- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2001

During the Monica Lewinsky uproar, New York Times columnist Frank Rich argued that since a majority of Americans didnt want Bill Clinton to leave office, his sleaziness ultimately didnt matter. Perhaps he was a trendsetter, maybe a visionary. Either way, an element of Mr. Clintons legacy is our societys growing acceptance of pornography.
In a nearly 8,000-word cover story on the porn business for the May 20 issue of the Times Sunday magazine, Mr. Rich takes a similarly democratic approach: "People pay for pornography in America in a year," he writes. Thats more "than they on movie tickets, more than they on all the performing arts combined … Porn is no longer a sideshow to the mainstream like, say, the $600 million Broadway theater industry it is the mainstream."
The troublesome issue the depraved, degrading nature of porn, to be specific ultimately doesnt matter. Early in his piece, Mr. Rich admits he isnt out "to construct a moral brief," just as he wasnt in 1998 when discussing Mr. Clintons scandalous conduct. Apparently there wasnt room to tackle that angle in the 8,000-word article.
In the age of moral relativism, popularity is enough to legitimize any behavior, and Mr. Rich follows the construct with pornography. Thats why its curious that he makes a considerable effort to establish the semi-respectability of (part of) the industry and (some of) those who work in it. For example, he mentions that Veronica Hart, an adult-film star 20 years ago and now an executive at a large porn studio, has a classy theater background; while in college, she played "leads in plays by Pinter and Garcia Lorca."
Mr. Rich also observes that many porn films have an artistic pedigree, if you will, coming "in all genres, from period costume dramas to sci-fi to comedy. (One series is modeled on the old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby 'Road pictures.)" He relates that one skinflick is "full of erudite cinematic references" and that another has not only "a social conscience reminiscent of 'West Side Story " but also "a soundtrack that features music by Aaron Copland."
No, states Mr. Rich repeatedly, the people of Pornville often arent what you would expect them to be. These are respectable businessmen, dont you know. Russell Hampshire, who owns a large production company, declares, "I like the rest of Bushs Cabinet just not Ashcroft." Director Michael Raven says hes "leaned toward the right in my politics, but Im bothered by the Republicans association with the religious right." Many in the industry worry that Mr. Ashcroft may launch another Ed Meese-style attack on porn. So long as Republicans limit their agenda to moneymaking, these could be their new angels.
Plenty of porn people have children, framed photographs of which are clearly visible in the accompanying portrait photos of both Hampshire and his fellow mogul Steve Orenstein. But how Mom and/or Dad earn a living can be problematic. Of his 9-year-old stepdaughter, Mr. Orenstein remarks, "The counselors say dont tell her yet." It isnt only the young whom he keeps in the dark; Mr. Rich reports that Mr. Orenstein "has revealed his true profession to only a handful of people whom he and his wife have met on the PTA circuit."
Next to some in porn, Mr. Orenstein is a blabbermouth. Bryn Pryor, a staffer at the trade journal Adult Video News, tells Mr. Rich, "If our customers project shame, then must be doing something wrong. Everyone at AVN writes under a pseudonym. We have people here who dont want anyone to know their real names."
The $10 billion aside, that this shame apparently remains pervasive may be greatly encouraging. The truth is, however, that every day its becoming less intense, thanks to stories like Mr. Richs. The mainstream entertainment media profess to disdain the porn industry, but they have been influenced by it, and they exploit it.
One study found that on prime-time television, references to porn were 300 percent more common in 1999 than in 1989. A 1999 Rolling Stone article noted that music videos by big-name groups frequently feature adult-film stars. Moreover, last year The Washington Times reported that "one of todays fashion statements among young people is a T-shirt that says 'Future Porn Star or 'Future Pimp. "
That dovetails with Mr. Richs comment that "the next generation of porn consumers and producers alike may break with puritan mind-set." AVNs Mr. Pryor says that todays teens have "never known a time without Calvin Klein ads and MTV. By the time they see porn, theyve already seen so many naked people, theyre prejaded."
And when theyre adults, God knows what kind of movies theyll watch, or presidential misconduct theyll countenance.

L Brent Bozell III is president of the Media Research Center and the Parents Television Council.

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