Hammer Hosts Lively Debate About Adult Business

Joanne Cachapero
LOS ANGELES — ‘Dirty Business — Should the Adult Industry be Saved?’ was the featured topic at a panel discussion held last night by the Zócalo lecture series at the Hammer Museum.

Issues discussed included the impact and importance of the adult industry to the economy of Los Angeles, workers rights and healthcare, as well as giving an insider’s viewpoint to the audience comprised of mostly mainstream attendees.

Moderated by Los Angeles Daily News columnist Mariel Garza, the panel speakers included Adult Industry Medical Healthcare (AIM) founder Sharon Mitchell, legendary adult performer Nina Hartley and her husband, director/XBIZ columnist Ira Levine, as well as Senior Vice President of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation Jack Kyser.

The event was held in the modern surroundings of the Hammer Museum with approximately 200 lecture goers in attendance.

The discussion began with the question, “What do you know about it, other than ‘Boogie Nights?’”

Garza described the adult industry as a vital contributor to the local economy — making millions in revenue and employing hundreds, despite being under-the-radar of most nonindustry people. And, similar to issues in various other entertainment media, Garza pointed out increased competition from the Internet, the higher cost of doing business and fluctuating public acceptance as concerns for the adult industry.

Kyser told the audience that estimated revenue for the adult industry was somewhere around $4.3 billion in video sales and more than $12 billion in overall revenue, but also warned that accurate figures were nearly impossible to obtain and had to be gathered from a variety of sources. He added that more people were employed in the adult industry in L.A. county, than had jobs in the area of software development, by comparison.

In terms of industry reporting, Kyser said that Adult Video News was a source of financial information, but cautioned that overall, “you can’t really trust [the data because] the numbers tend to be pushed up.”

Levine cited the title topic of the lecture, and said he didn’t feel the industry was endangered or in need of being “saved.”

Despite a lack of available marketing research or surveys, Levine felt that several factors influenced “growing pains” within the industry, including changing demographics, new media technologies, as well as explosive growth over the last two decades that has resulted in a correction in the ratio between current rates of supply and demand.

“That pain is widely distributed throughout L.A. — compared to the music industry, I’ll take our pain over theirs any day of the week,” Levine said.

Mitchell spoke to the health concerns of the industry’s population of performers, stating that nationwide there may be nearly 3,000 active performers at any given time, and that between 300-500 enter the industry every month. Her estimate for new performers was based on the amount of “Porn 101” informational kits handed out by AIM on a monthly average.

At one point, Garza asked for the panel to speak to the “human factor” of the industry and explain to the audience details of being employed as an adult film performer or crewmember.

From a performer’s perspective, Hartley pointed out that working in adult productions was like being a “highly paid blue collar laborer,” with the majority of performers entering the industry at a young age and then dropping in and out of the business over the course of six months to two years.

Levine estimated that the yearly income average for anyone working fulltime in the adult industry was near $60,000, despite the common misconception that the adult industry is a fast track to big profits. He said, currently, that performers have higher margins, in terms of financial profits, than most crewmembers, producers or distributors.

Addressing society’s moral climate toward the industry, Levine said that public opinion “waxes and wanes,” but pointed out that the industry should not be viewed as a platform to launch a career in mainstream entertainment and that, more often, would hinder any possibility of working in other areas of entertainment.

Hartley agreed, and said that despite her role in P.T. Anderson’s mainstream take on the adult industry in “Boogie Nights” as the only bonafide adult star in the cast, she was never featured in any promotional material for the film or asked to do any publicity, probably because studio heads frowned on the association with porn.

“They’ll use sex to sell everything,” Hartley said. “But they won’t use sex to sell sex.”

Sexually transmitted diseases ended up being the hot-button topic when the floor was opened to questions from the audience.

Several audiences members employed in healthcare expressed their surprise that there were any healthcare guidelines for the industry or that a facility like AIM existed to help facilitate a risk reduction model in the workplace.

Though Mitchell indicated that universal condom use for adult productions would be the “ideal” situation, she said that condom-only regulation, especially if it was imposed by governmental legislation, was not realistic or workable within a population of “rebels and renegades.”

In any case, she stated that STD infections in the active performing population were well below national averages, varying between 1.8 and 4.2 percent on a monthly average.

Performer and self-styled performer advocate Anita Cannibal tried several times to be allowed to ask a question of the panel. When she was unable to obtain the microphone from lecture staffers, she spoke up, asking Mitchell what the percentages represented.

Mitchell then responded that the numbers represented rates of infection for STDs other than HIV/AIDS.

Cannibal then disputed Mitchell’s findings with anecdotal evidence, stating that as a performer, she had contracted STDs on more than one occasion and knew of many other performers who had also been infected.

At that point, staffers asked Cannibal to leave the lecture hall.

After the event, Cannibal stated to XBIZ that she felt frustrated when she was not given the microphone and that she felt also she had been censored.

Also on hand to question the panel was Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of the STD Program for the L.A. County Department of Public Health, who spoke of the concerns for workplace safety and protection for industry workers,and asked Kyser if there had been any studies conducted comparing the human cost to the economic cost of protecting the workforce from potential exposure to STDs.

Kyser replied that such a study would be difficult to conduct due to the transience of the performing population, as well as the sexual habits of workers outside of production.

Levine added that legislated regulation was fraught with peril for performers and studio owners alike, due to complex legalities and suggested that any such study should make a comparison between STD rates in the adult industry, compared with infection rates in the general population.

A cocktail reception was hosted immediately following the lecture, where many audience members approached Hartley and Levine. Several of them indicated that they were interested in knowing more about how to become involved in the industry.

“I thought that we were very well represented,” Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane Duke said. “I though that Ira, Nina and Sharon were brilliant and they are a wonderful presence for the industry.”

“This panel answered quite a few myths and misconceptions about the industry,” Zócalo volunteer Roger Valdez said. “I think those people that came here probably will walk away with a better understanding of the industry.”