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March 16, 2012
The Fight To Save Pornography is Also the Fight to Save the Advertising Industry
Yes, this is an advertising site. And I already have enough political baggage to my name that I sometimes wonder if a career in advertising (stereotypically portrayed as a liberal man's industry) is even possible. I suppose at the very least I can claim strong libertarian roots, which hopefully will appeal to any future employer who can look past my heartless capitalistic sentiments and see me for the good person that I am (Eagle Scout, reporting for duty).
I'm also a person who thinks that individuals should just be left to their own devices, free from government interference. Which, after all, is sort of the underlying drive of the commercial market — an industry we supplement with our work. While the American ad industry produced geniuses like David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Mary Wells Lawrence, Claude Hopkins, Rosser Reeves and countless others, the Soviets had...well, yeah. You get the idea. It doesn't take much creativity to sell a government brand.
Anyway, my point is, sometimes politics seeps into the advertising world, aside from Happy Hour discussions with coworkers over wine and cheese sticks. And sometimes, having these discussions is for the betterment of the industry. This article may have little direct correlation with the field of advertising, but there is an underlying connection that is of the most supreme importance to the work we do.
Advertising, at its core, is an expressive act. It can either be emotional, as Bernbach would argue. Or objective, as Ogilvy would say. However, the words and pictures and sounds that billions of dollars go to create every year are an exercise in speech and expression. As such, it's afforded the protection of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
That means that no matter who is in power, their personal opinions cannot, legally, influence the work we create. And, truly, thank God for that.
Yet, free speech is constantly under assault. From individuals. From society. And even from government officials. While we can ignore individuals, and society tends to quickly forget, government, however, is another story. It is quick to anger, even quicker to respond, and its actions carry severe consequences for those impacted. Sometimes it is just a single individual, or maybe a lone organization. But sometimes it is an entire industry that feels its wrath.
That is why I pay less attention to the individual positions candidates take and focus more on the philosophy that makes them who they are. I'm a firm believer that once you understand a candidate's philosophy, it's pretty easy to determine how they will govern. You don't even have to know the specifics on their platform.
For example, I know Gary Johnson (full disclosure, I did some volunteer work for him) is a libertarian, and therefore will generally govern on the principle that the smaller the government, the better off the people. Likewise, I know someone like Barack Obama believes that government is a tool for good, and will use it whenever he can to do what he sees as best for the American public. I may not know these candidates’ positions on every issue, but I bet I can guess with a good deal of accuracy where they stand.
So, when I read that Rick Santorum wants to wage a war on an individual’s right to consume, or produce, pornography, it scared me. Actually, no, it frightened me. A little-noted position paper on Santorum's campaign website describes the “war” that Santorum would bring on pornographers in the United States. "[Santorum's] statement references going after pornography that is distributed not just on the Internet, but also on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV," writes Forbes on the topic. “He has stated a clear intent to use the levers of government to stop adults from making and watching porn."
Whoa. What?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Rick Santorum doesn't like porn. As a family man, I applaud him for being faithful to his wife in both mind and body. But pornography isn’t the issue. It’s much, much more than that. To me, for you, and for everybody else in an industry that lives and dies on speech and expression, it’s a matter of self-preservation.
The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States that employs thousands and thousands of people. Yet, Santorum would use the force of government to crush it.
What’s to stop him next from cleaning up the advertising industry? Teleflora’s Super Bowl ad featuring a scantily clad Adriana Lima was, I’m sure, considered pornography to many Americans. And what about anything produced by GoDaddy.com?
In a land that’s ruled by the personal opinions of an iron-fisted leader, nothing can be left to chance. At the very least, creative meetings would soon include the question, “Can we get this by the FCC, or the Oval Office, without getting fined or arrested?”
How is that freedom of expression?
Fortunately, there are some heroes out there. Heroes like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which protects students from censorship and viewpoint discrimination by institutions of higher education. Or, people like Larry Flynt, who nearly died after an assassination attempt during his fight to protect the right to create parodies. Or, Marc J. Randazza, a First Amendment attorney who “despises Rush Limbaugh,” but stood up for him anyway because his “commitment to free expression requires me to engage his ideas, to parry them and to let my beliefs stand on their own — without using the government or other improper means to tip the scales.”
“Free speech means tolerating views that you despise,” says Marc Randazza. “Otherwise, one day, it will be your views that someone doesn't like.”
And that’s exactly the point.
The defense of free speech — even graphic, lewd, distasteful, and sometimes-offensive pornography — is important to us as advertisers because we are protected by the same mechanism that preserves the work they do. By allowing any individual to undermine that protection, it makes us all a little more vulnerable.
First Amendment attorneys frequently use the term “chilling effect” to describe the impact that laws, regulations, and court decisions can have on speech. I find the term to be incredibly apt. To walk into a creative meeting with the ever-present specter of government censorship hanging over the process is simply that: chilling.
And, while it is Rick Santorum now, it may be another person in the future. It doesn’t even have to be someone from the political right. The political left is just as hostile to the concept of free speech (see Marc Randazza’s editorial regarding Limbaugh, for example). The point is that we must be ever vigilant to preserve the shield under which our industry has flourished. Once that freedom is lost, it is never coming back.

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Andrew Davis is a Charleston, SC-based creative services consultant to small businesses and non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here.
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