Friday, July 16, 2010

To the max

People keep coming here looking for a post I wrote in October of 2008 about Max Hardcore called "To the Max." I wrote it on my old blog, which now feeds into this blog, so it's been unavailable online for some time. Here it is again.

Last Friday, adult director Paul Little, aka Max Hardcore, was sentenced to 46 months in prison. Back in June, Little had been found guilty on 20 federal counts of distributing obscene material over the internet and through the US mail. At his sentencing in Tampa, Florida, where federal agents had bought the materials in question, Little asked Judge Susan C. Bucklew for what appeared to be mercy. "I didn't realize I'd made a mistake," he told the court. "My entire life I've been trying to do the right thing by people and by the law." A sentiment to which Judge Bucklew replied: "Mr. Little, I find this almost incredible."

Indeed, Little's porn story is more that of a man who wanted to find out how far he could push the law before it snared him. Since the early Nineties, he has committed himself to exploring the farthest reaches of the pornographic frontier. As an auteur, he came into his own in the golden age of gonzo-porno. With the advent of video, porn was delivered into any American home with a video player. Meanwhile, any aspiring pornographer who could get his hands on a video camera could shoot low budget porn on the fly. Alongside his peers in the movement--John "The Buttman" Stagliano and Adam "Seymore Butts" Glasser among them--Little was the dick-for-hire star of his own lo-fi productions. Yet while Stagliano and Glasser inhabited oversexed personalities on camera, who reveled in the pleasures of sexually adventurous lives shot cinéma vérité style, Little, armed with a half-crazed grin, a George W. Bush cowboy hat, and a set that consisted primarily of a yellow sofa, appeared hellbent on taking human sexuality to the outer limits. At a time when the Clinton administration was taking a mostly hands-off approach to obscenity prosecutions, and the Wild, Wild West of the Internet meant distribution was easy and censorship was turning into an antiquated concept, extreme porn became the new new thing.

In Max Hardcore movies--"Anal Agony," "Hardcore Schoolgirls," "Max! Don't Fuck Up My Mommy!"--women are verbally and physically degraded in an unprecedented myriad of ways. They are choked, slapped, throat-fucked, penetrated with fists, given enemas, pile-driven, urinated upon, vomited upon, and in some instances instructed to drink from glasses the money shots that have been delivered into their rectums. Most of the time, Little as Hardcore is the perpetrator of these acts. Not infrequently, his scenes are fraught with pedophilia themes, beginning when he stumbles upon his subjects in playgrounds, where they sit alone, in pigtails, talking baby-talk, and sucking on lollipops. Mostly, the sex scenes end with his latest costar a mess and Hardcore triumphant. Even for the most jaded porn watcher, Little's ouevre is over the top. Watching Little's work is less like watching a porn movie than it is akin to witnessing a vivisection. On the screen, Hardcore bends over the female bodies before him, sometimes with speculum in hand, as if attempting to get at something within her at which he can never quite get, and so to which he is doomed to return, his methods more and more hardcore.

In Porn Valley, Little is something of a pariah. The larger, more mainstream-oriented and consumer-friendly adult production companies like Vivid Video and Wicked Pictures pride themselves on turning out adult content that plays by the rules, thereby, they hope, protecting the industry from legal persecution. In contrast, Little and company, other producers believe, put the entire industry at risk by creating content more likely to be targeted in obscenity indictments. (See: The Cambria List.) In 2005, the Bush administration launched its so-called "War on Porn," forming the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a Department of Justice outfit dedicated to pursuing obscenity prosecutions, and the FBI began recruiting for a "porn squad," otherwise known as the Adult Obscenity Squad, focused on "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography. In late 2005, federal agents raided Little's offices in Altadena, California, but it wasn't until early 2007 that his indictment was unsealed. As it turned out, OPTF Director Brent Ward had found getting US Attorneys to pursue obscenity prosecutions wasn't easy. Consequently, US Attorneys who preferred dedicating their resources to crimes other than obscenity in districts more likely to win the administration obscenity convictions were eliminated. Late last year, the OPTF's first trial began in Phoenix, Arizona, pitting the US government against a producer of bukkake videos, but the result was an embarrassment, the pornographer slipping out of the government's hands in the courtroom on what amounted to a technicality. When it came to Little, prosecutors were gunning for a win. Finally, three years after the OPTF was formed, the Feds got their man.

According to Jezebel's Megan Carpentier, we've come a long way, baby, when it comes to porn. "Say what you will about pornography, objectification and exploitation, the growing legitimization of the pornography industry--which led to much more government- and self-regulation--also led to a significant decrease in the kind of exploitation described by those performers as well as increased opportunities for women to participate in the higher-earning aspects of the production." Where Carpentier came upon her theory regarding the current state of the adult movie industry is a mystery. One would have to assume her research didn't include watching this NSFW series of video clips, in which a young woman is gangbanged, instructed to crawl across the floor on all-fours while stating repeatedly, "I'm a fucking whore," and then directed to drink the contents of a dog bowl, the side of which reads "SHIT-HOLE," into which her costars have ejaculated. The video wasn't directed by Little; these days, extreme porn is everywhere you Google.

Of course, what we are talking about here is not the girl on the floor, but the letter of the law. Yesterday, former lawyer, Salon blogger, and bestselling author Glenn Greenwald, whose First Amendment client list included Matthew Hale, a neo-Nazi who mistakenly attempted to enlist an undercover FBI agent to kill a federal judge, posits the conviction and sentencing of Paul Little as the latest glaring example of Bush administration hypocrisy. According to Greenwald, porn consists of "films featuring only consenting adults and distributed only to those consenting adults who chose to purchase them." Ironically, Little's defense, Greenwald points out, is the same defense the Bush administration has used to defend interrogation techniques used on detainees: "because the acts in question didn't involve the infliction of severe pain, they weren't illegal." In the case of Little's videos, he asserts, "There was no suggestion that any serious violence was ever inflicted or that the adult actors in the film were anything other than completely consensual." In conclusion, he proclaims: "So, to recap, in the Land of the Free: if you're an adult who produces a film using other consenting adults, for the entertainment of still other consenting adults, which merely depicts fictional acts of humiliation and degradation, the DOJ will prosecute you and send you to prison for years."

Reading Greenwald's post, I wondered if he had ever watched a Max Hardcore movie. I sent him an email, asking if he had. A few minutes later, I received a reply. "No, I haven't. But I read about its content. Why?" I replied: "You should." He replied: "I really don't care what consenting adults do with one another in order to entertain themselves or please themselves sexually--I'm not a busy body trying to sit in judgment of what other adults choose to do with themselves, especially in their sex lives. Not even the Government claimed that these films involved minors or non-consent, so as far as I'm concerned, it's nobody's business what they do, and whatever they do isn't going to change my mind in the slightest." In 1964, US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart opined famously of pornography: "I know it when I see it." In Greenwald's case, one would imagine it would be hard to know what one has seen if one has not, in fact, seen it. If one hasn't seen "it," how can one know what one has seen?

On an online message board, a member who calls himself "Sick Fuck" posted an inventory of Max Hardcore's most extreme scenes. The list is long. Some of the videos were created for European distribution, where the market is more permissive, an argument Little used to defend the graphic nature of his videos to little effect in the Tampa courtroom. The litany of highlights includes urination, defecation, and vomiting, all of which appear repeatedly. As a matter of fact, the image located at the top of this post is a still from one such video, the European edition of "Planet Max 16." Her name is Summer Luv. In the scene, her costar, Catalina, who was Little's girlfriend, vomits on Summer. Their three-way sex with Little includes fisting and a mechanical device that holds Summer's mouth open as he ejaculates onto her face, upon which a clown smile has been drawn. The other extremely explicit, NSFW images can be found here. Because if you're going to talk about how far we've come when it comes to porn, if you're going to posit Paul "Max Hardcore" Little as the latest victim of the Bush administration, if you're going to lament one more strike against your First Amendment rights, you should bear witness as to what a porn star drenched in vomit looks like. Otherwise, you're blind when it comes to the hardcore realities of making porn in the 21st century. After all, as the bukkake video producer who squirmed out of the OPTF's grasp once told me: "If people didn't want it, it wouldn't be made." That is, if you didn't want it, they wouldn't make it. In the end, porn is the real American dream, and the dream is all yours.
[Related: "All obscenity charges dismissed against porn director John Stagliano and Co."]