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My Long Slide Into The World Of Pornocopia

November 23, 1986|JIM HARWOOD | The writer recently left his job of 16 years as a motion picture reporter/critic for Daily Variety. He is now free-lancing and working on a "hopefully funny" book on "where women went wrong in the sexual revolution."

After all these years, it's kind of heartwarming to see smut dumped back in the gutter where it belongs.

It's really not much fun anywhere else.

For all practical purposes, filth and degradation began to lose appeal when they threatened to become some sort of First Amendment privilege, harmless in the home and only a vague danger to society when practiced in public in your neighborhood, but not mine. Thanks to the Meese Commission and the Supreme Court, however, matters are once again looking up. Or down, as the case may be.

I speak as something of an authority, having frequently appeared on the evening news with one of those tacky identifications superimposed over my cleanest shirt, donned especially for the occasion. Usually, they say something like, "JIM HARWOOD, Adult Film Reviewer," or even worse, "Pornography Expert."

Granted, this was not exactly a goal when I started out as a Methodist minister and has certainly been a career surprise to a one-time White House reporter for the Wall Street Journal. But the long slide has qualified me with historical perspective, twisted and sick though it may seem to both censors and libertines alike.

As we all know, and as several Supreme Court justices have confirmed, nobody knows what obscenity is, but most people recognize it when they see it. Liberal minds often argue that pornography is something they want to look at that conservatives don't like. But this isn't true. A lot of conservatives love to look at pornography, too, but want to keep most of it for themselves.

Remember, we're not talking art here. I speak of the unspeakable, the worst words, the ugly closeups, outlandish couplings and combinations thereof. Whips, rope, chains--unimaginable vain attempts at acting--all the good stuff that's so readily available in the video section of the respectable neighborhood store whose stockholders include the usual moral business folk.

Very proper people have been able to get their hands on any of this at little mom & pop video stores nestled between dry cleaners and one-hour film developers on every corner. Though they won't admit it publicly, this acceptance has become a matter of concern to the pornography industry. While welcoming the expanded marketplace, the purveyors (as they are called) have been leery of their new association with members of the local Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

To be fully effective, a porno clerk should have a beard, at least one rotten front tooth, two tattoos from Tijuana and the distinct smell of the jail cell where he spent last night. Under no realistic circumstances should a smut peddler be a sweet young couple trying to get their start in the American mercantile system, or adorable, jolly retirees who chose the video business after a failed attempt at selling mother's shortcake. Neither should a true porno fan feel comfortable plopping a copy of "Bodacious Ta-Tas" down on the counter in front of an innocent teen-age clerk under the watchful eye of her father. If she doesn't giggle and the father doesn't frown, then what's the point of pornography? At any time in history, the greatest threat to the health of the trash trade has been respectability. It was lawyers who came up with the idea that pornography should have some "redeeming social importance." Customers never thought so at all.

But we need not fear that the commissioners and their ilk really want to get rid of pornography. To believe that, you would have to believe that pornographers really want to get rid of censors. The two need each other; it's perfect symbiosis.

A while back, during the Johnson Administration if memory serves, there was one of those Big Government cutbacks and the Justice Department was forced to choke off the money it had been supplying to various censor groups. Well, as you might imagine, the effect was devastating--porno magazines all across the country were forced to fold, having regretfully discovered that most of their subscribers were censors who could no longer afford the high cost of keeping current on the vile and disgusting. Fortunately, the government eventually came up with more money and the magazines were soon back in business.

Like most folks, I could have gone a lifetime without knowing, much less understanding, any of this. In my innocent childhood in Texas, there was no pornography. At least if there was, it all belonged to the police department or somebody equally important. Preachers were a lot more excited by pool halls, honky-tonks, comic books and rock 'n' roll (in that respect, some things never change). Movies were still chaste. On occasion, however, the drive-in at the edge of town would play one of those wonderfully edifying "documentaries," about bare-breasted native girls or the birthing of a baby. Then all heck would break loose.

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