In October, Sen. Sam Brownback called for a new investigative government commission that would examine adult entertainment's effects on society — along the lines of the Meese Commission on Pornography. The Kansas Republican is a blistering opponent of adult entertainment, which he believes has had "devastating effects on families and children"— and presumably, Brownback is hoping that a sequel to the Meese Commission would provide "evidence" that sexually explicit material is harmful to society, demonstrating the need for more obscenity prosecutions.
Whether the Meese Commission sequel that Brownback envisions will actually become a reality remains to be seen; at this point, it is merely a suggestion. Several prominent figures in the adult industry who were interviewed for this article, including Layne Winklebleck (legislative affairs associate for the Free Speech Coalition), 1st Amendment attorneys Gregory Piccionelli and Lawrence Walters and former adult film star Bill Margold, all told XBIZ that they would welcome a serious scientific study of the societal effects of adult entertainment because they believe that such a study would show adult entertainment to have many positive effects. However, all of them fear that the commission Brownback has in mind would not be a serious scientific study but rather, a kangaroo court with a strong anti-erotica bias, which is exactly how many adult industry supporters view the Meese Commission.
Held in 1985 and 1986 — when Ronald Reagan was serving his second term as president of the U.S. and Edwin Meese III was his attorney general — the Meese Commission was not the first time the federal government studied adult entertainment. That commission was preceded by the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, which was appointed by President Johnson but did not conclude until 1970, when Richard Nixon was president.
Johnson's commission decided that there was insufficient evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials played a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior — a conclusion that Nixon vehemently disagreed with. Reagan ordered the creation of the Meese Commission, Walters explained, because social conservatives were so disappointed by the 1970 commission's findings.
"The Meese Commission was a direct response to the 1970 commission, which came to the conclusion that there is no harm caused by pornographic materials," Walters recalled. "Richard Nixon didn't like that conclusion at all, and Ronald Reagan and Ed Meese didn't like it at all — and so, with the Meese Commission 15 years later, the instruction was clearly given to come up with a different result this time and to make sure they found that there were serious social problems associated with pornography. The Meese Commission was a nonscientific value judgment that used a bunch of emotional arguments as to why adult material is problematic and harmful, and I expect that with the commission that Brownback is calling for, there would be the same type of nonsense and junk science this time around. There would be no objectivity, no balance and no recognized experts in the field."
One person who Walters believes would be a valuable participant in a genuinely scientific study of adult entertainment's societal effects is Dr. Marty Klein, a well-respected marriage counselor and sex therapist who has written five books. Because Klein is both a proponent of adult entertainment and someone with a long history of fighting to keep marriages together, Walters asserted, he is exactly the type of person who should be heard in a "Gonzales Commission" (as in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) or "Brownback Commission," should such a commission be assembled. But Walters seriously doubts that Brownback and others on the Christian right would welcome the input of Klein and other professional sexologists.
Phil Harvey, president of Adam & Eve/PHE Inc., doesn't think that a Meese sequel will come about; the anti-erotica findings of the Meese Commission, Harvey said, have been seriously discredited in the scientific community, and a Meese sequel during Bush's second term would only make the Bush administration look ridiculous.
Harvey asserted, "The negative secondary effects of adult entertainment that are often claimed — like loss of property values, an increase in violent crime and so on — have all been found to be hollow. In fact, there is new scientific research demonstrating that the increase in pornography on the Internet is associated with a decrease in rape."
But, Harvey added, Brownback and similar anti-sex ideologues are not going to be swayed by authentic scientific studies.
"For the group of people who despise the presence of sexuality in our culture," Harvey explained, "the key is to keep fighting. Sexuality scares that group of people, who believe that sexuality is harmful and that any form of sexuality that is visible in our society is a terrible thing. And they believe that it is their duty, under God, to do everything they can to suppress sexual material in America and the presence of sexuality in our culture. The proof of its badness is always going to elude them because the proof is not there, but that isn't going to slow them down. They feel it is their moral duty to stamp it out, and even if they can't stamp it out, they believe it is still their moral duty to at least attempt to stamp it out."
In part two, we'll look at alternative tactics and the possibility of another Meese Commission.