PVV – obscenity, or “let’s make an example out of John Stagliano!” (part 1)

On April 8, 2008, John Stagliano and his businesses Evil Angel Productions, Inc. and John Stagliano, Inc. were indicted by a federal grand jury with seven different counts of obscenity for the films “Milk Nymphos” and “Storm Squirters 2: ‘Target Practice’” and a trailer for “Fetish Fanatic Chapter 5.” (for the full indictment, click here)

What happened was this: FBI agent Daniel Bradley, who was serving on the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, ordered copies of the films and downloaded a “Fetish Fanatic” trailer. Both films and the trailer feature consenting professional talent engaging in all sorts of sex craziness – you gotta know that this is Evil Angel, and it’s not meant for amateurs.

Since the content was sent to Bradley across state lines, the federal government got jurisdiction to prosecute Stagliano (who lives, works, & distributes in Porn Valley, CA) for the inter-state transportation and intended distribution of the films (it looks like the “Fetish Fanatic” charges may already be thrown out) in a Washington DC court. Stagliano is now facing 32 years in prison and seven million dollars in fines.

The trial began this week, and man-oh-man do I have a lot to say about it! But before I get to all my commentary, I want to make sure we all understand the legal definition of obscenity…

Marvin Miller was convicted by the state of California for distributing unsolicited, sexually explicit materials via the US mail (read: mail order catalogues for sex-related stuff… like junk mail, in a way, or all those Victoria’s Secret catalogs that keep coming no matter how many times you move), but the subsequent Miller v California (413 US 15; 1973) decision overturned his conviction and clarified obscenity standards in the US.

The three-pronged “Miller Test” for obscenity requires an assessment of 1) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests, 2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and 3) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (Miller v California 1973).

Let me put that in normal person language.

Something is considered obscene if 1) a regular Jane and her community (whatever that means) thinks something is lewd just for the sake of being lewd (this is what prurient means – “having or arising from lewd thoughts”), 2) it shows sexual conduct that is illegal, and 3) it has no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. You have to show all three things.

So then the point is this: think about what you love, what you think is brilliant, and what you think is super hott… chances are someone else out there hates all those things, and may even find them “patently offensive.” Now think about what you really can’t stand, what grosses you out, and what you find more awful than anything else ever (!) – chances are, there’s some porn about it out there that thousands of other people have bought.

Who gets to say what’s prurient? Who gets to say what’s lacking in value? And on the interwebs, where you can find a community for just about anything, all bets are off…

But not really, as John Stagliano would likely tell you at this very moment.

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