COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Sen. Andrew Harris has given an ultimatum to University of Maryland officials: Stop tonight's screening of Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, or risk a potential loss of $424 million in state funding.
Originally set for April 4 on the College Park campus, the student screening of Digital Playground's award-winning adult feature was canceled after school officials caved to Harris' political threats.
Students protested the decision by moving the show to another campus venue, where the movie will be shown following a panel discussion on free speech with an ACLU rep in attendance.
"I know some students would like to portray this as a free speech issue," said Harris. "It is not. This is about the use of taxpayer dollars and the Maryland General Assembly acts every day on issues concerning the use of taxpayer dollars. Just because someone is on a college campus they do not have a right to spend the hard-earned money of Maryland’s taxpayers on something as detrimental to our society as hard-core XXX pornography."
Harris phoned CNN last week to debate the controversy with Digital Playground publicist Adella.
In a rabid display of anti-porn bias, CNN anchor Mike Galanos called porn "worse than crack". Harris bemoaned the misplaced priorities of a school that condones the flagrant display of Belladonna's buttocks while banning cigarette smoke on the student quad.
Which butts pose the greater health risk?
The Washington Post took up the issue today, hosting an online debate in which readers posed the pros and cons.
John Watson, an associate professor at American University's School of Communication, addressed the anti-censorship viewpoint.
"When the government, especially when embodied in an educational institution, intentionally becomes an impediment to the expression of ideas, fundamental liberty is compromised," Watson said. "Maryland lawmakers should have responded to speech they found despicable by sharing their opinions, not by threatening to shut down the discussion."
Aaron Titus, spokesperson for the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography, echoed the CNN pundit's comparison of porn and dope. Like Harris, he cited "scientific evidence" linking porn to rape, degradation and moral decay.
"Pornography's documented cycle of addiction, escalation, desensitization and resulting acts are more closely analogous [sic] to drug use than protected speech," he said.
Watson pointed to the oft-ignored and sometimes slippery distinction between legal porn and illegal obscenity.
"I think the Maryland law outlaws obscenity and not mere pornography," he said. "Pornography, as some people forget, is protected by the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment."
A statement from the university defended the students' right to screen Pirates II in an educational context:
"Although not condoning this movie or any excerpts from it that might be shown, the University of Maryland must allow this event, but has insisted that it include an educational component.
For this event, the students have asked several of our nationally recognized faculty members, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, and other scholars to offer their views that will contribute to a full dialogue on these sensitive and controversial topics.
Discussion on topics such as this are characteristic of a vibrant educational community."
Students protested the Senator's political tactics and the absurdity of slashing educational funds over a movie involving Tommy Gunn, Jesse Jane, and a computer-generated boat.
"I really don't think the state should bully us around with their budget power," one student said.
Harris anticipated that argument in his statement to the press.
"I would prefer not to do this," said Harris. "But the students, by their actions, and the Administration, by its inaction, are leaving me no choice."
Regardless of the outcome, the outrage and protest have set Pirates II sailing on a wave of publicity that even the formidable Digital Playground marketing department could not have concocted.