Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blogger Redeems Itself

In light of the recent news that Google is acknowledging their serious misstep in attempting to crack down on sexually-oriented speech, and is rescinding their previous decision to censor relevant blogs on their Blogger platform (of which you are currently reading one), I figure it's as good a time as any to celebrate in the way that we erotophiles do best - through the sharing of pornography! I, of course, will remain cautious, as every freedom we have today is at risk of being taken away from us tomorrow. But for the time being, Google is saying porn is still ok on Blogger, and you can bet I'll toast to that.

In the 1973 case Miller v. California, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in what is now known as the "Miller test" for obscenity, that sexually-oriented speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (the one that guarantees, unconditionally, the freedom of speech) only if it contains socially redeeming value, described as serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Despite the very concept of obscenity being unequivocally unconstitutional (and doubly so, since it's largely inspired and defended by religious interests, which is forbidden by a different part of the First Amendment), this rule still, to this day, reflects the law of the land.

In its now aborted decision to crack down on blogs featuring "sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video", Google followed in the misguided footsteps of those judges, vowing to make exceptions only for "nudity presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or where there are other substantial benefits to the public." The only kind of speech that requires suitable justification for conditional First Amendment protection is that which involves a "prurient" (i.e., inclined toward sex) interest. This is in actual violation of the First Amendment, which is supposed to circumvent having anyone make a value judgment before determining whether an article of speech is deserving of protection. That goes against the whole principle of free speech.

And why is sex singled out? Obviously, it is a uniquely sensitive topic, on a cultural scale. But why should this be the case? I suspect that pious religious devotion has a lot to do with it, as the most powerful and influential church in the United States (the Christian church, or rather, churches), is based upon the principle that God is a perfectly sexless being (although still male, because patriarchy), who manifested himself in human form by being born to a virgin mother, and that considers chastity a heavenly virtue (rather than an inhumane burden), its opposite a grievous, deadly sin. What of the alternative, pagan religions, who believe in sexual divinity, and practice ritual sexual intercourse?

Free speech is supposed to guarantee that opposing viewpoints have equal footing in the marketplace of ideas, but a prophet advertising divine sex will have a much harder time getting his voice heard over the din of ordained priests preaching the virtue of chastity (while hypocritically practicing something else entirely in the privacy of their own altars). It's one thing if the one idea is just less popular than the other, but because the government has chosen to get involved, the "smut peddler" could wind up in jail while the evangelist earns tax breaks and receives direct representation in Congress. This is exactly what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

In essence, the Miller test is a slap in the face, and doesn't deserve to be honored. But say we were being particularly accommodating one day. Even were it reasonable to expect sexually-oriented speech to be held to a higher standard than any other speech (as anyone believes who has ever complained that a sex scene in a movie wasn't "necessary") - and it's not - but even if it were, the way we treat sexual speech betrays an enormous prejudice against it. Even taking the Miller test into account, people are extremely reluctant to award anything remotely resembling "pornography" with the legitimacy of "socially redeeming value". Get a trained artist to depict sexual intercourse with technical perfection, and people will still label it "smut", because they simply can't see past the sex.

Contrary to this bull-headed view, I've long been of the opinion that sexual speech (even the "pornographic" variety) is a lot more socially valuable than we usually give it credit for. Considering the dire state of sexual knowledge and education in the modern world, I can't believe we don't recognize that any and all depictions and discussions of sex can only help to improve our understanding of human sexuality (and even to the extent that porn is an unrealistic fantasy, it still teaches us about human sexual imagination). Not every piece of pornography is artistic, but most if not all of them can be considered educational, or even scientific, given the right perspective.

What does a dull diagram in your health textbook teach you that you can't learn from watching two people have sex? More importantly, what is that textbook diagram not teaching you? Particularly about pleasure? And is that kind of ignorance really so valuable that it warrants government sanction? Perhaps most importantly of all, who gets to make that decision for you? Plus, given all the heated debate about depictions of human sexuality, and especially considering my discussion of the First Amendment above, it seems to me that any and every piece of pornography has enormous political value. And as a bonus, how many political scandals have you heard of involve sex in some way?

Porn is simply the expression of a perspective that the United States government doesn't want you to be exposed to (mostly because it offends the wealthy and powerful benefactors who keep the machinery of the state well oiled). How, then, is suppressing that speech anything other than hugely undermining to the very principles that this free country was built on? There's no question that pornography contains a whole lot of value. The issue is whether that value is something that benefits society or, on the other hand, contributes to its moral decay. And that determination is, conveniently, governed largely by the opinions of moral conservatives.

I think I've said enough. Now it's time for pictures. I'm in the midst of a project that I'll be presenting here on this blog within the next few days that I hope will demonstrate just what kind of value "sexually explicit or graphic nude images" can hold. Stay tuned.

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