A California-based adult film studio has been scheduling screenings of the most expensive porn film ever made on college campuses—and gotten the attention of a Assemblyman known for his efforts to tax that industry.
“Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” has now been shown on or near several college campuses, including the University of California at Davis and UCLA. Efforts by a Republican state senator in Maryland to cut off funds to the University of Maryland at College Park for showing the film appear to have mainly led to a publicity bonanza for the $10 million, 138-minute porn blockbuster.
This price tag is about ten times the cost of the next-most expensive adult film ever made, according to Digital Playground (DP) spokesman Christopher Ruth—the $1 million first “Pirates” movie, released in 2005. The average pornographic film, he said, is made for about $15,000. The high production cost may explain part of the unusual campaign to it show on campuses, a strategy that the company bills as part public service and part marketing.
“As a society in America, we do not discuss sex as much as we should,” said Ruth. “It’s all over the place, but for some reason it’s wrong to talk about.”
As an example, Ruth cited the November showing of the film at UCLA. It included a discussion with the director, Joone, and two of the stars, Evan Stone and Sacramento native Sasha Grey. He said the University of Maryland showing included a discussion about safe sex with a representative from Planned Parenthood.
Ruth said that the film has been shown on several campuses around the country without the use of any public or university money, with all costs covered by admission fees. This doesn’t mollify Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier.
“It’s a marketing ploy, tapping into a ready-made market, one that’s highly susceptible,” Calderon said.
Calderon said it’s hardly the first time the industry has promoted on college campuses. He cited a trend of studios producing films by arranging “raucous parties” where performers are filmed in front of students “who are drinking the whole time” while they watch.
Calderon is known for having carried multiple bills that would have taxed the adult industry to cover what he says are the negative impacts caused by the industry. The state, he said, often picks up the tap for treating STDs, unwanted pregnancies and psychological damage caused on porn sets.
He said he is considering a new bill to enforce standard workplace protections on adult film studios. This could include everything from forcing them to comply with Cal-OSHA to providing health care and unemployment benefits. He also wants enforceable contracts that would provide for legal action if directors try to force actresses or actors to do anything they didn’t agree to in writing beforehand.
What Calderon said he won’t do is step into the snake pit that state senator Andy Harris created in Maryland. His bill to cut off funds to the College Park campus ultimately went nowhere, due to lack of support and 1st Amendment issues. But the publicity did lead about “twice as many” students to see the film, said DP’s Ruth.
If this same controversy had occurred several years ago, it might have led to a wider debate over the use of pornography in classroom academic settings. But that debate appears to be largely over.
“If you look at the course curriculum for almost every major university, you will find a course on pornography, sex or sex in film,” Ruth said. “You’ll even find some women’s studies courses that view porno.”
Mary Madden agrees. She made headlines in the 1990s when she taught a course several time at San Francisco State University called Exploring Cybersexualities. SF State now has an entire Department of Sexuality Studies and also the home of the National Sexuality Resource Center.
“Pornography studies were a big trend in the late 1990s,” Madden said. “Any legislators who do not approve are about 10 years late in expressing their displeasure.”
Even though she no longer teaches, Madden added, “All forms of human sexual communication are worth academic exploration.”
On this, she and Mal Kline disagree. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia, a conservative group that has tried to shine light on numerous practices they disagree with, such as the showing of pornography in classroom settings. Klines’ group frequently writes about the practice, often after being tipped off by students who report, “I signed up for history and got pornography.”
Kline said that his group tries to limit the practice by letting parents and taxpayers know about it, and then hoping public outcry takes care of the rest.
“What are they doing with taxpayers funds?” he asked. “Are they actually delivering an education?” He added, “In the meantime, writing skills are going down, historical knowledge is going down, geographic knowledge is going down. Not just among high school graduates, but among college graduates.”
The increasing intrusion of pornographic content has taken many forms, he said, from “a professor at Purdue who worked masturbation into the American Revolution” to academic conferences that have become a mix of political discussion, deconstructionism and “just flat out porno.”
Like Calderon, he sees the “Pirates” screenings as part of a disturbing new trend—and one he had a hard time believing when he first saw the DP press release.
“I thought it was April Fool’s joke,” Kline said.