Stagliano Comes Out Swinging In Final L.A. Times 'Dust-Up'

LOS ANGELES - Surely the Los Angeles Times writer who composed today's "Dust-Up" question could have phrased it so that it wasn't so much of a softball?

That writer asks, "There have been many stories from former porn performers indicating the industry is rife with abuse, coercion and drug addiction. Doesn't the government have an interest in curtailing this behavior through obscenity enforcement?"

And of course, director/producer/distributor John Stagliano delivers the obvious answer: "Is the Times suggesting that enforcing obscenity laws will stop people from breaking other laws?"

Stagliano could have left it at that, but he goes on to relate his observations regarding "abuse, coercion and drug addiction" based on his 35 years in the adult industry, and encouraging anyone making such charges to "provide real evidence rather than a few anecdotal stories" - as his opponent, law professor Barry McDonald of Pepperdine University Law School, did yesterday.

Regarding the "abuse" claim, Stagliano notes that reputation is supremely important in the adult industry, and that if a producer or director gains a reputation as an abuser of performers, that person is drummed out of business very quickly, since reports of abuse circulate swiftly within the industry.

Stagliano also suggests that the proper way to determine if there is some overabundance of drug use in porn would be to conduct a study that compared the drug use of teenagers both in and out of the industry - which has never been done. He also observes that, "Those performers who do abuse drugs quickly learn that they lose work."

Stagliano also defends the concept of "extreme porn," calling it "the expression of the creativity of the people I respect the most. They are not afraid to reach. They are using their bodies in ways unimaginable before. It is art in the purest sense of the word - art that challenges; art that makes you think." The words echo recent statements by shock artist Ira Isaacs - who may very well have spoken to Stagliano before this portion of his piece was written.

For porn's critics, Stagliano has little love or respect.

"If you don't like this, if you are afraid of this, that is an expression of your approach to life, not ours," he writes. "We're just achieving sexual gratification; is that so bad?" He notes that, for the very religious, it seems to be - even though religious zealots have been responsible for far more death and destruction in the world than sexual hedonists.

McDonald, whose time in the adult industry appears to consist entirely of answering Stagliano's "Dust-Up" postings, nonetheless responds by quoting from the LA Times' charges that there have been "many stories" of drug use, coercion and abuse "from former porn performers" - never questioning the fact that all of such storytellers are religious converts, making their ability and inclination to relate the truth about their experiences in the industry highly suspect.

"I would think The Times is in a good position to know," McDonald concludes - another sad case of the "blind leading the blind."

"Performers report that they are required to work without condoms to maintain employment," McDonald quotes the Times as saying, ignoring the fact that no one is "required to work" in the adult industry, and that several production companies have "condom optional" policies.

"If demanding that performers flirt with death to produce the 'rawest' product possible isn't abuse and coercion, I don't know what is," McDonald charges, apparently failing to do enough simple research to find that all performers are tested for HIV on a regular basis, and that since the minor outbreak in 2004 (caused by a performer working condomless overseas, then violating testing protocols by working too soon upon returning to the U.S.), there have been no HIV cases among the talent pool - and before that, none since 1998. People "flirt with death" more if they pick up a sexual partner at their neighborhood bar - or the Santa Monica Pier!

And of course, McDonald's claim that "there are numerous accounts by former porn performers on how they regularly took drugs to dull the pain and emptiness of what they did and the lifestyle associated with it" is more a reflection of the LA Times' poor reporting than on the reality of life in the industry. Moreover, his citation of anti-porn activist Katharine MacKinnon - Andrea Dworkin's old pal - as an "expert" on the relationship between porn and prostitution also speaks to McDonald's poor research skills.

"And all of this is from just a brief look at the available literature," McDonald claims. We're guessing, as brief a look as possible. He finishes his piece by calling for more government oversight of the already highly-regulated industry - but McDonald's antipathy toward adult material has been obvious from the beginning.

And let's not forget that he teaches at a school whose main landmark is a giant cross, visible from nearly a mile away, in the front yard.

So while the LA Times is to be congratulated for engaging is an open discussion of the adult industry as seen in part through the eyes of one of its leading members, they might seriously think next time about doing a better job of vetting their industry opponent.