Tonight at 6:00 pm, and with at least two repeat airings later in the evening, CNBC, NBC's financial news cable channel is offering a major one hour special on the adult entertainment industry business in the United States. While this industry remains controversial for many Americans, it is a mostly legal industry, that operates lawfully, and has far less legal problems than other comparable industries such as the recording industry.
The recording industry for example has had ongoing problems with payoff scandals to radio stations to play certain songs, drugs, and even murder in the case of recording producer Phil Spector. Many artists do not even receive royalties for their recordings from companies due to the industry charging artists for production work time for their recordings. Many artists are forced to tour and do concerts if they ever expect to be paid. Yet the recording industry is quick to sue individuals for illegal downloading of songs claiming that artists don't get paid royalties as a major justification.
By contrast, adult entertainment businesses of all types generally are law abiding companies. In California, adult film production companies have to take out all the same insurance payments, bonds or permits from state and local government agencies as any other legal film company does. Even a local tavern that features adult entertainment such as strippers must comply with every liquor licensing law at their local or state level to operate. Yet, some pro-censorship organizations such as Morality In Media, and their leader, Robert Peters, routinely lie about this industry falsely claiming connections to organized crime. In 1972, the humorous erotic movie DEEP THROAT, might have been financed by a figure associated with the Columbo crime family. And during the early 70's a few adult film or magazine producers were forced to use independent trucking companies that might have had connections to some organized crime figure. But since those early days no real connection to organized crime exists among the adult entertainment industry, which is largely as professional and businesslike as any other business in the mainstream film industry.
However, former Senator Jesse Helms was able to pass federal legislation while in office that considers "obscenity" as a predicate racketeering offense, where the conviction of a film production company for producing and distributing as few as two films might allow for the government branding the company as RICO enterprise, even though no connection to a traditional organized crime organization exists. In fact, RICO laws have now become so broadly over-applied to persons or businesses not associated with traditional organized crime that even denturists who might have overcharged for making false teeth have been convicted under RICO statues rather than some more normal civil remedy or fine.
But generally most mainstream adult entertainment does not fall under some legal definition of illegal obscenity. Generally courts have established that most nudity or even sexual penetration in film is considered to constitutionally protected but sexually explicit in nature, but not legally "obscene". Some arthouse films for example feature acts of sexual penetration such as the controversial film by Robert Gallo, THE BROWN BUNNY, which was originally considered to be appalling by film critics attending the Cannes Film Festival, by then praised by many critics when a newly edited version was released on DVD to video stores.
Another problem with any legal definition of "obscenity" is that it is a moving and subjective legal standard compared to other crimes such as murder which is always going to be murder. While established crimes such as theft, arson, murder, etc. are always going to be based on the same legal premise from century to century, what meets the legal definition of "obscenity" is a constantly shifting standard. During the 1970's, scenes of simple nudity or sexual penetration were routinely prosecuted as "obscenity", such as several legal cases against HUSTLER magazine for simple displays of explicit nudity. However, today many popular men's magazines such as CLUB, CHERI, HUSTLER and many others outside of PLAYBOY or PENTHOUSE have moved beyond just centerfold girls as the J.Geils Band once sang about, to full-on penetration scene photography. And this is generally considered to be legal. Only a few more outrageous or kinky sexual acts might cross the line into illegal obscenity these days. However, the CNBC special tonight features an interview with erotic filmmaker Paul Little(aka Max Hardcore) who was convicted in Tampa, Florida of crossing that legal line of "obscenity" because of some incidental kinky acts in some films he produced. Strangely, Little did not distribute the films to the local community in Florida. A separate film distribution company did. However, this distributor was given immunity to testify against Little. And instead of Little's films being judged as a whole, which is the standard that the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision established, the judge only allowed excerpts of Little's films, generally hand-picked by the prosecutor to be played in court for the jury. This was clearly an illegal trial in which legal standards for evidence used in court were ignored or the fact that Little never distributed the films in question were also ignored by the court. The federal government wanted to put Little away and did. However, thousands more adult entertainment companies operate legally with little or no problems from local, state or federal authorities.
But beyond the legal challenges to the adult entertainment industry, the CNBC special also looks at how the economy and the Internet are both challenging the profits of the adult entertainment industry with DVD sales down more than 50%, and cheap to free porn available on the Internet, driving down the sales of many traditional men's magazines. This is part of the reason that many traditional old time men's magazines have moved to adding in harder content, They were losing a war for their survival to competition from the Internet as the market becomes over-saturated for this type of material that only appeals to a limited audience of buyers. The slice of pie for each seller in this multi-billion dollar market is not only shrinking, but the entire pie is shrinking as well, thanks to the bad state of the economy.
However, strangely the adult entertainment industry has driven the technology for mainstream America as well. During the early 80's, when the adult film industry moved to VHS as a dominant format for home video releases of their films, it only helped to put the Sony Beta format on the skids, even though Beta had a superior picture quality. And the CNBC special will feature segments dealing with new technology advances largely attributed to this industry which is far more important to entertainment technology than most people will ever realize. This CNBC will both entertain and inform.
Tonight's CNBC original business special should prove pretty fascinating considering the clips now available on the CNBC website about the program. And some companies such as PLAYBOY offer public stock in their corporations. Anyone interested in how this multi-billion dollar industry actually operates might want to tune in to this important business special. CNBC is more than just stock market reports it seems.