Last night CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a segment by correspondent Steve Kroft on the adult entertainment industry that was surprisingly positive, suggesting that one of the biggest cultural shifts in the United States over the last 25 years has been “the widespread acceptance of sexually explicit material – pornography.”
And while the widespread acceptance of adult entertainment has been steadily making it more and more difficult for prosecutors to obtain obscenity convictions, it will be even more difficult if Rob Black’s legal defense works – his lawyers are questioning if the vague “community standards” definition of obscenity is still applicable in this day and age.
Federal law has let juries decide what is and is not obscenity since 1973 when the “community standards” clause was established by the Supreme Court’s decision in California vs. Miller.
Of course that was before the VCR, cable, and the Internet – inventions that have driven adult videos into the privacy of people’s homes, compared the public nature of a theater.
And Black, president of Extreme Associates – the company that is the subject of the first major obscenity case brought by the federal government in a decade – has a legal team prepared to question how a product that is being purchased and consumed in the privacy of an individual’s home can be subject to a community’s standards.
Black’s obscenity charges stem from purchases by undercover postal officers and federal agents via the mail and by the Internet.
“It’s not involving the community. It's involving a private individual, who purchased these videos, and downloaded the images from the Internet into their home. So, where does that community standard apply,” says Black to 60 Minutes. “You can't apply a community to it if only one person is viewing it. They didn't go to a local video store. It was purchased privately by an individual at home, and sent to them in the mail. And that is the debate. And so, where is the community? Where do you apply it?”
Fred Lane, a lawyer and author of a book called Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs Of Pornography In the Cyber Age, agreed that Black’s argument had merit. Lane’s book explores how the adult industry drives technology – XXX videos are commonly credited with driving sales of the VCR.
“I think that is precisely the question that the court has to answer. The original purpose of the Miller test was to give communities the opportunity to regulate what came into their borders, what was displayed on Main Street, what kids were actually seeing as they went around the community,” says Lane.
However, that’s not stopping the Justice Department from prosecuting obscenity cases – they currently have 50 cases under investigation.
Not that the entire segment was about the definition of “obscenity”. The segment actually starts talking about the corporate America’s silent profiteering fro m adult entertainment – General Motors, Marriot and Time Warner are named as companies that make millions from XXX material.
The same adult fare that can be found at that AVN AEE show, the adult industry tradeshow that is held in Las Vegas every year in January.
An event attended by “(m)anufacturers of adult products, distributors, suppliers, retail store owners, wholesalers, distributors, cable TV buyers, foreign buyers,” said AVN founder and president Paul Fishbein. “They're all here to do business, and then you have the fans.”
Fortune 500 hundred companies are involved at the distribution level. In fact, adult is believed to be the primary source of revenue for cable providers.
Last year, Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, pulled in $50 million from adult programming. AT&T owns a large portion of Comcast, though they have publicly stated otherwise.
As a matter of fact – none of the cable providers profiting from adult products are willing to talk about it – they don’t even include it in their annual reports.
“They don't break the number out. But I would guess they'd probably get a couple hundred million, maybe as much as $500 million, off of adult entertainment, in a broad sense,” says Dennis McAlpine, a partner in McAlpine Associates, who has tracked the entertainment industry for over two decades. “I would think it's probably more than what their overall profit is. The other areas are losing money. That's making money."
And cable isn’t the only area that makes money – Bill Asher, Vivid’s president , reports that Vivid has had double-digit grown every year for the past five years – resulting in consumers spending a billion dollars on Vivid products in the last year alone.
“It's an issue of distribution. When customers can get to adult content, generally, they buy it. They enjoy it. The question was, ‘Would mainstream companies distribute it?’ Now, Playboy and Penthouse for 30 years have enjoyed the same distribution as other magazines. Adult movies really didn't have that up until recently,” Asher said.
“And what happened was, as companies like Vivid came around, and made everyone more comfortable with adult product, mainstream companies said, ‘OK, we'll be willing to distribute it. We would like to join in the benefit - the financial benefit of distributing it,’" Asher added.
By companies like Vivid Asher was referring to companies that produce upscale product that is as close to possible as mainstream entertainment – but with hardcore sex.
And 60 Minutes concentrated on companies in that vein – besides Vivid - VCA, Wicked and Digital Playground were all mentioned and had their contract-performers and screenshots of their Websites used during the segment.
The segment also repeatedly noted that the performers were willing participants in the videos. 60 Minutes visited the World Modeling Talent Agency, where many adult performers find their start, commenting that there was “no shortage of men or women who are eager” to work in front of the camera
“It’s just fun. I think it’s awesome that you, like, can be, like, a sex icon. I think girls will argue that it's a bad thing, you're crazy,” says Destiny, an adult performer who was interviewed at World Modeling. “Because you know everybody thinks you’re beautiful. Everybody wants to meet you.”
Adult gossip columnist Luke Ford offered a dimmer view of adult talent to 60 Minutes. “They come into this industry, because this is the single easiest way that they can earn $1,000 in a day, in two hours,” said Ford. “It's not like we're losing people from going to medical school or business school or becoming lawyers.”
Porn’s current “it” girl Jenna Jameson gave her feelings on her profession
“I'm doing it because this is my job and I'm entertaining the masses. So it's just like being Julia Roberts, but just a little bit further, one step further.” Jameson said.