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Porn Again
Nothing sells like kinky sex.


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In the long-ago ’70s, the now-defunct Hearst paper in Los Angeles asked me to do a series of pieces about all those new-fangled ways people were watching movies. Not only could you rent a movie (at the time, a concept incredibly novel, and restricted to those who had hundreds to spend on big, heavy tape players), but in some places, you could sit at home and watch whole channels devoted to movies. Home Box Office had started transmitting hockey games and movies to a bunch of gadgeteers in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1972. Only a few years later, cable was going head-to-head with movie channels broadcast in metropolitan areas by microwave antennae.

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To bring focus to the new business of home-movie watching and non-broadcast TV, a trade show was put together in L.A.’s convention center. Journalists and operators of local cable systems mixed with execs from national cable companies and independent cable-channel owners. It was a kind of pre-Internet bubble moment: Everybody was going to get rich on cable. The hall was filled with the likes of CBS, the BBC, a farm channel, a bunch of cash-hungry start-ups and some early adventurers, like Ted Turner, who sat around his little WTBS desk making front-porch philosophy and trying to steal some attention from the star of the booth, the station’s all-purpose funnyman, Bill Tush. The cable industry was just starting and was still quite fragile, really; most people assumed those who were in the convention hall that day would be out of business the next. And many were.

But big question facing cable operators was how much of a threat video rental might be. The consensus: a big threat, growing bigger. But one Hollywood type sought to set me straight: “Here’s the dirty secret you need to know about the video-rental business,” I recall him saying. “It’s only alive because of porn.” And when I looked into it, he was right. Some 80 percent of video rentals in those days (and perhaps now, for all I know) were porn tapes. A whole industry was being born on the bare backs of grotesque sex. Pornography sells.

Just ask the BBC, Sky News, France 2, and the rest of the EuroPress today. The release of new images from Abu Ghraib have gone around the world in minutes. They tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the treatment of some detainees by some soldiers. Publishing yet more photos of S&M excess does nothing but titillate and excite the passions. Out there someplace are a group of sad souls aching for more such leaks, because of the hitherto forbidden pleasures they bring. We call those people “the editorial board of the Washington Post.” The photographs they publish lack, in the words of the famous formulation, “redeeming social value.” In fact, they even lack simple news value.

But pornography is hard to resist, especially when put in the hands of the Washington Post, apparently by a member of Congress. Everyone in Washington heard Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tell a Senate hearing on May 8, “Be on notice. There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist. If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse.”

No father of a porn queen could have said it better. Rumsfeld’s warning sounded like a promise to many in the press, and especially to those at the Post who decided that they should do whatever it takes, including, apparently, purvey a little classified porn, in order to “make matters worse.” The Abu Ghraib story, like none other, proves that pornography sells, and that more pornography only sells more. In this case, it sells a hatred of America that is already well-entrenched, one that takes a toll in treasure and in human life. Lacking a cogent response other than weird, abject apologies from anyone in the U.S. administration, the prevailing view of America, as described in this leader from the Guardian, is as a nation of presumed war criminals. The crime is that the present U.S. administration is so inept at defending idealistic policies against a cynical media onslaught. So deafening now is the hysteria in Europe concerning these photographs that virtually no other news from Iraq matters. I doubt that the reputation of the United States has ever been so gleefully trashed as it is now in Paris, London, and Berlin, thanks largely to a stack of dirty pictures published without context or conscience. That’s how pornography works.

That is not to say that the members of the editorial board at the Washington Post are all pornographers, any more than Anne Applebaum, a Post board member writing in the Daily Telegraph, really means to compare the U.S. to Hitler’s Germany, Rwanda during the genocide, Cambodia under Pol Pot, or the Soviet Union under Stalin. “The American soldiers and civilians responsible for humiliating and possibly murdering Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad over the past few months do not belong in the same category as Nazi or Soviet camp guards who carried out mass murders,” she assures her British readers–after cataloging the atrocities of the 20th century in a lead that extends through half the piece. “But their actions do prove, if further proof were needed, that no culture is incapable of treating its enemies as subhuman.”

Maybe Abu Ghraib really does represent American culture to Applebaum. And maybe the pornography her newspaper takes such pride in publishing really does represent the corporate culture of the Washington Post Co. For sure, the Post’s actions do prove, if further proof were needed, that the press, in the U.S. and here in Europe, is capable and willing to do anything necessary in order to make sure Americans–including especially those who are putting their lives on the line for their country–are seen as subhuman.

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Dom gets tough. In France, where there are more imams than anywhere else in Europe, the interior ministry, under the leadership of famed poet Dominique de Villepin, has started chucking Muslim clerics out of the country for speaking their mysterious minds about terrorism and the lapidation of women. The longest-running case, covered here before, has stretched itself through court hearings and tribunals. Le Monde pretzel wraps itself around the “enigma” of the imam of Vénissieux: How could a man who looks so holy and who likes women advocate stoning as an appropriate domestic discipline? Meanwhile, in Paris, Le Nouvel Observateur reports that authorities have tossed out another imam for extolling the virtues of terrorism. In all, three clerics have been deported. This may not say much for the French concept of freedom of speech–it’s against the law to speak too much English in some places here–but it beats traditional French appeasement.

No guilt. The BBC, reports the Guardian, has examined the Hutton findings and its own heart and come to the conclusion that Greg Dyke did nothing wrong when skipped looking at the facts before he invested the Corporation’s integrity in Andrew Gilligan’s lame reporting, and Gavyn Davies was likewise innocent in dragging the BBC’s governors into a mess not of their own making. The sole villain of the piece was Gilligan himself. This is the British equivalent of “just moving on.” This wry little travesty is covered thoroughly in Melanie Phillips’s Diary.

Headlining the obvious. The editor of Le Monde, who famously but disingenuously announced “We are all Americans” on September 12 has finally got around to printing a correction. Lest readers confuse the U.S. with the country that armed the Rwandan genocide and leads the Western world in anti-Semitic incidents, Le Monde now reports that “We are non-Americans.” Talk about understatement. ¡No Passaran! provides a translation while Le Monde Watch offers the necessary critical gloss.

Barnum was right! The men and women who have navigated Britain’s education system though a downward spiral have come up with a novel way to halt the rise of teenage pregnancy. Reports the Observer, “Encouraging schoolchildren to experiment with oral sex could prove the most effective way of curbing teenage pregnancy rates…[An] unpublished government-backed report reveals that a trial of the course has been a success. Schoolchildren, particularly girls, who received such training developed a ‘more mature’ response to sex.”



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