Civil Liberties

Obscenely Prosecuted

The U.S. v. John Stagliano


John Stagliano has been in the pornography business for more than 20 years. His long career includes a starring role in the first Chippendales troupe, various parts in porn films, and eventually success as a producer and distributor of adult movies, including the popular Buttman series. Now the federal government is prosecuting him for obscenity based on two pictures, Milk Nymphos and Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice, and a trailer on his website,

Stagliano is not just a hard-core pornographer but a hard-core libertarian (and a donor to the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this magazine). Nick Gillespie, editor of reason online and, spoke with Stagliano in April about his career and his upcoming trial. A longer version of the interview can be seen at

Q: Today you were arraigned by the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on charges of obscenity. What was your plea?

A: Not guilty.

Q: Obscenity isn't protected under the First Amendment. The relevant Supreme Court case is Miller v. California, which says the definition of obscenity depends on "community standards." Part of your defense will be to question the definition of obscenity established in that case.

A: Films like these are in the marketplace and have been for years. They're already in the community. But it's also true that DVD sales are going down rather rapidly right now, and people are consuming their pornography on the Internet. And the community standard of the Internet is very different.

When this Miller case came down in 1973, pornography, if it was going to be shown anywhere, was going to be shown in a theater. The theater was going to be in a public street where everybody could drive by the marquee and see that it's there, and their children could see that it's there. Everything had to be out in the open.

That's a way different world than what we have today, where people consume pornography in the privacy of their own homes, just on their computers. It's not in the public's face at all when it's there.

Q: Why do you think the prosecution is occurring now?

A: Maybe they wanted to do it quickly before the election so that they could throw a bone to the religious right and say, "See, we're upholding what you want up to uphold, so vote for us; keep us in office."

Q: Is there a class component to this fight?

A: Pornography is the way for people with less money and less power to get off. If you've got lots of money, if you were a king or a nobleman a couple hundred years ago, or if today you're a high-priced lawyer or a congressman or a senator…

Q: …or a governor of New York…

A: …or a governor of New York, you can afford call girls. You can get off and have your sexual desires satisfied. If you're a normal working guy, you can't afford that. Porno is what you get off on. And that's what the government wants to suppress. That, to me, is just rotten.

Q: You came into the industry at a time when the consumption of porn was shifting from a public thing to a private matter. Does that shift show up in your aesthetic? How does that relate to your strong views on privacy?

A: I'm not a big exhibitionist at all. Some people don't like porno, and it should not be in their faces. I've always been very uncomfortable with some people who make porno movies that want to say, "Oh, this is free speech, and I'm out there and I'm just talking about it all the time." That's not me. I'm out there, and I make my porno movies for the people who love porno. They're my fans.