Everything Went Black: Let's Talk About Pron
Why cineastes should give a fuck about anti-porn rhetoric
By Marc Savlov, 9:05PM, Wed. Sep. 5, 2012
If you've been paying close attention to the political marketing machine since
practically forever the dawn of the internet it kicked into 2012 election year gear (in 2008), then you've probably noticed some increasingly vocal attacks on "pornography." So what?
Here's what: we've been down this road before and we know where it leads. And that's nowhere good. Previous attempts to legislate morality have been at best bad ideas and have at worst caused calamitous social upheavals that quashed American's core rights, the First Amendment be damned.
Be it the Eighteenth Amendment (No booze! Illegal hooch sales skyrocket!), the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code (aka the Hays Code, stag reels proliferate!), the 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (Fare-thee-well, E.C. Comics!), or the ongoing war on a woman's right to control her own body, an alleged mandate to control societal mores -- by either political faction – has always, without exception, led us to the low road while pretending to raise us to the high.
And now, because it's shaping up to be a cage match-rules election season, online "pornography" is suddenly a big deal. It's an issue that has never really gone away but instead fades into the background after nearly every political cycle. Personally, I'm pretty much over dirty pictures, but I'll still fight for your right to view them (or, for that matter, make them, so that you can then upload them to the internet so that we can all view them).
Again, why should you care? Because it's a very short hop from banning "pornography" (unlikely) to banning, censoring, or harassing the people who make or exhibit films such as Midnight Cowboy or A Serbian Film and the work of often transgressive filmmakers like Lars von Trier, Larry Clark, Kevin Smith, David Cronenberg, or David Lynch (not as unlikely as it seems).
Or Irving Klaw.
Who's Irving Klaw? He's the photographer/filmmaker who discovered – and then made famous – the infamous Bettie Page, that doyenne-doll of cheesecake fetish fotos and the launchpad of a thousand psychobilly babe's bangs.
Klaw, whose photos and films now seem as chaste as a chaise longue with a single stiletto heel resting on it, was New York City's, and therefore the world's, pin-up king until 1955. That's when he ran afoul of the aforementioned Senate Subcommittee on JD. It was just one year after William M. Gaines' now-iconic E.C. horror and crime comics were forced into pliable submission by Senator Estes Kefauver and alarmist headshrinker Frederic Wertham, whose anti-comic book screed Seduction of the Innocent played on parents' atom-age fears of little Mikey liking a fast dame and a faster switchblade better than he liked life.
Branded a "pornographer" and all-around bad apple, Klaw was hounded into obscurity, only to find a late sort of fame when the va-va-va-voom photos he shot of Page became underground – and then, as ever, mainstream – sensations.
As it happens, Klaw's grandson, Rick Klaw, lives in Austin (and has written for The Austin Chronicle). An author, artist, and editor, Klaw the younger struck me as exactly the right person to talk to about the re-mounting of the "war on porn."
"We have been down this road before," says Klaw. "It's interesting because once again they say it's all about 'protecting the children. And that's what got Irving in trouble. When he was brought before the [Senate Subcommittee], a kid in Florida had died reenacting a bondage scene that was in one of the Bettie Page's photo-spreads. At the time, it was ruled as a suicide, but, you know, it was obviously auto-erotic asphyxiation. But they brought this case before the Senate and…Irving refused to testify. He pleaded the Fifth, actually, because he couldn't lie, and the truth would have got him convicted. And that truth was that he was responsible for the pictures. It was a witch hunt. His stuff was no racier than anybody else's."
You can say that that was a long time ago, that we are a more incisive, worldly, sane society, but I'd argue the point. In March 2011, charges were brought against Sitges Film Festival director Angel Sala after he screened an uncut version of the incredibly disturbing but patently not pornographic A Serbian Film. The charges were later dropped, and granted, this was in Spain, but you won't find an uncut DVD version of the film in your local video store. Not even in Austin. (Online, of course, it's there in multiple iterations, a prime example of The Internet's Rule #34 .)
Which brings me back to the press release that started this whole conversation. I first received it (there have been several updates since then) on August 27, from a group called Morality in Media which is seeking to block "internet sex domains" via aggressive political action.
Since film distribution is at an uncertain crossroads right now – paused somewhere between streaming, online content, and traditional theatrical exhibition – it's worth pricking up your ears when someone, anyone starts to talk about banning "pornography" online or elsewhere. They might know it when they see it, but I'm uncertain we'd see eye-to-eye on Michelangelo's David.
Here's a sampling of the press release in question:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 27, 2012) – "A change in the Republican Party Platform to target illegal adult pornography is an exceedingly positive development that will protect children, as well as families from the scourge of hardcore pornography," said Patrick A. Trueman, president of Morality In Media (MIM).
"America is suffering an untreated pandemic of harm from pornography, which touches nearly every family in America. Research shows that children and adults are developing life-long addictions to pornography; there is a very substantial increase in demand for child pornography because many adult-porn users are finding that they are no longer excited by adult images; on average four out of five 16 year-olds now regularly access pornography online; 56% of divorces cite Internet pornography as a major factor in the breakup of the marriage; girls consuming pornography are several times more likely to engage in group sex than those who do not; significant and growing numbers of men in their twenties are developing “porn-induced sexual dysfunction.”
Yikes, right? I'm not going to get into numbers and stats right here and now, or probably ever, but I think it's worth making the case for the First Amendment when it comes to subjective definitions and potential deletions of pron, online or anywhere. It's a slippery slope we're treading here. One that could eventually, actually, lead us into the looking glass world of Orwellian sex/thoughtcrime.
So, yeah, why should you worry about this oddly vague, ideologically ephemeral war on porn? Here's why: Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, Naked Lunch, Tropic of Cancer, Night Nurse, Last Tango in Paris. And on and on. Rest assured, we'll talk more about this later. In the meantime: no longer porn! And comics!