Bozell Column: A Porn Stimulus Package?
The new Congress has arrived in Washington with grand plans to spend a trillion dollars in an endless Christmas, a bailout for anyone in need, or in want, and in line. Now that America has seen how easy it was for the financial powerhouses to walk away with hundreds of billions, one segment of the population after another is getting into the queue.
The auto industry drove itself into the ground and wants billions. The mayors mismanaged their cities and they want billions. It was only a matter of time before the governors would raise their "me too!" voices, with California’s being the loudest and most obnoxious.
But only in America, and only during this period when we’ve taken a leave of our national senses in the belief that there’s a tooth fairy and her name is "Paulson," would we see materialize that no one could possibly have predicted: the porn industry wants a bailout, too.
I can just imagine the newsreels fifty years from now: "Back in 2009, America was reeling. During those tough times, poor Joe and Mary could hardly afford to put food on the table and porn on the DVD."
Years from now, how will we explain the good old days of free enterprise to our grandchildren? "Why, when I was your age, I saved my money to pay for my Hustler subscription."
Skin-flick makers are a shameless and cynical bunch, so with an eye on the opening of the latest "adult entertainment" expo in Las Vegas, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and "Girls Gone Wild" DVD king Joe Francis issued a press release calling on the 111th Congress to "provide a financial bailout for the adult entertainment industry along the lines of what is being sought by the Big Three automakers."
(In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the same Joe Francis who recently left prison after serving 11 months and posting a $1.5 million bond, convicted on tax evasion charges.)
Flynt insists it is time for Congress to restart "the sexual appetite of America," and his product is more important than cars: "People are too depressed to be sexually active," Flynt laments. "This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex."
They are asking for $5 billion. They are also asking for a whole lot of publicity, too. Those sleazy CEO tongues were clearly in their cheeks, since the press release carried the headline "The $13 Billion Industry Is In No Fear Of Collapse, But Why Take Chances?"
Francis was serious – and obnoxious – enough to send letters to liberal House members like Henry Waxman (his local representative), and Barney Frank (the chairman of the Financial Services Committee). Naturally, Forbes reported "Representatives for Waxman and Frank weren't picking up their phones." Francis also sees hope in President-elect Obama: "I bet he's a Girls Gone Wild fan."
Flynt and Francis argue that their business has been hit hard by the economic downturn. They claim DVD sales and rentals have decreased by 22 percent in the past year as viewers turn to the Internet for their thrills.
But not all of that mouse-clicking turns a profit. In a new report on AdultVest, the first hedge fund for financing X-rated outcasts, the Atlantic Monthly estimated the U.S. porn industry generated roughly $12 billion in 2007 (about the same overall sales figures as the video-game industry in 2006). But online content doesn’t deliver the financial returns it used to, now that popular smut sites such as RedTube and PornHub give it away.
There’s something deliciously amusing about the exploitative Larry Flynts of the world being undercut by the free-porn carnival barkers.
In their swaggering confidence in the never-ending human desire for their "goods," the T&A titans like to imply they’re as American as apple pie. "The popularity of adult entertainment in America has grown steadily for the past half century," Francis boasts in his preening press release. "Its emergence into the mainstream of popular culture suggests that the U.S. government should actively support the adult industry's survival and growth, just as it feels the need to support any other industry cherished by the American people."
Pornographers are surely born audacious, but this press release underlines the strange evolution of the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers meant for it to build and protect a robust atmosphere for political speech. Now some in Congress want to curtail political speech with "campaign reform," and the "Fairness Doctrine" while others will have to suffer the lobbying efforts of insufferable pornographers demanding the American taxpayer put a few billion of those greenbacks in their sweaty hands, too.
If Congress wanted to subsidize edgy sex pictures, there’s always that tried and true National Endowment for the Arts. It’s cheaper, too.