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April 21, 2017

AVN Editors Address UC-Santa Barbara Film Students

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.—Late last week, AVN Senior Editors Peter Warren and Mark Kernes were invited to address the students in Dr. Constance Penley's class on "Pornographic Film," a course the professor has been offering for the past ten years. The event took place at UC-Santa Barbara's Pollock Theater, and was attended by approximately 50 students, three of whom acted as moderators for the event, devoting more than 90 minutes questioning the editors about many aspects of the adult video industry. The moderators began by asking how the editors had come to work for AVN, with Kernes recounting how he had met AVN founder Paul Fishbein in 1983 when Fishbein was a manager at a Philadelphia, Pa., video store, having just begun publishing AVN, and Fishbein offered Kernes a job writing reviews. Warren noted that when he was in college, he had founded his own porn club at his fraternity, and moved to Los Angeles in 2001 with the intention to become a screenwriter, but he turned to writing mainstream movie reviews instead, then contacted AVN (which he said he'd "read religiously" while working at a video store) for a job, joining the company in 2003. Warren went on to state that he chronicled telling his parents about his work in the adult industry as part of a documentary he made titled Jews at Sea. Asked about the evolution of the adult industry as reflected in AVN, Kernes recounted how when the magazine began, adult movies were just beginning to be shot on video, and there was a divide between movies with storylines and "wall-to-wall" productions, with amateur slowly gaining favor among video watchers, and mentioning AVN's introduction into the industry of the "gonzo" genre, named for Hunter S. Thompson's writing style, for various productions that didn't fit neatly into other categories. He also mentioned the changeover from videotapes to DVDs, and the massive growth of online porn. He also discussed his views on VR porn, and predicted that it would soon become a major genre—a view Warren thought was too optimistic, saying "The jury's still out on it." Asked whether porn has become mediocre over the years, Warren noted that "the stuff that is massively successful now is very high quality," lauding the work of Greg Lansky and Axel Braun, and opining that visually speaking, it is "every bit as high quality as you'd see in mainstream." In response to a follow-up question, Warren compared AVN favorably to such mainstream publications as The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Kernes added that AVN not only covers the industry itself, but society's reactions to it. The students also wanted to know how AVN distinguishes its award show from the Oscars, and Warren noted that the AVN Awards have a lot fewer voters, but more award categories, even if the awards for categories like "Best Sex Scene" are almost purely opinion-based, and that nominees are chosen by reviewers, though production companies can suggest some as well. Kernes added that porn performers have more acting chops than many give them credit for. The discussion turned briefly to the recent charges that porn is racist in nature, with Warren explaining that AVN treats all performers equally, while noting that there are fewer performers of color than there are white performers. One of the moderators asked about last year's fight against Proposition 60, and Kernes gave a brief overview of the war that's been waged against the industry since 2009 by AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president, Michael Weinstein, with its culmination being the Prop 60 loss. That led to a discussion of what will likely happen to the adult industry under the Trump administration, with both Warren and Kernes voicing pessimism, though Warren felt the threat was not imminent. Kernes also related a little bit of the history of porn prosecution, noting that there were no laws against obscene material until 1820, and that censorship of sexual materials really didn't flower until the 1873 Comstock Act. He also gave a short history of the Free Speech Coalition, noting its successful battles over several adult legal issues, and the ongoing court fight over the federal recordkeeping and labeling law, known as "2257." In response to a question from Dr. Penley, Warren gave an overview of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), noting that it is the first successful performer organization in the industry's history, and enjoys widespread support from both performers and studios. The students also wanted to know how the industry was dealing with sexual assault, referring to the recent allegations made by Nikki Benz and Stoya. Warren gave a little background regarding Benz's charges against MindGeek and director Tony T., and while he didn't feel he could comment on the allegations made against James Deen by Stoya and others, he noted that in the overwhelming majority of productions, if a performer is uncomfortable with what's happening, they can call a halt to it. The final questions were about life at AVN: What the editors' fellow employees were like, and what the editors' daily duties were, with Warren talking about how his job involves much more than simply reviewing movies, and Kernes noting that he spends a fair amount of time looking for legal issues that affect the industry to write about. The Q&A lasted for more than an hour and a half, and from their reactions, it appeared that the students felt it was time well spent, with both Warren and Kernes stating that they felt it went well, and that they had enjoyed the lively interchange. Pictured, l-r: UC-Santa Barbara Performing Arts Collection Curator David Seubert, Peter Warren and Dr. Constance Penley.

 
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