We are in the United States of America.
Lyndon B. Johnson is the Nation’s presidential leader.
It is the height of the Vietnam War crisis.
A Supreme Court decision upholds the view that the citizens of your country, should be free to view whatever material they wish to, as long as it is in the privacy of your own home.
The President and the U.S. Congress are asked to fund the President’s Commission On Obscenity And Pornography to analyse pornography, the rise in pornographic entertainment, as well as the industry itself.
The report advocates pornography and erotica citing that there was…
“no evidence to date that exposure to explicit sexual materials plays a significant role in the causation of delinquent or criminal behavior among youths or adults
“no evidence that exposure to explicit sexual materials adversely affects character or moral attitudes regarding sex and sexual conduct.
“that “Federal, State, and Local legislation prohibiting the sale, exhibition, or distribution of sexual materials to consenting adults should be repealed.”
The year is 1969.
Whilst pornography as a visual medium had already existed for over 70 years, from the works of French directors Eugène Pirou and Albert Kirchner (using the trading name of “Lear”), it wasn’t until the hedonistic days of the 1960’s in the United States that pornography really began to go mainstream as entertainment for the adult masses. (For a look at old-time erotica, from the turn-of-the-20th Century, I heartily recommend the DVD of POLISSONS ET GALIPETTES / THE GOOD OLD NAUGHTY DAYS (2002, Michel Reilhac and Cecile Babiole). It is very explicit, certainly as hardcore as any mainstream title, and may even be illegal in some countries, but it is incredibly fascinating to view.)
The release of cinematic works like JAG AR NYFIKEN, EN FILM I GULT / I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) (1967, Vilgot Sjoman) and UR KARLEKENS SPRAK / LANGUAGE OF LOVE (1969, Torgny Wickman) were being released to audiences in the Netherlands, and 16mm prints were being routinely smuggled into the U.S. and Europe “under-the-counter” where they were then shown in Gentleman’s Clubs and/or Member’s Only Cinema clubs. Porn was now an industry all of its own, in the Western world.
By the early-70’s, adult cinemas were springing-up all over the U.S. and in Soho, London, bringing in a lucractive trade from punters. Sex shops began to gain a foothold in communities, introducing a flood of European “filth” from more progressive and pervasive nations such as Denmark and Sweden, via magazines, film-loop booths, and even literature. Sex was money. And money meant great business!
In 1972, pornography went mainstream with the release of DEEP THROAT (1972, Gerard Damiano), starring Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems. The controversial history of this movie has been well-documented over time, so I won’t delve into that area in this article, but suddenly pornography was cool, chic, acceptable! No longer a haven for middle-aged married men, or lonely single males. Now, DEEP THROAT was a movie event that couples could go to view together, and talk about with their friends. The news media lapped it up, and much was made about this new form of entertainment hitting the country. DEEP THROAT was followed by more infamous films: BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, and many, many more. Two years later, and one of the biggest film hits of the time, EMMANUELLE (1974, Just Jaeckin) was being shown around the world, based on the semi-autobiographal literary hit of the same name, loosely based on Emmanuelle Arsan’s novel.
Pornography was improving, and making millions at the box office. No longer consigned to dingy, grubby back-rooms, or strange underground, unnamed bookstores. Porn was here, it was proud, and it was going to stay! The term “filthy rich” was never more apt!
With the success of pornography in cinemas, and the likes of Hustler, Playboy and Penthouse magazines, porn appeared to be everywhere. Even TV was discussing the material on chat-shows, in documentaries, and in adult households around the globe. Time moved onwards, and so did technology. As would soon become apparent, the pornography industry based itself in and around California, and soon leapt onto the bandwagon, with the arrival of home videotape. (Betamax and VHS were the two formats duelling it out, with VHS quickly winning and becoming the de facto standard.) Now, not only did pornography become cheaper to make, you could make it more efficiently, and still turn out a massive profit. Anyone capable of holding a video camera, and hitting the “record” button, could become a self-made millionaire. Women (and a few men) could become famous quicker than ever before, whilst circumventing the normal route into acting, by simply becoming involved in the adult industry. And many did. Household names included the likes of Traci Lords, John Holmes, Ginger Lynn and Ron Jeremy. Porn was quick, cheap and could make (and break) your career overnight, like never before; like no other industry could. From nobody you could become a heavy-hitter and nationally famous, if you so desired.
With the continual rise and rise of Pornography, it seemed nothing could stop the trend. Yet, all bubbles eventually burst, and the porn industry suddenly realised its time was going to come much sooner than had been considered. Four single letters would bring the pornographic industry to its knees, and slap the entire world’s conciousness around the face.
Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – reared its ugly and very deadly head from the parapit, in June of 1981, and became the world’s most deadly health issue to ever hit mankind since Cholera almost a century earlier.
With the rise in sexual activity for profit, came a rise in other sexual practices for money, such as escorting, prostitution, and one-night-stands. Unprotected sex was rampant. The drugs culture was also on the increase. Away from the light days of the 60’s household common use of Marijuana, now Cocaine and Heroin were the drugs of choice. Coke, as Cocaine became known by, took a hold of young people quickly, and became normal for people to enjoy socially. The heady days of the 1970’s and early 80’s were rich and prosperous for many, with millionaires, multi-millionaires, and billionaires being created, through hard work, luck, chance and fate. Prosperity was there for the taking, and pornography took its own slice of the pie, failing to even remotely consider at what cost that pie might have.
But some might say that cost was inhumane.
A.I.D.S was transmitted via blood and other body fluids, usually via unprotected sex. In the 1980’s, people felt invincible. Life was good. No! Life was fucking great! Clinch a deal at work at Noon, celebrate with Champagne hours later. End your day with a few lines of Coke, and then try and get a couple of hours of sleep, before starting the whole day over. Unprotected sex was common in the pornography industry. It even coined its own term – “going bareback” – for men and women willing to have intercourse without using condoms. Going Bareback meant more pay! It was, after all, far riskier, but at that point in time, people felt invincible.
Safer sex wasn’t a consideration in the Porn industry, least of all by the film-makers and cast members. As far as they were all concerned, life was for the taking, and getting rich quick was the name of the game.
A.I.D.S soon put a heavy and much-needed brake on that culture! Some say that A.I.D.S. was the porn industry’s own fault! A way of curbing its own excesses. Some people claim the industry got what it deserved! But whilst the porn industry suddenly ground to a halt, no one was sure if the deadly disease would curb, kill or cure it. Time would tell…
In the next part of my article, I’ll discuss the effects A.I.D.S had on the industry as a whole, and look at the steps it was forced to take to deal with the rising death levels amongst its stars. Porn was still profitable for many, but was the cost of your own life, worth it? Is success in the afterlife worth paying for, if you weren’t around to enjoy its rewards? We’ll examine the way Porn began to try to clean-up its act, and look at what happened once the wings were torn off, and the industry found itself in a health and financial criss.