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But none of this history explains the prosecution of John Stagliano in 2010 for making movies with consenting adults and selling them to other consenting adults. When did his business suddenly become criminal? Why has the power and majesty of the United States government, the financial and personnel resources of the FBI, all joined forces now to try and send Stagliano to prison?
Here is the final piece of the puzzle. In 2005, under then-President George W. Bush, the Department of Justice formed the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF). The ideological slant of the task force's "mission" is clear from its website: "Enforcement is necessary in order to protect citizens from unlawful exposure to obscene materials." In Stagliano's case, for example, an FBI special agent special-ordered movies that Evil Angel distributed. He then purchased the DVDs on the taxpayer's dime. There was never a single complaint from any actual citizen.
Last week, after much delay, Stagliano's trial finally began in Washington, D.C. So far little has happened in the courtroom, though the tiny events have been ominous. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that Stagliano cannot use expert witnesses, and shut the press out of the jury selection process (which, after a full week, has yet to finish). Things don't bode well for a free and open trial: The courtroom monitors that will display the crucial evidence are all arranged to be out of the sightlines of press and interested citizens, viewable only by jurors and lawyers. If the press and the public cannot see the evidence, how will we know if the trial is fair?
More importantly, why is this ridiculous case still going on at all in 2010? Justice Department inertia and business as usual seem to be the general explanation. The current attorney general may or may not approve of what Bush's Justice Department did, but he clearly lacks the desire to alter those choices. The result is that, because of Stagliano's unique stature in the adult world, this is the most important obscenity case of the century.
Nor will it be the last clash between government and porn. The OPTF is still out there, playing at movie critic, deciding which porn is fine and which is obscene. Unlike previous prosecutions of more fringe figures in the adult world, Stagliano is at the center of the industry, and among the most auteur-oriented directors that porn has ever known. If he loses this case, almost any current adult content could be declared obscene.
Is this the job you want the government doing? Do you feel "protected," as the OPTF site says, by the continuing work of buying porn with taxpayer money?
Well, forget hope and change. The Obama administration has opted for business as usual.
Richard Abowitz has chronicled the rise and continuing fall of Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Seven, and the Los Angeles Times, most notably at the Movable Buffet blog. He now blogs chiefly at GoldPlatedDoor.com. He will be covering the Stagliano trial for Reason, and can be followed on Twitter at @RichardAbowitz.