He Makes the Most Sense So Far: LA-based artist Zak Sabbath Talks About Measure B

from www.thegloss.com – When a voter referendum mandating the use of condoms in porn passed earlier this month in LA, pretty much everyone who makes a living in pornographic movies was upset about what it was going to mean for their industry.

Civilians, meanwhile, were kind of ambivalent; I know I’ve talked to several people who are wary of restricting creative freedom, but think that if it prevents even one person from contracting H.I.V. at work, then it’s worth it. In an effort to get to the bottom of what this law really means and why performers are so fervently opposed, I emailed my friend Zak Smith, an LA-based artist who moonlights in porn under the amusing moniker Zak Sabbath. Here’s what he had to say.

Jamie Peck: Hi Zak! So first of all, are you for the measure or against it? I think I know what you are going to say.

Zak Smith: Totally against it.

JP: Why is that?

ZS: First: This law isn’t about “Should there be condoms in porn?” It’s: “Should we make shooting the kind of porn that makes the most money hard enough for companies in LA that they will move to Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas or the closest meth-and-stripmall Breaking Bad-looking suburb that falls outside the area the law covers?”

This kind of prohibitive entertainment law only makes sense if it’s national (if it makes sense at all). As a health measure, moving a bunch of porn people from LA (a real actual city with doctors and shrinks and culture) to Las Vegas (a place whose levels of STDs, corruption, income-inequality-based crime and vice are pretty much post- apocalyptic, a place where the cops say “Every night is Saturday night for someone” and is generally so dodge city the police won’t even release the crime statistics) is about the dumbest thing you can do.

The current system has controlled STDs and gotten things to the point where a single incident of AIDS in the industry is such rare, stop-the-presses news everything and everyone grinds to a halt as soon as it happens.

People know what they have because they have to get tested all the time to work, and if someone works dirty they stand a good chance of losing all work forever. The industry regularly flies people to Miami, San Francisco and Montreal already all the time, this will help no one be healthier. No-one actually thinks that.

It’s a typical example of a once perhaps well-intentioned organization (the AIDS people spearheading this) trying to get prestige and donations by going up against an easy target: in this case playing off the prejudices people have (even allegedly progressive people like the ones reading this who wanted to have babies because Kim Gordon made it look ok) against porn people. It’s fucking bullshit and completely insulting.

There’s a big PRO measure B billboard saying “Pornographers want you to vote NO on B!” Can you imagine them doing that to people in any other legal profession? Hells no.

JP: And how about the idea that porn sex should tell people how to have real life sex?

ZS: As a paternalistic “Your entertainment should educate you” measure:

1- It won’t work unless the internet somehow makes it impossible to google free porn made before the law was passed. And, y’know, in the area of regulating free internet pornography, law enforcement has not been what you’d call shockingly successful.

2- It’s not a path adults should be going down in general: if you have a populations reading its life off cue cards, the answer isn’t changing the cue cards. Since the 80s, anti-AIDS activists have been phenomenally successful in teaching people to use condoms the grown-up post-Enlightenment way: by explaining what STDs are and how condoms are really good at stopping you from getting them. LA should spend the money it’s going to drop sending a cop to every porn set to do that and leave the business trying to tell people under what conditions they can shoot what loads on whose tits to the red state hogfuckers real people move to cities like LA to get away from.

JP: Check out this article by Aurora Snow: www.adultfyi.com/read.php?ID=56212

If requiring condoms in porn (for argument’s sake, let’s say all porn) is not a good solution to the problems she outlined (feeling pressured to work with people whose tests aren’t up to date, I mean), what is? [The industry standard is that performers must have a current test on file in order to do a scene; porn performers are tested every 30 days.]

ZS: Aurora Snow’s entire argument is annihilated by what I just wrote: This law won’t make people in porn wear condoms. It’s not a national law so it will just make the porn industry move to a different place. I wear condoms when I fuck girls off set, too, but the law isn’t about condoms or safety.

If, via some very unlikely series of events (and I mean VERY unlikely, what with the first amendment and all and the power of the porn companies and the basically anarchistic attitude all healthy developed nations have toward sexual entertainment and the ever-increasing awareness of how STDs are actually transmitted and the fact that football players and movie stars like having porn stars around), a version of the LA law eventually went national after 15 years or however long, you would still have to deal with the fact that most people want to watch condom-free porn and it’s available everywhere on the the internet.

So basically, that theoretical national condom law would basically be saying “Do you want to move the porn industry to Vancouver and Montreal or to some place like the Cayman Islands?”

If that crazy puritanical thing ever happened, people should vote their conscience on it, but they should be voting for or against the thing that will happen not the thing they are being told the law is about.

JP: So that sounds pretty convincing. That said, are the problems she describes in the article real problems? If so, what do you think should be done to deal with them? Law-wise, worker solidarity-wise, or otherwise?

ZS: Basically: all these problems can happen but the solutions to unsafe conditions in porn are the same as for people working in other industries:

1. It is important to stand up for yourself and take individual responsibility just like when you fuck people in real life. Don’t agree to fuck people without a test if you’re then going to complain you got an STD.

2. There is always a danger when the rights of individuals to say “no” stop mattering because they are in a monopolized industry that can fire them or blacklist them. The closest thing to a solution here is, again, the same as in every other industry: decentralization, collective bargaining and expanding the role of smaller companies so you’re not in a one-horse town.

That’s one of the reasons so many performers were so loyal to Adult Industry Medical (the place which used to do the testing) even though AIM fucked up now and again–it was the closest thing they had to a union. Porn performers need to be treated like what they are: adults with jobs they are totally allowed to have.

I’d also say the chances for a technological solution are pretty good, too: a messageboard where performers can anonymously relate experiences and rate companies with a specific assigned unique code for each porn set controlled by an independent third party would go a long toward helping performers avoid abusive practices and people.

JP: That’s a great idea! Someone should make that. Why doesn’t that exist yet?

ZS: Because the money that it would take to pay an impartial person to do that was instead spent making “Vote Yes On Measure B” billboards and will now be spent paying cops to stand around on every porn set in LA trying to talk people into giving them blowjobs.

JP: That seems irrational and unfortunate. Zooming out a bit, do you support the idea of government regulations re: worker safety in an industry in general?

ZS: That’s such a broad question as to be unanswerable. Like asking “Are you for people being alive?” “Well, yes…most of them…” That question (or, rather, the mentality underlying peoples’ willingness to ask it in that form about this issue) is, in essence, the problem: people thought they were voting for a broad principle, not a specific future. Unfortunately, we are very rarely asked to vote for or against broad principles.

JP: I guess what I am trying to get at is that a lot of people think of workplace safety measures as being a good, pro-worker thing…hard hats for construction workers, protective gear for factory workers, etc…and might have trouble seeing how this situation is not analogous. Many industries have the ability to outsource their labor, and their workers might be against safety measures for that same reason, i.e. they’re afraid the industry will move elsewhere. How is this different? Is it simply that the regulations the industry already has are sufficient?

ZS: In each case you have to examine the “the industry will move elsewhere” threat separately for separate industries. In the case of the porn industry and this measure:

1. This measure will not actually increase safety, nor is it designed to. It is designed to use the porn movies themselves as teaching tools about safety to those who watch them.

2. There are obvious measures to make it more safe that would cost less than this measure.

3. The industry can move.

4. We know where it will move.

If all those things are true of your business, too, then, yeah, the situation’s analogous. But if you’re in mining or welding or contracting or smelting or retail or pretty much any other industry I can think of? …not so much. When a mining company says “Safety regulations? We’ll just move to escape it!” the porn industry is saying “Safety regulations? These aren’t safety regulations.”

JP: Can you talk a little bit about the safety regulations that currently exist? How effective are they?

ZS: The industry had a self-imposed regime whereby everyone had to get tested once a month. Also: anyone in the industry could request anyone else in the industry’s test. If anyone got an infection, the company doing the test also provided antibiotics and other treatment. It has been extremely effective in controlling AIDS (outbreaks are immediately
detected and generally kept to a single performer–who almost inevitably got it from a civilian) and its big news to everyone as soon as it happens–which is like once or twice a decade.

With other STDs–everyone always knows their status and if they have something, they don’t work until it’s taken care of. There are lots of places where the regime could be tightened up, mostly administrative, but its surprisingly effective as a system, mostly because it puts people in constant contact with the two most important kinds of medicine:

-awareness of your own sexual health, and
-access to reliable medical care

Most people don’t have that and getting tested isn’t a regular thing, and if they do test positive they don’t know what to do. They don’t know symptoms or warning signs or what treatments are supposed to be.

You can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without finding a porn actress blogging or facebooking about how she feels safer fucking on set than fucking regular people.

JP: Okay, those are all the questions I have. Thanks Zak!

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