Monday, February 25, 2008

Invitation to a Rumble


  1. Oops! Technical glitch. Watch this space for an update shortly.

  2. Readers here already know that Nina Hartley was originally scheduled to appear on Nighline as a participant in a staged debate at OSU between herself and Ron Jeremy on one side and the dudes from the XXX Church on the other. If you check out the nice clip further down, you’ll see Nina in action at said debate (h/t Ren), with other participants in the BG. Who you will not see, as I explained in my previous rant on this topic, is Martin Bashir, Nightline talking-head-in-chief, who was supposed to moderate this confab but was mysteriously called away at the last minute to cover some more important story. Nighline kicked down for Nina’s ticket, then no-showed the event.

    If you want to know what happened next, you can just visit the thread further down for details, but the bottom line is that Bashir and Co. showed up at Yale’s much discussed Sex Week, where the debate was re-staged with Vivid Girl Monique Alexander taking Nina’s place. I’ve already acknowledged that the Sex Week gestalt was probably viewed by ABC programmers as having more eye-ball drawing power, and I’m sure Monique, though young and inexperienced, did a creditable job. And Ronnie, though no forensic ace, has been at this for some time and picked up a few chops. He’s also developed some fun chemistry with the holy Joes from what I understand. But still a major opportunity lost to let serious people discuss a serious topic in a serious way, and a serious diss on Nina. No way they could slip Nina or anyone else from our community with significant credentials into the discussion, but somehow they found a slot for this joker:

    Pauling is a former part-time “pornographer,” if you think that label really applies to a guy who shot a bunch of single-girl masturbation loops as Internet content in his living room, has since given his life to Jesus and, in between helping used car salesman push iron in cyberspace, now devotes himself to helping the god squad warn us all of the evils of porn.

    Clearly a ringer, he was shipped in to shore up the anti side of the debate while the pro side was handicapped by the removal of a skilled advocate. Again, no knock intended on Monique, but she’s all of 25 and has no previous history as an activist. For that matter, other than in advancing his own career, neither does Ron.

    Did Nightline stack the deck? Nah. They’d never do a thing like that. Come 11:30 p.m. this Thursday, we’ll all get to see what I’m sure will be a masterful exercise in broadcast journalism that I’m sure would make Edward R. Murrow proud for his whole profession.

    So, enough already. After much discussion, Nina and I have decided to let those nice folks at ABC News know their game has been busted.

    In the morning, this email will await to the ever-so-personable (and aren’t they always?) booker at nightline, Ethan Nelson, who initially contacted Nina to arrange for the Ohio State Gig:

    Dear Mr. Nelson,

    First of all, I’d like to thank you and your network for providing transportation to Ohio State University to participate in the November 4, 2007 debate regarding pornography held at the Mershon Auditorium. Though I was disappointed to hear that Nighline host Martin Bashir, originally scheduled to moderate the panel, would be unable to attend due to “a breaking news story,” and thus the OSU discussion wouldn’t air on ABC as planned, I was assured at the time that the opportunity to participate in a similar forum would be rescheduled for broadcast at a later date.

    Though I haven’t heard from you since, I’m sure you won’t be too surprised to find out that I’m aware of your program’s subsequent decision to cover a reprise of that debate held February 15, 2008 in New Haven, Connecticut as part of Yale University’s annual Sex Week events. Apparently, there was no breaking news at that time, as Mr. Bashir did, in fact, act as moderator for the discussion in question, which featured Ron Jeremy, who would have been my partner speaking in defense of pornography, Vivid Video contract performer Monique Alexander, presumably acting as my replacement, and two representatives of the XXX Church denouncing pornography’s evils. I understand that parts of that debate, set against the general backdrop of Sex Week activities, will be broadcast on Nightline this coming Thursday, February 28.

    Obviously, I’ll watch the final results of Nightline’s reportage with interest, though to be fully frank, I don’t expect to be surprised by what I see. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I expect to see a brief “actualities reel” long on tease and titillation, a few highlights from the debate (most likely featuring emotional and highly porn-negative audience responses), and some commentary on the broader issue of pornography’s societal impact, either by Mr. Bashir alone or with the aid of a carefully-screened “expert” or two, and a wrap-up leaving the viewer to ponder whether pornography more correctly constitutes a threat or a menace. Certainly, no one will take away the impression that ABC News in any way condones or advocates the production or consumption of pornography in any form. That such dog-and-pony shows are reliable ratings boosters in no way implicates ABC News or its parent company, the Walt Disney Corporation, in pandering to the public’s prurient interest in such matters, or seeks to profit there from, I’m quite certain.

    As someone who makes no secret of earning her living as a performer, director and producer in the field of X-rated entertainment, I wouldn’t begrudge any mainstream media outlet its share of the attention and revenues generated by society’s seemingly inexhaustible fascination with my line of work. Pornography opponents of the right and left have repeatedly pointed out that many major corporate media interests derive income from indirect association with pornography, including satellite and cable providers as well as broadcast journalism organizations such as your own. Why should your stockholders miss out on their cut?
    And as an entertainer, I can easily understand how Yale Sex Week, with all its attendant controversy and copious visual content, would possess an almost irresistible allure for any network programmer when compared to an isolated evening of rhetorical sparring a Midwestern campus venue. Thus I can find no real fault with the decision to refocus your coverage to a more telegenic locale.

    Nor do I take any particular offense, personal or professional, at your choice to replace me on the debate squad with a younger performer directly associated with the production company that wisely seized on the publicity surrounding Sex Week to promote its personnel and products. I’m sure the Vivid staff eagerly provided ABC News full access to all the resources at their command, doubtless a great benefit to your organization as Ms. Alexander’s appearance, however brief and carefully edited, before your millions of viewers greatly benefited Vivid’s promotional objectives. After a quarter century of making videos, writing books, contributing to periodicals, conducting workshops, addressing groups of all kinds and acting as an advocate in for sex workers and an activist in the cause of sexual liberation, I enjoy a substantial following of my own and am in no way dependent on the attention of large-scale, mainstream media operations such as yours. My series of educational videos has sold nearly three-quarters of a million units. And while my Web site, on which this letter will be reproduced, averages only about five percent as much traffic as yours, as I am, after all, just another interchangeable porn chick while you’re a major TV news operation. On the other hand, Googling my name turns up about 4,610, 000 responses while Nightline draws a mere 2,670,000. Somehow, I’m sure I’ll muddle through without any additional publicity from you. My overhead is quite a bit lower than yours.

    The only real losers I see in this exercise in infotainment are the viewers themselves, some of whom might conceivably have sought to educate themselves about the hotly-contested issues concerning pornography by hearing a thoughtful airing of those issues by those best informed from study and experience to explain them. Instead, they’ll be getting the predictable TV news helicopter over-flight of the topic, with emphasis placed on its most sensational aspects and as little time as possible allotted to any probative discussion of it, pro or con.

    I intend no disrespect to Ron Jeremy, who is a longtime personal friend of mine, to Ms. Alexander, whom I do not know but am sure is an intelligent, capable and appealing spokesperson, nor for that matter to the representatives of the XXX Church, with whom I disagree emphatically on many matters but who have demonstrated an impressive ability to make their case whenever and wherever the chance arises.

    However, none of these individuals has a lengthy history of pornography-related activism of any sort, or the depth of knowledge and understanding that would go with it. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that many others could have shed much more light on the central issues in dispute than those whose primary experience of them has been has been limited mainly to those directly impacting their individual careers.

    I won’t pretend to speak for those who oppose the existence of pornography and the industry that produces it, but from our side of the fence, you could have chosen from a long, impressive, highly qualified roster of debate participants who would have brought genuine substance to the conversation. I was certainly not the only choice that would have fit that description. Let me just list off a few names that could have stood in for me with, perhaps, just a bit more background to support their arguments than your designated hitters:

    Jenna Jameson – Best-selling author of How to Make Love Like a Pornstar, A Cautionary Tale, and perhaps the most successful, iconic performer in the history of this industry, head of her own corporation with annual receipts above thirty million dollars, subject of countless profiles and interviews in print and on the airwaves, frequent guest of Howard Stern and previously host of her own show on E! network, undoubtedly the most significant crossover personality from pornography to mainstream media;

    Nadine Strossen – President of the American Civil Liberties Union and author of Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (Scribner, 1995);

    Diane Duke – executive director of The Free Speech Coalition, our industry’s principle advocacy organization, who deals with the legal challenges confronting X-rated producers on a daily basis, as well as organizing our legislative lobbying efforts:

    Candida Royale – Performer, director and producer of X-rated video and film for nearly three decades, owner of her own highly-successful, woman-oriented production company, Femme Productions and author of How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do, which chronicles her critical role in breaking through adult-entertainment production’s glass ceiling;

    Tristan Taormino – Village Voice columnist, author of several best-selling sex advice books, guest lecturer at Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Vassar, Swarthmore, and New York University and producer of an the award-winning adult video line, Chemistry for, of all people, Vivid Video;

    Dr. Sharon Mitchell – One of the best-known performers in the history of adult film and video and founding director of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which provides STD testing, medical care and counseling to adult-video performers.

    Susie Bright – one of the first writers/activists referred to as a sex-positive feminist, co-founding publisher of the revolutionary lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs, author of fifteen books related to pornography and radical sexuality, currently teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz;

    Linda Williams – author of Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible and professor of Film Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, perhaps the most authoritative academic source on the origins, content and implications of sexually explicit visual depictions:

    Dr. Carol Queen – co-founder of The Center for Sex and Culture, essayist, activist and educator whose pioneering book, Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, is considered one of the founding texts of third-wave feminism, a movement that strives to reconcile feminist thought and teaching with the sub-culture of adult entertainment:

    Violet Blue – sex and culture columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, author of over two dozen books related to pornography, erotica and sexual health, free-lance contributor to magazines including Forbes and O, whose podcast, Open Source Sex, has made her one of the leading sex educators for the Internet generation.

    These are just a few who spring to mind. I could easily name a dozen others, and so could you if you had done your homework instead of going for the easy and obvious choices.

    Pornography is a serious subject deserving of serious consideration. That is an opinion I share with many, many people who either agree or disagree with my own views on the subject. I find it exasperating beyond description to see it played for cheap shock value in mainstream again and again, with whatever time may be given to its significant cultural impact repeatedly handed over to those who despise it while its defense is invariably left to those most easily dismissed for the nature of their participation in creating it.

    I would dearly love to be proven wrong, but I’m quite certain viewers of this Thursday’s Nighline will come away from the experience neither informed nor enlightened concerning pornography, but rather with all their existing prejudices even more firmly entrenched. The real story here is one of opportunities missed, stereotypes perpetuated and sensationalism triumphant over responsible journalism.

    Imagine, some people have the nerve to consider the way I make my living shameful.

    Nina Hartley

    And we’re not stopping here. We’re cross-posting this letter at and forwarding it on to every other site where we think it might be welcomed, as well as to all those mentioned in the letter itself to use as they see fit.

    It’s too late, I’m sure, to change the outcome as far as the Nightline fiasco is concerned, and doing so is not our intent. We just want to let them know that we’re tired of this kind of being simultaneously exploited, denounced and, to borrow a word from our foes, silenced, in this manner.

    It’s easy enough to shrug of this kind of episode with yet another “what do you expect from mainstream media?” dismissal, but it is the portrayal of our industry in mainstream media that influences public opinion and shapes public policy. We can’t afford to ignore their relentless distortions of who we are, what we do and how we live, any more than persons of color, gay people, Jews, Muslims or any other group suffering the effects of routine defamation can. Allowing ourselves to be routinely depicted in a false and injurious light without responding paints an enormous bulls-eye on all our backs. Anyone who wants to feels free to kick pornographers around the airwaves and news pages with impunity, indeed, with the approval of a noisy mob of hate-mongers who always can always get their soapboxes to deplore us, as Gail Dines does on Fox News, while we are reduced to being paraded across the screen at the direction of media ringmasters like trained seals.

    Enough! Time to let the media-meisters know we’re done playing nice. As we’ve said before, we do not blame Ron Jeremy, the people at Vivid or anybody else in our business from trying to work the mass media while the mass media works them, we continue to believe that freedom of expression extends to commercial as well as political speech. However, that does not mean that we must continue to accept a status quo in which our side is used only for its entertainment value while our opponents are afforded the somber respect due important intellectuals and major political figures. This is wrong and we’re over it.

    Therefore, we suggest that everyone here get everyone they know who cares not just for the First Amendment rights of pornographers, but for their own right to hear both sides of the story and think for themselves, to speak up with an email or a phone call to Nightline (easily accessible via the ABC News Web site) letting them know just how reprehensible they think this kind of biased, irresponsible coverage really is and how much harm it does to the state of public discourse. We’re mad as hell and we don’t have to take it.

    Let them know we’re paying attention to them loud enough and long enough and they’ll have to start paying attention to us. Now, before you take your best shot, take a deep breath and think through what you’re going to say. Keep it short, polite, grammatical, clean and to the point. The last thing we want to do is give them more excuses to dismiss us as a rabble of foul-mouthed illiterates. If we want to be taken seriously, we must comport ourselves accordingly.

    From here on, it’s up to you.

  3. Give 'em hell....

    prepares to email nightline...

  4. Well done and done well as usual, Ernest and Nina.

    I decided to repost the comment on the main page for those too lazy to hit the comment key; and I will be reposting Nina's letter to ABC over at the SmackChron and a few other places as well.