Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Continuing War On Porn/Sex...What We Can Do About It

It has been quite tempting and certainly more than a bit fun tweaking the noses of the GenderBorg and their monomanical obsessions/vendettas/myopias against those of us who defend adult consensual sexual speech, expression, and media.

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:

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.
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.

And it can potentially get worse...much worse. Quoting Violet Blue (the sex blogger):

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 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???

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???


  1. Anthony,

    Thanks for bumping this case up a notch on this blog. I welcome and appreciate your support.

    I would also appreciate it if you could drop me a personal email, as I have changed computers and can't find your address. I have a question I'd rather ask you in a private conversation rather than on this board.


  2. Ernest:

    here's my email addy:


  3. this is such bullshit...any ideas on what to do about it? Petitions, calls, letters, what?

  4. Here is the URL for the site EA has created to track the case, provide a forum for advocacy, list useful links and solicit the economic support needed for a long court battle in which not only the fate of legal porn but of Net neutrality itself is at stake:

    I'd go there first, and disseminate the information to be had from the source as widely as possible. Raising some money for The Free Speech Coalition wouldn't be a bad thing either. They're struggling to maintain a permanent lobbying presence in D.C. and to initiate a public relations counter-offensive against the advances of anti-First-Amendment groups in government and the media.

    I would also suggest using whatever influence any of us might have to explain the issues involved and what we all have to lose here. This isn't just another porn prosecution. This is an attempt to extend government influence over all aspects of the Internet.

    Petitions, calls, letters? You bet. They need to go to your congressional delegation to let them know, whatever your feelings might be about porn, or about John Stagliano's personal politics (I'd have been happier if he hadn't linked the new site to the one maintained by Reason Magazine), that you support Net neutrality and don't want your money spent on suppressing it, and that this could be a deciding factor in what vote you cast in November. Bear in mind that elected politicians count a hundred unsent letters of agreement for every letter they actually receive, so these things do matter.

    Another useful tactic, brought back from the porn wars of the Eighties, would be the filing of amicus briefs by various prominent liberal intellectuals defending EA's right to sell legal sexually explicit materials on the Web. It was such a brief, drafted and signed by some of the biggest names in the feminist movement, that helped overturn the MacKinnon ordinance in Minneapolis.

    A media counter-campaign could also be helpful, particularly in the blogosphere where some here are pretty well-known already. Sites like AlterNet and Counterpunch, lately tilting toward Melissa Farley and Bob Jensen, might tilt the other way if commentaries linking the EA case to the bigger question of government regulation of the Internet began to pop up in the editors' inboxes. If Stan Goff can blow his bilge on The Huffington Post, we can probably get a hearing there too.

    The point we need to make is that this is not about some dirty pictures. It's about using criminal prosecution to suppress speech on the Web, pure and simple. And interestingly enough, the trailer EA is accused of posting where it might have been seen by minors (not of actually showing it to any specific minors, let us not forget) was for a video made by EA's only woman director, Belladonna, which makes this a matter of particular interest to sex-positive feminists.

    They've given us a real cause with this one, and we need to raise our voices over it, loud and clear. This case will surely drag on past the next election and we can't afford to let the other side wear us down on it.

    Today, EA. Tomorrow, this blog goes next.

  5. Okay Gents, I posted about this at my place, and I think I know what my article for Village Voice/Naked City for this week will be about...

  6. Thsnks Ren. Loved your comments about this case on your own site and your expression of support over at the EA site.

    This is exactly the kind of consciousness-raising we'll need first if we're going to mobilize action around this cause.

  7. Ernest: Well, I do have to look at this very personally...a lot of the folks they are going after, EA, JM, is not only what I like to watch (and is linked on my blog, sheesh) but is, well, what I like to make and do...and I am real tired of anyone telling other consenting humans what they can find erotic. I mean, if we all have to live by what other people find offensive...I want all seafood eateries fined and banned, because seafood offends me and makes me ill. I hope the post on Naked City will bring some more attention to the issue as well. Fingers crossed and all.