Anti-porn activists — that familiar, yet still jarring coalition of women's studies professors and Bush administration vets — briefed interested members of congress on pornography and obscenity yesterday. Is this issue coming back to the agenda?
The current talking points appear to be enforcement of existing laws — in the Wild West of Internet porn, that is. The write-up on Mother Jones' website is problematic in tone, appearing to have checked much of any critical thinking at the door:
"They had come to alert Congress to websites like GagFactor.com, whose teasers alone are way more graphic than anything Hefner ever published, and whose content doesn't portend a spirited First Amendment defense.
It doesn't? Who says? Isn't this the exact nature of a First Amendment debate about speech versus obscenity?
A former Bush I Justice Department prosecutor implied the Obama administration has lagged on enforcement of existing laws. Other testimonials focused on children's ready access to pornographic materials and the rapid escalation of what is shocking online. "Porn is an industrial product," said one women's studies professor and the author of Pornland. "I cannot believe how brutal it has become so quickly."
She argued that porn was taking the place of sex education for boys:
Studies, she explained, have found that more than 40 percent of kids age 10 to 17 have checked out porn online, and many are checking out child porn, too. More compelling were her slides, used to illustrate just how easy it is to find porn simply by accident: Searching a generic term like "water sports" turns up a host of sites featuring pictures and videos of women getting peed on. Then there's the Boys.com/Boyz.com mix-up, which sends kids looking for a primer on teen fashion (the former) to a site offering an unfiltered view of graphic anal sex (the latter). According to Hughes, research suggests that the age of first exposure to this sort of visual is 11.
Isn't this what good parent-oriented filters were made for? In any case, none of this makes a particularly compelling argument for why the federal government should be involved in curtailing speech, rather than parents teaching their children healthy approaches to their sexuality.
There was also an ex-porn star, Shelly Lubben:
Lubben described how her porn career left her with incurable herpes, papilloma virus, and ultimately cervical cancer. She is anemic, she added, due to hemorrhaging from reproductive injuries sustained during filming. "The last thing I want to do, people, is talk about porn," she said, dabbing her eyes with tissues. "I have been hit, spit on, penetrated in every orifice imaginable." She also worked for a while as a prostitute: "At least with prostitution, you get a dinner sometimes." Her story had the kid sitting next to me weeping.
The trouble with these sorts of coalitions is how many issues they blur and cobble together — keeping children away from what is deemed obscene, protecting sex worker's health and rights (which is not the same as being against pornography), and critiquing of the coarsening of sexuality in pop culture due to the ready access to porn, among many other factors. Each one stems from very different value systems, from feminism to a version of Christian morality, and is important to discuss, but a sweeping federal crackdown doesn't seem like much of a dialogue. Or, apparently, very likely.