Someone else’s obscenity: John Stagliano

Today, the 234th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, is as arbitrary a date as any to talk about the state of obscenity litigation in America as it applies to pornographers.

Granted, no one is sitting in jail or faces imprisonment because of a perceived offense to the Declaration of Independence, accepted by the Continental Congress this day in 1776 in Philadelphia (“Gentlemen (and John Adams),” said Thomas Jefferson. “Check this out.” “Nice,” they said) and publicly read two days later in New York and Boston, but people confuse the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution anyway, and the First Amendment to that document’s Bill of Rights is the lynchpin of the prosecution and defense of pornographers.

Evil Angel owner and “Fashionistas” director John Stagliano travels to Washington D.C. on Monday in preparation for a July 7 obscenity trail.

In 2008 Stagliano was indicted on seven counts of variously transporting obscene material in the form of two videos (“Milk Nymphos” and “Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice,” which contained the trailer for a third, Belladonna’s “Fetish Fanatic 5” [pictured, sort of, above]) by a grand jury in the District of Columbia. As in the case of the pornographer Max Hardcore, Stagliano’s movies had been ordered by an FBI agent in an area likely to secure an obscenity conviction.

There are a couple of dozen zip codes around the U.S. to which sales of pornographic material are illegal, but the FBI is banking on “community standards” to send Stagliano away for as many as 32 years, owing up to $7 million in fines.

Community Standards are the vague but geographically centralized dictates by which obscenity can be determined. In 1973’s landmark Miller v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that obscenity was not protected speech and that material had to meet the following three qualifications (the “Miller Test”) in order to be classified as obscene:

  • Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

So you can see that Community Standards are very important, and that grand juries for obscenity cases shouldn’t be convened in places like San Francisco or New York City if feds want a conviction. That is why  Paul Little’s little fisting and vomiting videos (created as Max Hardcore) were tried in conservative Florida.

Hardcore is currently in a limited security federal prison in La Tuna, TX. He is eligible for parole in July, 2011.

None of the impresarios revered by the aging executives of the porn industry set out to be First Amendment Patriots. The people who spent time in courtrooms or jail for hawking dirty wares were often people you wouldn’t like to associate with.

But many achieved a certain clarity and sense of purpose as a result of their ordeal. Reuben Sturman, who died in prison in 1997, started his career selling comic books out of his car before eventually founding a $300 million porn empire (with help from the Gambino family). Larry Flynt was a trash-talking hick who took a bullet in the spine because he displayed a picture of an interracial couple in Hustler. Both, along with a handful of others ranging from James Joyce to Hugh Hefner to Jack Kerouac, found themselves at the center of a debate that forced them to discover certain things that we are lucky to take for granted.

“The greatest thing a government can do for its citizens is recognize their right to be left alone,” says Flynt.

While it should go without saying that material scrupulously made by, for, and with consenting adults shouldn’t be targeted, and that both the Hardcore and Stagliano cases involved federal agents purchasing materials online in places where it is known that hundreds of other consenting adults purchased pornography, it still boggles the mind that taxpayer money is being used to fund entrapment.

You all know about how, prior to shooting my Armenian neighbor for flicking his Marlboros on my lawn, I transported him to Turkey because I knew I wouldn’t be prosecuted. It’s the same thing. I’m not proud of it, but there you go.

And, speaking of the Declaration of Independence, I can’t help but compare the jury-rigging of a favorable place for prosecution to one of the Founders’ complaints against King George:

…For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses

Obscenity is a “pretended offense” if some places are far quicker to declare something obscene than others.

There are a number of issues facing the porn industry today that need scrutiny: Cal/OSHA’s case against the agents, the condom controversy, Internet piracy, and the .xxx domain are all serious issues.

Not only that, but there is substance to the argument about what constitutes a consenting adult. There are many 18-year-olds who rush wild-eyed into porn, voting booths, and the U.S. military who doubtless regret those decisions later.

But until we deal with those larger problems, the only thing obscene in the Stagliano indictment is the time and money the government is wasting harassing innocent people.

Judge Leon hears opening arguments in USA vs. Stagliano, et al at 10 a.m. July 7 in Courtroom 18 of the United States District Court of the District of Columbia, 333 Constitution Ave., N.W., 20001. We wish Mr. Stagliano and his family the best of luck.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Larry Flynt – the right to be left alone; Defend Our Porn; We’re all Max Hardcore when we drink
See also: Defend Our Porn, Read the Declaration of Independence

About Gram the Man 4399 Articles
Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist

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