May 02, 2004


Jonathan A. Knee, director of the media program at Columbia Business School, has written an editorial at NYT. I think he starts from a good premise, one I would wholeheartedly agree with. Then he goes in the wrong direction, fast.

First, the premise: "The Federal Communications Commission's well-publicized post-Super Bowl campaign against broadcaster "indecency" is misplaced, if not downright comical.... It's time to consider a more radical approach to censoring pornography."

Good. I agree. Sex sells. The networks may claim not to want to display it (which I think is a bit of a say-one-thing-and-do-another situation), but financially, it's too tempting. They'll skirt the line as often as possible: if they get punished, they'll apologize and do it again in a month. If they get away with it, the line has moved, to be re-challenged another day. So yeah, the FCC's campaign seems silly and problematic. And therefore, we need a new plan. I'm with you up to here, John!

Mr. Knee cites the problems with the current law: butting up against the cherished first amendment, the long and doubtful process of case-by-case judicial review, and finally: " ...the problem isn't only what minors see. With 70 percent of men aged 18 to 34 visiting a pornographic Web site at least once a month, this material affects everyone." His conclusion: outlaw the practice of paying people for sex acts.

I have a better proposal, one that respects the views of everybody: let's eliminate indecency laws.

John's proposal works against capitalism, the only thing America values more than democracy and freedom. Mine aids capitalism! His proposal inhibits liberty: mine expands it. His proposal gets rid of the problem of case-by-case judicial review of what constitutes pornography: so does mine. However, his introduces a whole new, much much thornier case-by-case judicial problem: what's a "sex act?"

Holy shit! You've gotta be kidding...Clinton's out of office for three years and already we've forgotten how complex this issue is?! For the sake of argument, let's make the assumption that oral sex is a sex act. What about digital stimulation? What about mutual masturbation? What about touching without the intent to stimulate? Do breasts count? What about the posterior? If Donovan McNabb throws a touchdown pass, and a fellow player, being paid to play in the game, gives him a congratulatory ass-pat, does that player go to jail? Does McNabb? What about kissing on the lips? What about kissing on the cheek? What about a foot massage? Does it matter if you have a foot fetish? What if you're paid to appear in a movie scene where you ejaculate on a photograph of John Ashcroft? Stripping? Lapdance? Bending over and revealing cleavage? What if you whack off at work?

Yeah, Mr. Knee, your proposal really gets around that judicial review problem. Nicely done. Remind me to leave the country if you ever attain a federal judicial position.

But Chris, you say, the airwaves are federal property! The Supreme Court has ruled that the FCC may govern content transmitted over them. Sure, they may, according to that ruling, which (to my untrained legal mind) relies on a rather tenuous interpretation of law and precedent. But even granting that, the ruling doesn't say the FCC MUST do so. Nowhere does it say "obscenity MUST be prevented," it only says "obscenity CAN be prevented." And frankly, I see more benefit in allowing it than attempting to prohibit it. We save money and manpower. We have more liberty. We eliminate a precedent of state-controlled information. And there's another capitalist benefit.

What if we let the states take back legal control of transmitted content? Use that 10th amendment! "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." More regional control! Let Utah require women to wear long pants and face veils! Let Nevada air hardcore group sex all day long on the childrens' channel! Then there will be a market for TVs with real decency controls, the way there's a developing market for programs and even hardware that prevent children from accessing pornography. But don't force people to buy these products (you right-wing commies! :D): let the market forces prevail. Let advocacy groups attempt to change thought and behavior. Don't rely on laws to do it.

I've only thought about this for about as long as it took me to write this entry. I may be wrong. Feel free to tell me so.

Posted by Chris at May 2, 2004 02:54 PM | TrackBack

Citing the Constitution! The 10th is one of my favorites too. I would certainly obviously agree that indecency laws ought to be abolished. The Federal Government only owns the airwaves because it says it does and nobody challenges it. The Supreme Court can be, and for some reason often is, wrong.
That guys proposal is lame lame lame. You point out one obvious flaw...the subjectivity of sexuality. It's meddling where law shouldn't be in the first place and it's a foot in the door for even worse laws. The most remarkable thing to me is that he, somehow, feels that this was a good idea and endorsed it using his own name.

Posted by: Dana at May 2, 2004 04:16 PM

As Mickey said when I commented on this: "We live in a society founded by Puritans, and we're always going to show it."

I absolutely agree with you that the level of restriction on something so subjective as "indecency" that is occuring is absolutely absurd, and that we should drop the bullshit. It's something of a pipe-dream at the moment though... Neo-cons are currently in control :/.

Posted by: Nabil at May 2, 2004 06:26 PM
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