April 21, 2004

double entendre or not, this sucks

We can all rest easier now that the government is finally getting serious about workplace safety in an industry whose workers have been woefully neglected up until now. Thanks to Cal/OSHA, the State of California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, porn stars will now be required to use condoms on the job. If you have interest, you can get more details in this LA Times story.

In a similar fashion to nearly all work place safety initiatives down through history, the affected manufactures are voicing concerns about the detrimental effects that the regulation will have on their business. The unfortunate truth is that because of the nature of their business, their voices will be rejected out of hand without regard to the content of their arguments. Like so many other matter of policy in modern America, this regulation is unlikely to be implemented in a purely rational fashion.

This is not to say that I am especially sympathetic to the folks at Kick Ass Pictures. Quite the contrary. And frankly, their reaction sounds like they believe that the condom regulation is the equivalent to asking Michelangelo to use a duller and therefore safer chisel.

Talk about nearly irresistible opportunities for double entendre.

But the same logic that compels protections in other industries does indeed naturally apply to other workers engaged in risky work without regard to the moral offense of many or even a majority of the population. Those that drag out the old legal doctrine of assumption of risk ignore that in every other industry the doctrine has been largely rejected or superceded. While there may be legitimate differences between porn manufacturing and other industries, those should be discussed and not dismissed because we might not approve of the business endeavor.

Any time a new regulatory regime is imposed, the legitimate interest of the businesses affected should be considered and balanced against the benefits expected to be derived. Perhaps the cost of the regulation will exceed its benefit, though that is not likely to be the case in this instance: People will line up to work for free for those condom inspector jobs.

Logically, it is also impossible to avoid the discussion of prostitution. There is little moral difference between prostitution and engaging in sex for money in front of a camera unless you consider that all of performers getting paid, rather than just the prostitutes, makes some sort of qualitative distinction. Oh, and there is that other distinction: prostitution is illegal.

The hypocrisy of the status quo is an amazing thing to behold.

A brief internet search for statistics on the number of people engaged in prostitution in the US did not yield anything sufficiently trustworthy to pass on, but I think it is clear to anyone who hasn’t been living in an Amish community their entire lives that there are considerably more people involved in the oldest profession than in the porn industry. According to the LA Times story, porn production employs 1,200 performers in California and I expect that there are far more prostitutes than that working on any given night in Los Angeles alone.

It is pathetically ironic that California is prepared to regulate an industry that pays people to engage in sex, yet rather than protecting the prostitute from these same risks chooses instead to incarcerate them in an expression of some sort of moral outrage.

Legalization of prostitution is as overdue as was the legalization of brewing and distillation at the end of the Hoover administration. It is time to grow up and confront reality rather than letting the layers of hypocrisy accumulate deeper still. More importantly, it is high time the compassionate among us, conservative or otherwise, rise to the defense of some of the most desperate members of our society.

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