Meet the New Sheriff

"I thought there would be a breakthrough," Goldstein says today. "I was wrong. I thought the Hollywood films would have the porno scene. The Postman Always Rings Twice, when Jack Nicholson was shtupping the girl in the kitchen, Jessica Lange - why stop? Don't stop. Go all the way, show it. Don't make that the replacement for the story, but why pull away? I didn't want to see like the old days, when they'd show a train going into the tunnel or water lapping at the beach. But the feminism started moving in, and the Jerry Falwell influences."

As the Seventies ended, videocassette players entered the marketplace, and upstanding people, couples, just about everyone who had a video-rental outlet in their neighborhood began to avail themselves of the new technology. Porn moviemakers, who saw the possibilities, began transferring blue movies to tape and selling and renting them. In 1980, one-half the home-video rental/sales business consisted of X-rated releases. By the middle of the decade, 100 to 150 new porn-video titles were being issued each month - about 1700 were released in 1985, as opposed to 400 in 1983, the same year the American public bought some 5.5 million VCRs. In 1985, Jack Valenti, speaking as the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told the Cincinnati Post, "It is now much more appropriate for Americans to watch hard-core pornography in their own homes."

But while yuppies celebrated the new wave in adult entertainment, Goldstein regularly bemoaned it in his Penthouse column. He still sees the Eighties revolution as damaging. "[Modern pornography] is very feeble, the product is terrible," he says. "Now the films are, for the most part, shot on video. The girls, instead of being actresses, are now paid for sex scenes. And the [movies] I look at (and I try not to, but have to because of Penthouse) really very rarely have human components. I do think pornography is detached and unconnected, and that's okay, too. It's a fantasy, and there's nothing wrong with that. No one wants a James Bond movie to be Dostoevski. It's a roller coaster, it's a game, it's a distraction. But pornography as a distraction has gone backward. It saddens me, but the people who make the films have little pride, and the people who finance them have no pride. And I guess I'm over on the sidelines saying, `Have integrity, be willing to be busted, use your name.' And I'm probably being passed by as an old fuck. X films are really cruddy. They're like kung fu movies. Within their own limits, that's as good as they're going to be. It's like Police Academy 17."

Video's effect on the artistic merits of X-rated filmmaking notwithstanding, the porn boom set the moralists afire. As Goldstein knew back in 1969, the true threat to disseminators of explicit material comes not from those who wear badges but from those who would force their morality on others. In October of 1984, Goldstein, along with porn stars Veronica Vera and Seka, appeared before Congress to offer their argument. The two actresses addressed Linda Lovelace's infamous recantations, saying they'd never seen anyone forced or even coerced into appearing in a porno movie. Hence the doers needed no legislative protection, thanks. Goldstein countered the second argument for censorship, i.e., dirty movies make rapists of otherwise nonviolent men. "Pictures do not trigger rape," he told the nation's lawmakers flatly.

The latest revolution in the adult- entertainment arena has nothing to do with dirty pictures - these days phone-sex lines are the new wave in pseudo-sex. (Toll lines with the 900 prefix, which include but aren't limited to sex lines, are expected to generate three billion dollars in revenue this year nationwide.) Goldstein was on top of this trend - his own sex-phone operations provide most of the advertising in his magazine and on his TV show. "I make a lot of money there," Goldstein says, resting his Diet Pepsi on the coffee table. "Phone lines are amazing. It shows that people love fantasy. Most of the people who work for us at the phone lines are not that attractive. They're sort of fat, ugly women, but they have sexy voices. Guys believe in fantasy. I think women believe in love and men believe in sexual fantasy, which will sound sexist, but I do believe it. So somebody can have safe sex by calling a Gloria Leonard line or Seka line, they get their rocks off, there's no risk of AIDS, and if a guy is married, he's not really cheating. And I just think sex is a buffet table. In the same way I don't want to be precluded from having dessert, I think, Let people have whatever choices they want. I'm happy to be sort of like the McDonald's of sex. I'm offering fast sex for people who want it. Hopefully we taste better than a Big Mac."

Even while fearlessly treading the jagged edge of the First Amendment, Goldstein is willing to admit some people find some things distasteful, and such an admission doesn't necessarily show them to be morally lacking. Even he has his likes and dislikes. "I've seen gay films," he says. "A lot of them are a turn-on for me. But I hate the fist-fucking scene - I've seen 'em take it to the elbow. I don't want to be peed on, I don't want to pee on you, I don't want be shit on...you know. There are some things I find so gross. You have every right to not like certain things. Because I'm always fighting fat, I don't like fat women. How can you deny your humanity? Fat for me is an issue of self-hate. I wouldn't fuck myself at this weight."

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