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Porn's Compassionate Conservatism | The Nation

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Porn's Compassionate Conservatism

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If prosecutors want to shape what the industry creates rather than exact a blood tribute through prison time, Douglas says they are likely to hew to the tactic the previous Bush Administration employed: levying huge fines that will cripple the targeted companies.

About the Author

Mark Cromer
Mark Cromer, a journalist living in Los Angeles, has written for Details, HotWired.com, the Los Angeles Times, LA...

"It was a hell of a lot more fun to film in this town when it was illegal," Margold adds, noting that he went to jail a half-dozen or more times as a result of working in porn. "But the industry can't return to its outlaw roots, because there are no more outlaws. The guys who run the companies now are sheep complacently chewing on their dollar bills. If they get busted they won't fight, they'll crack."

Douglas has seen that happen firsthand. "You have to be emotionally prepared as well as financially prepared to fight the government. It's easy to say, 'I believe in what I do and I'll fight for my right to do it,'" he says. "But you find that a lot of big talkers will plead out real quick."

The real danger, Douglas says, "is that professional censors may well be brought in and will have the awesome powers of the Justice Department at their disposal. Guys who think, 'I am an agent of God, and God says in order to keep Satan from rising we need to destroy the porn industry.'" Perhaps the question isn't whether a Justice Department filled with zealots can destroy porn but whether the industry--once defined by a rebelliousness that the Sexual Revolution imbued it with--can salvage anything of its former self.

It's hard to remember at times, but there was a brief, shining period when the concept of what was being filmed actually mattered. Stepping out of society's closet in the early seventies, American porno was a bastard art form that offered directors real freedom from conventional standards and restrictions. Filmmakers like Jonas Middleton, Robert McCallum, Cecil Howard, Henri Pachard and Kirdy Stevens explored the rich mines of human sexuality. Those men were joined by women like Helene Terrie, who wrote and produced Taboo, and Ann Perry and Maria Tobalina, both former presidents of the Adult Film Association of America. There were a lot of busts, trials and pain along the way. Now the question arises, Why were those sacrifices made? Did those people sit in jail and prison just so others would censor themselves into depicting officially sanctioned sex? Was that the point?

George W. Bush and John Ashcroft have won half the battle simply by showing up. Some in the business feel that even those of us shooting under the new guidelines will be targeted. As one producer noted, "They hate us all, and they'll come after the whole industry."

The silver lining to these storm clouds is that censorship, even the self-imposed kind, usually backfires, eventually creating only more of what it tried to suppress. If the past and human nature are any indication, that will be the case here, especially given the size of the market today. While producers for big companies are forced to shoot under new rules, the outlaw element in porn, provocateurs like Rob Black and Max Hardcore, will likely rise (or sink) to the occasion and do the necessary dirty work to keep porn, well...dirty.

The way it should be.

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