The Politics Of Porn

Image Recently I watched the documentary Inside Deep Throat, currently showing on HBO. It explores the making and release of Deep Throat , an X-Rated film released in 1972, the first pornographic film to cross over to the mainstream. Only two pornographic films had been released in mainstream theaters prior to Deep Throat, which is easily the most famous pornographic film ever made. The real intrigue behind the film, however, lies behind the scenes, in the political and legal worlds of America. Controversy over the film resulted in changes to obscenity laws in this country, as well as the attempted prosecution of the filmmaker and one of the stars.  

Deep Throat, made for a budget of $25,000, went on to gross over $600 million dollars, giving it the honor of the most profitable film in history. A 60 minute film that relied heavily on humor, Deep Throat was a sensation when it hit theaters, drawing in the most mainstream list of moviegoers ever to sit down in public to watch a pornographic movie. Not only did the audience cross all barriers of age, attracting senior citizens as well, celebrities and politicians as diverse as Jack Nicholson and Jackie Kennedy stood in line to see it. The film was discussed non-stop in the media, mentioned on everything from The Tonight Show to Bob Hope, Laugh In to Sanford and Son. Public acceptance and support seemed to signal that a new day was dawning in America, when porn would merge into mainstream movies and the definition of morality would be left up to the individual and not the government or the churches. As you might guess, however, that concept was short lived.

Soon the government, religion and conservative America marched out to crush the film and anyone associated with it. As usually happens, the controversy only fueled the public’s desire to see it, and profits went through the roof.

The government was already dedicated to fighting against what they considered to be dangerous and obscene. Richard Nixon, the Republican president, called for a study to determine the effect pornography had on Americans. After the completion of the work, it was reported on the evening news that due to the findings of the study, most laws regarding pornography should be abolished, since they weren’t doing much good, and especially since the study found no real threat in pornography. But Nixon, who did the same thing when the results of the study on marijuana he’d commissioned found no danger, ignored the findings and stepped up his crusade.

Charles Keating, one of the commission members and a notorious fan of censorship, decided it wasn’t the right result, and proceeded to go after the industry anyway. Nixon said “as long as I am in the White House, there will be no relaxation of the national effort to control and eliminate smut”, then convinced the Senate to reject the findings and suppress them. The self righteous and moralizing Keating eventually went to prison in the Savings & Loan scandal, and Nixon, who Alan Greenspan recently said had the foulest mouth he’d ever heard, went down in the disgrace of Watergate, forced to resign over his criminal acts.

Years later, Ronald Reagan picked up the charge with The Meese Report , which came to the conclusion that porn did cause harm. However, it came to that conclusion without any significant scientific study or evidence, instead focusing on personal statements and the  individual testimony of porn’s supposed “victims”.

In a targeted campaign against sin and smut in New York, the government went after porn, and specifically, Deep Throat. After 3 police raids, and with the theater refusing to shut down, the case went to trial. Several people testified that the movie was more than it’s sex scenes, and not obscene. The prosecution vehemently disagreed, and also alerted the court to the danger of the subtext of the film, that a woman’s orgasm was just as important and fulfilling as a man’s. The judge in the case wasn’t even aware women could accomplish such a thing, as well as stating that it was a dangerous concept to put forth. He subsequently declared the film obscene, everyone was found guilty, and Deep Throat vanished from New York. Instead, it cropped up in dozens of cities across the nation, where it faced the same assault by the authorities, eventually being banned in more than 20 states.

The FBI stepped in and put pressure on the director of Deep Throat, trying to get to the initial backers of the film, which turned out to be members of the mob. The director gave up any rights he had to the successful film under pressure from both sides. In June of 1973 the Supreme Court, stacked with Nixon appointees, made drastic changes to the obscenity laws, granting censorship power to all authority figures, which remain in effect to this day. These new laws were used to prosecute almost everyone connected with the film.

Harry Reems , the male lead in the film, was originally on the crew of the film, but filled in when no one else was available. He became the example for the prosecutors. If an actor was sentenced to prison for performing in such a film then everyone would think twice about doing it in the future. Had Nixon not been disgraced and forced to resign from office, Reams easily could have gone to prison for years, but instead his conviction was overturned. While he avoided jail, his career never recovered. When Alan Carr began making the phenomenon known as Grease, in the late seventies, he cast Harry Reams in role of the high school coach. Later, when Paramount figured it out, they denied Reams the role and gave it to Sid Caesar. Reams ended up panhandling and homeless in Los Angeles. Today he’s a member of the currently most accepted version of employment rehab, real estate agent.

Linda Lovelace, whose real name was Linda Boreman, was the lead in the film. While it appears she willingly participated and supported the film, even championed the free speech rights of the film and those involved, years later she transformed into a conservative Christian and began campaigning against pornography, went back to her original name, and wrote a tell all book detailing the abuse she’d received by her boyfriend and that she was forced to do the film. She testified before Congress and spoke on television that she was literally held hostage as an actress, that she was completely under the control of others, and that any sex she had in the film amounted to rape, even enlisting the help of feminists like Gloria Steinham, who accompanied her to talk shows to defend her rights as a “victim”. Years later, out of money and spotlight, she gave up her condemnation and posed in magazines and reclaimed her stage name. She died in a car accident in 2002.

Amazingly, the propaganda, misinformation and political tactics used to bring down Deep Throat on the basis of morality is still very much alive in America, regardless of our unprecedented access to information. The current administration spews lies and manipulation non-stop, their false morality echoing the emptiness of decades past, when truth was practically invisible. Currently, conservative and religious groups in America are behind such campaigns as forced abstinence education, denying funding to schools and other organizations who refuse to censor all other sexual information. For these conservative Americans, abstinence prior to heterosexual marriage is the only option, despite the fact that all legitimate studies, including those through the government, have shown that not only is abstinence teaching a failure, but that teens pledging to it and other virginity doctrines not only have as much sex as their peers, but are more apt to have sex, more apt to practice oral and anal sex, and can have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases. As they are doing with everything from the war in Iraq to the economy, conservatives choose to stick their head in the sand and march on without consciousness or honesty.

In recent years we’ve seen conservatives such as Haggard, Craig, Foley, Allen, and Gonzalez, all using their power politically to restrict the rights of others based on so called morality. They’ve all been crushed by their own acts, which fall smack down in the middle of what they spent years lecturing against. Hypocrisy has always lived in those who believe that they have the right to decide how the rest of us should live, and what we should be able to see and hear. As Gore Vidal says, “When you have a nation that totally lies, then you have no reality”. Same sex marriage is failing because of a conservative and religious argument that has no basis in reality, and certainly no basis in a country founded on the freedom and equality of all. These Americans, with clearly no real devotion to the principals of our country, attack us with theories so weak and false that anyone even barely thinking would reject them. Still, they’re winning.

Regardless of pressure from hypocritical conservatives or the religious right, the porn industry is a giant. In the years that followed Deep Throat’s release, VCR’s and video tape enabled the industry to become the monster that it is today. By 1987 VCR’s and video tape profits surpassed those of movie theaters, and by the year 2002 in America there were 467 mainstream movies released, while 11,303 pornographic films were released. Clearly, Americans want their porn.

 

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