Wednesday, April 9, 2008

BREAKING: The Federal Sex Nazis Strike Again!!! Stagliano, Evil Angel Indicted on Obscenity Charges

John Stagliano, Evil Angel Indicted on Federal Obscenity Charges
(PDF file from Department of Justice website)

(h/t as well to Violet Blue and Fleshbot)

I figured that since they couldn't get Rob Black, the Erotic Star Chamber over at the US Department of Justice would attempt one last fling at sex fascism before the gravy train of the Bush Administration closes down on them for good next year.

But....WTF??? John Stagliano??? Isn't he, like, in all other aspects a political conservative??? A contributor to the Reason Foundation?? In short, one of those very conservatives Grover Norquist would otherwise support and fund???

And please....most people might not do anal fisting or female ejaculation or enemas, but to call them "obscene" and send producers of such material to JAIL???

But that's not the really scary part about this indictment, Violet posted as a comment to her blog piece:

it’s this part everyone with a website (and every porn-loving adult, and those who want their teens to evolve healthy attitudes about sex on the web) should be worried about:

“(…) one count of using an interactive computer service to display an obscene movie trailer in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age (…)”

IMHO, that’s unenforcable. *but* it will work as a vague, undefined, Mafia-style scare tactic to scare webmasters from Flickr to YouPorn into removing their perfectly legal, consensual adult porn — or heavily censoring their users to the point of making us all feel like the Internet is only for 10-year-olds. it’s the suggestion of *not* knowing whether what we do in regard to adult content is legal or not that makes us scared — and that’s exactly how the Feds like to play it.

And that is the real goal of the sex censors, indeed...whether or not Stagliano beats the rap.

But...I'm sure that somewhere in the wilderness, Maggie Hays and Nikki Craft are applauding this.

It's the rest of us who should be concerned....and pissed off enough to do something about it.


  1. Hum..I don't foresee myself de-linking evil angel over in my blog.

    what a load of CRAP.

  2. Sorry for my AWOL stretch from this forum. Sometimes I'm just too busy making porn to defend it. Week before last, I shot the sequel to Rebecca Whisnant's favorite of my vids, O - The Power of Submission. This one, starring the wonderful Bree Olson in the title role, is called The Surrender of O. I'm sure it will be one of the pictures for which I'll have to answer when Gail Dines runs the zoo.

    But enough about me. I've been watching this thread since it went up and the fact that it's garnered only one other comment so far - from Ren, naturally enough - rekindles some of my previously-allayed doubts about this blog and what it's supposed to do.

    Stagliano's indictment is a very, very serious matter for anyone who truly cares about freedom of sexual expression. It's not just another routine bust, it's a frontal assault by the feds in the waning days of the Bush era on one of the most important, influential and genuinely artistic talents this medium has known in its three-decade history. As such, it's a much more serious challenge to the already-fragile protections of Miller v. California than the much publicized Extreme Associates case.

    This is true for two reasons, one philosophical and the other pragmatic. To understand the importance of this particular bust, we have to look at the feds' motives in springing it, and their timing in doing so.

    Most of the Bush gang's much-heralded war on porn has gone about as effectively as the equally Potemkineske war on terror. While Bush has managed to make life miserable for scattered Internet pro-am pornographers around the country, much as he has for all of Iraq, he's managed to miss most of the larger and more significant targets on the ground there as well. Rob Black was already pretty much of a spent force at the margins of the porn business when he was indicted, and Max Hardcore was an easy and obvious choice, given the nature of his content, and pretty much out there on his own.

    John was and is a major player in X-rated picture making by any definition. Not only does his company, Evil Angel, shelter some of the most successful directors in the gonzo genre, he's a multiply-awarded, enormously popular and artistically important creative presence in himself. I have little doubt that in twenty years film school students will learn that Stagliano's radical approach to the subjective POV, which is echoed in everything from NYPD Blue to 28 Days Later, was as important to the visual style of mainstream film and television as any contribution made by Quentin Tarentino or the Warchowskis. I'm not speaking hyperbolically here. Stagliano's early recognition of the potential of miniaturized video technology can fairly be called revolutionary, regardless of the use to which he put it.

    In short, this time they're going after someone who is not only a major economic force in the industry, but an iconic talent as well. By attempting to demonstrate that artistic intent and incontestable talent offer no defense where sexual speech is concerned, the prosecutors are taking deadly aim at the heart of Miller. If artistic value is not the key to it, there is no defense against adult obscenity charges to be had.

    On the way out the door, the Bush DOJ has decided to make an example of this man and his company by demonstrating a willingness to take on not only those operating at the fringes of the X-rated production, but at those who define it as it now exists. You may or may not like what Stagliano and his fellow directors make, but there's no denying its importance. And that makes this action, however ultimately futile in the specific, chilling in its broader implications.

    The notion that John's politics, which are libertarian conservative, not socially conservative, would somehow protect him such a threat is truly amusing. The personal politics of any pornographer matter not in the slightest to porn haters of the right or left. Those who want porn abolished, or at least severely circumscribed, couldn't care less who makes it, why, or what those individuals might think about other matters. It's the scale of their importance that does or does not make them tempting scapegoats.

    Back in the Meese era, Russ Hampshire, head of VCA, and about as cautious as John is daring, was packed off to jail over the size of his operations and the scare his prosecution would presumably throw into other big players rather than what would be considered today to be the fairly tame material he distributed. If the feds had chosen to go after, say Steve Hirsch, this time out, it would have been with the same motives in mind.

    But this time, Stagliano was chosen not only for his visibility but for his identification with edgy content as well. Instead of using RICO statutes to try for an end-around on free speech issues, the DOJ is signaling a willingness to go after content that college professors will line up to defend.

    To make matters even more fraught, they're using this prosecution to expand their prosecutorial reach into a whole new territory - the adult Internet, for which no specific federal obscenity standards have yet been established. What John's attorney (the mighty Al Gelbard, who has the First Amendment literally tatooed on his arm) characterizes as "interesting" is the specific count of using the Internet to show a trailer for one of Belladonna's videos in such a fashion that a minor might conceivably have access to it, even though no specific instance of any such minor viewing said trailer is alleged in the charges.

    The broader scope of this case, if it went the wrong way, as it surely would if it made it to the Roberts court, might lead to a redefinition of the Internet as roughly analogous to broadcast television or telecom services - a public medium subject to direct regulation by federal agencies such as the FCC. This prospect threatens the freedoms not only of adult Internet content providers themselves, but of the relatively small number of ISPs upon whom they depend.

    If the ISPs can be hammered into shunning adult content, or relegating it to a restricted and highly vulnerable .XXX domain ghetto, or constricting it the way the acquiring banks now constrict the content of pay sites, even blogs such as this one, where sex-related topics are discussed but no explicit material is displayed, might be equally at risk. Given that the ISPs are private companies, like the banks, they would enjoy considerable immunity from legal challenges to any rules they might choose to lay down to protect their stockholders from unnecessary risks.

    Will the Stagliano case actually go this far? I doubt it, mainly because the election is so close at hand and these kinds of proceedings take a long, long time. I find it hard to imagine that any incoming administration, even one headed by John McCain, faced with trying to clean up the vast superfund site W. has made of this nation's foreign and domestic policies, will care to commit significant public sector resources to pursuing individual prosecutions of this type. In fact, I suspect that Stagliano, Max Hardcore and Rob Black will all get dismissal notices about this time next year, no matter who wins the election.

    But the worm-can will have been opened, and the kind of heavy-handed regulatory approach I've been warning about for the past year - a sort of Swedish Model for porn aimed at reducing demand by raising the bar to access and subjecting "secondary beneficiaries" of "indecent speech" to economic disincentives - might very well accomplish what attempts to send specific pornographers to jail over particular criminal violations can't.

    Combine a general swinging of the public opinion pendulum away from deregulation and the increasing reluctance of liberals under constant fire from the likes of Melissa Farley and Bob Jensen to defend sexually explicit speech and you have a formula for turning back the clock on sexual candor in the media by about twenty-five years.

    I'm not certain any of this will come to pass, but if it does, the Evil Angel prosecution, however quickly it evaporates, may well be seen by future legal scholars as a bellwether of a new era not unlike that of Hollywood under the Hayes Code.

    And that's why this one matters so much. It's not just a court test of the Miller standard. It's a force recon for the expansion of government powers over new media and the public's willingness to accept those new powers.

    That's why this case matters so much, and why I'm sorry it hasn't been greeted with more alarm. Whatever you may think of John's politics, or of his movies (personally, I don't think highly of the former but do of the latter), what happens to him very much concerns what happens to all of us.

    I would urge everyone here to keep track of the progress of this prosecution via the Web site EA has set up to monitor it, , and it wouldn't hurt to throw some change in the donation box. Sure, John has considerable personal wealth, but part of the government's strategy is always to bankrupt the defendant and force a settlement on its own terms, so this is a war of dollars as well as of ideas and every one of those dollars will be needed, along with whatever other support we can give.

    Before I sign off on this one, let me just take one sentence to make it clear that this is not a special pleading for someone I admire. John and I worked with Tristan Taormino on one enormously successful and genuinely revolutionary project, Tristan Taormino's Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, but other than that, our relationship isn't particularly close for various reasons and I have no personal stake in this deal. My interest is on all our behalf, not just his.