PBS and Frontline.
For those of you who don't have access to this broadcast, PBS is a private, non-profit media network available in 99% of American homes. It is voluntarily supported by grants, donations, and trusts, mostly from viewers, state governments, and corporations. Frontline is a highly acclaimed weekly television documentary series that airs on PBS.
More information on this broadcast is located here. Pornography ('porn', sometimes referred to online as 'pr0n') is a multi-billion dollar industry whose profit margins should make Hollywood jealous. A feature which typically costs less than $50,000 to make can easily bring in 10 times that amount in gross reciepts from video alone (about 15,000 copies at $30-40 each). Adding to that revenue stream are pay-per-view, adult magazines, web feeds, special events, and sex toys. And, as anyone with a publically available email address learns quickly, there are enough genres of porn to cover almost any conceivable fantasy.
Porn is a big business now. Some of the production companies are run by executives with Ivy League degrees and MBAs, and have distribution partnerships with mainstream companies such as AT&T broadband, DirecTV (a subsidiary of GM), and Yahoo!. Much of the growth of the porn industry occurred during the 1990's. According to the report, and an interview with former US Attorney General Janet Reno, this was partially due to a decrease in emphasis on federal prosecutorial intervention during the Clinton administration, compared with the Reagan and Bush I administrations before it. The other factor was the rapid acceptance of Internet-based channels for the distribution of pornographic content.
Obscenity and community standards.
Much of the basis for state and federal prosecution of obscenity crimes comes from the landmark case Miller vs. California (1973). Quoting directly from that Supreme Court decision:
The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, Roth, supra, at 489, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. If a state obscenity law is thus limited, First Amendment values are adequately protected by ultimate independent appellate review of constitutional claims when necessary.
In American Porn, interviews with prosecutors showed that the "contemporary community standards" issue has historically been used to block the distribution of pornography in some communities. Typically, it would come down to a jury being shown a portion of a pornographic movie, with said portion possibly being determined as obscene (or not obscene), according to their own standards and benchmarks. This method seems to be more comfortably applied in the 1970's, when pornography was peep shows and movie theaters in the red light district, than in the 21st century, where porn is distributed on-demand internationally. After the long hiatus in obscenity cases, regulation of pornography may take another form, although exactly what that might be is anyone's guess.
The Cambria List.
The modern porn industry, not wishing to see its fortunes reversed by the Bush II administration, is troubled by an upsurge in the availability of a more extreme market for pornography, involving rape and murder, bestiality, and underage sex. To hedge their bets somewhat, porn industry lawyer Paul Cambria has published the Cambria List, a guideline of sorts that producers of adult content should consider to avoid possible vulnerability to nascent obscenity prosecution.
So the porn industry, well-known for being harsh critics of any kind of censorship, may decide to institute a policy of self-censorship in order to protect their business model. This is similar to Hollywood's reaction to attempts at federal regulation during the 1950's. Rather than submit to government control, they formed the MPAA, and later, a movie ratings system that is independent of the US government. Again, this does much to reinforce the argument that porn is now a mature industry, and is quietly making inroads further into mainstream society.
Noteworthy moments in the broadacst.
In my PBS market, American Porn was broadcast in an edited version which had certain [profane] words bleeped out, and body parts blurred out. At the top of the screen was a bar that said something like 'Adult Content', which stayed there for the entire show. The Frontline reporters visited the set of a rape/murder porn feature, whose authentic, violent atmosphere was enough to send them packing early (maybe they were concerned about possible criminal or civil liability). That particular feature was being directed by a woman, a former stripper, who believed that she was safer from criticism for her part in making such a film than a man would be.
The porn actresses they interviewed seemed to be motivated more by money (typically $1000+ for a day's work) than enthusiasm for the job, but quickly made the point that there were many to fill their shoes should they decide to quit. American Porn didn't delve into the arguments related to female exploitation that usually go hand-in-hand with discussions of pornography.
One last thing about sex and the Internet, the broadcast didn't seem to fully appreciate the extent that people use anonymous online access for sexual entertainment purposes. For example, I could get video clips of pretty much any kind of porn imaginable, for free via USENET, IRC, or Morpheus-like clients, all completely anonymous and age-insensitive. Their focus seemed to be much more on how mainstream, family-type entertainment networks such as cable, satellite, and AOL, also offer adult content directly or indirectly. In other words, the same people that provide access to the Disney Channel will also sell you adult movies.