In the Crosshairs

Like Old Testament plagues, one hazard after another appears destined to confront the adult industry in 2004. They compete for our attention, but there are clear and obvious "winners." For instance, a swarm of locusts brandishing fed credentials and search warrants amassing on the horizon pales against the human tragedy that arrives with word of HIV infections among the ranks of porn performers. It all feels terribly inevitable, part of a comprehensive tapestry of themes.

Days after the news broke about the HIV infections, it was as if Porn's Twin Towers had crashed into a smoldering ruin, changing the world forever. As rude as that comparison is, it's actually perversely fitting in that neither event will change anything forever: The industry will survive just as America will continue to exist as a free democratic country despite any number of terrorist attacks or Patriot Acts. I say this as fervent prayer as much as prophecy, until I realize that some sort of profound change is indeed occurring.

We can expect the far right religious zealots to make much out of the recent HIV crisis in the porn industry, and so they should. The story fits perfectly with their view of the business and its role in society. There'd be something wrong with them if they didn't point to it as divine intervention, but they don't own the entire debate. In Los Angeles, there exist the seeds of a very different future, one in which the porn industry is in fact saved from extinction and from itself.

In the contemplation of a state law making condom use mandatory on all porn shoots, Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of the sexually transmitted disease program for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, is quoted as saying, "We want to bring this industry into the mainstream by putting it under the regulations that currently exist for Cal-OSHA. This would be a model for the rest of the country."

To my un-tuned ears, that's as significant a statement as if the Secretary of Labor mandated that all porn performers (and prostitutes) in the country should be allowed to collectively organize as a federally recognized class of American sex worker. Either would constitute an American revolution.

Cut to: The 9/11 Commission testimony of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Fortified with the news that his Army of God is preparing for an all-out War on Smut, substitute "pornographer" for "terrorist." The AG cuts a terrifying Old Testament figure. He fixes his heavy-lidded eyes on his inquisitors as if smiting them. His voice rumbles from the center of the earth, clear in the rectitude of his intent, and never wavers. His message has the simplicity of a proverb and the grounded authenticity of a saint. He will take on his shoulders the burdens that have yet to be borne, and be born they will. Bruce Taylor is a britches-wearing Boy Scout by comparison.

Two roads: one leads into darkness, one into light.