Friday, April 24, 2009

The Wars, Round II

This just in from my home city – the California Employment Training Panel nixes technical staff's right to participate in free Bay Area Video Coalition technical training, something available to multimedia employees working for a wide range of for-profit and non-profit employers. The stimulus for this was a request for information by SF Weekly columnist Matt Smith, the process of which tipped off the state that Cybernet was a porn company, and apparently Cal ETP has rules against funding adult-sector employees.

However the real scandal came when Smith, far from contrite about having just deprived a number of multimedia workers of further job training, wrote a rather nasty hit piece in his SF Weekly column. Using none other than Melissa Farley as his only source for the article, he is quite pleased to have stopped "torture porn" company from receiving supposed taxpayer funding. He then goes on to revive Melissa Farley's rather sickening comparison between and Abu Ghraib and the accusation that they pay poor desperate models to be abused. Topped off by the usual platitude found in so much anti-porn writing these days that "passes itself off as hip".

Violet Blue has the full story here:
On Wednesday, SF Weekly's Matt Smith took his torture porn fantasies beyond the realm of safe, sane and consensual to gloat over how his actions caused to get screwed out of legitimately earmarked BAVC job training funds, threatening a community training program that Smith, himself, has benefited from to the tune of 184 hours.

Here's the situation: Smith recently submitted an inquiry about to the California Entertainment Training Program (ETP). He received a response from the ETP's general counsel, which said, in part:

"Since learning about through your Public Records Act request, ETP has informed BAVC that it will no longer reimburse the cost of training the employees of Cybernet."

and then removed Kink from the list of subsidized applicants, kicking Kink out of the nonprofit Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC).

As tempting as it is to immediately scapegoat Smith for this, you can't -- after all, all he did is submit a public records request. It's not as though he attempted to incite a harmful scandal simply for the purpose of writing about it.

It's Smith's actions following his request that are deserving of scrutiny. The resulting article, "Whipped and Gagged," is infused with (unrepentant) and sensational anti-porn bias, with accusations that Kink is soaking up taxpayer dollars to create "torture based pornography" and "depicting sexualized torture". Despite the one-sided commentary and airtime Smith devoted to local anti-porn feminist Melissa Farley's two-year-old comments repulsively comparing Kink's product to Abu Ghraib, he certainly knew his way around Kink's websites and content enough to frill up the Fox News-style hit piece.

According to BAVC's Director of Training and resources, Mindy Aronoff, Smith more than nonconsensually screwed the pooch with his biased reporting. Aronoff stated, "Mr. Smith's lazy attempt to jump on the "bad government spending" bandwagon is dangerous in its disregard for this bigger picture and the economic realities of our state. His questions of government spending and censorship are an unfortunate case of reactionary sensationalism that could threaten the ETP program at BAVC."

[Read more]
Another rather yellow aspect to Smith's journalism is the issue of "taxpayer funding". His spin is that taxpayer dollars are being used to fund the production of porn. First, the taxpayer dollars he mentions are a specific payroll tax that all employers in the State of California pay into, included. This payroll tax goes to specifically fund employee training programs through various local projects, among them the Bay Area Video Coalition, who in turn provide training for employees to upgrade their skills. Until recently, multimedia employees of Cybernet (the umbrella company behind Kink, that also includes some non-porn production work) received this subsidized training the same as any other SF multimedia worker.

Some Background

For many years, San Francisco (by which I mean the city proper and not the whole Bay Area) has been a town with only one major daily newspaper (the San Francisco Chronicle), but with two competing "alt weeklies", The Bay Guardian and SF Weekly. Bay Guardian is a local independent paper, has its roots in the 1960s, and is definitely leftist in its editorial leanings. Its articles are often politically slanted, but also, they wear their politics on their sleeve and you at least know where they're coming from. SF Weekly is part of the Village Voice/New Times Media chain, has a more liberal-to-centrist slant, at least superficially has less "spin" in its articles, but like many centrist news sources, often has real problems with hidden bias. Matt Smith has been the paper's main columnist on local politics and he quite openly has an axe to grind against the progressive faction in SF politics. The two papers have been at war with each other for over ten years, with the Guardian having recently successfully won a lawsuit against SF Weekly over undercutting practices used in getting advertisers.

As far as sexual politics go, over the last few years, the Guardian has leaned sex-poz (like the majority of the SF progressive community) and even sponsors the Sex SF blog. SF Weekly originally was also characterized by the relaxed attitude toward sexual politics characteristic of this area, but several years ago, took a decidedly different slant. In 2006 it ran an article bashing Cake parties (and borrowing heavily on Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs), followed soon after by another article by the same author bashing Maxine Doogan's fight against the SF "john's school" program. In 2008, the paper was a major source of opposition to to prostitution decriminalization initiative Proposition K. The have been quite outspoken through all of this in their opposition to sex worker rights activism, and frequently quote Melissa Farley as their go-to source for the bottom line about the sex industry. Smith's latest column simply continues in this unfortunate tradition.

For all its sex industry- and sex-poz-bashing, it is notable that SF Weekly, like Bay Guardian, runs back page ads for strip clubs and massage parlors, as well as escort classifieds.

A Heartening Response

The silver lining to this situation is that the response to the article over the last few days has been overwhelming negative, with more than a few people taking specific aim at the use of Melissa Farley as the article's source. The comments thread for article is up to over 60 comments, almost entirely anti-Smith. A number of (mostly) local bloggers have also weighed in taking Smith to task. In addition to Violet Blue's takedown of the article in SF Appeal, SFist, Sex SF, The Sword, Carnal Nation, and even the Reason magazine blog have since taken a smack at this piece. (Addendum: just launched to track other articles and posts responding to the article and controversy.)

My (main) response from the comments thread:
Unfortunately, it seems that Matt Smith and SF Weekly has allowed itself to become a mouthpiece for the cranky and crank-ish neoconservative feminism of Melissa Farley. First with its jingoistic anti-Prop K stance last year and now with the rhetoric displayed in the article.

To my mind, the relevant question about CETP is whether its being used as a form of corporate welfare or whether its truly a jobs-creation program. If its the former, then I don't think either or, say, KRON should be getting that subsidy.

However, if it is genuinely a job-training program in multimedia, then it should make no difference whether the employee is going off to a well-paying job for a design firm or a porn company. (And lets get away from the red herring that this has anything to do with forcing the poor into porn modeling – we are talking about production-end jobs here.) You have moral problems with pornography? Well, too bad, a lot of people have moral problems with advertising (pick up a copy of Adbusters sometime) and I don't see a call for ending government funding for training to enter that industry. And your "first amendment expert" aside (who was using what was already a bad piece of legislation – the NEA attack on Karen Finley – as a defense of this), I really don't think its the government's business to channel trainees into one form of media over another, especially in a way that constitutes blatant viewpoint discrimination.

The absolute low point of this article is the inflammatory language calling "torture porn" and repeating Melissa Farley's disgusting comparison between and Abu Ghraib (rhetoric that really dishonors the victims of Abu Ghraib). Farley-esque rhetoric about "giving people money if they'll agree to being on camera while being stripped, bound, impaled, beaten, and shocked" is pure nonsense. films people practicing BDSM and many of the models for that company are local "players" from that same scene. Last I checked, BDSM was already something some people consensually seek out, in fact, its not unknown for someone to pay some of the advertisers in the back pages your newspaper to do *to them* some of the very things that are depicted on Ironic, that.
An unfortunate response was made by one particular article commentator (who also seems to be connected with an anonymous flyer circulated around the Castro) demanding the article be dropped and Smith be pressured to retract the article. This call, of course, is hugely self-contradictory from a free speech standpoint and seems to have no support beyond the original commentator who circulated it. (And fact a few people on this side of the fence, myself among them, specifically have denounced it.) Nonetheless, Matt Smith has latched onto this comment and spun it into a "pornographers are trying to censor me" post on his blog. This, apparently is his only response to the whole controversy.

4/25: This just in – Mz Berlin, an SF fetish model who has done a lot of work for has challenged Matt Smith to an open dialogue/debate and he apparently has accepted. What form this will take – blog, print media, or live public debate is still not clear.


  1. Actually, Matt has responded once more - in a short rant against San Francisco Bay Guardian (he calls it a pamphlet and brags how he erased a request for interview from his voicemail without listening to it) -

  2. Here's a hotlink to the Smith's earlier post: When Pamphlet's Gonna Write About Us -- We Write About It!.

    Apparently, Tim Redmond from Sex SF/Bay Guardian had asked him for comment and Smith erased the phone message without even listening to it further. Nice. At least, that's what I get from Smith's barely coherent blog post.

    Webmistress – I wasn't aware of the blog, but thanks for the tip.

  3. There is much here about which to be incensed, beginning with Smith's scummy journalistic ethics. Journalists, back when I was educated to be one, were instructed to report the news, not invent it.

    By "allerting" the California Employment Training Panelto the nature of's content, Smith clearly intended to provoke a controversy at the least and, more likely as happened, to bring about the revocation of's BAVC funding so he could crow about it.

    Public opinion, not to mention criminal law, takes a harsh view of fire fighters who set fires in order to make themselves heroes by rushing to the rescue, one may hope in a timely manner, of those endangered by the original arson.

    Since Smith has no intention of rescuing anyone from anything with this ugly stunt, his chest-beating over it, while doubtless legal, could only make him a hero to those who regard Melissa Farley as something other than a reprehensible hypocrite who signed off on a Bush administration pledge to oppose the decriminalization of prostitution in order to get funding for her "research" on the subject.

    Hardly surprisng that Smith quotes Farley approvihngly. They are two of a kind. While both claim to be "progressives," both have used the repressive powers of government against sex workers, a group with very little access to or sympathy within the corridors of mainstream politics.

    Smith flies his true colors when he aligns himself by implication with the congressional reactionaries, that great statesman Jesse Helms chief among them, who made political hay out of attempting to dismantle The National Endowment for the Arts over providing funding for the display of Robert Mappelthorpe's photographs and the presentation of Karen Finley's performance art. That Karen Finley's work is deeply rooted in radical feminism and that Mapplethorpe was an icon of the emergence of gay consciousness in the art world evidently doesn't conflict with Smith's adoption of Jesse Helms' position re government funding for any form of expression with which an arch-rightist or a self-professed radical feminist might disagree.

    And then there is the very nature of the funding specifically at issue here. BAVC was not, as Smith claims, funding "torture porn" in's case. it was funding the education of A/V workers. Let us suppose, for a moment, that said workers wished to raise their skill levels in order to free themselves from the odium of making "torture porn." Would it not then stand to reason that subsidizing their training in a manner likely to facilitate other forms of employement for them in the future would be a good thing?

    And, as even Smith admits, the whole question of awarding employment training subsidies based on the content of a given employer's creative product is troublesomely political. By the same reasoning used to deny BAVC funding to employee training, could not an anti-choice bureaucrat deny funding for the education of interns engaged in media-related work at Planned Parenthood?

    Such funding, to be free of the taint of partisanship, should be awarded entirely on the basis of the specific skills for which the employees would be trained, with no consideration whatsoever given to the content of what their employers produce. Otherwise, the list of "objectionable" content for which such funding to employees could be denied is essentially endless.

    I, as an athiest, might find it wholly intolerable that my tax dollars be used to teach potential video editors or camera operators in the employ of religious broadcasters how to more effectively flood society with evangelism. I might even make the claim that subsidizing instruction for this potential use would violate the establishment clause of The Constitution. I'm not the sort of contentious athiest who engages in that kind of mean-spirited excercise, but could certainly do so with as much justification as Smith offers for his conduct in the matter at hand., like Prop K, is clearly an identified target of a small group of rad-fem extremists and their admirers in the Bay Area, who do not hesitate to enlist the institutions of patriarchal power by whatever manipulative tactics in order to advance their narrow anti-sex work agenda.

    How this benefits the "prostituted women" over whom the likes of Smith and Farley wring their hands ad nauseum remains an impenetrable mystery to all but them.

  4. Ernest for the win!:

    A few other posts worth checking out, the last two by former models:

    Anthony KennersonGreta ChristinaLilla KatMariah Sinclaire

  5. A new update: Matt Smith has now struck again; he publically outed one performer who challenged him, and she[s now feeling the repercussions personally. The full story is here, an abridged breakdown is now here.


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  7. Personally, I'm addicted to and have been for years. I can't stop watching some of that stuff now even though it makes me feel guilty. I am now very desensitized, but this is arguably my fault. Defending Pornography and here is so dumb. State money should not fund the Pornography Industry, even in small quantities. Defending legalized Prostitution is another thing all-together.