AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsSo while polite society ignores this huge industry – and possibly even profits from it – it is occurring in our backyards. Sometimes almost literally. Depending on whom you talk to, adult entertainment business – porn – is anywhere from a $1 billion to $50 billion-a-year industry. Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. and a member of the Wednesday’s panel, says it’s probably somewhere around $4 billion. It employs about 6,000 people directly, such as actors and production workers, and countless others indirectly, such as vendors who sell items for use in production to those employed in plastic surgery and other body-part enhancement. Some of these people are your neighbors, your acquaintances, the people standing in line with you at Ralphs or sharing the spinning class at the local gym. This year the Daily News decided to stop ignoring this enormous industry and start treating it like any other business community. To that end, reporters Brent Hopkins and Beth Barrett undertook a multipart series in June examining the industry, the players, the problems, the warts and all. Last week’s panel discussion was part of this effort to bring pornography out of the shadows and look at it through an economic filter. What if you held a panel on the city’s porn industry and no one showed up? The answer is: Don’t be silly. Of course people will show up. And they did Wednesday night, when I moderated a panel discussion on the local porn industry for the Zocalo public lecture series at the Armand Hammer Museum. The joint was jumping. Surely some of the people were there to get a glimpse of panelist Nina Hartley – one of the best-known adult-film actresses. But there was also a genuine interest in hearing about this multibillion-dollar industry centered in the San Fernando Valley that rarely gets talked about. For many of us, the film “Boogie Nights” constitutes our entire knowledge of this industry. City Hall falls all over itself to make sure Hollywood stays in the vicinity of Hollywood. But though porn productions pump an estimated $120 million directly into the local economy – and much more nondirectly – you never see the mayor doing press conferences about how his office is taking steps to keep this unique L.A. business in town with filming incentives. (Wouldn’t it be fun if he did, though?) Like many media-based businesses, porn has its share of the usual problems. The rising cost of doing business in Los Angeles, competition from Internet amateurs, pirating, viewers who don’t want to pay for content. (In the news business we know a little something about people not wanting to pay for content.) But porn has some pressures that the typical entertainment business doesn’t have. For one thing, the moral ambivalence of society that consumes porn in huge quantities but barely tolerates the industry’s existence. There are fears that more conservative courts might start re-examining what obscenity means. The FBI this year began increased scrutiny into record-keeping of pornographic productions to make sure no one under 18 is employed. Locally, county health officials are at odds with the the industry for trying to get condom-only sex in adult films and STD screening and reporting regulations. The pressure goes deeper than that. As a measure of how touchy the subject of adult entertainment is in tolerant L.A., just organizing the event meant negotiating some hot political land mines. The Armand Hammer Museum was happy to host the talk at its Westwood location. Lucky for us. Other regular Zocalo venues were skittish about hosting an event with such prurient content. You can’t blame them. An entire industry exists specifically to oppose pornography, or smut. Many people possess deeply held convictions about pornography and its social costs, and some express them in ways that are, shall we say, extremely passionate. Since there are so few forums to talk about porn, I wasn’t surprised to get interest from people not invited to participate. Most notably the Los Angeles County Health Department, which contacted me months after I had confirmed the panelists with a request to add a representative on the panel so it could discuss its big issue: condoms and sexually transmitted diseases among adult-film performers. Why not, I thought. I don’t like large panels, but one unassuming bureaucrat can’t hurt, and I hastily agreed. That was my mistake. After talking with other panelists, I worried this would devolve into a heated and possibly nasty debate about condom legislation and other STD esoterica, and derail the larger overview I was trying to sketch in just one hour. I rescinded the offer. It’s a worthy topic – but one for another day, with a crowd expecting such a discussion. I thought that was the end of it. But just hours before the event, a small circle of enthusiastic fans of the official made abusive calls to me, Zocalo officials and even my colleague at the Daily News demanding the guy be included in this panel. It was silly, but it showed that there are so few forums for discussing the sex-film trade and all its associated costs and benefits that people with something to say are desperate to be included. In the end, though, everyone got to have their say during the Q&A session, and the event went fine. Only one person was escorted from the auditorium after she started shouting questions out of turn, with abusive tone and obscenity. I don’t have strong feelings about porn one way or the other. I don’t consume it, and my notions of free speech are pretty broad. But as a journalist and an Angeleno, I just want to know more about this industry that’s so intricately intertwined with L.A. And maybe you won’t admit it, but I bet you do, too. Mariel Garza is a columnist and editorial writer for the Los Angeles Daily News. She blogs at www.insidesocal.com/friendlyfire. Write to her by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!