CHATSWORTH, Calif. - When the clock strikes midnight in the San Fernando Valley this evening, the adult industry won't be sorry to say goodbye to 2008. This was a year of losses, both human and economic, a year that saw the final punishing strikes in the Bush Administration's war on porn and the all-time financial low of a business once considered recession-proof.
But with the election of Barack Obama, the industry has reason for hope as the calendar flips. Larry Flynt spoke well for the business on the historic day of November 5 when he wrote: "This overwhelming victory for the Democratic Party represents an utter rejection of the toxic and failed policies of the Bush Administration, leaving us with a glimmer of hope for the restoration and preservation of our most precious rights."
Happily, Flynt’s darker prediction at the 2008 AVN Awards that 50 percent of the producers in the room wouldn’t be around to celebrate in '09 has not come true. Some have inevitably fallen by the wayside in an overcrowded, desperate marketplace, but many proved tougher than the Hustler chief reckoned.
One of porn's roughest-riding cowboys was roped into a government rodeo in the year’s most important and disturbing story: the obscenity conviction of Paul Little, a.k.a. Max Hardcore.
Despite the fact that Little did not commit the crime for which he stood trial in Tampa – the guilty party was a distributor who testified against him in exchange for immunity – federal prosecutors had an all-too-easy time making a boogeyman out of Max.
The Max fiasco carried ominous weight given another big story of the year: the indictment of John Stagliano and Evil Angel. The connection was drawn clearly here: First, the Feds go after the extreme guys, and then they come for the mainstream pornographers.
"These movies in particular - everything we make, but especially these movies [Storm Squirters 2, Milk Nymphos, and a trailer for Belladonna’s Fetish Fanatic 5] - it's showing girls having fun doing things that maybe you don't always do in your normal bedroom, but that's kind of the point of porn," said Karen Stagliano. "They obviously didn't try to pick the hardest thing they could have picked."
While Stagliano vowed to fight the charges against him, others were forced to fold in the face of costly court battles and potentially dire sentencing. Florida-based Internet porn producer Ray Guhn of Cash Titans took a rap for racketeering and money-laundering, a case that many feel put a damper on the Sunshine State's status as the new Porn Valley. And in Pittsburgh, "Red Rose" recluse Karen Fletcher pleaded guilty rather than face the trauma of her text-based obscenity case.
AVN was the only publication to interview Hard2Find videos owner Loren Jay Adams, who was busted for the sale of bestiality and fisting movies and got 33 months in prison. It was another conviction that cast a doom-laden shadow over the pending Stagliano matter.
The notorious Ira Isaacs obscenity case made big headlines when a vindictive lawyer exposed Judge Alex Kozinski's online collection of dirty-joke photos and e-mails. Kozinski recused himself from the case, and the fate of self-proclaimed "shock artist" Isaacs remains undecided.
This year saw a cease-fire on the 2257 front, with the string of FBI raids coming to a halt while the Justice Department drafted changes to the federal record-keeping law. The complicated revisions were finally published in December, and the industry is now bracing for the next round of legal battles.
Jurors in the high-profile After Hours Video obscenity trial delivered a discouraging verdict in August, deciding that City Girls Gang Bang was obscene while a similar DVD called Sugar Britches was not. Defense attorney Paul Cambria called it a case of "splitting the baby," and is already fighting the jury’s decision.
It wasn't all bad news in the courts and state legislatures this year. The Third Circuit struck down another attempt to revive COPA, the Fifth Circuit overturned the Obscene Device law against selling adult novelties, and Calif. Assemblyman Charles Calderon’s proposal for a 25 percent tax on porn stalled in Sacramento.
The year's most grandiose event in the adult video business was Digital Playground's Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge. Billed as the most expensive adult movie ever made, Joone’s CG-laden sequel to the 2005 blockbuster was nominated for an unprecedented 30 AVN Awards.
But thanks to another breed of pirates, adult producers faced more challenges than ever in the video sector. Where porn once helped drive new technology, the industry is now struggling to adapt to new methods of content delivery.
Playboy announced plans to exit the DVD biz and CEO Christie Hefner stepped down from her longtime post. The sale of Metro Interactive to Z-TECH is another striking illustration of the old-school video companies' drive toward new media. Meanwhile, in a radical retail move, Pure Play Media cut out the traditional middleman to launch its direct-to-retail distribution model.
As the DVD market continued to suffer, adult video companies met quietly this year with VOD providers in an effort to negotiate better percentages. But no easy solutions are forthcoming, as the industry continues to battle a plague of free content and file-sharing.
The Free Speech Coalition addressed these issues at its landmark digital media summit, which brought mainstream entertainment lawyers and exec together with their counterparts in the adult world. The highlight of the conference was a panel discussion with Vivid’s Steve Hirsch and AEBN’s Scott Coffman, who had just resolved their differences in a dropped lawsuit over AEBN subsidiary Pornotube.
In the online porn business, Dee Cash acquired no less than six companies. Some insiders say this acquisition strategy contributed to another big development at year's end: Mastercard's decision to discontinue cross-sales.
On the stock market, Playboy struggled while Penthouse geared up to go public as part of Friend Finder's Dec. 23 filing with the SEC. Private Media Group announced plans to acquire U.S. VOD provider Gamelink in an all-stock deal heralding a new era in consolidation; Private also consolidated overseas with Marc Dorcel.
Porn had its share of scandals this year, including performer Jack Venice's rape trial and conviction, Janine's federal tax evasion rap, Tony Eveready’s sentencing for gun and drug possession, David Lord’s prostitution bust, and Kayden Kross’ alleged involvement in a real estate scam. Brian Surewood was placed behind bars on a murder charge, while "Girls Gone Wild" CEO Joe Francis was released from jail to face approximately 8,000 more lawsuits.
Francis glommed onto yet another media scandal involving high-priced escort Ashley Dupre, whose involvement with Elliot Spitzer forced the New York governor to resign in March. After publicly offering Dupre $1 million to pose for "Girls Gone Wild," Francis discovered that wasn't necessary: he already had footage of the Spitzer call-girl in his T & A archives.
The 2008 slate of celebrity sex tapes made last year's crop seem almost respectable. Vivid released a controversial Jimi Hendrix video that bore suspicious resemblance to a vintage 8mm arcade loop; the Hendrix estate protested, but failed to answer Vivid's big-money challenge: Can you prove it's not Jimi? If six turned out to be sixty-nine...I don't mind.
Gene Simmons and actor Verne "Mini-Me" Troyer were each caught on video, and in the absolute nadir of the genre, someone threatened to unveil graphic footage of "Hobie" from TV's "Baywatch" in a clutch with ex-Vivid girl Sky Lopez. All three videos remained unreleased, heading off what could have been an epidemic of self-inflicted eyeball-gouging.
Producers Jeff Mullen and Scott David of X-Play continued to lead an industry-wide trend of pop culture parodies. These included Not Bewitched XXX, Not the Bradys XXX 2, Hustler's Get Smartass and This Ain't the Munsters XXX. The craze ain't going away any time soon: we can all look forward to This Ain't Gilligan's Island XXX, This Ain't the Partridge Family XXX, Not Three's Company XXX, Not the Cosbys XXX, and others.
But the parody of the year had nothing to do with TV sitcoms or movies. Hustler Video scored massive publicity and sales with its election day hit Nailin' Paylin, starring Lisa Ann as the GOP vice-presidential candidate. The Sarah Palin schtick landed Lisa Ann on "Entertainment Tonight" and made her one of the industry's big sex symbols of 2008.
Sasha Grey not only fulfilled her promise as AVN's Female Performer of the Year but managed to land the leading role in Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh's indie film The Girlfriend Experience. Rolling Stone confirmed Sasha's "It Girl" status, naming her to its trendy annual "Hot List."
Many saw Sasha as a symbol of porn’s assimilation into mainstream pop culture; this was, after all, the year of Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno (featuring Katie Morgan and Traci Lords). It was also the year of David Duchovny's much-publicized sex addiction, porn chicks on reality TV, and author Chuck Palahniuk's Snuff, a critically panned attempt to fictionalize the Houston gang bang.
But this blasé acceptance of porn is among the factors hurting the business, as a generation of tube-site surfers grows more jaded and entitled to the hardcore thrills that used to command a high price-point. Can we really afford to buy our own hype?
The business lost two of its greatest pioneers in 2008: Gerard Damiano and Henri Pachard.
Pachard (a.k.a. Ron Sullivan) died Sept. 27 following the final, grueling stretch of his battle with throat cancer. Sadly, Pachard’s suffering was compounded by the mishandling of an aborted benefit video intended to defray medical costs and help his widow Deloras.
The death of Deep Throat director Damiano at age 80 was another sad reminder that the Golden Age of porn is long-gone. AVN published remembrances from Devil in Miss Jones star Georgina Spelvin, Annie Sprinkle, Veronique Vega and others.
More shocking was the suicide of director Dick Miller (a.k.a. Richard Mailer), whose passing in June prompted a flood of condolences from friends and peers on AVN.com. Attorney-turned-strip club owner David Wasserman, a longtime First Amendment fighter and advocate for adult businesses, took his own life in September.
Two veteran male performers passed away this year: Sasha Gabor, porn's famous Burt Reynolds lookalike, died in Thailand of heart failure, and AVN Hall of Famer Buck Adams died after suffering a stroke in Northridge Hospital with his sister Amber Lynn by his side. Another AVN Hall of Famer, Wicked girl Missy, died from an overdose of prescription medication this summer.
Other notable passings this year included legendary pinup/fetish icon Bettie Page, Sleazoid Express writer Bill Landis, and Rudy Ray Moore, the original X-rated rapper and star of Dolemite.
AVN looks forward to a better and brighter 2009, and wishes its readers, advertisers and industry friends a happy and healthy New Year.
THE TOP STORIES OF 2008