Saturday, May 07, 2005


Censor Alert!

Following on from this post, which links to this article, I should like to make a few points.

1. "Hard-core sex tapes involving bestiality, sadomasochism and simulated rape." Doubtless the material is distasteful in the extreme, but what of it? The issue censors bring up in Britain nowadays, though of course it may be different in the US, is one of repetitive behaviour - namely, if Man (it's nearly always a man) A watches a video of bestiality, is he then going to go and give it to a chicken up its cloaca? This approach is flawed, but it does have some merit - some people are clearly adversely affected by images of violence, and particularly sexual violence. The more worrying argument from the censors is based on morality, and that appears to be the motivation in these cases. Morality is subjective, not objective, and shouldn't be used, no matter how disturbing tenderfeet find the material.

2. "The Justice Department's child exploitation and obscenity section." Why is it sadly not surprising at all that these completely separate things have been run together? Are any of the videos in question exploiting children? Only if they have child participants, in which case they are illegal under different laws. Obscenity, in the cases we are talking about, is nearly always something different - all the article's cases appear to consist of acts between adults, or acts visited upon animals by adults. Presumably, there are clear statutes in the US that deal with bestiality, and so this can be separated.

3. "Enforcement is absolutely necessary if we are going to protect citizens from unwanted exposure to obscene materials," Gonzales recently told federal prosecutors. This too, is one of the oldest tricks in the book. However, it is an unfaithful deceit - I sincerely doubt that anyone at all received unwanted exposure to these materials. In my experience, people tend not to advertise wares like this too closely, and when they do, the customers know precisely what they are buying. How can you possibly mistake it?

4. "Oosterbaan said the government has won convictions in high-profile cases. He cited a guilty plea last year from John Coil of Highland Village, Texas, who owned and operated 27 adult-oriented businesses in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Coil forfeited an estimated $8.1 million in property to the government and was sentenced to more than five years in prison." According to this article, Coil was guilty of fraud, racketeering and income tax evasion too, which hardly makes it a typical obscenity trial. Also, the article alleges that some of the material was paedophilic in nature, and separate statutes exist for dealing with these cases, as noted above.

5. "In addition, there is the 23-count indictment against Edward Wedelstedt of Littleton, Colo., and his Goalie Entertainment Holdings Inc. Wedelstedt owns pornographic bookstores in 18 states; the indictment lists six allegedly obscene videos and DVDs." Why have twenty three counts when there's only six obscene items? The answer is here, where allegations are made that Wedelstedt and his co-defendants were guilty once again of tax fraud and racketeering. Once again, a proper debate about obscenity is being damaged by the Department of Justice's selective prosecutions.

6. "The Justice Department's approach has been to identify videos that even some in the pornography business find unappealing and to bring charges in more socially conservatives places, where possible." This approach, which seems objectionable at first, actually stems from a Supreme Court ruling, Miller v California, which effectively allowed that what is considered obscene can vary from community to community. So, folks, if you get the need to watch hardcore, travel to a blue state to do it.

7. In the Montana case, Lambert distributed videos that even his lawyer said were "frankly, disgusting." The point is irrelevant. I'm sure I'd find them disgusting too, but that should have no bearing on their legality or otherwise.

I'd be somewhat concerned if I was an American about where this is heading. It is clearly a sop from the Administration to its Christian base, but it would be very damaging to First, Ninth and Tenth Amendment rights if a significant body of case law were built up. We should support hardcore sellers on the obscenity front, even as we disdain them.

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