Thursday, April 19, 2012

What is obscene?

A discussion with my Mass Communications Law professor got me thinking deeply about my personal beliefs and values.

We were studying landmark cases that involved journalism, communication and freedom of speech. Her main point about a particular case is that sometimes things aren’t seen as obscene and made illegal until they’ve been brought in front of a court of law. This also works in the opposite direction. Sometimes laws are unconstitutional and things are banned, but they need to be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States for the law to be thrown out.

One section of the class was focused on pornography and obscenity. Usually, these cases involved artwork or literature, but as we moved closer to the present day, they started to involve pornography. Books and pieces of art could be around for years before someone decided to challenge them as obscene. Magazines and movies could float around in the underground for quite a long time before someone gets arrested and charged with anything.

Technically speaking, for something to be declared as art, it needs to serve some productive purpose for society, and this can be a very tricky thing to prove. Additionally, as social norms evolve, something that is commonplace today could be seen as completely obscene in the past.

Her statement that caught my attention was, “Are there things being sold at the porn store on the edge of town that are obscene? Of course there are, they just haven’t been challenged in court yet.”
She knows I work at the store and will sometimes toss in references just to get my attention. This didn’t bother me, but her statement made me realize that I don’t think anything that isn’t hurting someone is obscene.

I’ve made peace with the fact that if I had been born in most other historical eras, I would most certainly be put to death. Lucky as I am to be living in our modern, open-minded era, I can honestly say that the only thing that offends me is when other people are offended.

I don’t think that ANYTHING is above criticism or satire. This goes for everything from government and public figures to religions and so-called profits. Obviously, you don’t want to be an asshole, but to be offended at a legitimate questioning of something you believe in shows insecurity. We still live in a world where people are threatened with death after offending someone’s religion, so there must be a lot of insecure people out there.

My feelings are similar towards porn. Yes there are valid arguments against exposing children to pornography and there are dangers of becoming obsessed with it because the lines of reality can start to blur, but we don’t ban alcohol simply because there are alcoholics.

Yesterday’s post about strange fetishes discussed how strange some peoples’ sex lives can be, but no one is forcing anyone to watch their personal life or their choice in porn. If gay porn grosses you out, don’t watch it. If gang-bangs creep you out, don’t participate in them and certainly don’t watch porn that features this sexual act. If you feel scat-play is disgusting, send the link to 2-Girls-One-Cup to your buddies, but don’t actually go to the website yourself.

I’m a little jaded and certainly desensitized, but the idea of calling something obscene and attempting to ban it seems pointless. Any media will be judged by the eye of the beholder and there is always going to be someone who hates everything. Leaving the decision up to politicians and judges does not strike me as a good idea. (Any decision they make will be the one that they think will look best to their constituents, not based on how they actually feel. Besides, they’ll be able to buy all the sick shit they want through the black-market anyway.)

I’ll post the question to you; Is there anything you consider obscene?

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  1. What I find obscene is people calling another American "Un-American." for expressing an opinion that doesn't agree with theirs.

  2. @Kevin: Agreed.


    @Jizz: " be offended at a legitimate questioning of something you believe in shows insecurity."

    So true, so true.

    As far as Supreme Court deciding if something obscene, those cloistered, out of touch old, elitist individuals are the last people who should judge anything based on societal norms. Which goes back to the issue of what was obscene 20, 30, 40 years ago may be perfectly acceptable in today's society.

    Good post.