April 14, 2004
Previewing the coming War on Naughty Pictures

"As the judge remarked the day that he acquitted my Aunt Hortense
To be smut it must be ut-terly
Without redeeming social importance" -- Tom Lehrer

Eugene Volokh takes a look at John Ashcroft's forthcoming War on Smut and projects three possible outcomes, none of which I find to be particularly appealing or a good use of scarce resources. I suppose it is nice to know that the War on Terror is going so swimmingly that we can afford to divert so much time and people power into this effort, though. Via The Agitator.

By the way, if for some odd reason you're not immediately familiar with the Tom Lehrer song whose lyrics I quoted above, well, shame on you. Much as I love the song, his intro to it (this came from a live album) is pretty spot-on:

I do have a cause though. It is obscenity. I'm for it. Unfortunately, the civil liberties types who are fighting this issue have to fight it owing to the nature of the laws as a matter of freedom of speech and stifling of free expression and so on, but we know what's really involved: dirty books are fun. That's all there is to it. But you can't get up in a court and say that I suppose. It's simply a matter of freedom of pleasure, a right which is not guaranteed by the Constitution, unfortunately. Anyway, since people seem to be marching for their causes these days I have here a march for mine.

Amen. Unfortunately, I don't know that he'd be cheering for the Supreme Court if he were to write that song today.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 14, 2004 to Legal matters | TrackBack

As a person that can find sexual content in an old Three Musketeers commercial (which would you rather have, a flat bar or a rich, full Three Musketeers bar - think about it), I take Oliver Wendell Holmes' view of obscenity: I don't know what it is, but I'll know it when I see it.

Ah, smut!
Give me smut and nothing but!

Posted by: William Hughes on April 14, 2004 9:13 AM

Actually, as I think about it, I think the domestic "wars" going on can be traced to a common theme:

The "war" on anything perceived as not being "good for children."

The War on (some) Drugs. The War on Smut. The War on Junk Food. The list goes on and on. It's almost always sold to the public by talking about how it affects children.

I'm all for reasonable protections for children, but I'm also for more parental responsibility and less societal responsibility. These days, it seems like all of society has to have some of its Constitutional freedoms and implicit civil liberties reduced or taken away just to make things "safer" and "more sanitary" for the kiddies. I think there are a lot of parents who are too tired, lazy or both to do what it takes to safeguard their own kids, and as a result they want all of society to be responsible for them.

Posted by: Tim on April 14, 2004 9:14 AM

"I don't know what it is, but I'll know it when I see it." - attrib. Holmes by Hughes

I believe that was Justice Potter Stewart, wasn't it? Not that I've looked it up, mind you; I'm too busy reading through my "Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer" book, flailing away at the old digital piano...

Posted by: Steve Bates on April 14, 2004 2:26 PM

OK, here it is, from an article on FindLaw:

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . "[1]

Posted by: Steve Bates on April 14, 2004 2:30 PM

Thanks for the correction Steve.

Posted by: William Hughes on April 14, 2004 2:46 PM