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Porn Jitters 

Maybe W. can’t spell “pornography”

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
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Under the ”Cambria List,“ directors are also now to discard blindfolds and wax dripping (so no 9 12 Weeks) as well as scenes between black men and white women, lest David Duke find his way into the jury box at an obscenity trial. (One might assume that Ashcroft‘s Justice Department would not seek to dismiss him.)

Both Douglas and Margold were candidly dismissive of ”Cambria’s List,“ with Douglas characterizing it as ”complete horseshit.“ Yet others found the guidelines useful as a reference point.

”The guidelines just touch on areas that people have been prosecuted for in the past,“ says Russ Hampshire, president and CEO of VCA Pictures, another major industry player. ”With a Republican administration, you can expect less rules, less regulations, less control -- except on things you do in the bedroom.“

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Hampshire, who has been in the adult business since 1978 and now heads one of the biggest companies in the industry, says that he will take a cautious ”wait and see“ approach. The company may tone down its video and DVD box covers, and Hampshire says he may kill a more explicit line of videos the company produces altogether.

While Cambria‘s client roster includes industry giants such as Larry Flynt’s Hustler Video (for whom this writer occasionally works) and Vivid Video, it is far from certain that smaller firms will follow their lead.

In fact, some producers and directors seem ready to take the risk of holding fast to the more liberal standards the industry applied during the Clinton era. With the bigger companies becoming even more vanilla in their approach to depicting sex, smaller maverick producers may reap a windfall by breaking all the rules.

Of course, as Douglas notes, they‘d better make a lot of money fast if they want to successfully fight the federal government.

”These guys better start building a war chest,“ he says. ”Because if you don’t have a quarter-million dollars to defend an out-of-state obscenity bust, you‘re dust. And the government will know whether you have that money or not. They’ll know if you can seriously fight.“

If that turns out to be the case, if the Justice Department indeed will cherry-pick companies for prosecution based on their ability to pursue a case up the judicial chain, then the larger companies may be shaking in their boots prematurely.

One veteran producer who has worked with many of the major porn companies and has observed the industry from its formative years in the late 1960s sees a lot of dark clouds framed with only a smattering of silver linings. Citing his current business dealings with major porn companies, the producer spoke on the condition that his name not be used.

”You can bet that there will be some weird resolution to this contest that no one has imagined just yet,“ he says. ”Porn will prevail in the long run, as it has human nature on its side. In the short term, though, there will be serious problems for porn producers.“

The producer, who was witness to some of the earliest porn busts of street vendors in New York City under the reign of legendary Mayor John V. Lindsay, noted that even by today‘s jaded standards, the industry may have a tough time selling a jury on some of the more extreme tapes now being produced.

”Back then [during the Lindsay busts], porn was new, remarkable and unheard-of,“ he recalls. ”And on the face of it, it was sleazy, and I was sure they couldn’t defend it on the same grounds as they could a work like Tropic of Cancer.“

Fast-forward three decades, and porn still has the same hill to climb.

”I think it is more vile and sleazy now than ever,“ the producer says. ”But people clearly have a legal right to sexual freedom. Sex is political, and political speech is the most protected in our society. But that doesn‘t mean these lawyers are going to have an easy time explaining to a jury that a video featuring 150 men ejaculating on a woman should be protected speech.“

One lawyer who has faced those questions with juries before thinks it is a sell the industry can make, if it has the guts to do it.

Roger Jon Diamond, a Santa Monica--based lawyer who has been defending adult material since the late 1960s, a role that has put his work in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, feels some of the worry may be overblown.

”I don’t think Bush or Ashcroft can successfully bring us ‘Meese II’“ he says. ”Too much material is already out there in too many places. How are they going to prove community standards (a central requirement of the Miller Standard the Supreme Court set in determining obscenity) now? You can‘t unring the bell.“

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