Porn's Compassionate Conservatism
It's early Saturday morning and I am standing in the living room of a home that's been converted, for the day, into a porn set. Heavy light rigging, cables, crates of colored gels and video monitors now dominate what had been just another unassuming suburban home at the end of a cul-de-sac. In addition to worrying about all the usual concerns confronting a porn shoot--will the talent show up, will they be hung over, will they have all their paperwork in order, will some boyfriend or agent decide he's the director--I now have other matters to consider.
While I am safely nestled in the hills beyond La Canada Flintridge, 3,000 miles to the east George W. Bush is being sworn in to the presidency. And as he lays his hand on that Bible held by the very Chief Justice who helped install him into office, the power players in LA's fabled Porn Valley are hearing thunderclaps in the distance. The Perfect Storm has broken in the Beltway, they believe, and life preservers are now being passed out.
I know this because I'm a pornographer. Well, sort of. I originated and for the past several years have moonlighted as a producer on the Jail Babes video series, which launched Larry Flynt into the booming adult-video business. I have in that time been treated to the inner workings of a business that continues to fascinate libido-driven Americans. And recently Flynt's producers and our peers at other companies have been briefed in meetings and memos as to just how we are to react, given the new President and incoming Attorney General.
Fourteen years ago, of course, Reagan's Attorney General Ed Meese launched a celebrated (and reviled) antiporn crusade that included a bevy of busts; but since then the LA-based industry has grown into a multibillion-dollar business reaching into nearly every corner of America, culturally, politically and even economically. Consider that an estimated 25,000 video outlets across the nation stock adult material and that more than 10,000 new adult-video titles are released each year; last year there were 711 million rentals of hard-core sex films. Porn is a $10 billion industry--$4 billion of that in explicit video sales--that even has links to corporate parents like General Motors and AT&T. (Whatever collective pain and persecution the industry suffered during the Reagan and Bush the Elder years, when Bill Clinton rolled into the White House with a social agenda that did not call for the outright destruction of smut, pornographers in the San Fernando Valley--Wicked Pictures, Vivid Video, VCA and Hustler Video are the biggies--saw eight years of relative green lights and blue skies.)
In an effort to head off any potential anti-porno jihad by the Bush Administration, some of the major porn outfits have reached a common conclusion and issued sweeping new guidelines to producers and directors--rules that are supposed to make even the most eager prosecutor think twice before filing charges. Anxious to sanitize their product to the point where it passes muster with compassionate conservatives everywhere, especially those living on Pennsylvania Avenue, major producers in the industry are proposing to discard or ban a host of sexual acts and scenarios that have in some instances become staples of the genre.
Welcome to the era of kinder, gentler smut.
"Everyone has grave concerns," says Jeffrey Douglas, a lawyer who specializes in First Amendment issues and has represented the adult industry since the early 1980s. "Most of us on the legal side have advised those in the industry to assume, no matter who got elected, that the environment [read Justice Department] will be less sensitive to First Amendment issues."
While the focus on Attorney General John Ashcroft has to date been on his positions on civil rights and abortion, little attention has been paid until now as to how--and how effectively--the former senator from Missouri might weigh in on the culture wars surrounding the First Amendment.