Porn world eyes Pittsburgh
Even by American adult film industry standards, Rob Zicari has long turned stomachs and generated disgust for his filmed depictions of rape and violence against women and also the desecration of the Bible.
"He makes the vilest of products and has long violated taboos in the adult industry," said Luke Ford, a Los Angles-based journalist who has covered the industry and has known Zicari, 31 -- who works under the name "Rob Black" -- for a decade.
U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan on Wednesday asked the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a judge's decision to dismiss a 2003 indictment against Zicari, his wife Janet Romano, and their production company, Extreme Associates, on charges of violating federal obscenity laws.
The couple and their company were accused of selling tapes and downloadable video clips -- with titles like "Forced Entry" and "Extreme Teen #24" -- to an undercover U.S. postal inspector and others in the Pittsburgh area.
If Buchanan wins, the case could have far-reaching implications for the multibillion-dollar American porn industry, which is centered in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles.
"If Mary Beth is successful, and the conviction is upheld, it will open up a can of worms for the government to work their way through the food chain to Larry Flynt and others," said Mike South, an adult film director based in Atlanta.
"It means the government will be going after more people," he said.
For that reason, many eyes in Southern California are on Pittsburgh, Ford said.
"This will definitely have an inhibiting effect on the industry if (Zicari) is convicted of obscenity," Ford said.
Zicari has long pushed the adult film genre to extremes with depictions of women being choked, punched and slapped while having sex in coffins and Dumpsters. He has angered religious people by having actors rip up Bibles in the name of sex.
" 'Nervous' is a mild term to describe how many in the industry look at (Zicari), and many outright hate him for bringing unwanted attention from the government," Ford said.
Nina Hartley, an adult video performer who has been involved in the industry since 1984, is not a fan of Black's work, which she says is all about shock value, not eroticism. But that is his First Amendment right, she said.
"He told me years ago that it's like filming a train wreck," Hartley said. "People want to look at it even though it's terrible. But it's important to keep in mind that this is a free society, and people need to be able to say and read whatever they want, even if it makes people upset."
Zicari has had a long association with the pornography industry, beginning when his father, Dominic Zicari, of Rochester, N.Y., opened a string of adult bookstores on the East Coast in the 1960s. The younger Zicari told an interviewer for the PBS program "Frontline," which aired a segment about the industry, that his mother is a nurse who condones what he does.
"Extreme Productions are the filthiest of filth," Zicari said in a 1998 magazine interview. "There's the drug dealer, and we're just a little above that."