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Sex and Censorship?

The Porn Industry and the Tea Party Playbook

by GAIL DINES

The UK porn industry seems to have taken a page from the Tea Party’s organizing playbook by setting up a group called Sex and Censorship that markets itself as an organization dedicated to “defending Free Speech and Sexual Freedom.” Reading their website and Facebook page, however, reveals a very different story. S&C seems more like an organization dedicated to defending the speech of the porn industry by consistently attacking groups that question the industry’s exploitation of its employees or its domination of the sexual landscape with misogynist images that undermine the civil rights of women.

A bit of digging around reveals that S&C, rather than being an authentic grassroots organization, is actually an industry-driven Astroturf group with fake grassroots. S&C is the brainchild of Jerry Barnett, who was described by the BBC in 2008 as “the boss of the UK’s biggest adult website”, and is now chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association. Given Barnett’s porn industry background and backers, it is not surprising that S&C is particularly concerned with limiting governmental regulation. According to the website, “We aim to reach out to journalists and politicians and ensure that scare stories are not used to introduce yet more laws and regulations….”

Last month, New York Senator Chuck Schumer criticized the Tea Party for being funded by wealthy, selfish, narrow-minded people who “don’t want government interfering with their companies no matter what damage their companies may do to their workers, to the environment or to anybody else.” He could have been talking about the porn industry here, because it has willfully put porn performers at risk by fighting measures in the US to enforce condom use. Although studies have found that STDs are rampant in the industry, the industry treats the performers as contract workers, so it doesn’t have to pay health insurance or any other benefits.

The similarities between the Tea Party and S&C became most apparent last week when the group placed Stop Porn Culture in the crosshairs of their rifle by organizing a protest of our first UK conference on March 15th. Adopting the now-predictable Astroturf method of inverting reality, S&C framed Stop Porn Culture, an educational group dedicated to raising consciousness about the effects of porn, as a group working to ban and censor porn, and to “shut down debate.” This claim reeks of hypocrisy, coming from a group whose purpose is to shut down any criticism of the industry and to disrupt our educational conference!

What makes this protest’s methods so like those of the Tea Party is the way S&C adopts standard corporate political strategy by claiming to act on behalf of workers to mask the interests of capitalist elites. S&C is calling the protest “Don’t Censor Me! Performers and Models protest in London,” and is trying to mobilize porn performers to protest against Stop Porn Culture. Astroturf groups’ manipulating workers to protect corporate interests is a tried-and-true tactic that has worked especially well for the fossil fuel industries.

One of the most successful industry front groups, Energy Citizens (set up and financed primarily by the American Petroleum Institute), has a history of getting workers to do the dirty work of the corporate elite by bussing them to rallies to protest government regulation that would protect both the environment and the health of the workers. Likewise, S&C has used their website, Facebook page, and Twitter account to whip up anger among porn performers by accusing Stop Porn Culture of trying to “deny the basic rights of women who choose to be pornstars, strippers and sex workers.”

If the porn industry wants to protest our conference, then fine…. But have the guts to send the producers, owners and distributors who get rich from porn—not the contract employees who make next to nothing. There is something especially manipulative and cowardly about the porn industry and its shills hiding behind the most exploited of women, who are at daily risk of bodily injury, STDs, and emotional and physical abuse.

One of the ironies of this carefully choreographed circus by the S&C is that the very same weekend, across the pond in Virginia, pro-porners will be holding their own conference called Catalystcon. No feminist anti-porn groups will be protesting this conference because, unlike S&C, we believe in the right of individuals to speak freely. As much as we oppose the views held by most of the presenters at this conference, we refuse to adopt Tea Party strategies to silence those we disagree with.

What we do protest are porn-industry-based conferences because—not withstanding the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, or Mitt Romney’s famous 2011 statement that “Corporations are people, my friend”—protesting corporations is not the same as protesting individuals or non-profit groups. As a non-profit educational group, Stop Porn Culture will not be bullied by the porn industry or their front groups. We ask porn performers to see us, not the industry, as allies, because our goal is to radically restructure this society that allows men to get rich off the commodification of our bodies.

Gail Dines, a Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies at Wheelock College in Boston, and author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality , was an expert witness in the Free Speech v Eric Holder Case.