Well I just finished watching a PBS doc called “American Porn”. It outlined a coming wave of anti-porn litigations south of the boarder. Words were tossed around like “obscenity” and “community standards”. I listened to a priest refer to various ISPs as pornographers and smut peddlers. I also saw some rather enterprising individuals playing to the documentary camera. It was obvious that they were trying to make a name for themselves by pretending that what they were doing was not acted and was in fact real. The talk centered on whether or not something should be done to stop these films from being made or distributed. Now I myself don’t think that in this day and age anyone can stop the flow of information over the internet. Porn is just another collection of ones and zeros just like music or websites are, so short of a total police state I don’t think we will see any changes anytime soon. But what worried me was the description by one prosecutor of exactly how he was going to try such a case. He was going to sit a jury down in front of a TV set and show them in unedited detail exactly what was being produced by some of these small-time filmmakers. The shock value alone would be tremendous and I doubt that if I was on a jury I would be brave enough to defend some of this stuff. We are not talking about acts that violate the letter of the law. These aren’t snuff films. But let’s just say that Larry Flint would shy away from this stuff. The test that the prosecutor was going to use was simply ‘is this too obscene?’ The problem that I have with that methodology is that a new soft boundary is being created. In the past I understood obscenity laws in a more simplistic way. X, Y and Z are illegal. If you put them in a video then you are breaking the law. This new wave of legal action threatens to create a new standard. Even if you don’t go anywhere near XYorZ, if your video is deemed to be too “obscene” by twelve members of the public then you have committed a crime. Rather than official censors viewing material and objectively applying an agreed set of standards the public is now the judge.
This might seem a rather silly topic but remember that this is a six billion dollar biz in the US alone. It also has repercussions for the film/game industry (which I currently am part of) so tack another ten billion onto the six. If this method of determining obscenity is applied to porn it could quickly take a sideways step into movie violence or even music lyrics. If you put twelve random people in front of a TV and showed them a scene from ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ I bet that you could have that also deemed obscene. Unlike porn, which can travel unimpeded over the internet, what appears on movie screens or on the radio can be tightly controlled.
How would you react if, as part of a jury, you were forced to view such a film?