SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Alliance Defense Fund, one of several attorney groups which offers free legal aid to fundamentalist and conservative political causes, has sent a letter to—sorry; was "compelled to write to"—Attorney General Eric Holder to request a meeting with him "at the earliest opportunity" to discuss, among other issues, the "illegal pornography [that] has flooded homes, businesses, public libraries, and even schools," which has been "devastating to America."
"Pornography addiction is now common among men, women, and even many children," Alliance Defense Fund president (and former Meese Commission counsel) Alan Sears claims in the letter. "Children are creating cell phone child pornography, in a new trend called, 'sexting.' Pornography use is now a significant factor in divorce. Hotels. motels, cable and satellite companies, and other businesses are making tremendous profits by offering illegal, obscene pornography. America is becoming a 'pornified culture,' as author and Time magazine writer Pamela Paul has stated."
One might be tempted to dismiss such a letter as simply another raving from what psychologist Dr. Marty Klein aptly describes, in his America's War on Sex, as the "sexual disaster industry," but it's important to recognize that with the collapse of the conservative-touted Wall Street financial structure, "fighting pornography" is just about the only thing right-wing politicians and religionists have going for them. And apparently, distinct from the prediction made by First Amendment attorney H. Louis Sirkin in an AVN editorial last January, the pro-censorship crowd will not be "devot[ing] their energies more on the local rather than the national level."
The ADF letter quotes at length from a letter that Holder, as deputy attorney general under Janet Reno, wrote to all of the U.S. attorneys on June 10, 1998, asking them to prioritize "cases involving large-scale distributors who realize substantial income from multistate operations and cases in which there is evidence of organized crime involvement," while still not forgetting the "little guys" because "prosecution of cases involving relatively small distributors can have a deterrent effect."
However, attorney/constitutional scholar Reed Lee has opined that Holder's letter, written in the waning days of the Clinton administration, just as the right-wing's political power was reaching its peak, was simply an attempt to deflect criticism from the Janet Reno Justice Department which, though displaying an excellent record on combating child pornography, had not seen the point in targeting sexual material created and sold by adults for adults. Therefore, Lee felt, Holder's personal feelings about adult content may not have been reflected in the letter.
And despite the ADF letter's repeated references to "illegal pornography," the fact is that sexually explicit material—"pornography"—is legal in the U.S. unless judged by a jury to be obscene.
Klein takes issue with all of the reasons the ADF letter, with its 14 pages of signatories—the vast majority with no scientific or academic credentials in any field concerning sexuality—gives for wanting the Justice Department to target sexual material in the first place.
"What else would you do if you were 16 years old and you had the most powerful communications medium ever invented in the history of the world in the palm of your hand?" Klein asked, referring to "sexting" teenagers and their cell phones. "Would you put it in a drawer or would you experiment with it? The idea that we would give kids these extraordinarily powerful technological tools and that they would behave toward them in serious and completely responsible and grown-up ways is ludicrous."
"It's disingenuous for anyone to hand cell phones to tens of millions of teenagers and then be surprised when they actually use them for something that interests them, that interests everyone, which is sex," he continued. "When I spoke at the American Library Association annual meeting just last week in Chicago, one of the things that I said is that the two primary questions of adolescence are, 'Who am I?' and 'Am I normal?' It is impossible for a healthy human being to investigate those questions without reference to sexuality."
Klein also questioned the role porn plays in divorce.
"When people are divorcing, they are under tremendous stress, and many people regress during divorce proceedings—frequently encouraged by their attorneys—to attack the other person and to blame factors that in reality were trivial or outside of the marriage," observed Klein, whose practice deals heavily with families' interpersonal relationships.
"Nobody in their right mind abandons a perfectly thrilling sexual relationship with a real live human being in favor of a media production," he continued. "What does happen in many conventional marriages, however, is that as the length of the marriage increases, the frequency, variety and quality of the sex goes down. This is not necessarily a pathology; this is the way that adult life is. This is frequently accompanied by people developing other interests, whether it's sports or grandchildren or pornography. Just as people don't abandon a healthy sexual relationship in favor of golf or grandchildren, they don't abandon a healthy, exciting sexual relationship for pornography either. However, just like with golf and grandchildren, as long-term relationships get longer, healthy people develop other kinds of interests, and that includes golf and grandchildren and pornography."
Finally, Klein characterized the idea that America has, over the past 20 or 30 years, become a "pornified culture" as ignorant.
"Clearly, American is a sexualized culture," he readily admitted. "That is a feature of, on the one hand, the fact that we are a secular democratic republic with rather tolerant values in people's private behavior, and with a certain amount of prosperity and physical security, people start investigating more rarefied gratifications like sex. At the same time, America is a society of late-stage post-industrial capitalism, and that means that everywhere we look there is advertising, and if everywhere we look is advertising, everywhere we look is going to be sex. That's not new. People have used sex in advertising since the beginning of advertising, and that goes all the way back to the Greeks and Romans, and presumably before that."
"When people talk about America as a recently pornified culture, they are showing their ignorance of American history and of western cultural history," he continued. "American advertising and American culture did not suddenly stumble on sex just the other day. If you look at advertising from the 1920s, if you look at movies of the 1920s, they're full of sex as well. If movies had not been so full of sex, the Hollywood [Breen] production code would never have had to be invented. Societies only attempt to prevent things when they're pervasive. You know, you don't hear a lot of drumbeating about, 'We have to wipe out cannibalism,' because there is no cannibalism. So the idea that sexuality came out of nowhere and was crammed down the throats of Americans, that's laughable. That's hardly even worthy of a serious response."
Sadly, however, letters such as that issued by the Alliance Defense Fund are part of an anti-First Amendment strategy that the adult industry will have to deal with, hopefully sooner rather than later. Longtime AVN readers will recall that a consortium of reactionary religious groups, led by anti-porn activist Phil Burress of Cincinnati's Citizens for Community Values, had several meetings with then-Attorney Generals John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales to implore (and perhaps threaten) them to devote more Justice Department resources to the suppression of sexual material. The result of such pressure led to the federal indictments of Extreme Associates, Max Hardcore, JM Productions and some lesser-known producers and retailers.
Free Speech Coalition, which had only just been informed of the ADF letter, is assessing the situation and will shortly make a decision as to what if any actions the adult industry trade association should take regarding this latest threat to its existence.
And perhaps, for the first time in more than eight years, the United States has an attorney general who might just listen to what (if anything) the adult industry has to say.
(Pictured: Alan Sears)