If you’ve seen the movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt”, you know that Hustler magazine publisher and self-proclaimed scumbag Larry Flynt asked the question above while projecting images of naked female bodies alternating with bloody, mutilated corpses. He gave this provocative presentation after he had spent some time in jail. The city of Cincinnati/Ohio had him arrested on obscenity charges in 1977, the first of a long line of legal battles that took him all the way to the Supreme Court. His motivation? You’d think he just wanted to sell cheap porn, but there’s more to him; he fought for free speech and human rights: he’s a dyed-in-the-wool First Amendment activist and an outspoken critic of the Bush White House and its invasion of Iraq.
While I personally find pornography disgusting, I firmly believe that people should have the right to make their own choices. While I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with Flynt, I share some of his political convictions and opinions. When he says “Waving a cross and yelling the name of God or Jesus does not make a person moral. A person’s morality should be judged solely through his actions. Based on Bush’s actions, I’d say the President has no solid claim to moral values” (from his website), I couldn’t agree more. When he makes a connection between sexual repression and violence, between severe prudishness and aggression, I think he’s on to something.
I grew up in Europe, and the excessively puritan mentality of large portions of the American culture seemed amusing at first. However, the direct relationship of such a mentality to intolerance, dogmatism, and oppression is hardly a laughing matter. A look at the laws defining obscenity, for example, shows they’re deliberately vague and clearly influenced by conventional, tight-laced morality. A photograph showing a man and a woman having sex in the missionary position isn’t considered obscene and thus legal, whereas the picture of a homosexual couple engaged in intercourse IS. Why? A former Supreme Court judge, Potter Stewart, who was asked to define obscenity, stated that “…I know it when I see it . . .”
Why pictures of bodily nudity should potentially destroy a child’s soul for good while watching excessive violence on TV is deemed harmless has puzzled me for ages. I saw an episode of “24 Hours” when I was visiting a friend in San Francisco, and the graphic brutality almost had me throw up. This wasn’t at 11 pm when all the little children should be asleep, but at 8. Add to this the hysterical outrage triggered by Janet Jackson losing a piece of clothing at a Super Bowl game, and one experiences some serious dissociation.
Flynt clearly recognized the causal relationship between a”moral majority” mentality and shrinking civil liberties. On December 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Securing Adolescents From Exploitation Online Act (SAFE…, introduced partly by Senator John McCain) by 409 – 2. The Bill is now before the Senate. It would require anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection (such as individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels), email services like Gmail and Hotmail, social networking sites and internet service providers, to report and forward to a central agency “obscene” material which meets the Federal definition of child pornography.
Well, we do want our children to be safe, right? Sure, but the laws to protect children from predators are already in place. What this bill means is that you could be sitting in a coffee shop with Wi-Fi connection, looking at pictures of your recent trip to Brussels. Among them is an image of “Männeken Pis”, Brussels’ best-known attraction — a little bronze statue defying all decorum by peeing into a stone basin. Since a potentially obscene “visual representation” is a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting — I’m not kidding, please follow the link — the owner of the coffee shop may take offense and report you. Or, somebody else may report the coffee shop owner for NOT reporting you.
Two issues are cleverly conflated — if you oppose this bill, you must be a monster eating babies for dinner. Just as in 2003 anybody opposing the invasion of Iraq was seen as a subversive terrorist-supporter. If you love this country, you’ll prove it by giving up rights and liberties.
Oh, and about the movie — I just saw it for the first time a night ago, and it was excellent — even had a brief appearance of the real Larry Flynt. Woody Harrelson in the title role is predictably strong; I have yet to see a disappointing movie with him being in it. But who totally steals the show is Courtney Love as Flynt’s wife, Althea. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, but she portrays the descent from a lovely and strong partner to dependent drug addict to devastated AIDS victim with a polished adroitness that was truly impressive. Definitely worth watching.