Mark Kernes has been a permanent journalist for the adult industry’s trade magazine, Adult Video News (AVN), since 1991. Mark’s first movie review appeared in the upstart circular in 1983 while he was a court reporter in Philadelphia. He said it was at a video store that he met AVN’s founder, Paul Fishbein. ”The reason I started writing for AVN in the first place, was that I was renting porn at this place called Movies Unlimited in Philadelphia, and Paul Fishbein was the night manager there. He had just started AVN. It was actually a sixteen-page thing they gave away at the front counter. Since he saw I was renting porn, and I guess I seem reasonably well-spoken, he said, ‘Do you think you’d like to write some reviews?’”
Mark graduated from New York University with a Liberal Arts Degree in English. He became tired of school, so his father–a court reporter–suggested he go to a stenotype academy. After graduating in 1971, Mark began taking freelance court reporting jobs and continued to do that for the next twenty years, until Fishbein asked him to move to L.A. and become AVN’s legal affairs editor.
Lydia Lee: A distinct aspect of your articles is how much of yourself you put into them. They are filled with passion and opinion, which is good. I think if you’re going to read about legal issues, it’s nice to get a perspective to go with it. Anytime you’ve written about Shelley Lubben or the condom laws, you’ve always been very forthright about your feelings about these things.
Mark Kernes: There are a lot of journalists out there, very few of whom cover sexual subjects. And there are an awful lot of pundits out there, most of whom are anti-sex in some way or another. They are definitely ‘anti-porn industry’, for the most part. You’ve got a few good ones. You’ve got Violet Blue, Susie Bright, Tracy Clark-Flory; all of whom are what I would call sex-positive journalists. But there are very few. So it seemed to me that somebody had to call these people out. We have a daily website and there’s always something going on in the sexual world worth commenting about. And I’ve got this legal background because I’ve read legal opinions, and people are scared of them. You say to someone, “Well, the Supreme Court came down with this decision,” and you’re kind of met with a blank look, especially if you say, “Well, if you want to know what it’s about you ought to read it.” They don’t want to read it. They’re scared of legal language. I don’t know why this is, but I got over that pretty quickly, and so I can then take these things and digest them and say, ‘Okay, this is what it says; this is what it means.’ When you get to the ‘this is what it means’ part, a certain amount of me is going to come into it.
LL: I think it’s brave that you log onto insider blogs and go out of your way to point things out when someone lies or name-calls as if that’s some kind of an argument against facts. Does it bother you to go to a blog to defend something or to have to point out, for instance, that the language in AB-332 is problematic because…
MK: A little bit. Obviously, you’re referring to my analysis of both Measure B and AB-332, which, if you read the language and it refers to section 5193 of the health code… Fine. What does that say? Then you go online, go to the health code and read it. And when you read it, you say, ‘Wait a minute. There’s a time bomb here.’ Because if you have to obey everything that’s in section 5193 of the health code, it means you cannot have two people having sex where their skin touches, at all! Of course, AIDS Healthcare [Foundation] says it’s just a law to make people wear condoms, but it’s not. You really have to wear a hazmat suit. That’s the only way you can fulfill the requirements of either Measure B or AB-332. I pointed that out in my article; I’ve talked to the attorneys about it.
People have accused me of using scare tactics. What they are saying is that talking about the reality of what the law means is somehow a losing tactic to defeating it.
LL: That’s ridiculous.
MK: It is. But there are actually people I know that are worried about that exact thing [language in the ordinances]. Measure B was, and AB-332 is going to be sold to the public as a “condom law”. It’s a condom law, but it’s much more than that. People have to know that.
They keep claiming that they’re not against the adult industry, and yet, their legal staff writes these propositions, and I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the text of AB-332 was, if not totally created by AHF, it was at least vetted by them before Assemblyman Hall proposed it as a law. They’re getting a little bit smarter, in the sense that they are waiting until a little bit further down in the text before they talk about section 5193, but it’s in there.
LL: Those of us who’ve been following this since the beginning, we’ve watched the boycotts, we’ve listened to the outrageous language used to shame an industry that understands economics and the risks involved in doing the work they do. When you write a law that includes language that prevents sex altogether and you have a history of presenting an anti-porn/anti-gay activist as the voice of truth about an industry, that’s a problem.
MK: AIDS Healthcare has a very interesting history. In the past they have sued the manufacturers of antiretroviral drugs, I think it is, that you use to treat HIV. And then when those companies made a huge donation to AIDS Healthcare, suddenly, the criticism went away! And if there was a lawsuit, it went away.
I think [Michael Weinstein] knows what the truth is. I think he knows that testing is effective in this industry. I think he knows that the Health Department’s statistics are totally skewed because they don’t differentiate between an initial positive STD test and a number of retests performers are bound to do because they want to go back to work.
LL: And people who attempt to get into the industry for the first time and are prevented from entering because they have something…
MK: Exactly. But, they’re considered performers and the result gets reported to the Health Department, so even though they’ve never performed in a porn movie, “they are porn stars with STDs”.
LL: And there’s street traffic. This isn’t a clinic that excluded the general population.
MK: We’re talking about AIM now, and you’re absolutely right. As a matter of fact, a lot of the non-porn industry people–prostitutes–used to get tested there because they knew it was a safe environment, they knew it was non-judgmental, and they knew that if they did have something they could get treatment for it.
LL: Wasn’t there a UCLA study, some incentive program asking performers to test and get something in return? [Link here--Scroll down to August 10, 2012.]
MK: I don’t think UCLA has done a study. If they have they haven’t published it, that I’ve seen. Apparently one of the testing facilities is providing them with some data currently, but they haven’t published it yet. I don’t know what they’re doing with it. They are closely allied with AIDS Healthcare, so I’m not expecting anything particularly good to come out of it. I’ll take it as it comes, and write about it.
Mark Kernes has a been a board member of the Free Speech Coalition for ten years. He’ll be reporting on the 2257 trial in Philadelphia in June. Mark also participated as the judge in the end run production of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal. He wrote about it here, and you can find all of his articles on Measure B and AB-332 at AVN.com by entering those words into the search engine. This article will get you started: Get It Straight: Measure B & AB 332 Are NOT Just About Condoms.
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