LOS ANGELES - The fourth season of the Showtime series "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" kicked off last night with a topic vital to free expression: America's war on porn.
"You're watching this to defend America's Constitution," Penn Jillette says in voice-over while on screen, Jay Huntington and some unidentifiable actresses engaged in close personal contact. "Porn is part of what makes us great; it's as American as B-movie actors [photo of Ronald and Nancy Reagan] and pilgrims... With the Internet, pornography has become more accessible and more accepted than ever."
The show includes plenty of footage from adult tradeshows - notably Adultcon - and XXX movies (though nothing hardcore is shown) and features mini-interviews with psychologist Dr. Marty Klein and sociologist Dr. Daniel Linz - as well as with what Penn terms "The Three Stooges Reincarnated": Wheelock College professor and anti-porn activist Dr. Gail Dines, anti-porn author Dr. Diana Russell and XXXChurch pastor Craig Gross.
Penn notes the government's early attempts to censor sexual speech, beginning with the Lockhart Commission, empanelled by President Lyndon Johnson to study the effects of adult material on society, which found no problem with the genre, and the Meese Commission, empanelled by President Reagan, which "pissed away a lot more of our money," Penn states.
Also featured are housewife Brandi Love and husband, who "are the proud owners and stars of a high-tech Website, brandilove.com."
"I think many people love the idea, whether they'll admit it or not," Brandi opines, "that they could get paid and make a very comfortable living having sex on camera... For us, it's the American dream."
Of course, plenty of shots of naked Brandi are shown.
About 10 minutes into the show, however, the pro-censorship trio are given their chance to speak.
"This is a national emergency!" cries Dines. "As far as I'm concerned, access to pornography, to the hardcore violent pornography that exists, is the #1 public health issue of our time... Is it okay to become aroused to images of sexual torture, which is what pornography is?"
Penn and Teller, though, point out that in areas which have the most access to the Internet, and hence to online porn, rapes are down, while in areas with the least access, rapes are up - possibly a coincidence, Penn admits, but a lot more likely than the idea that porn causes rape (and child abuse), for which no scientific studies exist."
"Men can become predisposed to rape from viewing pornography," claims Russell. "That is my theory."
And she has a diagram to "prove" it.
"I think this theory, I have to say myself, is really very powerful," Russell continues. "I don't know anybody who has been able to refute it."
"Really?" says Penn.
"There's no proof, there's no peer-reviewed scientific data that people who look at pornography are more likely to commit violent or sexually-deviant acts than anybody else," Klein, author of America's War On Sex, responds.
"Not only is there no evidence that looking at pornography makes people more violent than people who do not look at pornography, there's actually evidence to the reverse," he continues. "The good news is that most pornography shows happy people doing things that happy people do when they're in bed with somebody they want to have sex with."
But then the show cuts to a lecture by Dines, where she claims that pornography "has to keep ratcheting it [violence] up to keep it interesting," and links adult porn with child abuse - an idea that Klein completely rejects.
The show also features one of Gross's "Porn & Pancakes" anti-porn events, which he holds at churches around the country, and even briefly interviews a reformed "porn addict."
Perhaps most important, however, is Dines' final point, when asked about "the studies that are out now":
"You keep pushing me on this," she retorts. "I've said enough. There's nothing else to say. I mean, there are no good studies."
And indeed, there aren't - except the ones done back in the '80s and '90s that show that most porn is completely benign.
Of course, there's much more stuffed into the show's half-hour than can be related here, but one thing's for sure: It's an experience that no member of the adult entertainment community should miss.