Gosh, a lot's changed in the past 13 years. The Video Software Dealers Association is no more, replaced by the Entertainment Merchants Association, and they no longer have an annual show in Vegas. DVD has replaced videotape. Chris Mann is general manager of Evil Angel Video. That asshole Alan Simpson is now co-chair of Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, where he recently characterized Social Security recipients as "a milk cow with 310 million tits." That asshole Ralph Reed, after helping Jack Abramoff con Indian tribes across the South out of funds to (allegedly) oppose legalized off-reservation gambling, started the ultra-conservative, Tea Party-friendly Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2009—and he never did run for President; only Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. That asshole Morton Kondracke is a co-host on Fox News. Non-musician Paul Simon's dead, as is that asshole Andrea Dworkin. And that not-so-big-an-asshole Mario Cuomo's kid (see below) is running for governor of New York.
What hasn't changed that much, however, are the issues, and this editorial, from September of 1997, sets some of them out fairly plainly, so we thought it worth reprinting for AVN's newer fans.
The Evil Party and the Stupid Party
Towards the end of former Sen. Alan Simpson's 20 or so minutes of babbling at the VSDA's First Amendment Rights panel, he finally came out with something worth repeating: "My father once said to me, 'There are only two parties in America: The evil one and the stupid one. I'm in the stupid one.'"
Despite the fact that Simpson's a Republican, and who knows what his father was, I'm not really sure it matters which of the two majors the old guy was referring to.
Because given only those two choices, we all want to be in the stupid one, don't we? Nobody wants to be evil, right? If you're only stupid, there's actually a chance that, in your stupidity, you'll do the right thing, whereas, if you're evil, that implies a malevolent intelligence that chooses the wrong way pretty much every time.
So again, given only those two choices, the only panelist at the Business Session who even had his foot in the Stupid Party's door was New York's ex-Gov. Mario Cuomo. Still, how can you bring yourself to trust someone who, in answer to an excellent parental-responsibility question from Video Team's Chris Mann, says, "My personal standard would drive you people crazy. I think my 27-year-old son did a disgraceful thing by appearing in a magazine recently showing his navel, so I'm not one to judge. I don't like any of this stuff. I never did like any of this stuff.... So my personal taste is not relevant. I should be left with my personal taste because the Supreme Court is incapable of deciding what my taste should be."
Contrast that with what he thinks the government should be doing about drugs and other "debasements" (like porn): "Why doesn't the government take some money, go to the [television] industry in this wonderful free-enterprise system, and say, 'Here's $5 billion. I want you to spend some time in prime time talking to kids about good things.... You see all this filth, all this debasement, all this inducement to do terrible things? I want to buy good time. I, the government.' That's a good use of government.... Let government go in there and spend some money in the free-enterprise system trying to reach the population."
So let's not talk about "evil" and "stupid"; let's talk about "smart," which, in just about every arena except politics, is a viable third choice.
"Smart" would have been inviting someone onto that VSDA panel who had some inkling of what the First Amendment is all about. Someone who didn't regard it, as Cuomo obviously does, as something we all have to suffer with so we don't find ourselves living under a totalitarian regime when we wake up tomorrow. That would have been nice.
And it didn't have to be AVN publisher Paul Fishbein, who actively campaigned to be a panelist, but wound up only being one of six or seven people who got to ask a question at the end. It could have been Clyde DeWitt, Jeffrey Douglas, Paul Cambria, John Weston, Lou Sirkin - hell, almost any member of the First Amendment Lawyers Assn. Just somebody who knows what's going on in this country regarding who's getting busted where for which XXX videotapes, and why this is always a constitutional question.
But no, that would have been too easy. And I think I know why someone of this caliber wasn't chosen. First, all of the panelists - Simpson, Cuomo, ex-Sen. Paul Simon and ex-Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed - are fairly famous, having garnered massive media attention in their time. The same, unfortunately, can't be said for the FALA members. Perhaps the VSDA thought it would be demeaning to have someone on the panel who didn't have the others' Q rating. In fact, given the current state of the nation, it seems likely that no one who believes that the First Amendment means what it says could possibly gain the recognition enjoyed by these Stupid Party members.
But I suspect the real reason was that any of the above-named non-invitees could have run rings around the pols when it comes to First Amendment issues. So they weren't on stage for the same reason Andrea Dworkin won't appear on any talk show where there exists the possibility that her censorial views might be challenged by someone who actually knows something about the Constitution.
The easiest target is Simpson. He began his presentation with that nonsense about "The original purpose of the First Amendment... was to protect a bunch of guys trying to turn out some seditious literature in a basement."
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers were brighter than the ex-Senator from Wyoming. They knew the meaning of the word "political," they knew the meaning of the word "free," and if they'd wanted to limit free speech to politics, they would have put that in the Bill of Rights.
Simpson's thoughts on the difference between censorship and editing are equally laughable:
"Censorship... occurs every single day, and where it occurs most is in the media. We have every newspaper editor, every television news director doing censorship: just leave it out. We have every movie director doing censorship: just leave it on the cutting room floor. It's called editing, content adjustment, shortening, expanding, whatever you name it.... You either do it yourself or the government will come in and do it."
Guess Simpson is a member of the Stupid Party, after all.
The next easiest is Reed. One upscale New Jersey retailer told him, "I fear you, Mr. Reed; I fear your politics, and I don't feel you're on my side as a woman with two children, and part of it is because I think you interfere a lot in my business." One shouldn't take his answer very seriously: "I believe that if a consenting adult wants to rent adult tapes, I'm fine with that." Earlier, he'd said that the legal system is a balancing act between "two competing and equally compelling values," a "desire to live in a free society where the government doesn't tell us what to say" and the wish to "have a culture that celebrates the same values that we teach in our homes... our churches and synagogues."
Of course, when Reed says "values," he means good ol' Judeo-Christian anti-sex morality. When moderator Morton Kondracke asked how Reed would bring about this balance, Pat Robertson's once-anointed heir replied, "I think the way you do it is by seeking to abide by the court decisions outlining what can and can't be done."
That would probably be fine, if Reed and millions of his ilk weren't continually trying to change that law and to engender court decisions that support their warped view of sex and sexually-related subjects.
During the Q&A section, Fishbein asked how going into a video store, renting a XXX video and watching it in the privacy of your own home in any way impacts on "community standards"?
That's "privacy," as implied in the Fourth Amendment, versus "community standards," not found or implied anywhere in the Constitution.
"[I]f you go back and look at the key Supreme Court decision in this area, which is Miller v. California," Reed responded evasively, "the concern is for the broader standards of the community.... I think, for purposes of your industry... that a video store is treated, for purposes of obscenity law, exactly as a library would be. Unless there is something in that video store that is patently offensive, utterly lacking in any redeeming social value, scientific, literary, whatever, and falls under the other standards of the Miller decision, I think absolutely, it can be ruled obscene."
"So do you believe the community has an interest in what people do in the privacy of their own home?" Fishbein followed up.
"I think the community has an interest in the broader commercial enterprise," Reed dodged. "This is a private transaction between two individuals, but it is a commercial transaction, and insofar as it is a commercial transaction, it affects the broader health of the community."
Here, we have Reed laying out one of the Evil Party's most-used scenarios: The Constitution's "commerce clause" coupled with the Supreme Court's bogus "definition" of "obscenity" under Miller, adding up to the government's sanction of myriad pissant country prosecutors trampling retailers' free speech rights.
If you don't think Reed is going to be a senator, or a presidential candidate, before the turn of the century, you're taking the short end of the bet.
Less obviously anti-freedom was legendary liberal Paul Simon, who's proud to have voted against the V-chip. Big whoop. It's just difficult to take his claims of broad-mindedness seriously when he practically echoes Simpson with shit like, "I can't tell you where you draw the line. All I know is, for democracy to function effectively, self-restraint is needed."
Well, let's talk about democracy and self-restraint. It's a big country, and out of 300-some million people, a fair bunch of them rented those 665 million tapes last year. (Kind of puts into perspective Reed's claim that one-and-a-half million people bought the Pope's book, don't it?)
And it's fair to say that some of the folks that didn't rent those XXX videos are a wee bit upset at the ones that did... and they'd like to do something about it. And in fact, with their stealth candidates, sidewalk protests, supporter-packed city council meetings and committed, big-budgeted lobbyists, they are doing something about it.
Now, if we lived in a democratic country, we'd probably have to put this "free speech" thing to a vote, and maybe the forces of goodness and virtue would win out over the forces of darkness and repression... but maybe we wouldn't, depending on the hoi polloi's gullibility and the bad guys' propaganda machine. And when Simon subtly threatens all of us with sinister predictions of constitutional amendments if the adult industry or Hollywood isn't as self-restrained as he (or Reed) would like, it's pretty clear we're talking Evil Party here.
But we don't live in a democracy. We live in a republic, and that means (or should mean) that everybody gets to do pretty much whatever they want unless it can be proved that what they're doing harms someone. No such evidence has yet been presented with respect to adults watching sex on TV.
And let's also remember that in many ways, the adult video industry is the very model of self-restraint. Aside from the fact that it doesn't show anybody fucking kids or animals (not that it'd want to), the industry doesn't even tackle topics that are staples of Hollywood fare: Rape and other violence against women (or men!); Friday the 13th-type horror crap; gay- or trannie-bashing; "we're all going to hell" scenarios... the list goes on.
So the adult industry's answer to Sen. Simon should be the same as it's always been: "Don't talk to us about self-restraint. People want to buy what we produce, and we don't hurt anybody in the process. If you want self-restraint, try turning off that TV or radio if its programs offend you. Don't rent that videotape. Don't read that newspaper or magazine. Don't go to that strip bar. Bury your head as deep in the sand as you want (or as your religion commands). Just leave us the fuck alone."
But then, I'm with the Smart Party.