Debate will tackle pornography, free speech


Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 10:00 p.m.
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Ron Jeremy, pictured, and Susan Cole will participate in The Great Pornography Debate on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at the University of Florida's O'Connell Center.

Gainesville Sun

Facts

Pornography debate

  • What: The Great Pornography Debate, featuring adult-film star Ron Jeremy and anti-porn activist Susan G. Cole
  • When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: O'Connell Center, University of Florida
  • Cost: Free and open to the public

  • Susan Cole is a Harvard graduate, a Ph.D., and has authored several books and essays assailing the adult-film industry. Ron Jeremy is the star of "Endless Lust," "A Star is Porn," and more than 800 other adult films.
    They're not a pair you'd expect to see sharing a meal.
    "The students get upset. They see us in the same limousine or at the same restaurant, and they go, 'Wait a minute!' They want it to be Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson," said Jeremy.
    Instead, students, and anyone else who attends, will see a spirited discussion that deals with issues of pornography, free speech, sexuality and personal liberty when the two participate in The Great Pornography Debate on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at the University of Florida's O'Connell Center.
    The event, sponsored by Accent, is produced by Wolfman Productions, a Sandy Hook, Conn., talent agency that organizes college-campus events on highly charged topics such as the legalization of marijuana, prostitution and cloning, as well as lectures and performances.
    Cole and Jeremy have been debating the topic of pornography around the U.S. for about a year and a half.
    According to Cole, a senior editor at NOW magazine in Toronto, the event ran into trouble initially because of Jeremy's notoriety. The 51-year-old actor has become famous through crossover success in recent years, including a role on the reality show "The Surreal Life."
    "We had some instances when things got out of hand, and it became all about Ron and what it was like to be a porn star," she said. "So to contain that energy and actually deal with substance is a challenge."
    To remedy the situation, organizers began having professors of gender issues, criminology and other subject related to the topic of pornography recruit students to attend the events. Questions were limited to "issues of substance." And they began using faculty moderators.
    For Wednesday night's debate, Alex Piquero, an associate professor in the Center for Studies in Criminology and Law, will act as moderator.
    Another issue at past events has been opposition to Jeremy's appearance on campus from faculty, parents of students, or community activists. At one event in Tennessee, an assembly woman organized a vigil to protest the event. Accent Chairman David Buchalter said he believes the event is extremely relevant and belongs on a college campus.
    "Sex is certainly a commonplace topic among college students, and the porn industry is part of that. It's an important conversation," he said.
    That conversation, however, doesn't always develop as people would expect. Both Cole and Jeremy said they were impressed by the arguments each brought forth once they began debating.
    "I think that we surprised each other. I think he was expecting to get some Bible-thumping freak. And instead, he got someone who is not anti-sex, and can even be funny every once and a while. And he surprised me. He's very smart," said Cole.
    "What makes it interesting with Susan is that she's not into censorship," said Jeremy. "She's a Harvard graduate, so you've got to respect the hell out of that. And she doesn't come from a religious angle. She's into people experimenting with sex. She's not a prude . . . We do agree on certain things. If a religious fanatic came up against us at the podium, we both would fry him."
    Despite their shared distaste for what they see as right-wing repressiveness toward sexuality, they are diametrically opposed when it comes to the merits of pornography.
    Their differences hinge on the question of exploitation. Cole believes pornography is inherently exploitative; Jeremy believes it is innocent fun.
    "A lot of women run this business," Jeremy said. "I work for women. A lot of women have achieved high power in this business. You have a girl like (adult-film star) Jenna Jameson pulling in $8 million. It's hard to call her exploited, isn't it? I know there are a lot of other things than money, but in society, money is how people measure success."
    Cole disputes both Jeremy's facts and the substance of his argument.
    "He overstates the case for sure, and he likes to deal in hyperbole. He's the one in the industry, so he appears to have the credibility, but I think he's often fudging statistics," she said. "And do we still want to perpetuate systems of exploitation just because they can make a little money from it?"
    For Cole, it often seems like a losing battle. She has been an activist the late '70s, and during that time, the porn industry has expanded exponentially, profiting from the advent of the Internet, and even inching toward the mainstream in recent years.
    And now she's regularly confronted with auditoriums full of young people who idolize an adult-film star and view pornography as sexual expression.
    "To be honest with you, this is a hard gig," she said. "The landscape has changed, and the issues are more complex. There are really good reasons to try to yearn for sexuality.
    "So if their choice is the right-wing sex haters and fearers, or the people who love sex, of course they'll want to go to the pro-sex place that they think pornography is. But I'm saying pornography isn't pro-sex. It's anti-sex."

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