STAYING POWER: THE MAINSTREAMING OF THE HARD-CORE PORNOGRAPHIC FILM INDUSTRY, 1969-1990
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When publicly screened hard-core pornographic films first appeared in theatres, in 1969, they generated less than $1 million in annual revenue. By 1990, revenue approached $600 million. By 2000, estimates placed U.S. revenue between $5 and $15 billion. This dissertation examines the hard-core industry's growth by concentrating on changes in the mode of consumption as well as noting changes in the films themselves. And it ties the story of the industry and its customers to the intersecting narratives of the Supreme Court, anti-pornography activism, and the Federal government.
The industry provided a product desired by a large and growing number of Americans. Videotape technology moved hard-core film from the highly contested public space of the motion picture theatre to the more easily defended private space of the home. The more effective the films were in arousing viewers and the more secret their consumption, the more the industry grew. The nature of the debate over hard-core pornography favored those defending consumption. While opponents of hard-core emphasized pornography's putative harm, evidence for these claims never rose above the anecdotal level. Finally, successful prosecution of hard-core films became increasingly untenable. Even when Federal and state prosecutions increased during the 1980s, a grudging cultural toleration of hard-core films meant prosecutors could no longer rely upon juries to return guilty verdicts.
The hard-core industry, buoyed by success and confident that it understood their consumers, employed various publications to create a sense of community, assure customers that the best films were the most sexually arousing, and that arousal was both right and proper. Masturbation is crucial to understanding the industry's growth. Because of an 18th-century medical masturbation panic that reached its peak in the United States in the late 19th-century and endured, 20th-century American courts grappled with an obscenity doctrine predicated upon a barely acknowledged, enduring belief in the dangers posed by masturbation. Ironically, hard-core film became, after the shift to videotape, an astonishingly convenient and effective fantasy tool. The hard-core pornographic film industry grew in direct relation to its ability to supply a product that facilitated private desire and masturbation.