September 6 1998UNITED STATES
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Hard porn outsells cinema in sex-mad America

by Christopher Goodwin, Los Angeles

EVERY day, under arc lights on expensive sound stages across the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles, some of the most beautiful and best-known actors in America are making films that will be seen by millions.

Their stars are not Leonardo DiCaprio, Drew Barrymore or Julia Roberts. With such names as Shyla Foxxx, Tiffany Minx and Jasmine St Claire, they are among the top attractions of the hard-core pornographic video business, one of America's fastest-growing and most profitable industries.

America has become addicted to porn. Encouraged by the liberal atmosphere of the Clinton era, adult entertainment has grown into a $10 billion-a-year business. As much as $4.2 billion is generated by videos alone - up from $10m 25 years ago.

Americans spend more on hard-core porn, telephone sex and strip clubs than they do at cinemas. Porn videos account for a quarter of all those rented or sold, while strip clubs generate more money than all other live entertainment, including rock concerts and Broadway theatres, put together.

Stars such as Traci Lords, who starred in 75 hard-core videos when she was under age, and Jenna Jameson, the reigning queen of the genre, have made the transition into mainstream Hollywood movies and television - helped by the success of such films as Boogie Nights and The People vs Larry Flynt.

Mainstream television actresses have crossed the line the other way, albeit sometimes inadvertently: more than 200,000 copies of a private "honeymoon tape" featuring Pamela Anderson, the Baywatch star, have been sold on the Internet.

"People don't seem to have a sense of outrage that women are hurt," lamented Andrea Dworkin, the feminist author and anti-pornography campaigner. "They don't seem to care."

Nor is the business any longer the preserve of grimy, raincoated hustlers. Respectable companies such as AT&T, with its telephone sex lines, Time Warner, which shows hard-core sex on its cable networks, and hotel chains such as Sheraton, with pay-per-view pornographic films, are among the main beneficiaries.

Nobody illustrates the mainstreaming of porn better than Kat Sunlove, a former dominatrix, who publishes Spectator, a weekly sex magazine. Last November, Sunlove took a paid post with the Free Speech Coalition, the industry's lobbying group.

Backed by $300,000 a year in sponsorship from the industry, Sunlove tries to convince legislators that porn is not just a matter of free speech but an economic powerhouse in California, generating thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars. Last year the Free Speech Coalition persuaded the California state legislature to halt a 5% "sin tax" on pornography.

As a sign of its determination to win respectability, the group has sponsored legislation banning underage performers from appearing in pornographic videos and has introduced monthly HIV tests.

Sunlove, 53, has a political science degree. "I get a very warm reception," she said of her frequent visits to lobby law-makers. "We have become less outlaws and more your next-door neighbours."

Despite its acceptance in middle America, not everyone is happy with the growth of pornography. Catharine MacKinnon, professor of law at Michigan University and one of the industry's prominent critics, said: "In pornography the pleasure of the women expressed in it is fake and the violence against them is real."

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