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Ira Isaacs: 'I See Myself as a Shock Artist'

Mark Kernes Interviews the under-prosecution moviemaker

Ira Isaacs: 'I See Myself as a Shock Artist'
LOS ANGELES — Ira Isaacs, producer/director of Hollywood Scat Amateurs No. 7, and Internet retailer of such videos as Gang Bang Horse 'Pony Sex Game,' Mako's First Time Scat, and BAE 20, considers himself to be a serious artist. Now all he has to do is to convince 12 federal jurors.

But the task may not be as difficult as people in the adult industry probably imagine. Isaacs is well-spoken, intelligent and prepared to make some legal arguments that have rarely if ever been seen if the typical obscenity case — a label that Isaacs rejects for his own case.

"I've noticed that when people write about my case, they call it an 'obscenity case,' and that's one way to characterize it," Isaacs admits. "I characterize it as a First Amendment case and a freedom of speech case. Technically, it's not obscene yet, until the jury comes in."

What Isaacs is counting on, in part, is getting the jury to understand some of the subtleties of the three prongs of the Supreme Court's Miller v. California decision — in this case, as they apply to the scatological and bestiality videos he's accused of selling over the internet.

"The fact is that you have prong c," Isaac explains. "It's written in the negative — you know, devoid of all 'serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value' — but what it really says is, you can have serious art that has prurient interest or that offends you. That's really kind of what it says as well, because without that prong c, with serious art, you can't convict somebody; it's not obscene."

Indeed, First Amendment attorneys have been clear that Miller's third prong is the one that doesn't depend in any way on community standards; if the work displays, for instance, serious artistic or political value, it can't be found obscene under Miller. And Isaacs is lining up experts to testify to exactly that.

"Right now, I've got a relatively famous psychiatrist who says there's a lot of research and studies that show watching porno is very healthy for you, and that bonding with people who have these unique fetishes is therapeutic for you," Isaacs says. "Also, I'm trying to get this guy named Michael Kamen who wrote a book called 'Visual Shock.' He's a Cornell University professor. I'm trying to get him as another art expert witness, and hopefully, win a battle for freedom of speech."

And then there's Isaacs himself.

"I think I am an expert myself because I've produced a lot of these movies and directed a lot of these kind of movies," he explains. "I probably have produced and directed maybe 50 movies like that. But we're going to have to have this meeting where every one of my witnesses has to go and prove they're an expert, even medical doctors, because they don't want to put a case on. All they want to do is play the DVD, shock and convict, and that's not going to happen in this case. Also, most people, in all the other cases that I've seen, they go, 'Well, it's not that abnormal; community standards would allow it.' We're not going that route. We're not saying it's normal. Maybe it does offend people. It's supposed to offend people. I'm going the other way: Shock art, like Mapplethorpe; going to the serious art, serious scientific side, which is a hell of a lot more difficult for them to convince a jury."

"I see myself as a shock artist that has sex in some of the films," he continues, "but that's not the primary reason these films are produced, at least by me. The difference between what I'm doing and, let's say, Max Hardcore or JM, is, people don't buy my videos because they want to watch people having sex. Regular porn does that. I need to convince people that mine is serious art."

"I don't see why you can't have art and sex," Isaacs argues. "Look at the Kama Sutra. I think even the obscenity law implies that, in saying that if it has serious artistic merit, it doesn't matter if [Miller prongs] a and b are true; it doesn't matter if they're patently offensive. It admits that you can have serious art and have hardcore sex and craziness. It admits it in the law. So that's all I'm saying: It's already admitted. People have to start thinking that way, because everybody I speak to, as soon as I say sex is in it, they go, 'How can sex be art? If you masturbate to it, it cannot be art.' And this is just not the case."

One of the pieces of evidence Isaacs hopes to introduce might be called the "Two Girls, One Cup phenomenon," and in particular, ordinary people's reactions to it.

"What it is, is, there's videos all over the internet of millions of people watching this [Two Girls, One Cup] video, and it's a shock video, and people record their reactions," Isaacs explains. "It's two girls shitting, eating the shit, vomiting in each other's mouth, but you don't see that; you see people reacting to it, people showing it to their grandmother; you're going to see everything from a spoof of Kermit the Frog looking at it to guys writing songs about it - the idea is, millions of people are watching this video about girls shitting in each other's mouths, vomiting in each other's mouths, and they are not, I think, obviously looking for prurient interest to masturbate. People are trying to shock themselves, because in today's world, everything is shock on TV. You have 'America's Most Shocking Videos;' you've got the news - everything is shocking. People need a lot to be shocked these days. I mean, look at 'Fear Factor.' What I've done is, I think, really shocked people, and I think that's why the federal government is on this case."

Isaacs also points to the fact that feces have a fairly long history as an artistic medium. He calls attention to Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" — a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine — and to the "Sensations" exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999, which featured a collage by award-winning artist Chris Ofili titled "The Holy Virgin Mary," one of the components of which was elephant dung — a work that inspired then-NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani to attempt to cut off the city's financial contributions to the museum.

"Chris Ofili's collage is 'shocking,'" said Michael Davis, a professor of art at Mount Holyoke College, "in that it is deliberately provocative and intends to jolt viewers into an expanded frame of reference, and perhaps even toward illumination. In this sense, it relates to the medieval aesthetic of ugliness in which visual dissonance and distortion were used in art to urge the viewer to move beyond the superficial material plane to a higher level of spiritual contemplation. The mayor's reactions appear to be based on the narrow definition that art should only be beautiful and an equally narrow picture of a Virgin Mary who looks like Ingrid Bergman."

Isaacs, of course, agrees.

"Art's a very strange thing," he opines. "Even if I had intended, for example, to make a porno movie, I think it's still art. It doesn't matter what the art is intended; it matters whether it's conveying a message. It's making people ask a lot of questions. If you look at this Two Girls, One Cup stuff, you're going to see people like you've never imagined watching it, and they don't look away; that's the funny thing about it. And then, the actual video you can get from TwistedVideos.com, to see what they're watching."

But although Isaacs doesn't consider himself to be a part of the "adult industry," he hopes people within the industry will understand his position and support it.

"I just think it would have been nice if somebody besides the LA Times seemed to give a crap about our First Amendment rights, because if my stuff is protected, then everybody else's stuff is protected," he assesses. "My mission isn't sexual stimulation. People do masturbate to this stuff, but people masturbate to the craziest fucking things. I don't feel I'm a part of the adult industry, to be honest with you; I feel I'm a part of the art industry."

But First Amendment rights are overwhelmingly important to Isaacs.

"I could have taken a plea and done just a little bit of federal prison time, like at Club Fed, and be done with this," he says. "I decided that morally, I can't do that. They originally wanted to give me 16 months. ... Then they came back and said, 'Okay; four months and four months. Four months house arrest, four months prison.' This was before they even indicted me. I said, no, I'm not doing that, because I figure, I gotta have some balls to do this art; I can't let down all these other people who got caught with this stuff. They just plea and get scared and they lay down. So eventually, I said, 'Unless you're willing to give me no time at all, I'm not going to consider it.' Right now, I kind of want to fight it."

That fight will go public with the government's "Daubert hearing" on expert testimony, currently scheduled for April 9.
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