Whenever anyone flatly asserts that a conclusion is “obvious” — here, that The Santa Barbara Independent’s readers should support a ballot initiative requiring adult film workers to wear condoms — it is usually a good idea to take a deeper look. As we should all know by now, nothing is “obvious” about California’s voter initiatives, which are often written by well-funded, small interest groups to confuse and mislead citizens about their real intent. With Proposition 60, that small interest group is one man, Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who has so far spent $5 million on a ballot measure that would install him as an accountable porn czar to override Cal/OSHA’s efforts to collaborate with adult-industry workers on writing workplace-specific regulations that would truly keep them safe.
The adult industry’s rigorous testing program, along with the use of new medications such as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and voluntary quarantine protocols that would be the envy of the CDC, have kept adult film workers from HIV infection for 12 years. Allowing Weinstein to sue anyone associated with an adult film where a condom is not visible would drive the industry underground and out of state, where the adult industry’s proven safety measures would not be in force.
Prop. 60 also creates a new private right of action giving any of California’s 38 million residents the right to sue adult film performers whose workplace safety practices go far beyond Weinstein’s obsession with condoms as the sole answer to preventing HIV/STI infection. Successful suits against a workforce that is largely female and LGBT would come with a 25 percent bounty. Porn vigilantes would have the right to performers’ real names and home addresses, which will only further endanger this stigmatized community.
No other 2016 ballot measure, nor any in memory, has been so uniformly opposed: the California Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties, all other AIDS organizations including AIDS Project L.A. and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, medical organizations such as the San Francisco Medical Society and St. James Infirmary, civil rights organizations ranging from the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club to Equality California, and small business organizations such as the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Free Speech Coalition and the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, which represent the voices of adult-industry workers in seeking to protect their lives and livelihoods, both oppose Prop. 60.
“No on Prop. 60” editorials have appeared in almost every major paper in California, from the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle to the Sacramento Bee and the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Mercury News said of Prop. 60, “seems like a good idea until you actually read it.”
For more than 20 years I have been teaching a course at UCSB on pornography. We don’t start by asking whether porn is art or not, deviance or not, but what it is as film and popular culture, as a genre and an industry. By not making an exception of porn but treating it as an industry like any other, I and my students are in the rare position of being able to craft opinions about the adult industry that are informed by actually studying it. And because UCSB is so close to the center of the industry in the San Fernando Valley, we have the chance to learn from performers and producers in the industry who generously guest lecture in the class. I have also learned a great deal about those who work in the industry from editing The Feminist Porn Book, which brings together writings by feminists in the adult industry with essays by feminist porn scholars. The only thing that seems “obvious” to me is the value of listening to and talking with the workers rather than making pronouncements about them.
Constance Penley is a professor in the UCSB Film and Media Studies Department.