Friday, October 17, 1997
Porn buyers: It's your right,
but it's wrong

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Thanks to Si Leis and my mom and dad, I've led a sheltered existence.

Until this week, I had never seen the inside of an adult video store.

Eons ago, when I was in school, Si drove the porn peddlers' shops from Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

More important, my parents raised me to have no interest in such places. And my wife reinforces that notion.

But, this week, I became professionally interested. A Butler County video store clerk was busted Tuesday - with TV cameras rolling just in time to make the evening news. She allegedly sold videos to a minor at VIP Video in downtown Millville. That's just six miles north of the Hamilton County line.

Earlier in the week, the 17-year-old boy allegedly purchased videos with his father's credit card and I.D. The father complained to the cops, and they set up Tuesday's raid.

Wondering what kind of place was doing this kind of business, I drove to the tiny Butler County community. (Mom, my editor suggested it. Really.)

Millville is a village of 755 people. It has two stores - VIP Video and Millville Video - that deal in sexually explicit films. I visited both.

Blockbuster they aren't.

VIP Video sells its goods from a former hardware store. Millville Video, a 10-minute walk down the road, sells and rents adult videos in its back room. The front room is devoted to regular movies, from Tom Cruise to Disney.

Between the two stores, there are about 10,000 adult videos available in Millville. In a village of 755, that means relying on LOTS of out-of-town customers.

The stores were physically clean and carpeted with the same kind of industrial-strength floor covering found in an insurance agency or dentist's office. They were well-lit and staffed by friendly, helpful sales people.

Millville Video's adult movies are displayed by category, including bondage, gay, pregnant and ''explicit.''

VIP Video's merchandise is displayed on wooden bookshelves. ''It looks like a library,'' says owner Peter Tomaino.

I'm not sure what kind of libraries he's been to. But the ones I've visited don't have videos with labels featuring naked people. If they aren't performing intimate acts in front of a camera, they're posing unmentionable body parts for close-ups.

When I got back from Millville, I called my mom and told her where I'd been. (West-Siders have a need to confess.)

''Bet they're making oodles of money up there,'' she said. She's right.

Nationwide, the adult video business is a multibillion-dollar venture. In 1996, sales and rentals of sexually explicit videos reached a combined $3.9 billion.

Big bucks.

Peter Tomaino's mother knows what kind of work he does. She told him ''you have to do something for a living. At least this is better than selling drugs.'' He calls it ''clean, honest work.''

Would he let his 9-year-old son in the store?

''Over my dead body,'' the shopkeeper said. ''I tell him, 'This is for adults only.' He can come in when he's a daddy.''

I wish Peter Tomaino would get into a more honorable line of work. One that puts more emphasis on pride than profits. One that he could show his son.

But money talks.

Make no mistake: If Peter Tomaino closed today, someone else would set up shop. This is still a world of supply and demand.

So I wish the hundreds of people who drive to Millville for Deep Throat, Buttman in Barcelona or something from the John Wayne Bobbitt collection would take a look at themselves.

I don't like the look, the style or the intent of porn. Its emptiness, its ability to degrade the human spirit, makes me sad.

But I can't support censorship. And I think harassing owners out of business is the wrong thing for law enforcement to do. Those are police-state tactics. This is a democracy.

No, I wish the demand would just dry up. I wish people would have more self-respect. I wish they'd rediscover simple morals and put their money to better use.

It's your money that drives the porn industry, that makes men and women roll around on camera.

If you're obsessed with this, get help.

If you're just a fan, get a life.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.