Saturday, November 03, 2007

This Week in Porn Hysteria, Part Umptymillion

Sen. Hatch grills DoJ nom about porn over terrorism; Violet Blue wonders what's more obscene

Thursday, November 1, 2007



"Show us your 'wide stance,' Senator!"

That's the catcall I heard Saturday night as I walked the Castro with a friend who was dressed as Sen. Larry Craig — complete with foam-core bathroom stall strapped to his back, a trail of toilet paper and "for a good time call" graffiti added every time he stopped for a photo-op. His constituents were showing, indeed. But everyone knew who Craig was, his busted hypocrisy catapulting him into the arena of conservative, fallen-from-anti-sex-grace fame. The "LarryCraigslist" jokes were rife, from 18th to Market and back. Last week, another conservative Senator showed his party-line's tease-and-denial obsession with what adults do for healthy skin-on-skin entertainment. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch pushed his anti-porn agenda into the realm of dementia last week during the questioning of Department of Justice nominee Michael Mukasey. Obviously unappreciative of the cinematic cultural relevance of titles such as "Edward Penishands," Hatch pressed Mukasey to prosecute "mainstream obscenity."

Over at Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald liveblogged the Mukasey confirmation hearing, reporting:

"The Senate Judiciary Committee today begins its confirmation hearing for Michael Mukasey, the Bush administration's nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General ... As he always does, Sen. Hatch makes clear that — even as we battle the Global Epic War of Civilizations against Islamo-fascism — his primary concern is that the Department of Justice is not doing enough to battle the evils of what even he calls 'mainstream, adult pornography.'

"Hatch explains that 'pornography and obscenity consumption harms individuals, families, communities.' Unfortunately, Hatch said, the DOJ has a 'terrible record enforcing adult obscenity law' — such enforcement stopped during the Clinton administration and there is not much more to show for it during the Bush administration.

"The problem, Hatch explained, is that the DOJ is prosecuting only 'extreme' obscenity — not what he calls 'mainstream obscenity.' Since most consumers only access 'mainstream obscenity,' not 'extreme obscenity,' this strategy is misguided — it prosecutes 'too narrow a range of obscenity.' Also, warned Hatch, there are far too few FBI resources being devoted to 'mainstream obscenity prosecutions.'"

Of course, the trouble with "mainstream obscenity" is that there is no such thing, just like there is no such thing as "fat-free ice cream." According to First Amendment lawyer Julie S. Turner, "The very definition of obscenity depends on the standards of the community. If a pornographic work is 'mainstream,' then by definition it has been accepted by the community. After all, that's what 'mainstream' means." However, a quick glance at Sen. Hatch's public statements on First Amendment rights and "sexual privacy," tells us that, never mind torture or terrorism, Senator Hatch clearly knows his double-anal scenes from his First Amendment.

In Greenwald's liveblogging of the hearing, he continued:

"Mukasey promised to review the policy of only prosecuting 'extreme' rather than 'mainstream' pornography, and vowed: 'I recognize that mainstream materials can have an effect of cheapening a society, objectifying women, and endangering children in a way that we can't tolerate.'"

"The very idea of prosecuting what Senator Hatch calls 'mainstream obscenity' is antithetical to the First Amendment," according to Turner, who is based in Palo Alto. "It undermines the distinction between protected pornography and unprotected obscenity, so that government can censor any erotic expression."

In a previous DoJ confirmation hearing, Hatch impressed on former Attorney General Gonzales that prosecuting "mainstream porn" was far more important than pursuing terrorism. Let's not forget how powerful a dude like Hatch really is. Gonzales later implemented this idea into policy, much to the protestation of his own departments , especially the FBI.

What's especially troubling about Hatch's fixation is the redoubled effort to undermine local laws about community standards and obscenity. I'll agree, they need to evolve, but those laws and standards are supposed to be the government's way of allowing a locality to decide if adults in different communities, with different values, faiths and tolerance levels are OK (or not) with the types of porn sold in their jurisdictions. It's supposed to be the "by the people" way that we tell what we think is "good" porn versus "bad" (obscene) porn.

"Mainstream obscenity" is an interesting concept. But it's one based on poor science, if any science at all. To put ideological opinion into public policy — into federal law — requires that the government be absolutely clear about what defines "cheapening a society," how to decide what "objectification of women" is (and who, exactly, is being objectified in gay porn), and to draw a clear and distinct line via unbiased data on how the legal adult right to porn, couples exploring sexual fantasy, sex work, sexual expression and sexual privacy — has anything to do with "endangering children."

There are no data to prove any of these assertions that aren't backed or funded by conservative religious groups. (See the "abstinence study," oft cited as fact to back the federal abstinence education program — run on state levels by organizations like Healthy Futures , a subsidiary of a Christian anti-abortion group called A Woman's Concern, that got a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and whose teachings are based on dated "studies" from the Heritage Foundation. Your tax dollars at work, folks. Based on this, last year $50 million went into the Department of Health and Human Services' nationwide Abstinence Education Program ). It's a lot like abortion studies; the personal and the dubious intermingle with public policy decisions. There is nothing published, nothing peer-reviewed, not a whiff of sources, collection or analysis. It's all porn hysteria and personal agenda.

Mainstream porn is guilty of many crimes; for one, it's really, really boring. It still looks like 1987. Boob jobs are scary like "Alien" face-huggers, you have to keep the sound low so your roommates don't think you're torturing puppies, and the spelling and grammar on box covers is just atrocious. But give codgers like Hatch the chance to define "mainstream obscenity" and it's all going to be "obscene." Not that I'm defending "Buffy the Vampire Layer." Because I'm really, really not.

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