July 29, 2001 12:00pm
The Latour Letter - Charlie's East Coast Perspective
by: Charlie Latour
Does mainstreaming of pornography mean that the content of pornographic presentations will improve, or that consumers' lives will be more sexually fulfilling, or even that the majority of citizens actively support pornography? In the lexicon of today, the term "mainstream" is being used with increasing frequency; not just by the industry titans and trade association executives, but also by the average Joe and Mary consumer.
Mainstream does not always equal societal acceptance, but rather a societal acquiescence to the wishes and desires of a group or segment of society, which is usually supported by the major media outlets. It does not mean that everyone accepts the product or behavior, but just enough people so the media elite says its mainstream, or the major corporations begin to consider how to become involved.
There are many different opinions as to where modern pornography got its start. Self-fashioned historians will pontificate and contrarians will argue, but it does not really matter. Pornography, until the effects of the sexual revolution were codified in the late 1970's, was illegal in the United States. That fact and that fact alone changed the face of pornography and started the march towards the mainstream, for better or worse. In 2001 the public has compartmentalized pornography. Child pornography is universally viewed as bad and evil, adult pornography is more tolerable and considered a matter of personal choice. This seems to be the demarcation line drawn by most people.
To add substance to my perception I had my staff conduct an unofficial and limited survey of 501 people (250 women-251 men) chosen at random in a single metropolitan area (Philadelphia, my home town). Once the individual agreed to answer questions about pornography (over 200 declined to answer questions) we asked a limited number of questions. The results are revealing, although limited in their significance because I do not claim to be a professional opinion poll expert. Over 95% claimed to have seen, read or heard material that was sexually explicit. 100% felt that child pornography was and should be illegal. When asked what age the performers should be before they could legally perform sexual acts the answer ran counter to the prevailing industry wisdom. A small percentage, just 18% found that 18 years of age should be the age of legality (of these people 92% were male, and all were between 18 and 25 years of age, with the exception of one 63 year old male), 72% thought 21 should be the age, 3 % felt 16 years of age was old enough and 7% went for ages ranging from 25 to 29. An overwhelming majority, 82%, thought adult pornography should be legal and available, but only 2% were willing to have an adult bookstore or adult dance club on the street where they lived. 65% offered the opinion that adult pornography had declined in quality in recent years. This number is skewed by the age cohort of the respondent. Those under 25 were more tolerant of product being distributed currently (70% thought it was acceptable or better). Those 25-35 had a different opinion, with only 39% finding the product acceptable and those 35 and over having an even lower opinion of current product, with less than 15% finding it acceptable.
While all of these various statistics and cohorts are interesting the answers presented an interesting picture and helped to clarify the question: "Does mainstreaming of pornography mean that the content of pornographic presentations will improve, or that consumers lives will be more sexually fulfilling, or even that the majority of citizens actively support pornography?" When presented with this question an overwhelming majority 84% thought that mainstreaming would lead to a more boring product, an even larger majority (86%) thought that mainstream acceptance of pornography would lead to the potential for greater incidences of child pornography. As one 29 year old female respondent stated, "Once adult pornography has been fully accepted by the mainstream, there will be extremists who will attempt to push the envelope farther and farther and children will feel fewer restrictions and limitations. These two forces will unfortunately meet and the results will be catastrophic." Even holding this more conservative opinion this person also thought that pornography should be legal and available.
So what does all this mean? Years ago my good friend and Adult Industry intellectual Bill Margold stated that, "the closer to the gutter porn got the better it was" and that, "the greater the societal acceptance the less sexual value it [pornography] has". These statements may well prove true. So while industry executives and their spokespersons are running around claiming mainstream acceptance, this may not be what is best for the adult industry. Maintenance of the "outlaw" image may be better than the ascension to mainstream acquiescence. I doubt if the industry will plunge back into the past. The current administration, for all the protestations and prognostications of the radical liberal left and many in the Adult Industry, has not taken a drastic step backwards, even as some in the industry continue to provoke a fight. This does not mean that at some time in the future the forces opposed to pornography will not raise their heads. I am sure they will, but for now we have continued on the same straight-line trajectory as we have been on for the past ten years.
The trail of Seymore Butts (Adam Glasser) and others are local matters, not national trends. They are pushing the envelope so resistance is expected. The trial of Ms. Metcalf in Cincinnati was much more revealing, as this was a straight up case of societal acquiescence. Ms. Metcalf won and so did pornography as a socially acceptable entertainment form. If Glasser loses the line dividing community acceptable limits just becomes brighter. If he wins the line moves. Either way the Glasser result will not affect societal acquiescence to pornography.
In general, societal acquiescence, or mainstreaming of pornography may not improve the quality or enhance sexual fulfillment. It may expand the user population, which will certainly make those whose fortunes are tied to the sale of pornographic material happy, but will it actually improve the quality? Who knows how society will react.
Jimmy Carter got pounded for having lust in his heart and now oral sex in the Oval Office between a married older man and a young unmarried subordinate seems to be acceptable. So things are changing! As adult material becomes mainstream will Sony, Paramount Pictures, Time-Warner or any of the other major corporate players in the entertainment field enter the picture? If they do, the face of pornography could change again. These giants could certainly dominate the field, influence legislation and freeze out every Tom, Dick and Harry with a camcorder. They have the ability to influence the quality, but will they?
From my perspective here on the opposite coast the move of pornography into the mainstream may not carry the results that many think it will. It may not bring wide public acceptance, rather it may bring acceptance by the elite who control the media. Abortion is mainstream, not because it is overwhelmingly popular or lacks controversy, but because a vocal, politically active group supported by the major media outlets have forced it into the mainstream. Pornography may fit into the same category, where overwhelming majority support may not exist, but those in control sanctify it. Any controversial topic is the same including tobacco, firearms possession, drug legalization and other issues.
Simply asked, "does mainstreaming of pornography mean that the content of pornographic presentations will improve, or that consumers lives will be more sexually fulfilling, or even that the majority of citizens actively support pornography? The answer lies within each one of you, the citizens of this wonderfully free country. If you want it mainstream, it will happen! It's the consequences, which concern me.