Adult film director Max Hardcore sentenced to 4 years in prison on obscenity charges (UPDATE)

(Video: an intro that precedes the movies of Max Hardcore; no nudity or sexual acts in this embedded video above).

A US District Court in Florida has sentenced "extreme shock porn" gonzo director and distributor Max Hardcore, aka Paul F. Little, to four years in prison over obscenity charges. Writing for Salon, Glenn Greenwald wrote that he believes the verdict is a blow to first amendment rights:

"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. The claim that no real pain was inflicted will be rejected; mere humiliation is enough to make you a criminal. But if government officials actually subject helpless detainees in their custody to extreme mental abuse, degradation, humiliation and even mock executions long considered "torture" in the entire civilized world, the DOJ will argue that they have acted with perfect legality and, just to be sure, Congress will hand them retroactive immunity for their conduct. That's how we prioritize criminality and arrange our value system."

The hometown Tampa, FL paper where Little was convicted wrote about the case in a condemning tone:

His pornographic persona, Max Hardcore, is all swagger and sadism – forcing women in his movies to do things that can't be described in a family newspaper. But in federal court today, as he faced a federal prison sentence, Paul F. Little trembled and begged a woman for mercy. "It just seems a very high price to pay, I think," Little told U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew, "and I ask you to understand how much I've suffered."

Judge Sentences Porn Producer To 46 Months In Prison (Tampa Bay Online). Similar accounts published in Max Hardcore's home town paper, The Pasadena (CA) Star-News, and in this Tampa Bay paper.

Why was Little, aka Hardcore, convicted in Florida, when the offending material was produced elsewhere and distributed in many places, even overseas? IANAL, but as I understand it: producers are subject to obscenity charges in any state the material can be downloaded when local standards deem the material to be obscene. The landmark Supreme Court case of Hustler Magazine v. Falwell is informative background reading.

But the most authoritative voice I have read on the Max Hardcore case is that of Susannah Breslin, whose work I've blogged here many times. If you read one piece on this story, read hers.

Unlike most (perhaps all) of the voices you'll read on this topic, she's actually spent time on the kind of porn sets where "shock producers" like Hardcore preside, and she's watched more of his work than I could ever stomach. I can't speak for her, but I think the point of this powerful essay she's just published is this: the story is complicated. If we're going to talk about the big, abstract, meta issues — and we should — we owe it to the human beings involved to observe the human story, up close, with all the ugly details. Stories like this aren't easy or binary, and deserve complex, respectful treatment. We send reporters to Baghdad for in-depth reporting about the war; reporters covering this story would do well to understand this reality up close and personal, unromanticized. From Breslin's piece:

In Max Hardcore movies–"Anal Agony," "Hardcore Schoolgirls," "Max! Don't F**k Up My Mommy!"–women are verbally and physically degraded in an unprecedented myriad of ways. They are choked, slapped, throat-****ed, 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. When it came to Little, prosecutors were gunning for a win. Finally, three years after the OPTF was formed, the Feds got their man.

To The Max (contains explicit language; reversecowgirl blog)

UPDATE: Susannah Breslin has added a new update post with critical responses to her essay, and first-person testimonies related to this story from folks who grew up in or spent time in the "world" at issue. Really interesting read. Go have a look. Excerpt from one reader response:

Greenwald's entire point in discussing the farcical proceedings that convicted Little is that they specifically selected a venue for prosecution best suited to clearing that first hurdle:

'Even though he lived and worked in California, the Bush DOJ dragged him to Tampa, Florida in order to try him under Tampa's "community standards," on the theory that his website used servers physically based in Central Florida and some of the films were sent to Tampa customers who purchased them.'

And that's no legal standard at all – that's the whim of men, and most specifically men with a very particular kind of agenda regarding any and all public expressions or discussions of sex and sexuality – repulsive or otherwise. I think that the way to address this is not by a rigged judicial process but by passing better obscenity laws that have in mind as their first principles not moral scolding but the protection of porn performers, and that clearly lay down what is accepted and what is not rather than leaving those judgments to the whim of a given prosecutor.