PVV – What happened at the Cal-OSHA hearing yesterday!? (part 1)

So the Cal-OSHA meeting was yesterday, and boy am I tired!! Here are some of the highlights.

After flying into LA on Monday night, driving in super fun traffic on Tuesday morning, moving furniture around because there were way more people in attendance (at least 100 people were present for the entire meeting!) than originally expected, the meeting got underway at 10 AM…

…but promptly at 10:01 there was a fire drill (coincidence?), and everyone in the entire building had to be herded outside and across the street. It took up a lot of time.

I got to chat some with the amazing feminist activist and 25+ year talent veteran Nina Hartley while we were standing outside waiting for the proverbial smoke to clear. Nina and I were talking about adult film content and how “seriously” some people take it – as in how some people seem to watch porn and internalize it as real. “What people often don’t get is that it’s just a movie!!” Nina said and that “watching porn for sex ed is like watching James Bond movies to learn how to be a spy!” (which, I took her to mean, would be a silly thing to do). I found this comparison to be rather insightful, as it highlights how our culture’s lack of knowledge about and overwhelming discomfort with sex are often at the core of contentious issues centered on porn.

Interesting, but back inside…

The main issue at hand was this: because of preexisting federal and state occupational safety and health standards, Cal-OSHA technically already mandates the use of condoms and other types of barrier protection in adult film production (you can see the exact standards here). Because only one adult film production company (Wicked Pictures) regularly uses barrier protection for penetrative sex scenes, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation started pushing Cal-OSHA to address the vast majority of companies’ non-compliance with the law. This is the condom-only “side.”

The other Free Speech Coalition “side” states that worker safety is definitely a concern, but the safety precautions mandated by the state for, say, postal or construction workers are not feasible for adult film talent. Consequently, this side is looking to develop a series of standards and procedures (including the option for barrier protection) that will work for the industry specifically. And so the six hour long, totally inconclusive battle began…

I will discuss some of the proposed options in my next blog; but, for now, here are some of my own initial and more general thoughts and observations.

I was really struck by how little the state, the health department, Cal-OSHA, and the condom-only folks knew about the structure of the industry. The fact that the vast majority of talent are contract employees working on a scene-by-scene basis (verses the very small handful of women who work for specific companies as “contract girls”); that most companies are not these mega-corporations, but small-independently owned businesses; and that the industry consists of more than just one type (“type” as in “type of organizational structure”) of film production house seemed like news to many of the folks in the room.

The reliance on anecdotal information was also a bit startling. One woman who identified herself as being on the faculty at the UCLA School of Pubic Health (which she was) made this big point about the experiences of talent and the (lack of) options they had. When asked for a citation or something to substantiate her claim, she said this information had come to her anecdotally from one performer… huh? In another example, one rather agitated woman, who claimed to have worked as talent for 10 years but wouldn’t tell anyone who she was or had been, made some pretty serious accusations of corruption and sexual abuse in the industry.

While I do not doubt the veracity and value of one person’s experiences, I do find myself startled that these types of unsubstantiated, apparently infrequent, and seemingly reactionary anecdotes were being entertained as “evidence.” I do not know what Cal-OSHA does with such information, but it gives me cause for pause.

And something annoying: the condom-only folks repeatedly grossly inflated the numbers associated with the HIV clusters that occurred in 1998 & 2004 and the “Patient Zero” incident that happened in 2009, claiming 20-22 infections. In spite of the health department’s repeated assertion during the meeting that only 8 HIV infections total have ever been connected to adult film production labor (all three aforementioned incidents included, talent only), those way high numbers kept getting tossed about during the first half of the meeting. Aggravating and manipulative!!

And, of course, these inflated and incorrect numbers have appeared all over the news today. But mark my words! – 8 is the correct number of HIV infections occurring in the adult film industry since 1998. Cal-OSHA is supposed to put up the Health Department’s report that confirms this, so when the link is available I will let you know.

On a different note, I got to meet the legendary Mark Kernes yesterday, a man I feel should be awarded an honorary PhD from some prestigious university for the amount of historical work and critical commentary he has done over the years. Also, Jeffrey Douglas gave me lawyer-inspired goose bumps when he passionately implored Cal-OSHA to learn about the industry before they mis-regulated it into the ground. I also found myself really impressed with Brooke Haven, one of the performers in attendance who offered a very different perspective on the industry. What a passionate, sincere, and really measured women! And, I got to meet talent and industry activist Dave Cummings, which I was kinda excited about.

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*originally posted at www.pornvalleyvantage.blogspot.com (June 30, 2010)

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