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These People Paid for Your Porn

By: Gram Ponante


community standards porn In a week where the Supreme Court upheld the religious freedom of a store that sells spools of tulle to deny birth control to its female employees, it’s worth thinking about the people who faced prison to bring you your gangbangs.

Constitutional guarantee of free speech or no, pornographers have been indicted every decade of this and the last century for depicting the very types of adult consensual acts you will find on this website. Since this week also marks the nation’s birthday, we are discussing Freedom of Speech with regard to pornography, no matter how gross, silly, or controversial.

But Aren’t Gangbangs Constitutionally Protected?

Shortly after the 2000 presidential election, what amounted to an internal memo passed through the low-carpeted halls of Porn Valley. It was a simple list of scenarios solicited from First Amendment Attorney Paul Cambria. Each item on it, he said, had at one time resulted in legal action or an obscenity charge against the pornographer who put that scenario on film.

“It wasn’t a group of topics that I liked or didn’t like,” says Paul Cambria today of what came to be known as The Cambria List. “It was Things To Watch Out For.”

Some of those Things To Watch Out For included interracial sex, fisting, urination in a sexual setting, bukkake, two dicks in one mouth, and fisting. The degree to which adult producers heeded this list indicates that, even in the dozen boom years following 1987-1989’s Freeman Case — the landmark story of California v. Freeman that effectively decriminalized the shooting of porn in the Golden State — people still worried about going to jail.

community standards porn “Hold up,” you might say. “I see porn stars popping up on basic cable. One of them just married Kanye West. Every week TMZ reports a new celebrity sex tape. It was only this morning that I watched sweet Courtney Simpson getting choked out with two dicks in her mouth. Surely the trouble has passed.”

It hasn’t. It surprised when I learned, years ago, that a federal agent may purchase a movie from your cherry-picked county and, reasonably assured of your community’s “standards” (i.e. the ability to convene a sympathetic jury of people who wouldn’t have bought the movie anyway and, as per 1973’s Miller v. California, apply “community standards” of obscenity that vary from community to community), successfully launch an obscenity case. This has been the method employed in indicting JM Productions, Evil Angel, and Max Hardcore within the last decade. The first two cases failed almost spectacularly. Hardcore was released from prison in 2011 and his parole is up next month.

community standards pornIt is hard to separate the demand for porn and the criminal element that would step in to supply it. Like shifting a manual transmission, the idea of sexual freedom and expression (a la 1972’s “Deep Throat“) was often at odds with standards of decency — underworld entrepreneurs filled that gap.

“Deep Throat” director Gerard Damiano said that porn’s most famous movie reaped trash bags full of cash for the Colombo crime family. Estimates of the profitability of the Linda Lovelace/Harry Reems film, which was shot for less than $50,000 in Miami and New York in the winter of 1972, range from $100 million to $600 million.

Despite “Deep Throat” ushering in the era of “porno chic” (think porn-watching hipsters with poorer grooming) and spawning the very real filmed-porn cash cow, shooting porn wasn’t legal. In the eyes of the law it was nothing more than pandering and filmed prostitution.

community standards pornBob Chinn, the director of 1973’s “Johnny Wadd” http://www.gamelink.com/display_product.jhtml?id=314500 says that his casts still had to film guerilla-style lest the L.A. vice squad bust the production.

“I’d tell John Holmes to meet me in a parking lot somewhere,” Chinn says, “and once we got there I’d tell him where to go next. You always worried that one of the cast was going to get pulled over and lead the cops to us.”

Perhaps the poster child — and a dubious one — for First Amendment Patriotism is the late Reuben Sturman, who died in prison in 1997. Sturman began his career selling comic books out of his car until he (like Gamelink did when it abandoned interactive CDs for porn in 1993) discovered that selling adult material was way more profitable.

community standards pornSturman’s Cleveland operation soon grew to a nationwide empire aided by its association with the Gambino crime family. His run-ins with the federales began in 1964 and involved more bribery and witness-tampering charges than they did obscenity, but Sturman did help change the conversation about obscenity in America (it was also in 1964 that U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said “I know it when I see it” in regard to hardcore pornography — a community standard of one — in reference to the Louis Malle film “The Lovers”).

Sturman was finally sent up the river for tax evasion (pay your taxes, people) in 1989, having fought some variation of the good fight for 25 years. His son David ran the adult studio Sin City for several years. It is a shame that the elder Sturman was not able to enjoy the relative ease that the Freeman decision brought to the porn industry.

community standards porn Larry Flynt and Hustler have been at the center of most porn-related legal actions for nearly 40 years. People forget that it was during a 1976 obscenity trial in Georgia that Flynt was left partially paralyzed in a shooting; his attempted assassin didn’t like the interracial photo spread in a recent Hustler.

“If we’re not going to offend anyone,” Flynt says in the great “Larry Flynt: The Right To Be Left Alone,” a 2007 documentary, “there’s no reason for the First Amendment.”

So this week, as you enjoy Gamelink’s Independence Day sale, remember the choices you are making as a grown-ass adult are constantly under legal review, and that people have paid to protect them in your lifetime.


Gram Ponante

About Gram Ponante

Porn Valley Observed | Email | Twitter |

The editor of Naked Truth, Gram Ponante has been writing about pornography since 2002, though he never expected to get more than three months of material out of it. Since then, he has edited and/or contributed to adult industry trade magazines AVN and XBiz, Hustler, Fleshbot.com, and dozens more classy publications. He has written for the great Gamelink since 2006. Gram regularly speaks about issues facing the adult industry — both entertaining and grim — at colleges and conferences, and has published several popular eBooks about his time as America's Beloved Porn Journalist.