denial or the promotion of a few individual companies or faces; the cure is the promotion of a positive reality, an open display of the adult industry's best business practices and a commitment from the industry to hold each other accountable to a code of ethics. In every powerful industry, you will find a similar infrastructure that holds the industry together and furthers its best interests.

As I leave my position with the Free Speech Coalition and pass the torch to a new, as yet unnamed leader, I invite each and every businessperson to look at the FSC as part of the solution. The FSC, the industry trade association, is your tool to generate the power to fight back against the attacks on the industry (and on you) in public policy, law and public relations. The draft Code of Ethics and Best Practices proposed for the industry is the first step to a long-term permanent solution of the negative image of the industry.

A draft of the Code of Ethics and Best Practices can be found at Free Speech Coalition's website at FreeSpeechCoalition.com.

Michelle Freridge was the executive director for the Free Speech Coalition from October 2004-October 2006. Freridge is a nonprofit executive with more than 12 years of experience in strategic planning, administrative excellence, financial oversight and fundraising success, as well as effective legal and legislative advocacy.

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