opinion

When Porn Meets Politics

Ernest Greene
Though I rarely talk about politics on this page, you can never entirely separate the business side of making X-rated videos from the political maelstrom that always surrounds the process.

Right now, with many producers' worry-buffers loaded to capacity from the growing financial complexities hammering their bottom lines, the last thing on their minds is what happens after an election still a year away.

In fact, I suspect the almost universal porn-trade calculus on this subject, to the extent that one has emerged, that a new administration in Washington almost can't help but be good news for the likes of us. After all, Dubya and his merry band of religious cranks have made life pretty much a misery for all of us, what with their enthusiasm for adult obscenity prosecutions and their attempts to saddle us with a 2257 revision, the requirements of which are essentially beyond compliance.

Worse, they've left us with a Supreme Court whose doors are barred to obscenity law challenges. But before we break into a hearty chorus of Ding-Dong the Witch Is Dead at the ever-more-likely prospect of an incoming Democratic presidency, we might stop to consider the possibility that we may be trading one witch for another (no gender insult intended here).

Assuming we do see a Democratic victory in the presidential contest, we can look back on the Clinton years for some reassurance regarding the likelihood of future obscenity trials.

Under Bubba, the Justice Department's adult obscenity unit was disbanded completely and not a single video was prosecuted for content under federal statutes in eight years. But that should not lull adult entertainment producers into complacency.

As much as conservatives love a good, high-profile obscenity case to feed their theocratic base, liberals have an anti-porn fifth column of their own to appease, and prohibition disguised as regulation of the sort exemplified in the 2257 mess might be just the approach they could use to satisfy that constituency.

While we've been preoccupied with the dark clouds over our right shoulders, we've neglected to check out the rear-view from the left, and it's not pretty. Anti-porn feminists, who had been largely marginalized during the hedonistic decade of blowjobs in the Oval Office, are staging a comeback, often in collaboration with elements of the religious right (a charge furiously and unconvincingly denied by both camps) and sometimes on their own.

Arguing that porn is a social evil as opposed to a moral abomination, they've gained considerable traction in traditional liberal bastions such as academia and mass media with new books like Pamela Paul's "Pornified" and Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs," retreading the old arguments about the ill effects of porn on women by generalizing them to society as a whole. The crowd that buys these books is firmly entrenched in some very strategic positions, including university administrations, the middle ranks of government bureaucracies and the second tiers of major publishing houses.

Behind the pseudo-hip hucksterism of slick pundits like Naomi Wolf lie anti-porn hostilities forged in women's studies classes and hardened by years of watching our industry expand despite their jeremiads against us. Now their turn may be at hand.

You may never have heard of Gail Dines, Melissa Farley, Nikki Kraft and Robert Jensen, but some of our potential future government appointees quite likely have. While this new strain of virulent MacDworkonite claims to oppose censorship, it's all for repressive regulatory schemes that could be imposed by a supposedly progressive administration in the name of "protecting" women and children from exploitation.

We can already see portents of their growing influence in Aura Bogado's arm-twisting of the anti-Iraq-War organization Not in Our Name (NION) into returning a donation from Larry Flynt, and Farley's growing campaign to abolish legal prostitution in Nevada. The leftist blogosphere is to mainstream liberalism what talk radio is to mainstream conservatism — a deadly menace to moderation, and it's overrun with anti-porn hysteria of the most virulent kind.

Looking at the potential composition of a Hillary Clinton presidency, it would be reckless and foolish to assume that these strident voices won't get a hearing for their extremist views. Let's not forget that it was Mr. Clinton who brought us the V-chip and the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Seeing how the 2257 rewrite has thrown us into disarray and how the backroom dealings of the Treasury Department and credit card billing companies have all but strangled certain kinds of perfectly legal content on the Internet, radical feminists and those liberals that they can shame into going along with their anti-porn agenda, can be counted on to pursue a line of attack that leads not through the courthouse but rather through the statehouses and halls of Congress.

Impossible to obey record-keeping laws aren't the only tools that could be put at their disposal. Back during the HIV imbroglio of 2004, we saw Cal-OSHA attempt to impose a blood-borne pathogen standard, meant for healthcare workers on the porn industry, that would have mandated not only condom use in all scenes involving the potential exchange of bodily fluids, but face masks and rubber gloves as well. As a director who makes a lot of fetish pictures, I could probably have lived with that, but clearly most producers couldn't have.

Even more sinister, in order for those regulations to have been imposed, it would have been necessary for the state of California to define all day-rate performers as employees. This would have been enormously costly to implement but, much worse, would have made it impossible for producers to require HIV testing as a condition of employment, which is forbidden by anti-discrimination laws in most states.

At the time, our great defenders at the ACLU made clear that they would dig in and fight any attempt to exempt porn from those statutes. Had these rules gone through, all legal porn producers in this state would have had to abandon HIV testing and adopt clumsy and genuinely unsafe barrier protections that would have been largely ineffective in the environment of porn sets, where sex is very different from the way ordinary civilians experience it.

In these proto-attempts lie the seeds of potential strategies that, if embraced by a regulation-prone Democratic administration, will make us all long for the good old days of Dubya and his gang of cynical hypocrites. Sincere do-gooders often make far more deadly foes than mere hacks and crooks. It would be a very foolish and dangerous mistake to underestimate the damage they could do us. Now is not a minute too early to begin formulating legal approaches to resisting the next wave of anti-porn hysteria and the bad law it will inevitably breed. Don't say I didn't warn you when the regulators come knocking.

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