"I watched friends get put on trial and go to jail just for selling an adult film," said Paul Fishbein, founder of AVN magazine, at the annual AVN Awards Saturday night.
Known as the "Oscars of porn," the awards show is a high-production value affair hosted in Las Vegas that almost could be the Oscars, if you overlook the myriad references to anal and the award categories like "best all girl group sex scene." In any event, it's the kind of out-and-proud celebration of pornography that would have been unimaginable when Fishbein and two friends founded AVN magazine in 1983 and the AVN awards a year later.
Back then, the AVN awards ceremony was "a small wine and cheese reception held in a hotel meeting room," as Georgina Voss writes in Stigma and the Shaping of the Pornography Industry.
But the porn industry in America is a story of "freedom" and "survival," Fishbein said Saturday night, accepting a "Visionary Award" from the company he sold in 2010.
"The choice of Paul Fishbein as this year's Visionary was an easy one," said Tony Rios, current CEO of AVN Media Network. "Paul is someone who understood very early on the importance of the adult film industry, and that it was going to be a moving force in the consumer marketplace in those early days of home video. He has continued to deal with adult entertainment in a serious way, and … he's not getting this award because he's family—he's getting this because he truly deserves it."
Fishbein has seen the industry adapt to many technological changes, as well as growing public acceptance of porn and shifts in the legal and political climate. But he warned awards-show attendees last night not to be complacent, mentioning the California condoms-in-porn mandate that will be on the ballot next November and the Department of Homeland Security's recent takedown of gay escort site Rentboy.com.
"I've watched for 34 years as the adult industry has taken bullet after bullet," said Fishbein. "Somebody somewhere is always trying to find a way to censor speech and prevent you from doing what you're doing."