Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Smut Show Shows Morality's Need


I was wrong.

Exxotica* won't be swinging through Dallas this summer after all.

Back in February, I wrote about how the sex industry convention was coming under fire from Dallas leaders who didn't want the porn show booking the city-owned convention center downtown.  Big D's city council was set to vote against Exxotica by denying the event's sponsors a permit for their convention.

I, along with many others, predicted that even though the council was going to make a play for morality and family values, Exxotica had the legal upper hand and would ultimately be victorious with a lawsuit they were threatening to file accusing the city of violating their free speech rights.

Sure enough, a majority of the council voted to deny Exxotica's permit, and Exxotica went to court.  And a lot of us figured the rest would be pretty much by the book, as far as First Amendment lawsuits are concerned.

But Dallas has won an early victory in this court case, surprising a lot of people.  When Exxotica filed for an injunction so they could force the city to grant a permit for this year's convention, a United States district judge ruled in favor of Dallas, supporting the city's claim that its convention center is a "limited public forum."

That doesn't mean Exxotica can never be allowed to use the city's convention center.  But what it does mean is that for now, the city can prevent Exxotica from using it because of some extenuating circumstances stemming from Exxotica's rental of the center last summer.

Yes, Exxotica has done Dallas once before; last year, when they came to town virtually unannounced.  At the last minute, city leaders realized what "Exxotica" was, and they hastily scrambled to prevent the show from taking place.  But the show went on, and according to multiple reports from the police department's vice squad, which maintained a heavy presence all during the event, things were pretty boring, at least in terms of lawless activity.

However, the city, after being sued, has presented to the court evidence that laws were broken after all during last year's Exxotica in Dallas.  This contradicts earlier police statements, and one wonders about the behind-the-scenes politics being played out to extract favor from the court.  Nevertheless, the city is now saying that there was physical contact between scantily-clad exhibitors and convention visitors last year, which violated the contract Exxotica had for renting the convention center.  That violation, according to Dallas, should be sufficient grounds for the court to deny this year's permit.  And that's what happened.

Where such evidence was this past February is anybody's guess, since at the time, the city's rationale for denying Exxotica's permit in the first place centered on the convention being a sexually-oriented business.  Supposedly, that was their big loophole that would get them out from under the "freedom of speech" legalese.

Now, the city has presented evidence to the court that sounds new to a lot of us in the public.  And yes, it does change things if decency laws were indeed broken at last year's event.  But did the city take Exxotica to task back when they were last in town?  It seems a bit suspicious that all of a sudden, the public is learning this different account of last year's illicit activity.  Was anybody arrested last year?  Surely if anybody had been, the media would have learned about it somehow.  It would have made for some pretty salacious newscasts, don't you think?

Not that I'm advocating for Exxotica here.  Despite their weak claims to the contrary, Exxotica is a front for the porn industry, purveyor of smut, and exploiter of the taboo.  Pornography creates and perpetuates immoral, unrealistic, and dehumanizing stereotypes and caricatures of sex and sexuality that pervert God's holy intentions for intimacy.  At the very least, pornography creates needless anxiety among the sexually immature, and at the most, pornography can help provoke rape, and stoke demand for human trafficking.

Yet Dallas' best intentions at keeping porn out of its convention center still reek of duplicity.  For example, the city told the court that nine "Johns" were arrested by undercover vice officers subversively advertising in connection with Exxotica.  But how many "Johns" work an average NFL game, or NBA game?  For years, advocates fighting against human trafficking have told us that their workload increases in whatever city the Superbowl is held.  The numbers of prostitutes imported for the Superbowl or a regular professional sporting event may not be large, but could there be as many as nine?  For the 2011 Superbowl, here in Arlington, Texas, police reported that "only 13" non-local sex workers were arrested.  But is 13 a small number when it comes to the type of heinous sex crimes Dallas fears Exxotica attracts? 

Granted, Exxotica is no Superbowl.  Yet you can bet that no city is going to deny the NFL, the NBA, or Major League Baseball on the basis of how much illicit sexual activity professional sports may generate.

Exxotica's court case against Dallas has just begun, and suffering an initial loss likely doesn't mean a lot to them.  For its part, the city is gloating and portraying their early victory as indicative of how victorious they'll be in the end.  But, judging by the court of public opinion, the city isn't winning any converts to its cause along the way.

And that's a problem.  The whole point about morality is that it needs public buy-in before it can produce good within a society.  Morality can't be legislated, or stuffed down our throats.  If Exxotica is as bad as I suspect it is, and as Dallas' mayor says it is, shouldn't crafting a legal reason for keeping it out of a city-owned facility be less about loopholes and surprise "evidence" and more about how we treat sexuality, taboos, and standards of promiscuity across the board?

It's not that sexual morality is a relative concept.  But for sexual morality to mean anything, how relative should our responses to sexual immorality be?
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* The official name has three X's in it, but I'm afraid that putting all three online will trigger spam filters and prevent readers from accessing this essay.

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