A curious thing about atrocity stories is that they mirror, instead of the events they purport to describe, the extent of the hatred of the people that tell them. - John Dos Passos
We’ve discussed on many occasions the widespread notion that everything involving sex is somehow different from similar situations not involving sex, but Tuesday’s news gave me an unusually clear example of the phenomenon. Two stories broke that day, the first a revelation that a porn actor tested positive for HIV and the second an announcement that the Chilean miners trapped underground since the beginning of August had finally been rescued. It occurred to me that it might be instructive to phrase an imaginary story about trapped miners in the same sort of language as used in the porn story. We’ll start with the real news article, paraphrased from an AP original:
California’s multibillion-dollar adult entertainment industry has been left reeling after another positive HIV test for an adult film performer; the revelation Tuesday (October 13th) led to two of the industry’s biggest companies (Wicked Pictures and Vivid Entertainment) shutting down production as a precaution. Neither the name nor the gender of the performer was released.
The actor was a patient of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), a San Fernando Valley clinic for pornographic actors. Clinic spokeswoman Jennifer Miller told the Los Angeles Times that efforts are under way to notify individuals who may have had sexual contact with the actor, but Miller did not return calls or e-mail from The Associated Press on Tuesday. Last year, a woman tested positive for HIV immediately after making an adult film, and in 2004 an HIV outbreak affecting several actors spread panic in the industry and briefly shut down production at several California studios.
Los Angeles County public health officials and state occupational health officials have said the widespread lack of condom use on porn sets puts performers at risk for contracting HIV and other diseases, but adult film producers say viewers find them to be a turnoff. Porn actors are required by law to test negative for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases within 30 days of going to work on a film, but state workplace safety officials at Cal/OSHA are considering strengthening rules designed to prevent transmission of disease through bodily fluids to specify the use of condoms in the adult entertainment industry. Currently, the same laws that call on health care professionals to wear gloves and other protective barriers when dealing with patients applies to the adult film business, but the laws don’t make specific provisions for porn. AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said his organization has been advocating for a tightening of the rules, and the adult entertainment industry and AIM clinic would “do everything in its power to prevent us from knowing who was impacted.” Weinstein said the latest case is the ninth HIV-positive adult film star to be treated at the AIM clinic since the 2004 outbreak.
Chief Counsel for Cal/OSHA Amy Martin said the clinic has been uncooperative in providing state regulators with key information by citing a patient’s federal right to medical privacy. But the clinic has even refused to provide redacted copies of employment histories for infected actors, which would allow the state to investigate porn production companies without naming the sick patients, Martin said.
Regular readers may remember Michael Weinstein and the AHF from my column of September 1st; since at that time they were agitating to force porn actors to wear condoms I’m sure they feel a ghoulish glee at this new story and are rubbing their nasty hands in delight at the ammunition thus provided to them. Most people prefer to react emotionally to situations rather than thinking about them, and incidents like this tends to strengthen appeals to emotion when in actuality they do not change the facts one iota. Porn performers are adults who know the risks before they agree to appear in films; even if a performer were diagnosed with HIV every month this fact would still be the same. I personally would never allow a strange man inside me without a condom, but then I don’t smoke, drink, use any drugs or jump out of airplanes either. Just because I choose not to engage in risky behaviors does not automatically mean others should be prohibited from making a different choice, as long as they do so with full knowledge of the risks involved. And this is equally true whether 1, 100 or 10,000 people die while participating in the activity; in a free society personal danger cannot be allowed to invalidate the individual’s right to self-determination.
Let’s contrast this article with an imaginary one about a far riskier industry than the making of porn, namely mining. Since China’s mining industry is the world’s riskiest (over 2500 men were killed in Chinese mines last year), and since China is just as enamored of paternalistic bureaucracy as is the US, we’ll place our imaginary mining accident there and invent imaginary organizations for the purpose of the story.
China’s multitrillion-dollar mining industry has been left reeling after another mine collapse; the revelation Tuesday (October 13th) led to two of the country’s biggest mining contractors (Wicked Coal Mining and Vivid Metals) shutting down production as a precaution. Neither the names of the miners nor the chance of their survival was released.
The mine is operated by the People’s Metal Recovery Foundation (PMRF), a state-owned entity. Spokeswoman Xen Lao Ming told the Far East Times that efforts are under way to notify the families of the trapped miners, but Xen did not return calls or e-mail from The Associated Press on Tuesday. Last year, 2500 miners were killed in accidents at Chinese mines and many hundreds more were trapped and eventually rescued, spreading panic in the industry and briefly shutting down productions at several Chinese mines on 67 separate occasions.
Beijing public and occupational health officials have said the widespread requirement of working deep underground puts miners at risk for being crushed or buried alive, but mine operators say that’s where the minerals are. Mine operators are required by law to brace ceilings and implement other precautions to prevent cave-ins, but workplace safety officials in Beijing are considering strengthening rules designed to prevent disastrous collapses by specifying that no mine can be more than 10 meters deep. Currently, the same laws that call on building contractors to wear protective gear and adequately reinforce construction applies to the mining business, but the laws don’t make specific provisions for deep mines. Mine Safety Foundation President Ming Wei Shin said his organization has been advocating for a tightening of the rules, and the mining industry and PMRF would “do everything in its power to prevent us from keeping miners close to the surface.” Ming said the latest case is the ninetieth incident this year.
Chief Chairwoman for Public Safety Mei Ting Yu said the PMRF has been uncooperative in refusing to restrict mines to a safe depth by citing the fact that the minerals being sought are far deeper. But the PMRF has even refused to study the possibility of strip-mining several hundred meters of earth and stone from above mines, which would allow the miners to reach deep deposits without having to be very far underground, Mei said.
Sounds completely ridiculous, doesn’t it? Obviously, it’s an uneven fit and therefore an inexact parallel, but I think it works well enough to make my point. Even though many thousands of times as many miners as porn actors become ill every year, even though the risk of being maimed is incalculably higher, and even though thousands of miners die horrible deaths (sometimes by slow starvation or suffocation), nobody proposes for even one second that the basic character of mining be changed to protect these men, nor questions the miner’s right to choose to risk the inherent dangers of the trade despite the fact that those risks are much greater, the conditions are far more difficult and the pay is ridiculously lower than in the adult film industry. Why? Why is it OK for poor, ignorant men to risk life, limb and health for a pittance in one of the most grueling jobs in the world, but not OK for educated Americans to accept a relatively low risk of chronic disease for good pay in a pleasant job?
Obviously, the reason is the same one which makes it acceptable for men to use their natural advantages to make a living, but “degrading” and “humiliating” for women to do the same thing. To the prudish mind, sex is a magical ritual which changes everything it touches, rendering minimal risks “unacceptable” and turning simple business transactions for service into “violence against women.” It’s time for the rational people of the world to recognize this primitive, childish taboo mentality for the ridiculous superstition it is, and to assign to those who espouse it the same credibility we allow to witch doctors, flat-earthers and those who claim the Egyptian pyramids were built by space aliens.