CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—The last eight years or so I have been participating in student debates at various universities across the U.K., so when I received an e-mail last September inviting me to Cambridge, I accepted it with some pride but didn't really give it a second thought. It wasn't until the Telegraph newspaper among others, picked up the story in January that I realised that this debate was to be one of historical importance.
This was the first time the Cambridge had debated something of an adult nature so they had done their research well and pulled in the big guns on each side. The motion was 'The house believes pornography does a good public service' —a proposition which was supported by myself, sex educator Jessi "The Sexademic" Fisher and porn star/ex-teacher Johnny Anglais. It was opposed by antiporn feminist Gail Dines, child psychologist Dr. Richard Woolfson and your very own Shelley 'Loopy-Lou' Lubben.
Sensing that this debate was going to be important for the industry to win and remembering that I had a clean slate of always winning debates to uphold, I immediately started researching not only the best arguments to make, but also the opposition. The more I read about them, the more I realised that their success at Cambridge would be an ideal marketing tool for their campaigns. So with the help of some American industry folk, mainly Michael Whiteacre (director of the documentary The Devil and Shelley Lubben), Martin John Barker (who did a similar exposé on the moral entrepreneurs who instigated the campaign against "video nasties" in the U.K. in 1984), porn academic Dr Clarissa Smith and several U.K., U.S. and European porn producers, I got a plan of action together.
Before the debate, I had a photo shoot for the socialist Guardian newspaper with Gail Dines, who told me that she had just come from teaching the Philosophy Department at Cambridge as an invited guest. This, I thought, gave her the advantage of having primed part of the audience with her argument at length. Not good.
The event was black-tie and included a lovely dinner with silver service. I was somewhat dismayed to see that they had placed me opposite Shelley Lubben. I thought she was going to be as aggressive as I had seen her in various interviews online; however, the Shelley Lubben who sat opposite me was a very different one from the one featured on YouTube. She appeared very nervous and almost frail. She didn't eat much of her starter and left the room on her own as soon as her main course was delivered, for what seemed about an hour.
Let the debate commence!
On February 17, the hall of the debate was truly awesome. Just walking in and seeing more than 500 students clapping and cheering our entrance, knowing that there were a further 300 students watching the debate by video link in adjacent rooms, was both awe-inspiring and daunting in equal measures. No sooner had we sat down on opposing sides of the central atrium than it was my turn to start the debate. I was meant to be the closing speaker for the proposition but I had asked to go first as I wanted to set the tone for the evening.
My speech was very well received and wasn't interrupted, which is always a good sign. It was my role to focus on feminism as well as on Lubben—I had agreed on a game plan with my counterparts—so I took the opportunity to prime the audience with some facts about her so-called "victim" status. I wanted Lubben to have an uphill struggle convincing the audience that she had a real degree, real illnesses and had experienced a porn industry that was common to most porn stars, as opposed to one experienced by somebody with a serious affective disorder. I was obviously very successful in doing this, as Shelley looked crestfallen and Dines was staring straight at me with eyes of black thunder when I returned to my seat.
Of the three speakers in opposition, Dines was certainly the most rhetorically accomplished, although anyone who was not a Marxist would see her argument as necessarily extremely left-wing and somewhat dated. Nevertheless she got a good round of applause at the end.
Then came Jessi who immediately took down Dines's argument, supporting her own version with citations of various sex studies and historical facts, as well as giving a personal account of how watching porn at 11 years old encouraged her to take control of her sexuality and become a sex educator. She delivered her speech extremely well, speaking to the audience and gaining eye contact with every sentence. At the end, Dines dished out her thunder eyes to Jessi too.
Dr. Richard Woolfson's speech was okay but he made the mistake of not backing up anything he said with quotes or citations, which automatically gave his speech the feel of conjecture. By now Dines was beginning to show the strain, and I sensed she was feeling that she had severely underestimated her opposition.
The nicest surprise of the evening was Johnny Anglais's speech. He was eloquent, funny and far more highly educated than I'm sure the audience was expecting. He spoke of his experience inside the industry as well as compared it to other jobs he'd had before where he felt far more exploited. He sat down to a huge round of applause.
By now Dines was looking pretty desperate and Lubben appeared to be almost physically deflating. I had to remind myself how power hungry and nasty she has been with her campaign in the past in order to stop myself from feeling sorry for her and feeling guilty for being so slick in putting her down. Surely now was the time for her to take revenge on me.
However as soon as Lubben took the stand she started rambling wildly, slurring her words and generally not linking her ideas together very well. I immediately assumed that she'd had too much to drink but as someone later pointed out she hadn't touched a drop all night. She was nowhere near as aggressive or punchy in her delivery as I had previously seen. In fact, she looked completely resigned to the realization that she couldn't compete with the arguments of the opposition. The attack on my films that she had started in The Tab's paper earlier that week was not continued.
It was painful to watch. She would later be described in the U.K. as a "walking car crash." To make matters worse, she committed the cardinal sin—which you never do in the U.K.—of evangelising about Christianity. She talked of being one of the "chosen ones." This was met with laughs of disbelief by the audience.
The way that votes are counted at Cambridge is the same as in the Houses of Parliament. There are three doors to exit the room; the "Ayes," the "Noes" and "Abstentions." It was reassuring to see the majority of the audience leave the room via the "Ayes" exit. Sure enough, we beat the opposition 231 votes to their 187, with 197 abstentions. It felt good, very good.
In the Green Room afterwards, Gail Dines had a go at me for picking on "poor Shelley Lubben" who, according to her, was not powerful in the U.S. and had had no influence in shutting down AIM Healthcare. Gail accused me of making a personal attack against Shelley, which, in her eyes, was unnecessary and cruel. I pointed out that I hadn't made personal attacks against the other two members of the opposition, only the one who put her personal story up as the central theme of her argument. Gail replied that she had not researched the opposition for weaknesses, claiming that her argument ought to be enough to convince the audience that she was right. I think she now realises she underestimated us. Big mistake.
To learn more about Anna Span, please access her diaries here.
(Pictured, L-R: Johnny Anglais, Anna Span, Jessi Fisher)