Should Max Hardcore Serve Prison Time?

Special Report for by Clay Calvert 

Is it right, in 2008, to sentence a person to nearly four years in prison for producing sexually explicit movies that are made by consenting adults and intended to be watched by consenting adults?  Why, or why not?

I posed those questions to undergraduates – mostly juniors and seniors – in my media law course at Pennsylvania State University on October 8, less than a week after Paul Little (a.k.a. Max Hardcore) was sentenced to 46 months in prison.  My students already had studied the Miller v. California obscenity test, learned about economics of the adult industry and heard about Little’s June 2008 conviction.  I had stressed how Max Hardcore movies, although rough, didn’t involve minors.

I asked them to email their responses on this voluntary task; they received no extra credit, and I was clear that it didn’t matter what side they took.  I told them it would be interesting for AVN’s readers to see what a young generation thinks.

So, what did my non-scientific sampling of college students, situated 2,000-plus miles away from Porn Valley, say?

They overwhelmingly thought a prison sentence was wrong.  In fact, only one person out of the 31 students who responded by my deadline thought that incarceration was appropriate.  Here’s a sampling of their views.

Mike Megrey, an economics major from Greensburg, Pa., expressed the view that “it is wrong to imprison an individual for producing sexually explicit material that is made by consenting adults for consenting adults, whether the sentence is four years or four hours.  Doing so puts a burden on every tax paying American, and focuses law enforcement away from more harmful areas.”

Some students blamed the prosecutors.  As Ken Smith, a major in public relations and political science from Sandusky, Ohio, wrote, “just because some sexually frustrated prosecutors want to start a moral crusade against a legitimate businessman doesn’t mean we should allow our First Amendment rights to be trampled on.”

Others focused on the popularity of adult content and the fact that people don’t have to watch the movies.  “While explicit material is not for everyone, there are no grounds to forbid such material from being produced to satisfy the demand of a very substantial economic market in America.  No one is forced to watch the material ...  It is absurd that someone who has done nothing to harm society at large can be incarcerated in America,” wrote Nate Etter, a political science major from Elizabethtown, Pa.

Also addressing the economic market, along with the First Amendment, was Christina Binz, a public relations major from Pittsburgh.  As she put it, “whether a person watches sexually explicit material or does not, strongly opposes sexually explicit material or not, or has no connection to the subject whatsoever, Americans most likely agree that the First Amendment’s right of free speech is one of the most important aspects of our country.  It doesn’t seem right, then, that a man would be penalized for creating and distributing sexually explicit material, for exercising his established right of expression, especially while the market has risen exponentially.”

Samantha Stein, a finance major from Wilmington, Del., was concerned about the targeting of one particular individual (Paul Little) out of thousands who produce adult content. “The porn industry makes billions of dollars a year and to target single individuals seems ridiculous.  One corporation was pulled aside and charged when hundreds of companies . . . have materials traveling through the interstate on a daily basis,” she stated.

Stacey Federoff, a journalism major form Sutersville, Pa., suggested that a prison sentence reflected larger cultural problems.  “I believe American culture is not able to address real issues that deal with sex and sexuality, like teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and AIDS, but instead likes to go after things that can be easily made the scapegoat for these issues, such as the media – both sexually explicit and mainstream alike,” she wrote.

One person thought Little’s content didn’t merit protection under Miller, but he questioned Little’s incarceration.  “Clearly, such films lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value . . . but to hand down a prison sentence seems a bit harsh,” wrote Jon Slomka, a marketing major from Long Island, NY.

Clay Calvert is the John & Ann Curley Professor of First Amendment Studies at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa. Email him at [email protected].