I generally like the First Amendment. The second one kind of blows, but the first one has some fairly good bits:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I don’t want to talk about the religion part here, except to say that religion is a huge drain on the world’s resources, both financial and mental, but I think I’m about to get into some territory that some of those I’ve just offended with that statement might agree with me on; the First Amendment was designed to protect political speech, philosophical and social discourse, and the rights of people like me to voice their opinions on falafel, The Doors, and The Lord of the Rings without fear of recrimination beyond the censure of those who think falafel tastes good, The Doors weren’t the funniest band in history, and that The Lord of the Rings was a good book or movie series. Thank the (most likely non-existent) lord for that. However, as rapacious and lascivious as some of the patriarchs who founded this here nation were, I’m pretty sure none of them intended that the very first amendment they added to the republic’s founding sheet of parchment would be used as a pretext for defending the “right” of motherfuckers with morals lower than whale shit in the Marianas Trench to create videos simulating the gang rape and sexualized murder of women, and the simulated rape of children. Or have I lost touch with what these dudes were all about? I mean, I know some of ’em owned slaves, but…
If you’ve been following my blog, you know I love nothing more than clean logic, so you can see how the contradiction inherent in the intent and use of this amendment might come close to making my brain explode. Well, if you think that shit is mystifying, check out the obscenity guidelines laid down for deciding when something falls outside of the protection of that whole “freedom of speech” thing:
For something to be “obscene” it must be shown that the average person, applying contemporary community standards and viewing the material as a whole, would find (1) that the work appeals predominantly to “prurient” interest; (2) that it depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and (3) that it lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Well, fuck. That settles it. Not only should simulated rape and child porn be illegal, but so should Family Guy, the entire American Pie franchise, most bands that have been on MTV from 1993 to the present, strip clubs, every work of “art” in any museum in the American Southwest, professional sports, baldness drugs, Stephen King novels, the Bedazzler…
But seriously, would it be possible for anyone to come up with a more nebulous and subjective standard? It all comes down to the role of judges, and I’m a little worried about how many of them seem to think they’re doing free speech a favor by allowing companies like Extreme Associates (who I will NOT link to) to keep pumping out their how-to videos on rape, and by allowing various companies to keep producing virtual child porn. Several of these cases have come before the high courts in the last decades, and the pornographers win virtually every time. I’m an academic (and a half-assed expert on American legal history), so I know how the US government is designed to work: the high courts are here to protect the minority from the “tyranny of the majority,” and that has worked out pretty well in cases like Loving v. Virgina, Brown v. Board of Education and other such cases in which state laws, although based on consensus, were out of keeping with basic human morality and decency. Legislatures are beholden to the stupid ideas of the populous, so we have judges, who are there to make judgments based on their own understanding of the law and their own consciences as to what is to the betterment or detriment of society. But is the fact that the “average person” is offended — nay — terrified at the idea of simulated rape, child molestation, and snuff porn films really a form of tyranny?
What it comes down to is whether one believes that the consumption of pornography that simulates sexual assault will ultimately fuel the growth of actual sexual assaults. The answer is, unefuckingquivocally, YES! It is a well documented fact, as well as common sense, that sexual obsessions tend to escalate rather than dissipate, and when an individual with a desire to rape, to hurt women, or to molest children comes into contact with pornography that depicts just the kinds of acts he (or, in the rarest of cases, she) fantasizes about, his obsession with that act will increase, in many cases to the point that he will act on it.
There are several reasons for this. First, finding that there is an entire community of other people interested in the same sorts of acts has the effect of normalizing those acts in the mind of the viewer. The sense that the act is illegal and socially abhorrent, which could potentially prevent such a person from acting on their impulses, is weakened by the widespread availability of pornography depicting such acts. Second, and this is something I’ve mentioned before in my posts on mainstream porn, there is no more powerful conditioning mechanism in the world than orgasm. What we pair with orgasm we are almost inexorably drawn to. I am not saying that such a pairing will always lead to action on the part of the viewer of these kinds of pornography, but it sure as fuck increases the likelihood. And, as much as I detest the obscene amounts of violence we are exposed to in our mainstream media on a daily basis, this is where the difference lies: sexual obsession abetted by the conditioning power of orgasm is much more likely to lead to illegal acts, and hence create harm in society, than the viewing of violent media, which carries no equivalent reinforcement mechanism.
You all know I think that mainstream porn has a negative influence on our society and our personal relationships, but I’m not now nor have I ever advocated that it be banned. All that would do would push it underground and make the already abominable conditions for the women involved in the industry even worse. But the difference between mainstream porn, as misogynistic and detrimental to the human spirit as it is, and the kinds of porn I’m discussing here, is that nothing ILLEGAL is being depicted in most mainstream porn (despite the fact that most porn could be called hate speech, there is no hate crime legislation protecting women). Again, although there are innumerable illegal violent acts depicted in mainstream media, these are not connected with orgasm and with sexual paraphilia, and are thus vastly less likely to lead to actual violent crimes. But the simulation of illegal acts, of the rape and mutilation and torture and murder of women and children, the viewing of which is likely to lead to actual sexual assaults on women and children, ought to meet all three of the standards of the definition of obscenity in all but the most depraved of individuals.
But don’t dismiss this as a lunatic fringe issue. As much of a niche (though growing) market as rape, torture, and simulated child porn is, the simulated rape and murder of women in video games (Grand Theft Auto, anyone?) seems to be the number one route to whopping sales these days. Does the simulated rape and murder of a prostitute in a video game appeal to prurient interests? It does if prurient “interest is an appeal to a morbid, degrading and unhealthy interest in sex, as distinguished from a mere candid interest in sex,” as the law defines “prurient interest.” Could we say that it “depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way”? I think so. Could we say that it “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”? Damn skippy.
So what’s the fucking problem?
*Thanks to the esquire for the conversation and some of the ideas that gave rise to this blog.