It’s July again. Time to hoist the flag, fire up the barbecue, get drunk, and blow our hands off playing with cheap Chinese fireworks. Yes, it’s time once again to celebrate our independence. From sanity.
For it seems that our country has truly gone mad. In spite of the election of an articulate, intelligent African-American to the presidency—or perhaps because of it—we have continued our descent into an embarrassing caricature of ourselves. Take, for example, Glenn Beck. A former alcoholic/drug addict disc jockey with a taste for weepy, apocalyptic theatrics, Beck has become a Capra-esque hero from an alternate universe, a Jimmy-Stewart-from-Hell who apparently takes his journalistic cues from Howard Beale. Then we have Sarah Palin, our next president. Sound far-fetched? Follow me: 1) We have already demonstrated our capacity to elect a buffoon to the White House—for two consecutive terms. 2) We have shown our propensity for extreme backlash to said buffoon by putting a black man named Barack Hussein Obama in the White House. 3) So it is only logical that the backlash to our bright, black president with the Ay-rab name (whom many already fear as some kind of Mandingo antichrist) will be an even bigger buffoon than we elected before, and preferably a woman in order to preserve the façade of just how far conservatives have come. Ergo, Bush + Vagina = President Palin.
Obviously the pendulum of history is a study in contradictions, predictable and fickle at the same time, but our penchant for promoting greed while penalizing sex remains disappointingly consistent. Both George W. Bush and Paul Little (aka Max Hardcore) lived out their puerile fantasies—fabricating a conflict in Iraq, tinkling on girls, respectively—but why is Little in jail while W. is free to choke on pretzels at his leisure? Why do federal prosecutors find John Stagliano’s lust for butts more heinous than Wall Street’s lust for bucks? Is spewing semen in a bukkake movie more disturbing than the oil spewing in the Gulf of Mexico? How can sex, no matter how perverse, be more obscene than the incalculable suffering propagated by two profit-driven wars with no hope of winning and no end in sight? Watching porn is a matter of choice. Watching your property value plummet, or your 401K dwindle to nothing, or your kid leave for his third tour of Basra, is not.
Unfortunately, the hypocrisy of the “Fuck-You-I-Got-Mine” mentality cuts both ways. No one has ever gotten into the adult industry to become a martyr for free speech; it’s all about the bucks, as in any other business. Yet we can sometimes get preachy about free speech, and lament our status as the sacrificial lambs in the proving ground of the First Amendment. And that is certainly true. But when the hammer has come down on someone like Paul Little only to elicit Schadenfreude among some of his peers, and whispers of “he got what he deserved,” then we’re no better than our political persecutors. As the saying goes, “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak up. …”
So Paul Little sits in jail. And as you read this, John Stagliano is most likely fighting for his life in a Washington, D.C., courtroom because, like Little, he made porn that a bureaucrat deemed obscene. He is a good man fighting the good fight, and what he deserves is no different than what Little deserved—from both the justice system and the adult industry. Yes, we must be vigilant against a morally bankrupt system that poses as the arbiter of decency; but we should be even more cautious about our own petty tendency to parse the meaning of “free speech” and “obscenity” as they serve our own self-interests rather than the collective good, Sir John Mortimer, the late, great British barrister, once said, “Liberty is allowing people to do things you disapprove of.” That would include John Stagliano, Paul Little, or—dare I say it?—even Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Godspeed to them all.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Tony Lovett writes a monthly column in AVN. This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.