Adult entertainment is not the only area in which cultural tastes seem to be consistent across the country. Primetime viewing habits are very similar too.
Desperate Housewives, the hottest new show on television, features plotlines such as one in which a married woman is having an affair with her 17-year-old gardener and another in which a man murders his neighbor. Turns out, the show performed better in the November sweeps month in the red state markets of Dallas-Fort Worth (first), Atlanta (first) and Kansas City (second) than it did in the Blue state markets of New York (fourth), Chicago (fourth) and Boston (third), according to Nielson Media Research. The show did quite well in red state markets Salt Lake City (fourth) and Birmingham (sixth) as well.
While my e-mailer from Arizona focused his "values" argument on vulgarization of culture, post-election polls by the Pew Charitable Trusts and a new survey released this week by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal have shed some light on that lightning rod question in the National Election Pool exit poll. The "values" difference between Republicans and Democrats is more about abortion and gay marriage than it is about "Ren & Stimpy" or "Will & Grace."
But if the red states are more moral than the blue states in other ways, it's difficult to make that point quantitatively. In many of the social pathologies, the blue states are in better shape than the red ones. There are different ways of interpreting data, but a basic analysis of census data makes this point.
For instance, the average percentage of births to unwed mothers is slightly higher in red states than blue states. Washingtonpost.com producer Kevin Hechtkopf did some number crunching and found that the average number of births in unwed mothers was 33.2 per 100 in red states compared to 31.2 in blue states.
And if divorce is an indicator of family values, the red states lose out there as well. As blogger Andrew Sullivan pointed out recently, the states with the highest rates of divorce per capita are all red states, and the states with the lowest rates of divorce are blue states.
Some will argue that none of these facts are evidence of hypocrisy, that it's entirely possible that the liberal minority in red states is responsible for the consumption of all the cultural trash and the perpetrators of social pathology in those red states. Mathematically possible? Yes. Probable? No.
Follow the Money
Spencer, the Mormon defense attorney in Utah County, said he couldn't help but be struck by a larger point: Big corporate America -- a staunch GOP ally -- was lining its pockets selling raunch to the masses, including the red state nation.
"A lot of it's coming from Republicans," Spencer said, referring to the corporate culprits who profit from smut. Spencer said he considers himself a Republican.
It's almost impossible to get a handle on how much money corporate America is reaping by peddling smut. General Motors Corp. is not eager to brag about how many dirty movies it sold last year through a subsidiary.
In the Utah County trial, Spencer asked the jury why a lone, small business vendor like Peterman should be held to a higher standard than the likes of W. Mitt Romney. At the time Romney was on the board of Marriott International, which was making huge margins on piping porn into hotel rooms. Currently, Romney is the Republican governor of Massachusetts and his travels around the country have helped fuel speculation that he might run for president in 2008.
Perhaps the most extensive mainstream media treatment on this subject ran four years ago in The New York Times. In a 4,000-word investigative opus, writer Timothy Egan connected the dots between porn and big corporate profits:
"The General Motors Corporation, the world's largest company, now sells more graphic sex films every year than does Larry Flynt, owner of the Hustler empire. The 8.7 million Americans who subscribe to DirecTV, a General Motors subsidiary, buy nearly $200 million a year in pay-per-view sex films from satellite, according to estimates provided by distributors of the films, estimates the company did not dispute.
"EchoStar Communications Corporation, the No. 2 satellite provider, whose chief financial backers include Mr. Murdoch, makes more money selling graphic adult films through its satellite subsidiary than Playboy, the oldest and best-known company in the sex business, does with its magazine, cable and Internet businesses combined, according to public and private revenue accounts by the companies.