Silly politicians. Don't they know the surest way to drum up interest in a pornographic movie on campus is to ban it? When a state senator threatened to strip funding from the University of Maryland over its plans to show a XXX-rated film in the student center, school officials nixed the event. But fired-up students responded on Monday by holding a free-speech demonstration that drew media coverage from as far away as Thailand and Australia.
The brouhaha is the result of a marketing strategy by porn company Digital Playground, which last summer started offering complimentary copies of Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge (a hard-core homage to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, with animated skeleton pirates and all) to students on 100 college campuses. Many schools have already screened the film in venues ranging from a dorm room at Southern Connecticut State University to an 850-student audience in December at UCLA, where the film's stars responded to questions and criticism about the porn industry. (See pictures of pinup queen Bettie Page.)
The University of Maryland's College Park campus scheduled a screening at its student center for April 4, and some 150 students purchased advance tickets at $5 a pop. The student union also invited a Planned Parenthood representative to speak about safe sex, which is presumably not a central plot point in the swashbuckling film. After news broke of the event, administrators said in a statement that they initially viewed the showing as "an opportunity to engage students in a discussion about the national dialogue revolving around pornography."
Not everyone on campus shared that noble perspective, with 23% of students saying porn should never be screened publicly on campus, according to a poll by the student newspaper, The Diamondback. But before undergraduates could settle the debate, state senator Andrew Harris threatened on April 2 to get the legislature to strip all $400 million in state funding from the campus if Pirates were screened in a nonacademic setting. Administrators canceled the showing that day. (See pictures of the college dorm's evolution.)
Undeterred, a group of students and rogue professors held a "Pirates Screening Teach-In" on Monday night, drawing some 200 attendees. Before a 30-min. excerpt which included two threesomes and copious shots of corset-clad blondes students, professors, lawyers and ACLU representatives stood up to defend porn on principle. English professor Martha Nell Smith, who noted that literature from Shakespeare to Dickinson includes pornographic elements, said it's a student's choice whether to study erotica and "our job together to contextualize it." (Read about porn and the iPhone.)
The event, which was held in a lecture hall and probably won't endanger the university's funding because of its educational components, helped earn the screening's co-organizer, sophomore Malcolm Harris, an endorsement for student-body president in The Diamondback. Administrators at College Park called the rebel screening "characteristic of a vibrant educational community." Meanwhile, another University of Maryland campus, in Baltimore County, has scheduled a screening in solidarity.
For now, Harris has withdrawn his amendment, but he says he may push for it again in coming weeks if the university doesn't devise a clear policy on when and where it will allow porn. Could tenured positions for porn chaperones be far behind?