I know a book review may not exactly be appropriate, but in light of yesterday being Independence Day and the upcoming Seymore Butts trial...
The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam and Eve
I've been in the porn industry a little over two years now. Only one person has ever taken the time to let me know that I'm an evil pornographer paving my way to hell. Until recently, I didn't think much about obscenity prosecutions. Sure I've read the gossip site battles between Free Speech Coalition representatives and certain pornographers that don't think they're doing enough. When I was working for an online retailer we had a few meetings about where not to ship product, trying to put together the varying advice from studios and our own lawyers. And I've followed the Cambria List scare, Elyse Metcalf's trial, and the upcoming Seymore Butts trial. But I never put much thought into the power of individuals who work for "our" government to shut down businesses that they simply don't like. That is, until I read Philip Harvey's The Government vs. Erotica.
While I don't condone violence toward women, and I'm thoroughly disgusted by some adult productions, I recognize that those are a part of the price we pay for freedom of speech. Yes, some producers give porn a bad name, but the prosecution of Adam and Eve in the 80s makes clear that the religious right finds all depictions of sex obscene, even what some porn fans would call "vanilla" porn.
Harvey's book details the raid on Adam and Eve in 1986 and the ensuing prosecution, or should I say persecution. The individuals within the government responsible for the persecution clearly intended to shut down Adam and Eve, rather than simply get an obscenity conviction. Ironically, by shutting down other mail order companies (Adam and Eve's competition), these individuals helped Adam and Eve pay for their own defense.
The legal tactics, jury reactions, and reprehensible actions of government individuals provide for a fascinating read. It's a great story about an interesting historical moment that Harvey tells well. As the writer is the founder of Adam and Eve, the presentation of the company's virtuousness has to be taken with a grain of salt. Harvey emphasizes the notion that he began the mail order business as a means to fund nonprofit work in international family planning. While the good that Adam and Eve has achieved is admirable, the good hasn't come at the expense of company profit (there's clearly room for both.) Harvey does admit to making a good living while describing his anger at writing a check to the IRS, knowing that his money will be used to prosecute him. Half of The Government vs. Erotica tells the tale of the Adam and Eve obscenity trials. The other half is dedicated to greater issues of freedom of speech, a "scientific" look at pornography, and the problems with organized religion. Harvey doesn't offer any profound insight, but he does bring together all the issues in a coherent, intriguing fashion. His chapter on "Big-Government Conservatives; Big-Government Liberals" provides some excellent examples of the contradictory nature of both the Republicans and Democrats:
"American 'conservatives,' daddy-like, want government intervention to prevent us from reading entertaining sex books, from engaging in homosexual relationships, to prevent women from having abortions, to forbid anyone from smoking marijuana (though not much more dangerous than ordinary tobacco). 'Liberals' want the government to interfere by taxing us strenuously, taking income from some to give it to others (who are by no means necessarily poor), regulating businesses in ways that drive up consumers' costs, and guiding our behavior through the tax code."
This statement, of course, leads into a discussion of libertarianism. Harvey says his libertarian convictions were shaped by the trials. I have to wonder why the porn industry as a whole does not support the Libertarian Party. Or maybe it does more than I know?
For anyone interested in the history of obscenity prosecution, the origins of the porn industry's self-censorship, or simply a good legal tale, I recommend picking up a copy of The Government vs Erotica. The book has given me a better perspective on the battle between today's government and our first amendment rights as well as inspiring me to learn more about the issues involved. I commend Philip Harvey for writing his story, as it will reach a much greater audience outside of the porn industry. If you're at all concerned with your personal freedoms, you should read this book.
Some useful links:
http://www.rame.net/faq/part11.html (rame legal faq)
http://www.cavr.com/trial.htm (cavr coverage of elyse metcalf trial)
http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0107/taormino.shtml (tristan taormino on the cambria list)
http://www.freespeechcoalition.com/ (free speech coalition)
http://www.lp.org/ (libertarian party)
http://www.aclu.org/ (american civil liberties union)
I'm sure there are other useful websites about our personal freedoms and I welcome additions to this tiny list.