ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Officials at the University of Maryland may have thought their "porn problem" was over with the cancellation of a showing of Digital Playground's Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge at the College Park campus student center on Saturday night, but in fact, it was just beginning.
As noted in AVN's previous coverage , on Monday, state Sen. Andrew Harris (R-Baltimore County) had threatened to amend the state's capital budget bill, which had just cleared the legislature on Friday, to strip the entire state university system of $424 million in construction funding if the U of M allowed a campus organization, the Student Power Party, to screen the multi-award-winning movie in one of the lecture halls that evening.
"Further provided that no general funds will be provided to any public higher education institution that, on or after April 2, 2009, sponsors, sanctions, promotes, endorses, or allows a public screening of any film that is marketed as a XXX-rated adult film, except for a screening as part of an official academic course offering open only to students enrolled in that course," is how Harris' proposed amendment to Senate Bill 100 read.
However, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) ruled the amendment out of order, since its purpose appeared to be to control campus speech and was therefore not related to the state's monetary needs. After several minutes of heated debate, the full Senate upheld Miller's ruling by a vote of 35 to 12.
The amendment's defeat was only a partial victory, though, because university officials required that if the film were to be shown, it would have to include an "educational component." As a result, just over 100 students and five administrators convened Monday evening in tiny Susquehanna Hall to see just 30 minutes of the 138-minute, $10 million XXX epic, a portion that included two sex scenes and lots of special effects.
The segment was preceded by a discussion moderated by Prof. Martha Nell Smith, and which included Profs. Robin Sawyer and Mark Graber, as well as David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We can't allow Annapolis to dictate freedom of speech on this campus," Sawyer, an expert in human sexuality, told the assemblage. "You're 18; if you want to see this movie, you should be able to see this movie."
"Entertainment of all types is entitled to First Amendment rights in this country," Rocah agreed. "Student speech is fully supported by the First Amendment. This is a teachable moment [over] something that is not that important."
Even the originally-planned showing of Pirates II would have been a "teachable moment," however. The local chapter of Planned Parenthood had been scheduled to give a talk before Saturday night's screening, in part to reinforce the idea that despite what they might see during the movie's hardcore scenes, the students themselves should nonetheless practice safe sex.
But that wasn't good enough for Harris.
"The health problem with pornography is not birth control ," he told the Capital News Service. "Therefore, I hope [universities] get experts other than those who promote safe sex," to lead the discussion at future showings.
Harris claimed that sexually explicit movies "create addicts, break up families and degrade men and women."
"The study that they've been using, from the University of Pennsylvania, that says that porn is more addictive than crack, is from the 1970s," noted Digital Playground publicist Christopher. "If you're going to come at us with studies, come at us with something that's dated within this century. They've even got arguments about how porn leads to sex with animals. That's completely taken out of context from the original study from the '70s."
What Harris did manage to do about the "porn problem" was to get a requirement inserted into a supplementary budget bill that would require each of the state's public universities to adopt its own policy on using its facilities for displaying or screening pornographic films and materials. While Sept. 1 is the target date for finalizing such policies, a further attempt by Harris to make some state funds contingent on the policies' completion failed to pass the legislature.
Although budget bills typically require some funding recipients to prepare similar types of reports, student activists at U of M decried the necessity for a "porn policy."
"I would prefer that the legislature not do this," said Kenton Stalder, a junior who helped organize Pirates II showing. "Generally when the legislature gets involved with mandating who can say what, how or why, it never turns out good."
Prof. Sawyer, on the other hand, joked that a porn policy could create new job opportunities.
"Is the state going to appoint a pornography watchdog?" he said. "How can I apply for that position?"
But Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), who remarked that he was glad to see that his colleague Sen. Harris was "back-pedaling furiously" from his attempts to cut off university funding over the issue, denied that there was any need for a "porn policy."
"The university already has a policy on pornography," he said "It's called the First Amendment."
And it's not as if the students are strangers to sexual subjects.
"Most of the literature I've taught has pornographic elements," said Prof. Smith, citing Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson as authors of works with heavy sexual content. "I don't believe [sexual content] should be censored in my classroom."
Adam Kissel, director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who's been assisting the Student Power Party with its fight to show the movie, said that his group was "very concerned" about the constitutional implications of Harris' censorship attempts.
"Strictly based on the plot and the trailer, the movie has plenty of action beyond the sexual action," Kissel assessed. "It has a plot, it has intrigue, just like any movie. So it's almost 100% certain that the university is violating the free speech rights of the students."
FIRE has collected news stories on the controversy from such far-flung regions as Thailand, Australia, France, South Africa and New Zealand - and Digital Playground couldn't be happier.
"Pirates II is selling like hotcakes, and we expect it continue to do so," noted DP publicist Adella. "It'll take a minute to trickle from the stores to the distributors to us, but we've sent out PR to all our distributors to let them know to definitely increase their purchases and to let their stores know, because the title is in deep demand right now."