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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 25th April 2004

Porn Industry in Crisis


Any day now, I expect to be approached by an out-of-work porn star asking if I can spare a dime. LA's entire adult film industry has ground to a halt following an outbreak of HIV and isn't expected to resume production until the performers have been given a clean bill of health. Given that the porn industry has annual revenues of between and billion, this could mean tens of millions of dollars in lost earnings.

The crisis began last week when Darren James, one of the hardest-working stars in the business, was diagnosed with HIV. In order to work in the industry, performers have to be tested every three weeks, but James was the first one to produce a positive result in four years. Since then, one of the 14 women he's worked with in the past month has tested positive and a further 55 people have effectively been quarantined for 60 days, the incubation period for the disease.

Sharon Mitchell, the founder and executive director of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation and herself a former porn star, claims the industry's spectacular profits have led to increasingly risky sexual practices.

"It's the Wild West," she says. "It's the last frontier to escape regulation."

Mitchell has recommended a two-month ban on production and even the industry giant, Vivid Video, which insists that all its performers wears condoms, has complied with the request.

"As of now we have stopped making movies," says Steven Hirsch, the CEO of Vivid.

For the time being, it looks as though the HIV scare may finally achieve what America's Christian Fundamentalists and hard right politicians have failed to bring about, namely, the shutting down of the adult film business.

Little Old Lady--Big New Car

My landlady out here is a widow in her 70s who, if she was British, would be a stalwart of the local Women's Institute. She's a keen gardener, she keeps her bird-feeder regularly topped up and she's a passionate whist-player. When she makes her weekly drive to the local supermarket, she never exceeds 20mph. The only thing that marks her out as Californian is the car she putters about in: a brand new Lexus SUV.

It's a golden rule in Los Angeles that the smaller the person, the larger the car. As you pull up at the traffic lights next to what looks like an articulated lorry, you'll see a 16-year-old girl poking her nose over the steering wheel. It's almost as if they've chosen the vehicle in order to compensate for their diminutive size. I still haven't spotted Danny DeVito, but I imagine he tools around in a Sherman Tank.

Before I got here, I rented a car sight unseen from the airport branch of Budget. It was called a Ford Escape and I pictured a little runabout, the American equivalent of a Fiesta. You can imagine my shock, therefore, when I was confronted with a car that was roughly the size of an ice cream van. I was so nervous about hitting another vehicle it took me 45 minutes to get out of the car park.

Last week I went back to Budget to try and trade it in for a normal-sized car and the lady behind the counter offered me a "free upgrade" to a Mercury Mountaineer. As a self-respecting British journalist I'm never one to turn down a freebie, so I accepted only to discover that the Mountaineer is even bigger than the Escape. The Escape is a "mid-size" SUV, apparently, while the Mountaineer is a "full-size". All I can say is that the last three letters in its name are redundant. It's the size and shape of a mobile home.

I have to confess, I've actually grown quite fond of this monstrosity. As I come careering towards a Stop sign, trying to wrestle this runaway elephant to a halt, all the smaller cars in front of me scurry out of the way. Occasionally, my wife and I spot another British couple behind the wheel of a red Mustang convertible and the look of terror on their faces as they see this battleship bearing down in them in their rear view mirror almost makes up for the astronomical fuel costs. (It does about half a mile to the gallon.) I'd take it back to London, only it wouldn't fit down my street.

Matt and Ben

Statistically speaking, America is the most litigious country in the world, but I haven't seen any evidence of this yet in Los Angeles. On the contrary, if the behaviour of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck is anything to go by, Hollywood stars are much more relaxed about being lampooned than their British counterparts.

Last week I went to see Matt & Ben, a hilarious play in which two young actresses--Brenda Withers and Mindy Kaling--mercilessly send up the famous duo. It's set in 1997, when the two heartthrobs were rooming together in Boston, and chronicles their hapless attempts to break into the movie business. Their big break occurs when the script for Good Will Hunting literally falls into their laps, the joke being that they're both so dumb they couldn't possibly have written the Oscar-winning screenplay themselves.

I buttonholed Withers and Kaling afterwards to ask if they'd ever received any threatening letters. Only one, according to Withers, and that was from the Rogers & Hammerstein estate which asked to be paid a monthly royalty of $25 for their inclusion of a line from The Sound of Music.

They confessed that they had spoken to a lawyer when the play was first produced, but were told that the chances of either Damon or Affleck bringing a lawsuit against them were very slight since it would only make them look silly. After this, they were so confident they wouldn't be sued they actually faked some "cease and desist" letters and stuck them on the website they'd created to publicise the play.

I've Become a Stage Mom

I seem to have turned into what Americans call a "stage mom". A friend of mine who's producing a film out here invited me to lunch on Monday and I decided to take my daughter along in the hope that he might find a small part for her. Sasha's not bad looking for a baby. A very pretty girl once peered into her pram and said, "She's cute and yet she looks exactly like you. It's a paradox."

I had visions of Sasha being given her own "star trailer" on the set. I imagined some huge nursery-on-wheels, complete with fur-lined crib, gilt-edged playpen and marble changing station. Alas, it wasn't to be, which is probably just as well. I'm not sure what I'd feel if my daughter became more successful than me at the tender age of nine months. Probably a combination of vicarious thrill and green-eyed envy.

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