Friday, December 01, 2006

I support pornography

There's been a huge imbroglio going on in lovely downtown Northampton for months now over a porn store that wants to open a business in an empty storefront a few blocks down from Main Street. I've been following the issue because I still consider Noho my hometown and I'm interested in the matter because I've worked on First Amendment cases to allow such businesses to open in communities that don't want them.

Pornography whether you like it or consider it an evil scourge on society, is protected speech. The case law is long established on the right of such businesses to exist. Of course no community actively solicits a porn shop and no one wants one in their neighborhood but it can't be decided on moral grounds.

Me, I've got nothing against porn. I enjoy viewing well done erotica and I don't buy into the feminist argument that it actively and generally exploits women. While it's true some women have been coerced into the business and badly treated, for the most part women in the sex industry are there by choice. For many women, the industry provides a level of income that would otherwise be unattainable and in fact many enjoy the work. The truth be told, the jeans you're wearing or the designer sneakers on your feet are more likely to have exploited women and children working in foreign sweatshops, than any pornographers have.

I've been sitting on sidelines until recently when NoPorn Northampton, an organization created to oppose the opening of the shop, decided to throw some baseless accusations against a local Noho blogger, Andrew Shelffo who had challenged their arguments. NoPorn accused Shelffo of violating some imaginary "code of citizen journalism" and demanded to know if he was on the porn shop's payroll. When Andrew rightfully ignored such an inappropriate demand, NoPorn launched a smear campaign against him and I was inspired to engage in the debate.

In an interesting twist, Shelffo has finally declared he is not receiving money from the porn shop but it now appears that NoPorn is the one that has something to hide and is violating the code of ethics it demanded Shelffo comply with. When I asked Adam Cohen, who runs their website to disclose his financial backers, he at first ignored my request and didn't publish my comment on his site, until after I had published it as a comment to Shelffo's blog.

Since then Cohen has disclosed NoPorn spent $21,000 and is operating at a deficit, having received only $3,500 in donations. I left another comment asking who then is guaranteeing payment to their vendors and how will they honor their obligation to them?

Cohen immediately replied that they are not in debt and all bills have paid, his point being NoPorn was not organized as profit making venture and that they are acting out of concern for the community. All well and good but it still doesn't answer my initial question. I countered with this comment that hasn't yet appeared on the NoPorn blog.
How interesting. It begs the question, if you're not in debt and you only received $3,500 in donations, then who paid the rest of the $17,500 in expenses? Under your own criteria for full disclosure, it would seem to be material in establishing the credibility of your position and the veracity of the information you present, on which you ask the public to judge the issue.
Mr Cohen may yet regret opening up this can of worms. If he doesn't post my comment and answer it at NoPorn, I may just reactivate my account at MassLive and ask it there.

Ironically, I actually agree with Cohen's group. I think the proposed location for the business is inappropriate and I don't want to see it open there. However, Noho has had other sex shops operating within the city limits and no secondary ill effects occurred. I engaged in this debate because I think it's far more dangerous to the community to discriminate against this business based solely on personal revulsion and via the nanny government regulations that NoPorn is demanding, than all the smut in the world. Destroying First Amendment protections for disliked speech, endangers all speech. That shouldn't be an acceptable outcome in any civilized society.


[Graphic gratitude]


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