My obscenity trial subpoena

I've been called to testify in a federal trial against a pornographer. Here's why this case really matters

Topics: Pornography, Sex,

My obscenity trial subpoenaPornographer Ira Isaacs

(updated below)

The Department of Justice has booked my plane tickets and hotel room in downtown Los Angeles. Now I just need to buy an actual pair of non-denim pants and I’ll be ready for my subpoenaed testimony this Thursday in a federal obscenity trial.

Seriously, though, for reasons much greater than my own involvement, this is a trial to pay attention to.  The pornographer on trial, Ira Isaacs, is indicted for making and selling what’s known colloquially as “poo porn,” and redistributing foreign-made bestiality films, like ”Japanese Doggie 3 Way.” Needless to say, he’s not a porn magnate along the lines of Larry Flynt or Steven Hirsch: The guy is small-time. But he’s at the center of a now-rare obscenity trial, in which prosecutors will argue that the sexually explicit movies that he sold — not all of which he made — are offensive, violate community standards and have no redeeming artistic merit. The charges could put the 61-year-old in jail for the rest of his life.

The case is a leftover from the Bush era. It was filed before Attorney General Eric Holder quietly shuttered the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, which charged a whopping 361 defendants with obscenity under George W. Bush. Nowadays, obscenity cases — including those involving consensual, adult pornography — are handled by the same section of the DOJ that deals with child exploitation. It’s been a slow couple of years on the obscenity front since Obama was elected: No new cases have been brought.

You might think this would mean that the few cases allowed to carry over under Obama would deliver impressive wins, but that’s not the case. In July of 2010, the obscenity trial against pornographer John Stagliano was dismissed because, believe it or not, there was “woefully insufficient” evidence linking the defendants to the content in question. The judge offered an embarrassing reprimand: “I hope the government will learn a lesson from its experience.” Shortly thereafter, in August of the same year, the obscenity case against AdultDVDEmpire.com — for selling four BDSM titles — was settled in a plea bargain, with the defendant claiming that the sales in question were accidents: two-year probation and a $75,000 fine.

You Might Also Like

And yet conservative Republicans — and a handful of Democrats, too — are angry that more obscenity prosecutions haven’t been brought. Last April, 42 senators signed a letter calling for Holder to “vigorously” bring obscenity cases “against major commercial distributors of hardcore adult pornography” (i.e., those more like Flynt than Isaacs). More recently, after some tireless harassment, Morality in Media got Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to pledge to revive such prosecutions.

The Isaacs trial is another example of the abstract and subjective nature of these cases, which rely on the four-decades-old “Miller test” holding that something is obscene, and worthy of censorship, if it meets three requirements: 1) It “appeals to the prurient interest” based on “contemporary community standards,” 2) depicts sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way” and 3) “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” It also brings another opportunity to consider whether obscenity should continue to be defined by a 40-year-old standard — as well as the prospect of these prosecutions multiplying, and targeting more mainstream pornographers, under a Republican presidency.

So how did I get involved?

The short answer is that I interviewed Ira Isaacs, the pornographer on trial. The longer answer is that last April I published a Q&A in Salon with Isaacs and it included the following exchange:

As far as your upcoming trial, one of your goals is to prove that your videos have artistic merit.

I have to do that to sound not guilty.

The prosecution is presumably interested in this passage, because it’s possible to interpret Isaacs’ response as an admission that he doesn’t actually believe his own defense. (It’s also possible to read the rest of the interview, which includes discussions of James Joyce and Franz Kafka, and come to a very different conclusion.) I’m not a telepath, nor an expert voice analyst, so all I can say is that Isaacs said what I said he said. We offered a sworn affidavit that says as much, but I have nonetheless been “commanded,” as the subpoena puts it, to appear in court.

So, free trip to L.A.! Thanks, taxpayers. Assuming my testimony goes ahead as planned, you can expect to hear more from me about the case from the inside.

 

UPDATE: I just got word that the government has reversed its decision to compel me to testify.(Glad I didn’t buy those non-denim pants!) I’ll still be following the trial closely, though, so stay tuned.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>