The nudes of art are not so distant from pornography as prudish pedants pretend. – Mason Cooley
The label “pornography”, like the word “prostitution”, represents an attempt by lawheads to pretend that their personal hang-ups about sex can be reduced to a rule by which “good” sex can be distinguished from “bad” sex, a bright, clear taboo line which it is not permissible for anyone, even in private, to cross. Ironically, the neofeminist position on the issue is actually more coherent than that of the government; it simply states that any sex not initiated and totally controlled by a woman for her own pleasure (and for no other reason) is fundamentally wrong. The more radical neofeminists (such as Sheila Jeffreys) go even further, declaring that any heterosexual sex is a tool of male oppression. Obviously, this is mad-dog lunacy, but at least it’s consistent lunacy; lawheads, by contrast, try to come up with ridiculous “tests” by which prostitution can be distinguished from other female sexual behavior and pornography can be distinguished from erotica or sex scenes in “literature”. We’ve often discussed the former, but today I’d like to look at the latter.
Gloria Steinem opined that “Pornography is about dominance. Erotica is about mutuality,” and though many anti-porn feminists still try to promote that as a valid definition, anyone who’s seen more than three porn films (or read more than two erotic stories) knows it doesn’t hold water. D.H. Lawrence was a far better writer than Steinem, but his definition is even more vague: “Pornography is the attempt to insult sex, to do dirt on it.” Very clear, D.H.; I’m sure many a judge has found that a precise and usable rule. And speaking of judges, the most honest (though least helpful) “definition” of this type was that pronounced by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in his famous concurring opinion on Jacobellis vs. Ohio (1964):
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case [Les Amants (1958)] is not that.
Though later courts attempted to use high-sounding words like “contemporary community standards” and pseudo-objective criteria such as “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific values” to disguise Stewart’s axiom with a veneer of respectability, the naked truth is that the only meaningful difference between the “obscene” and the acceptable is the opinion of some “authority”. The inanity of the whole thing has been laid bare in the federal obscenity prosecution of fetish filmmaker Ira Isaacs:
……Isaacs argues that the disgust evoked by works such as Hollywood Scat Amateurs 7 and Japanese Doggie 3 Way is a crucial part of what makes them artistic. “My intent is to be a shock artist in the movies I made,” he testified, “to challenge the viewer in thinking about art differently…to think about things they’d never thought about before.” Similarly, [defense lawyer Roger] Diamond argued that the films have political value as a protest against the government’s arbitrary limits on expression, illustrating the “reality that we may not have the total freedom the rest of the world thinks we have”…Isaacs…faces a possible penalty of 20 years in prison…but if the jurors want to blame someone for making them sit through this assault on their sensibilities, they should not blame Isaacs. They should blame the Justice Department, which initiated the case during the Bush administration, and the Supreme Court, which established the absurdly subjective test they are now supposed to apply. Will they take seriously Isaacs’ references to Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, Kiki Smith, and Piero Manzoni, or will they dismiss his artistic name dropping as a desperate attempt to give his masturbation aids a high-minded purpose?
There is a third possibility…they could reject the very notion of sending people to prison for distributing sexual material, no matter how icky, produced by and for adults…AVN correspondent Mark Kernes reports that in his jury instructions [the judge], who had worried aloud about the possibility of nullification while the jurors were outside the courtroom, was “careful to note that even if the jury disagreed with the law, it was still their duty to follow it.” Nonsense. Yes, this is the same obscenity case that was interrupted by the fuss over images on Judge Alex Kozinski’s computer, a controversy that ultimately led to a mistrial…
As it turns out, this one ended in a mistrial as well thanks to two women who refused to convict a man for making movies. This is called “jury nullification”, and it’s a power the Founding Fathers intended juries to have, despite vigorous attempts by the “justice system” to hide and deny that fact. Two mistrials should send a clear message to prosecutors that (at least in Southern California) most people don’t want self-appointed censors telling them what they can see, but power-mad “justice department” officials discarded the prohibition against double jeopardy long ago and may keep trying Isaacs until they achieve the desired result. It’s certainly possible; though social conservatives represent California as Sodom, there are enough anti-porn busybodies there to push through the “condoms in porn” law which will soon drive the lucrative industry from Los Angeles…and one city, nearby Simi Valley, wants to make sure it doesn’t migrate there:
…”The bottom line is we don’t want to be known as the porn capital of the world,” said Mayor Bob Huber, who is one of those pushing for a measure similar to one the L.A. City Council approved in January…Under its proposed law, the city would require producers to hire on-set medical professionals, who would attest to appropriate condom use. At the end of a shoot, the producers would have to send their unedited video to the police department, where employees would scrutinize it…The city’s preemptive strike is pointless, said Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition…”Very little filming is done in Simi Valley, and I doubt that the production studios are planning any increase at all in the area…However, I am amused at the thought of Simi Valley hiring people to sit around and view porn on taxpayer dollars. I wonder what the training for that would look like.”
More laws, more power, more intrusion, more tax money wasted enforcing the whims of control freaks. Westerners have allowed the anti-sex crowd to make them so afraid of mere images that they’ve given governments vast censorship powers. And when such power is handed over to an uncontrolled entity whose chief goals are to grow and consume (more money and more power), this sort of mishap is inevitable:
Reminiscent of the mooo.com screwup in the US, where Homeland Security’s ICE division “accidentally” seized 84,000 sites and plastered them over with a warning graphic about how they’d been seized by the US government for child porn, the Danish police similarly “accidentally” had 8,000 legitimate sites declared as child porn sites that needed to be blocked. Among the sites listed? Google and Facebook. Visitors to those sites…were greeted with the following message (translated, of course): The National High Tech Crime Center of the Danish National Police [NITEC], who assist in investigations into crime on the internet, has informed Siminn Denmark A/S, that the internet page which your browser has tried to get in contact with may contain material which could be regarded as child pornography…Upon the request of The National High Tech Crime Center of the Danish National Police, Siminn Denmark A/S has blocked the access to the internet page.
And people wonder why so many people around the world were so concerned about the threat of something like SOPA — which would make DNS blocking at the ISP level a lot more common…this “accident”…“began when an employee at the police center…placed a list of legitimate sites in the wrong folder…Before [he became] aware of the error, two ISPs retrieved the list of sites”…The fact that just one employee can change the list seems wide open to abuse. And the fact that the list seems somewhat automated beyond that is even more problematic…
Even if you don’t live in Denmark or the US, you still ought to be concerned; the US government has now claimed the right – and has the practical power due to much of the internet’s backbone being located on American soil – to seize any domain ending in .com, .org, .net, .biz, .cc, .tv and .name no matter what country it’s registered and based in. And that means if federal prosecutors want to, they can impose prudish American standards of “obscenity” on the great majority of internet content in the entire world.
One Year Ago Today
“March Miscellanea” reports on a Florida vice squad spokesman who can’t make up his mind, South African police taking revenge against those who protested on International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, and the efforts of Indian prostitutes to get avails laws repealed.