Boycott Aimed at Stores With X-Rated Films

Times Staff Writer

Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, condemning pornography as an “attack upon human dignity,” urged consumers Saturday to stop patronizing video stores that sell or rent X-rated movies.

By kicking off the boycott, Mahony expanded the fight against pornography that he began last year when he asked Roman Catholics to picket 7-Eleven and other stores that carry Playboy, Penthouse and other sexually oriented magazines.

‘Uphold Family Values’

Surrounded by some of the nation’s most prominent anti-obscenity leaders, Mahony said Roman Catholics, with the help of their parishes and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, should identify video shops that “uphold family values” by keeping porno movies off their shelves.


“I encourage you to shop there and to urge others to do the same,” Mahony said. “By supporting your pro-family video dealers you will be making a strong statement. By committing your family not to give one more dollar of profit to those who degrade humanity, your position is made bottom-line clear.”

Mahony announced the boycott along with other less dramatic ways of combatting pornography at an obscenity seminar sponsored by the archdiocese at Mount St. Mary’s College. The archbishop also encouraged officials to aggressively enforce obscenity laws and toughen existing statutes and urged high school educators to integrate the dangers of pornography into curricula.

Church officials said they expect that a letter from the archbishop will be read in all archdiocese churches to help spread the word about the boycott.

The video boycott is the first to be launched in California, although similar efforts have been tried with some success in a dozen cities across the country, said Alan E. Sears, former executive director of the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography and a seminar speaker.

Commission’s Conclusion

In a highly publicized and controversial report released last spring, the attorney general’s commission concluded that most pornography is potentially harmful and can spawn violence against women.

Boycotters will be hard-pressed to find porno-free video stores. In a recent survey of 800 video stores throughout the country, the Video Software Dealers Assn. reported that 77% carried X-rated videotapes, which represented almost 13% of the stores’ sales. Local video store owners who were interviewed said they think the number of stores carrying porno flicks is even higher in Los Angeles.


Mahony, predicting that the boycott will be “both symbolic and effective,” said stores with no X-rated videos do exist. “I think some video stores do make an effort to not carry X-rated videos. We are really asking our people to help locate them.”

In defining hard-core obscenity, Mahony said he relies upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller standard that characterizes pornography as “matter taken as a whole, which lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

Local video store owners were incredulous and then angry when informed of the archbishop’s plan.

“I do think it’s a form of censorship that is uncalled for in our society,” said Meir Hed, the owner of Videotheque, which has three locations in West Los Angeles.

Hed added: “I don’t think it will have an effect on business, especially in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is too sophisticated to be led by the nose. In the deep South maybe it would have an effect.”

Ernie Haynie, part owner of the Video Station in the Fairfax District, agreed.

‘People Want It’

“What effect could it have? People want it. I’m not saying I’m pro or con; I’m a businessman. What can I do? I’m not going to close up and starve. I don’t think any Catholic in business would do that. I don’t think it’s an issue he (Mahony) should get involved in.”


Mahony brushed aside suggestions that the boycott could chip away at people’s civil rights. The archbishop became entangled in the same philosophical debate last year when Hugh Hefner, editor and publisher of Playboy, complained that Mahony and others are unfairly defining pornography “as anything sexual that somebody doesn’t approve of.”

“Pornography does not fulfill any of the purposes for which we protect free speech,” Mahony said. “It is not a constitutional right, but a civil wrong.”

In a Los Angeles Times Poll probing the religious values of various Christian groups last summer, Catholics were the most tolerant of pornography. In the poll, 35% of Catholics favored laws restricting pornography for all ages, compared with 61% of those who identified themselves as fundamentalist Christians.

Mahony targeted the pornography industry on his first day as archbishop of the 2.5-million Catholics in the nation’s largest archdiocese. At his installation in 1985 Mahony observed, “We all stand in shame as our city is acknowledged as one of the pornography centers of the world.”

After applying pressure to stores carrying sex magazines, Mahony encouraged Catholics to launch a letter-writing campaign against cable TV companies that carry adult film channels. And the archdiocese’s newspaper, the Tidings, has regularly assaulted smut.

On Saturday, Mahony said videos and other forms of pornography provide “a training manual for how to get or give AIDS.”


Positive Side to AIDS Seen

In response to a reporter’s question, Mahony suggested there could be a positive side to the AIDS epidemic.

“Today there is a whole new attitude about sexual promiscuity; if that has helped trigger that, so be it,” he said. “We’re very, very sorry about those who suffer from those kinds of illnesses, but the overall phenomenon might well be serving to wake up our country.”

While anti-pornography forces previously have concentrated on attempting to drive X-rated movie theaters out of business, the focus has changed as more Americans are watching sex on their television screens thanks to videocassette recorders, observed Bruce Taylor, an attorney with Citizens for Decency Through Law, who spoke at the conference.

Observed Taylor: “I think the theater is a dinosaur that lost its time in history.”