The Futility of Porn Enforcement

Oh geez, the buffoons are at it again. I thought we were done with this foolish business of trying to stamp out pornography. As if we needed more ways to squander the taxpayer’s money. We build bridges to nowhere. We waste hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq for a war based on lies. We give subsidies to oil companies, already enjoying record profits, so they maybe might find some new energy sources. We waste billions of dollars in largely futile attempts to interdict illegal drugs crossing our borders. The list is seemingly endless. Now we can add another item to this long list. Yes, the porn squad is back and it is going to (cough cough) keep us safe from pornography.

Okay, perhaps it is just a token effort meant to appease the tiny percentage of Americans affiliated with the so-called American “Family” Association. The Justice Department, as part of a top initiative by our new attorney general Alberto Gonzales, is hiring ten FBI agents to protect us consenting adults from the “evils” of pornography. That is perhaps a couple million or so dollars a year, just a tiny fraction of the money (a billion dollars, folks) that we, oops, let an Iraqi official steal from us. Therefore, perhaps in this case, money is not the issue. (I am old fashioned enough to think that a million dollars is still a heap of money.) The issue is more than the money; it is the futility of the endeavor and the rank hypocrisy of the whole thing that bugs me more.

If you think our guns are precious to Americans, try taking away our pornography. We are addicted to pornography, as we always have been. However, unlike alcoholism, drug addiction or some of society’s other addictions, this one is not one that cannot nor should be “cured”. We love pornography because it is natural for us to enjoy it. After all, pornography predates prostitution. Cavemen found ways to put pornographic images on cave walls. You can go back to the dawn of civilization and you will find pornography. Not convinced? Spend some time in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and you will find numerous examples, including ancient dildos. Or if you prefer, spend some time in New York’s Museum of Sex at Fifth Avenue and 27th Street. ($5 off admission if you visit their web site!)

Earth to the Justice Department: humans are sexual creatures. We have always been that way and we always will be that way. Sex creates new life and feels incredibly wonderful, so of course we are intensely interested in anything related to it, particularly words or images that enhance these feelings. Some of the pious among us might like to pretend otherwise, but we can no more stop being sexual creatures than we can give up breathing. Even children are sexual creatures. Many babies discover masturbation about the same time they learn to use their fingers. And why not? It feels good and they are too innocent to think anything that feels good must be bad. This is one of many behaviors that parents feel their children must unlearn. It just would not be right sending junior to day care and to have him seen playing with his penis.

Yet it is not just infants. It is all of us. Heck, it is even old folks. What are many people in the last stages of life doing in nursing homes? As long as they have fingers that work, many of them are masturbating. It brings pleasure and it brings relief in a place where it is in scant supply. I am a sexual creature. If, when I die, they find me dead with an erection, at least I was being true to my species. Heck, I hope if I make it to a nursing home and cannot care for my sexual needs, some nurse’s aide will remedy the situation. For me sexuality is like food and I am not quite a full human being when I am deprived of either.

When real life cannot or will not provide us with the sexual stimulation we need, pornography offers a convenient and safe means to help us scratch our natural itch. For some, fantasy alone is sufficient. However, most of us need something more concrete to latch onto. Pornography is preferred because it is more vivid than something we can make up ourselves. Typically, women prefer the written kind of pornography. It is unlikely though that this new porn squad will be going after erotic literature. So women like my wife, who writes slash, are likely safe. (She is hoping she will be arrested by the porn squad. So here’s your invitation, Alberto Gonzales. Just be careful. The female slash community is huge. Take it from me, you don’t want to mess with these women.)

Nope, the porn squad is likelier to go after the visual kind. Because apparently visually capturing explicit human sexuality must somehow be destroying America’s moral foundations. Put junior in front of the computer for five minutes and oh lordy, he might see a naked woman. Naturally, let us not think through the issue of why the picture of a naked woman is somehow unhealthy. If a parent is concerned, there are solutions, like supervision. We have laws that prosecute those who market pornography to children. However, pornographers are not marketing to children. If children are seeing pornography, it is because their parents are deliberately, tacitly or are inadvertently allowing them to. So okay FBI, go after any pornographers who are targeting children. Good luck in finding them though.

Clearly protecting families is not the FBI’s major focus. Rather, it is initially targeting “manufacturers and purveyors” of pornography, i.e. those who provide a product and market it for adults. They may find prosecuting such “crimes” difficult, given that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that consenting adults have the right to possess pornography. They will have to convince jurors in backwater states that the material meets standards nearly over thirty years old. They will have to go back to 1973 when in Miller vs. California the Supreme Court last set obscenity standards:

The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Of course, pornography has now become mostly electronic. Choosy consumers now prefer to consume pornography downloaded from the Internet. They have the perfectly reasonable expectation that in the privacy of their own homes, even in conservative communities, they can view all forms of pornography except the few that are specifically excluded by law, such as child pornography. The Internet has demonstrated, if nothing else, its resilience to regulation. Trying to regulate content on it is futile, and we are too dependent upon it now to do without it. (You would think though that we would at least be promoting the .xxx domain to help isolate pornography on the web, but we cannot seem to even do that. Perhaps this is because if we do, we are admitting that it is a problem that will never go away.)

Which means this effort is one that will simply spin its wheels until in 2008 when the next administration dumps it. It will have no effect on our consumption of pornography. It may put a few pornographers or distributors out of business, but the profits of pornography are even more alluring than its content. Others will doubtless pick up the slack. The good news for the FBI is that more and more Americans are becoming overweight. There are few things more effective at suppressing our sexual desires than adult diabetes. Because that is what this is really about. It is not about pornography, it is about being a small minority that is currently in power being uptight that they are intensely sexual and sensual creatures too. It is about trying to make everyone conform to their misguided ideas of how human beings should behave. It is so pointless. We will never, ever be that way. It is counterproductive and harmful to even try.

No wonder FBI agents are not rushing to join the porn squad. No wonder they think it is a waste of their time and resources, particularly when we are supposed to be fighting a war on terrorism. I am not surprised then that an administration that has repeatedly proven itself wholly detached from reality will also waste our tax dollars on this pointless and quixotic exercise.

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