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Porn free

The last bastion of smut—the hotel-room on-demand channel—may soon be a thing of the past

It’s a standard part of the American hospitality industry: To make guests feel pampered, cared for and at home on the road, hotel operators grievously overcharge them for hardcore pornography. The hotels make a modest but effortless profit on these transactions. The bored and lonely guests who rent on-demand porn feel even more bored and lonely after watching it—and thus stay in their rooms and out of trouble.

Naturally, because it’s a win-win proposition, someone wants to end it. Last week, representatives from Focus on the Family, Citizens for Community Values and assorted other professional finger-waggers met with the top brass at Marriott International in an effort to convince the hotel chain to banish porn from its properties. The decency advocates have been engaged in the campaign for nearly a decade now; this was the first time Marriott agreed to sit down with them.

According to Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy at Focus on the Family, pornography is “especially dangerous in hotels because it can become addictive and create a sexualized climate that puts men, women and children at risk.”

Those with a taste for squalid adventure might want to ask Minnery for his itineraries; it sounds as if he’s had the misfortune of staying at some unusually sleazy hotels. According to the latest SEC filings from LodgeNet Interactive, the company that provides on-demand TV, movie and Internet services to nearly 2 million hotel rooms, including those owned by Marriott, movie-rental revenues averaged $16.51 per room per month in the first quarter of 2008. And that $16.51 wasn’t generated by porn alone, but also by Hollywood movies and TV shows.

Given that hotel porn costs $10 and up per video, this suggests that maybe once a month or so—but certainly not twice—a porn video gets rented and played in the average hotel room. Which no doubt means that hotels—or at least those hotels that don’t yet offer complimentary high-speed Internet access—are some of the most porn-free places in America.

Ultimately, though, Focus on the Family and its allies aren’t interested in such real-world trivialities. For them, the fight is symbolic. The fact that one can order Spring Break Pantyhoes in more hotel rooms than one can smoke a cigarette in is unbearable evidence of porn’s mainstreaming: Until such fare becomes at least as hard to procure as a decent room-service cheeseburger, how can the decency advocates accomplish what they truly hope to accomplish—which is to eradicate porn from video stores, and the Internet, and your living room?

For Marriott and other hotels, the battle over porn is largely symbolic. While it costs the company nothing to offer adult movies to their guests, it doesn’t bring in a huge profit, either. Third parties such as LodgeNet provide all the necessary equipment and perform all the maintenance, and simply give the hotels 10-15 percent of the revenue they collect. Or to put it another way, most hotels appear to be making around $1.65 per room per month in movie-rental fees—which means it’s possible some hotels are actually making more money from the loose change guests leave behind than they are from porn!

Thus, while Marriott made no concessions in its first meeting with the decency-advocate dream team, except to agree to a second meeting a month and a half from now, who knows? In time, perhaps, Marriott may simply decide that the minimal revenue they derive from porn is just not worth having to sit through repeated meetings with Focus on the Family.

If the finger-waggers do triumph, however, their symbolic victory will contain a note of symbolic defeat as well. After all, on-demand porn isn’t the only media choice that enjoys quiet ubiquity in the hospitality realm. In at least as many hotel rooms as X-rated fare is available, the Bible is, too, courtesy of the good people from Gideons International.

And thus, for the last 20 years or so, hotel rooms have presented their occupants with a quintessential test of free will, the spirit or the flesh. The contest isn’t exactly a fair one, because the Bible is free, and the porn is ridiculously expensive. But even with that advantage working in the Bible’s favor, the decency advocates apparently have so little faith in Western culture’s most revered book they don’t believe it can hold the average person’s attention—at least when pitted against the likes of Kinky Kouples Sex Games. That may not be the greatest blasphemy one can commit, but surely it’s among the saddest.

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