by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
Hollywood,Calif.May 6, 2001
A California liquor agency rule that prohibits bars from showingnon-obsc= ene porn films and photos is about to be repealed; now,neighborhoods across=
the state that have fought strip clubs and X-ratedtheaters may have to fig= ht a new wave of "porn bars."
In the absence of a new rule -- and Theresa Laster of the California Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control says none is contemplated -- any licens= ed premises that up until now has been happy with all-day cable tv broadcas= ts of MTV and ESPN can add hard- and soft-core pornography to the mix -- an= y depiction of sexuality that may be indecent but is not "obscene."
Titillated customers can watch explicit sex acts onthe Spice Channel or Playboy -- both of which qualify as "indecent" -- or harder-core stuff on D= irectTV's adult channels until they spill out into the streets in the wee h= ours of the morning to search for the real thing.
The lure of raw sex will be a strong one, if the success of clubs lik= e Hooters that rely on busty waitresses are any indication. Combining skimp= y uniforms and big screen fellatio ought to be a big hit on slow Monday nig= hts in neighborhood bars worried about declining profit margins. Indeed, on= the Internet, sex sites are the biggest and most profitable play of all, a= nd the introduction of pornography in bars may eclipse even that billion-do= llar business.
The ACLU and an organization that sponsors annual exhibitions of erot= ic art got Rule 143.4 declared unconstitutional in March of 2000, but the A= BC is only now completing the lengthy process of repealing it. Opportunity for public comment on repeal closes on May 7 (see www.abc.ca.gov for detail= s). The rule prohibited the showing of film,still pictures, electronic repr= oduction or other visual reproductions of "acts or simulated acts of sexual= intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation, flagellati= on or any sexual acts which are prohibited by law" and displays of genitali= a being touched. All of thatmay soon be shown, up to the limits of obsceni= ty.
The ACLU and LOS, Ltd. brought suit against the ABC in 1997 after age= nts threatened the Palm Springs Convention Center with fines and possible r= evocation of its liquor license if it permitted the LOS eroticart show, an annual event for collectors. After losing in federal district court, the pl= aintiffs won in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, forcingthe ABC's hand. In a public notice, the agency said it had been unable to find alternatives= to throwing out the entire rule.
In his 16-page opinion, Appellate Justice Dickran Tervizian said the ABC could not rely on special powers granted to states under the 21st Amend= ment to enforce any greater restrictions on free speech than are permitted by the First Amendment. That standard permits indecency -- a very broad cat= egory of expression that grants artistic license to virtually anyone that s= eeks it -- but prohibits obscenity, which is defined as speech that is "utt= erly lacking in redeeming moral, social or artistic value." That is a very narrow category of expression in contemporary America which has barely prov= ed sufficient to prohibit child pornography and "snuff" films.
The connections between pornography, alcohol and sexual violence, par= ticularly against women, is not well-established. There is, however, a very= dramatic relationship between alcohol intake and domestic violence: Alcoho= l is present in as many as 80 percent of homicides committed against women who know their killers. Two-thirds of people abused by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend say that alcohol was a factor; where victim= s were husbands or wives, the offender was drinking in three out of four ca= ses, according to a 1998 Justice Department study.
For college women, the propensity to be in places that serveal cohol is already the strongest single correlate of stalking incidents, and 70 per= cent of college rapes, rape attempts and threats take place on dates -- man= y involving alcohol. How will pornography figure in?
And even if any influence the introduction of pornography will have i= n the minds of drunken men who are already involved in domestic violence is= unclear, I am not optimistic. In those for whom violence is so far an unre= alized tendency, the new combination of alcohol and pornography could well prove deadly. A 1995 Justice Dept. study showed 92 percent of assailants in= domestic violence cases in Memphis used alcohol or drugs on the day of the= incident.
City and state legislators have a critical battle ahead of them in ma= intaining some standard of decency in publicly-licensed bars and nightclubs= . They cannot violate the First Amendment, but they cannot allow the spre= ad of commercial pornography to bars without betraying the communities they= serve and utterly debasing the prevailing low standards of acceptable publ= ic speech.
In addition to pursuing the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Cou= rt, the ABC and California's cities ought to encourage voluntary conditions= outlawing porn in bars that are subject to the conditional use permitting process; voluntary conditions are common and enforceable now, but do not us= ually encompass pornography. In Hollywood, LAPD vice officers are already r= esearching the issue to formulate a law enforcement response, but it is unl= ikely that police can prevent what constitutionally-empowered liquor regula= tors cannot.
California's community and religious leaders ought to use their influ= ence to encourage bar owners not to lower their standards to take advantage= of what will probably be a new and profitable sideline. But for now, Pando= ra's Box is opened; drinkers in this state may soon come tounderstand that in the literal sense; if so, the rest of America's barswon't be far behind.=
Joe Shea is President of the Ivar Hill Community Assn. in Hollywood a= nda longtime community activist on alcohol-related issues.