Stagliano, McDonald Conclude 'Dust-Up'

Tod Hunter
LOS ANGELES — Adult producer John Stagliano and law professor Barry McDonald concluded their "Dust-Up" over topics related to the porn industry in the Los Angeles Times' Opinion section.

On Wednesday, the question involved the fact that porn is a legal product and a part of the Los Angeles economy and asked if that was a good or a bad thing. McDonald, taking the point, questioned whether porn itself was a good or a bad thing.

McDonald's unattributed statements like "Those studying this phenomenon have argued that for many women (non-starlets, of course), porn participation is little different from prostitution. They are essentially forced into it by some combination of dire financial straits, broken homes, lack of education, drug or alcohol problems, and physical or sexual abuse." and "Studies have also linked the teen exposure to porn to an increase in promiscuous behavior, sexually transmitted diseases and unexpected pregnancies. And even as to those who consume porn 'responsibly,' studies have indicated that it can create unrealistic expectations about their own sex performance or enjoyment that leads to diminished satisfaction with their own sex lives and perceptions about themselves." gave the impression that although McDonald may find porn defensible of 1st Amendment grounds he has serious doubts about its value,

Stagliano, on counterpoint, questioned whether government should encourage business, and came out against it. "If you concede that it is a proper function of government to 'encourage' economic growth, then it is easy to say that the government ought to impose a certain value system on the people it governs and control what kind of economic activities they engage in."

Stagliano then said that "freedom" is, essentially, the right to choose, and said that many entities, including the religious right and mainstream newspapers like the Times, have an economic self-interest in keeping freedom "vulnerable to the machinations of government" because that increases their "power over the freedoms of people, and power corrupts on all levels of government nearly all of the time." He cited some examples of poor judgment on the part of the federal government (the current mortgage crisis, the savings and loan problems of the '80s) and said that if this judgment was applied to porn companies, some would be allowed to continue, and some would be forced to close. The larger ones would have resources to lobby for their cause; the smaller ones would find it harder to exist.

Staglaino concluded by citing the 1986 Meese Commission report, which reported findings that were unsubstantiated by the evidence collected, and asked McDonald to identify the studies he had used to support his arguments.

Today, dealing with the question "There have been many stories from former porn performers indicating the industry is rife with abuse, coercion and drug addiction. Doesn't the government have an interest in curtailing this behavior through obscenity enforcement?" Stagliano shot back with "Is The Times suggesting that enforcing obscenity laws will stop people from breaking other laws?" before denying that the adult industry was "rife with abuse, coercion and drug addiction." Stagliano said that the adult industry was small and no one has consistently abused performers and survived: "You just can't get away with it."

He concluded by refusing to apologize for extreme porn, calling it "the expression of the creativity of the people I respect the most. They are not afraid to reach. They are using their bodies in ways unimaginable before. It is art in the purest sense of the word -- art that challenges; art that makes you think."

McDonald, responding, cited an academic report from June 2007 about STDs in the adult industry. Quoting the report's finding that "the adult film industry continues to produce the great majority of films without condoms," McDonald said, "If demanding that performers flirt with death to produce the 'rawest' product possible isn't abuse and coercion, I don't know what is."

To enforce points he had previously made, McDonald cites accounts collected by Shelley Lubben about drug use among adult performers and uses "Pornography as Trafficking," a 2005 paper from Catherine McKinnon, to validate his contention that porn performance is equivalent to prostitution.

McDonald then agrees with Stagliano that these problems would not be helped by enforcement of obscenity laws, which are not meant to address health and safety issues. McDonald concludes by saying that the 1st Amendment does not exempt expressive industries from health and safety regulations, and the government does have a legitimate interest in addressing those issues in all industries.

The complete "Dust-Up" can be found in the Los Angeles Times website's Opinion section.