As Ernest Greene has posted in several comment threads of late, however, we shouldn't allow this latest rumble to veer us away from the much more serious issues and threats that sexual expression faces....and those threats are ever increasing rapidly.
First and foremost, there is the upcoming trial of Evil Angel and John Stagliano on obscenity charges; which could be far more damaging to free sexual expression than any previous prosecutorial attempt of adult producers. It's not only the fact that the Department of Justice's Adult Obscenity Division (Oh, but I thought that this was all about CHILD pornography and keeping adult material out of the eyes and hands of children) has now extended their reach to include material that is clearly consensual adults doing "edgy" acts...though not nearly as edgy as the acts done by Rob Black or Lizzy Borden, whom the antiporn posse failed to prosecute earlier). To quote Ernest in one comment he raised in my original post here breaking the story:
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.
It is no coincidence that this latest prosecution follows some very public criticisms from the usual array of right-wing groups like Focus on the Family, Morality in Media, and specifically antiporn activist groups (mostly from the more powerful Christian Right) that have been highly critical of the DoJ for not doing enough to obliterate adult sexual speech.
The most significant and potentially damaging aspect of this case, however, is the attempt to impose right-wing fundamentalist standards of "decency" onto the Internet...and the ramifications on everyone who owns adult websites, or even blogs about porn and sex, could be devastating.
One of the charges against Stagliano consists of "using an interactive computer service to display an obscene movie trailer in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age". Never mind that the trailer is no different from many other adult video trailer found in many adult sites; or that most of the sites where the trailer would be shown are themselves limited in access to people 18 and over. complete with warning pages specifying that their material is sexually oriented and giving the opt-out for those offended or underage.
The real point here is that the mere exposure of the "obscene" images that MAY be accessible (even by accident) to anyone 18 or under, according to the prosecuters, is enough to trigger prosecution and even the threat of jailtime and censorship...because these images may "corrupt minors".
This is nothing more than the old "corruption to minors" meme that has been used for eternity by any fascist censor to undermine and wipe out any form of speech and expression that he found "objectionable"...and if this principle becomes the norm, it would allow the moral beliefs of the most restrictive, most reactionary, and the most backwards local regions to be imposed on the broad public at large...the basic fundamental right of free speech and free expression be damned.
But even worse....a successful conviction (or just merely, and adoption of their principles nationwide) would allow for a corrosive kind of governmental intervention in the content of the Internet under the guise of "protecting minors" from the "corruption of pornography". Again, quoting Ernest:
Not discounting the strong opposition of many of the same right-wing antiporn activist groups to the .XXX domain (mainly that it would still legalize and allow porn to exist; they would rather simply wipe it off the face of the earth through existing "obscenity laws"; RICO suits; and intimidating media outlets from broadcasting and producing it in the first place), the basic point remains solid: the real goal of the prosecution of Stagliano is to widen the breadth of Federal and state "obscenity" prosecution to the Internet, and impose pretty much the same regime on the World Wide Web that over-the-air broadcasters now face. As with the 2257 regulations as well.
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.
And it can potentially get worse...much worse. Quoting Violet Blue (the sex blogger):
In short...if they can intimidate hotel chains like Marriott to discontinue offering adult material to their customers; and if they can intimtdate ISP's to filter out "obscene" images, with the caveat of offering "free, family friendly broadband (that just so happens to be highly filtered and purged of all "pornography" (or any other less sexual, political material that the ISP owner might not think that "minors" should be allowed to see), then why not attempt to force their way into the Internet and wipe out ALL adult users of social sites and groups and message boards???
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.
In other words, this goes much, much, much further than baseball bats up Belladonna's ass or filming anal squirting......this goes to the heart of free sexual expression and the basic heart of the Right's fundamental vision of sexuality, expression, and obliteration of dissenting and divergent sexual expression.
And actually, it would be quite ironic, considering the raging opposition of most rightists to the concept of "net neutrality" where government regulation of Internet businesses would be geared to favor consumers and not allow any one business any monopoly over the other, or control the content offered to their consumers. I suppose that to those folks, "free market capitalism" is a wonderful thing as long as the profits keep coming.....and they get to regulate what the "free market" offers to its consumers.
There are more threats to adult sexual expression that abound, though, and I will get to them later. Disscussions, anyone???