Globalization, AIDS, and the pornography industry

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Ghana in West Africa, in green

The globalized economy has created a world in which you can watch an Indian cricket match on TV in a Budapest bar and where you can send your mother-in-law in Iowa flowers picked fresh in Colombia. But some aspects of globalization aren’t so nice. Documentary film maker Tim Samuels has been investigating the globalization of pornography.

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The results of his reporting will be seen on BBC TV in the series "Hardcore Profits." Samuels says porn producers may not realize what affect their films are having in places as far away as Western Africa.

"In Ghana you see the most extraordinary impact of the mainstream western pornography which is predominantly made in Los Angeles and is predominantly condom free. That pornography somehow makes its way to even the most remote and obscure parts of Ghana in Africa.

"There are villages which don’t even have electricity; where people live in mud huts; where generators get wheeled into the village and mud huts get turned into impromptu pornographic cinemas. And those films from Los Angeles get shown and the impact is chilling.

"The films, as I said, don’t have condoms. People copy what they see and they say to me they’ve contracted HIV as a direct result of copying the films they’ve seen.

"There are also outbreaks of sexual violence after the films are shown where the young men are so excited by what they’ve seen that women in the village, I’m told, have been raped straight after the films have been shown. So an extraordinary consequence of globalization from an industry in Los Angeles having an impact in Africa.

"Beyond Ghana we try to procure some other evidence and spoke to health professionals in other developing countries. In Tanzania a similar case came up where the videos were also shown in remote areas and women were assaulted there after. In India cases where kids have dropped out of school because they became addicted to this mainstream and hardcore pornography, again coming from America.

"Even Papua, New Guinea there were doctors who said that they’ve had to deal with cases of young men putting ball bearings down their penises to try and keep up with the impressive nature of the porn stars they’ve been watching in films. So it’s anecdotal but there is a sense that these films, which are so much more easily available now through the internet and through pirated DVDs, are having an impact in the countries where you really don’t want them to."

In the US, there is an established history of anti-porn activism.  In rural Ghana, this is not the case.

Samuels continues, "The places we were filming at, as I said, some of them didn’t have electricity let alone lobbying groups to worry about pornography. Any health care which is being doled out there is primary health care and you know feminism hasn’t really quite kicked in in a big way in rural Ghana. But the powers that be over there are worried about this.

"Some of the people I met said the only sex education they’ve ever had is from watching these films. So you know it might be old news for us that the sex ed messages might go back to the ‘80s in Britain and America. But it’s not old news in the areas of the world where that message is most critical.

"When you have young men in their 20s saying to me, 'Well no one ever told me anything. I had no sex education as a kid. And the only education I got was from these videos from Los Angeles without condoms. That’s what I saw. That’s what I copied. That’s how I got HIV.'"

Not all of the pornographic films watched in West Africa are made in the United States. 

"There is a porn industry which comes out of Nigeria and when you walk around the streets of Accra, capital in Ghana, you can buy the African porn and you can also buy the bootlegged American porn, the pirated copies. Interestingly enough for some reason the American porn is slightly cheaper which again is another reason why it’s more prevalent. So there is and the African porn also has a much higher use of condoms than the American porn," says Samuels.

Professor Sakyi Awuku Amoa, the head of the National AIDS Commission in Ghana, argues that the American pornography industry, mainly based in Los Angeles, should take responsibilities it’s helping to create.

Amoa says, "Africans, because of colonization and because of Westernization, have more or less their minds tuned to believe that anything coming from the West is the best. Anything that is done by the West is the standard. And therefore they look at these pornographic films and they think, if this can be done why can’t we try it here?"

Some say Los Angeles and the porn industry should be doing something in terms of this problem in Ghana, that there is a responsibility that lies there.

"Given the amounts of money that is made in the industry and the amounts of money through pornography it really could be an idea for them to say look there is this extraordinary consequence as a result of the business that we’re running. And just to say look you know you guys maybe there’s something you could do. Maybe you could set up a fund to promote sex education in some of these countries."

Samuels suggests that the industry create films that encourages behavior that will help prevent the spread of AIDS.  "You know if the porn’s going to end up in these countries at least make sure it’s porn which promotes safe sex."

He took the opportunity to speak with somone in the porn industry in Los Angeles and presented them with some of his findings from Ghana.

"There was a company who we spoke to who do quite seriously hardcore stuff. They were getting fan mail every week from Ghana. They were getting two to three letters a week from obscure places in Ghana from people saying we love your films or can we star in your films. And the guy that runs the company is a very decent bloke. He’d actually spent some time in Ghana himself as a young guy.

"I gave him a call when I was in Ghana and he was very concerned by it. I think maybe there needs to be an industry-level response just to say you know maybe step up to the plate. Take some responsibility for the products which you’re making and you’re making very healthy profits from and do something to try and offset some of the really quite shocking consequences which could be in store."

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