Fall 2002 (Vol. III, No. 3) Table of Contents
- Editor’s Notes
- the Interview: J. R. McWillians – ABooksearch.com
- Popshops Offers Merchants a New Deal
- The Interview: Andy Gutterman – MyOwnBookshop.com
- ChooseBooks.com Update
- Rhett Moran – BookAvenue
- Author Book Review: Debra L. Winegarten
- Author Book Review: Kevin Paglia
- Author Book Review: Jai Sen
- IOBA Q & A Column
- Frustrating Image Processing Roundtable
- Commonly Used Bookseller Abbreviations
- Book Fair Toolbox
- How an English Orphan Girl Became a Viscountess and Went to California
- Ephemeral Assays – The Word
- Internet Resources for Bibliographic Research: OCLC
- A Book and an Obsession – the Goldstone’s Out of the Flames
- The Dickens Reference Shelf. An Annotated List.
- 2002 Rocky Mountain Antiquarian Book Fair
- 2002 Colorado Book Seminar
- Michael Guessford – Oak Knoll Press
- Jack Allen, author of “Change of Heart”, “An Innocent Among them”
- Gary Kurtz, author of “Cold Noses at the Pearly Gate”
- Self-Interview: Sean O’Donoghue, U.K. Bookseller
- Adam Niswander, Author and Bookseller
- Ken Fermoyle, Author and Bookseller
- Marjorie Helms, author of “Not In Front of the Children”
- Anirvan Chatterjee and Charlie Hsu, BookFinder.com
- Elephant Skin
- Tom Sawyer, Creator of Record Manager, BookMaster, BookMate and now BookWriter
Congratulations on your award from the American Library Associations’ Intellectual Freedom Roundtable for your book “Not In Front Of The Children”. What is the purpose of the book?
The background is that I was a First Amendment lawyer for many years at the American Civil Liberties Union. By the mid-90’s it became clear to me that a lot of the censorship issues that we were confronting on a daily basis were premised on a widespread assumption (rarely analyzed or discussed in any depth) that we needed to have censorship to protect minors. Some people thought that any sexually explicit information in education, art, or any form of entertainment, was harmful to minors. Of course, those are very broad categories.
I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t seen any good resources exploring the history of this assumption or analyzing what it really meant and to what extent it was true, so I decided to take some time off and try to do a really thorough research job. And I wanted to produce a book that would be useful in what I anticipated would be ongoing debates about minors and censorship and free expression, especially with the internet and all the fears that surrounded the development of that new technology. As I was doing research, the topic grew from what had begun essentially as a legal history of how indecency to minors and censorship laws came into being into a much more thorough examination of cultural history and social science research on media violence.
One of the points you make in your book is that many of the arguments are based on the presumed innocence of children. You have mentioned in your book that in the past children weren’t always presumed innocent.
The innocence that you refer to is generally in a sexual sense. Children are ignorant for the most part of sexual facts but it’s not at all clear that they are innocent of sexual impulses. In fact the contrary is true; and I began to look into that particular notion. I found that even in the West, in Western Europe, the notion that children had to be protected from sexual information or coarse language because of their so-called sexual innocence, didn’t become a strongly held belief, an institutionally and socially-enforced belief, until about the late 17th century. Then what you see is the development of some rather appalling measures for controlling sexual practices, such as youthful masturbation. Then finally by the end of the 19th century, you begin to have obscenity and indecency controls to censor what might be considered erotically arousing literature, again ostensibly in the interests of protecting innocent children.
Throughout its history the Supreme Court seems to have used different standards in determining whether something should be censored or not. ‘Offends taste’ seems to be behind many of the decisions rather than an actual ‘does harm to children’ or ‘community standards’ idea. Could you talk about some of the different standards? What do you see prevailing right now?
This is the core of the book, tracing how these standards developed. As I mentioned, the first obscenity laws in England and America were premised on this notion of having to protect the so-called vulnerable child. Also, in the mid-19th century, this was extended to the supposedly weak-minded members of society such as women and the working classes. So it was very class-based as well as sexist, and what I suppose you could call ageist notion.
These first obscenity laws explicitly incorporated what was going to be criminally prosecutable and suppressible in the area of sexual artistry or expression: that which might deprave and corrupt a vulnerable mind. And that was in fact the obscenity standard for art and literature for the next hundred years.
Only gradually did judges in both England and America realize that this meant we were essentially reducing the availability of literature and art for the entire adult population to what was thought would not be too shocking to a kindergartner. Gradually the obscenity standard got narrowed, but meanwhile the politics of ‘harm to minors,’ the political rhetoric, and the strong feelings and anxieties that surrounded what was appropriate in terms of education, continued to be a very powerful political issue.
Other standards then came into play, which the book documents–hopefully in a fashion that is both interesting and readable, and at times humorousbecause it is humorous, especially when you get into the Federal Communications Commission and its Indecency Standard. That Standard focuses largely on the use of certain words that are considered vulgar, such as where the FCC punished a radio station for an interview with the rock guitarist Jerry Garcia because he used expletives. There are lots of other instances where literary readings, discussions among community members about Gay rights, and other subjects were considered taboo and were found to violate this Indecency Standard–which is very broad and wide-ranging and basically turns on whether a particular community considers something to be patently offensive.
There’s yet another standard, the harm to minors standard, which is sort of in between. It has a huge number of problems in terms of what age group we’re talking about, i.e., what is harmful to a17-year old is not the same as what might be considered inappropriate or harmfuland the words are not clearly distinguishedto a 10-year old. These standards are important now that we have the internet, which has generated a whole new round of extremely problematic censorship laws–basically driven by this widespread fear of kids encountering pornography on the internet. This is something that happens, and probably will continue to happen, as long as kids find sex to be an interesting subject.
We have had three internet censorship laws. The first used this very broad Indecency Standard, and was struck down by the Supreme Court; the second used the somewhat narrower Harmful to Minors Standard, and is currently under consideration; and the third is a standard which doesn’t use any standard at all. It delegates censorship responsibility to privately manufactured internet filters.
Can you briefly summarize what the issues are with the internet filters?
Filters are mechanical creations of private companies that by definition have to rely on mechanical means in large part in order to determine what should be blocked, because there are considerably more than a billion internet sites. The first major problem is that they essentially rely on key words and phrases, which has led to numerous examples of blocked sites that are not in any way sexual or otherwise problematic. My particular favorite example is the library at the University of Kansas, ‘Archie Barr Dykes Memorial Library.’ There are numerous other examples: ‘pussy willows,’ ‘at least 18,’ etc. Sometimes it’s a phrase, not a word. You’ll find those phrases on porn sites, but you’ll also find them on lots of other news, journalistic, etc., sites.
The companies say, ‘oh, we don’t use keywords any more. That was a problem with the very primitive first, generation internet filtering software.’ But of course they do. They call it artificial intelligence, but it amounts to keywords and phrases found in certain combinations, and if they are found frequently enough on certain pages, those pages are automatically blocked. These censorship devices vastly over-block in a way that’s mindless.
The second problem is that, to the extent they do have individuals reviewing content, they’re going to be doing it according to the particular moral, political and religious ideological attitudes of the filter manufacturers. These are private companies and it’s in fact been documented recently that a number of them have strong ties to the religious right, which sort of makes sense because that is a portion of the political spectrum that is very interested in censorship according to its own moral views.
So, for example, even when you get outside the area of sexual content, a lot of these filters have numerous categories, and you, or the schools, or the library, can decide which categories to activate. One example would be ‘Alternative Lifestyles’ or ‘Occult.’ In both of those there’s tremendous room for subjectivity in deciding what is ‘occult,’ and what is a form of religious expression that’s not mainstream. So you immediately have discrimination against non-mainstream religious beliefs. It’s the same with Alternative Lifestyles. Does it exclude all Gay and Lesbian sites?
And finally, the internet filters are produced by private companies. They are mainly interested in profit; they keep their particular technologies and, in many cases, their lists of blocked sites secret. When you have a law like the Children’s Internet Protection Act**, just passed at the end of 2000, and it mandates that all schools and libraries that receive forms of Federal financial assistance for internet access install these filters, then what congress has done is to order schools and libraries around the country to turn over their educational decision-making to these private, profit-making, secretive, companies.
Amazon.com seems to have a filter for books that we list, i.e., won’t let us list books with ‘Washita River’ in the title. That’s picking out words within the middle of a word and seems a totally unrefined kind of system.
It’s especially sad when a bookseller is going to adopt one of these filters.
In your writings you indicate censorship can be traced to Plato and his proscriptions. We know that he didn’t think poetry was of the gods, and essentially established a state of “wise” men to censor. Do you want to explain a little bit more? And also tell us the tradition on which you base the principle of freedom of expression.
I got interested in Plato both because I wanted to do a thorough job and because one of the important school censorship cases of in the late 90’s was based on his views. A lot of censorship of kids happens in the school environment and in litigation in that area. The courts have gotten more conservative in respecting the free expression rights of teachers and students. In one such case, a drama teacher was punished for teaching her advanced acting class a play that, like a lot of theater throughout history, dealt with some difficult scenes–in this case, divorce and homosexuality. Some community members complained, the teacher got punished, and a lawsuit got filed which rejected the teacher’s claim that her rights were in any way infringed by this punishment. The court, a very conservative Court of Appeals, quoted Plato’s Republic.
I start the book with a quote from Plato, which is, of course, an argument for a completely totalitarian society run bysometimes the translation is philosopher kings but the actual closer translation is ‘guards.’ They are to censor anything that is considered immoral or inappropriate, including tales of the gods and heroes because they often had sexual adventures. Plato’s Republic especially proscribes strict censorship for the young because they are considered to be very impressionable, and should not hear anything but virtuous thoughts.
That Platonic tradition of strict censorship and suspicion of art, expression and free thought– that view of art– is what we would call a reductive view of art. It is a view that doesn’t take into account ambiguity or irony, or the notion that different people process the same material in different ways.
It also doesn’t take into account the well-known cathartic function of art where you have something very violent represented and it does not, for the most part, cause someone to go imitate the art but instead seems to have a cathartic effect of purging angry and violent impulses. In this view, art has a releasing effect. Plato was not interested in any such complexities of subject matter; instead had a more straightforward reductive view, i.e., if you see something violent and you have an impressionable mind, you will become a violent person yourself. So there was that tradition which we still have with us in our very contemporary debates over media violence.
The countervailing tradition I trace to Aristotle who was, of course, a student of Plato. Aristotle first articulated the notion of catharsis as he observed it in audiences watching Greek tragic dramas. This is an idea that can also be traced through history, and Freud understood the cathartic process of dreams and play, children’s play. People today, in this area of politics and censoring youth, sometimes confuse fantasy and fantasy play with aggressive tendencies in real life. So you have these two conflicting views of how bardic expression impacts on people.
Those are reflected in the legal arguments over free expression and the First Amendment. Those who would oppose censorship even for young people, and would support more of an intellectual freedom approach, generally understand literature and art and information and expression not to have simplistically reductive effects, but to be processed by human beings in very individualistic ways.
With the internet, is there a move even now to have the standard be what is appropriate for children even though adults are using the internet?
Yes, that is in fact the inevitable effect of these internet censorship laws. In fact, the primary reason for the very first of them, the Communications Decency Act of ’96, incorporated this very broad FCC indecency standard to censorship of the entire internet. The primary reason that law was struck down, the Court said, was that it reduces the adult population of publishers and speakers and readers and viewers on the internet to what it considered only appropriate to children, and that clearly violates the First Amendment. That’s a well-established principle, although it wasn’t always.
The problem with the internet is that to some extent unmonitored content can be directed at kids. If you have a bookstore or video store and somebody who obviously looks young wants to rent a video from the adult section, the clerk at the store can ask for ID if they think the transaction might run afoul of the state harmful to minors law. But an adult would have access to that video. On the internet, there’s no clerk looking to see if you’re over or under 18. As the Act developed, it became obvious that any attempt to have an adult ID system to screen out minors from so-called ‘indecent content’ would be very expensive, very burdensome, and very problematic. This, combined with the fact the indecency standard was incredibly broad and nobody really knew what ‘patently offensive’ meant, was fatal to that first internet law. But the problem of not being able to identify who is a kid online plagues any effort to censor the internet. So this is a continuing problem.
The most recent of the internet censorship laws, which we’ve already talked about a little–the one that requires internet filters to be installed in schools and libraries (called the Children’s Internet Protection Act**, so who of course could vote against it)–doesn’t only apply to children. All computers in schools, even if they’re only computers used by staff and teachers, have to have filters. All computers in libraries have to have filters. So again this ‘harmful to minors’ rhetoric gets used and it’s really an open question. There are a lot of people who sincerely believe yes, minors have to be censored, they are impressionable. They may only disagree about what. There are a lot of others, however, who use the ‘harmful to minors’ rhetoric but what they are really after is censoring the entire community. And that is reflected in some of these very broad laws and proposals.
You seem to have suggested that the courts follow public opinion, at some times strong on censorship, at others, more for free expression.
Oh sure. I’ve practiced civil liberties law long enough to know that the courts are always responsive to public opinion. As Mr. Dewey said, “The Supreme Court Justices follow the headlines.” That’s not to say there isn’t some legal reasoning involved and that on occasion you may actually find a judge who sticks to principles. But particularly in areas like the First Amendment where there’s a constant balancing of societal interests, you can see quite clearly that the courts are responding to the social pressures.
What Supreme Court Justice has been the most helpful in clarifying and opening up First Amendment rights?
William Brennan. He was a Justice who really grew. He was responsive. He had basically liberal instincts but he was very much a product of his time and early on he was responsive to politics and society round him, as judges inevitably are. Brennan even though we think of him as a great champion of civil liberties and especially the First Amendmentwas in fact the architect not only of our obscenity laws but also the ‘harmful to minors’ law.
In 1957, the court decided two cases. The first was a case in which the court attempted to delineate the line between obscenity that could be punished/prosecuted/suppressed and other art and information and speech about sexual subjects. The case is Roth v. the United States, and Brennan wrote the opinion. There were hopes among publishers and writers and others who were free-expression friendly that the Court would find that the First Amendment did not permit obscenity laws. Brennan didn’t do that. He crafted a compromise that narrowly defined what would be considered obscene and therefore punishable. About 16-17 years later (and in the interim there had been a lot of obscenity cases), Brennan came to realize there was no way to define obscenity: that this dividing line was imaginary and it had to turn on notions that were so subjective and vague that they couldn’t put any writer or publisher on notice of what was really on the wrong side of the line.
But Brennan grew and evolved and changed his mind; and he started dissenting in obscenity cases. He said that free expression is more important, that obscenity laws are chilling, and there’s just no way to know what these terms like ‘prurient interest’ or ‘patently offensive’ mean. After Roth, Brennan crafted this standard that I’ve referred to as the ‘harmful to minors standard,’ which is basically a variant on obscenity because he was responding to the common societal presumption that it was appropriate to have censorship for kids on materials that could not be censored for adults. He acknowledged such terms in the case of Ginsberg v. New York, the prosecution of a poor candy store owner who had sold a couple of girlie magazines to a 16-year old boy. The prosecution was upheld on the theory that censorship of this constitutionally-protected and fairly mild material was inappropriate for youth. But in his decision, Brennan said there was no empirical basis to believe these magazines would be harmful to minors, although the court would accept the New York Legislature’s judgment: that certain materials would somehow impair the ethical and moral development of youth. He had bought into a kind of notion of moralistic censorship, not that it hurts youth, but that society has an interest in communicating a message of disapproval to youth. Brennan never explicitly rejected the reasoning of that case as he did reject in later years the reasoning of the Roth case.
The last case I’ll mention is the Pacifica case, the ‘seven dirty words case,’ in which the Supreme Court by a very narrow vote upheld the FCC’s authority to punish radio and TV broadcasters for anything they considered to be indecent. Brennan writes a very impassioned and powerful dissent saying that the Justices are simply imposing their own conservative moral views on a very diverse American public, and that not all parents in our pluralistic society believe that hearing four-letter words is going to be harmful to their kids.
One of the commentaries on Amazon.uk criticizes your book for not taking into account ‘the increasing intrusiveness of sexually explicit materials into homes.’ The idea of intrusiveness and invasiveness seems to have become a significant argument. The commentator wants to keep the intrusive “garbage” and “poison” out of his house.
The invasiveness argument comes from the Pacifica case where the Supreme Court went out on a very long limb and adopted the FCC’s argument that radio and television could be censored in a way that printed material such as books and magazines could not, because they were invasive and they came into the home uninvited. Which of course is silly because you don’t have to turn them on any more than you have to buy a book or a newspaper. That argument was again used in the Communications Decency Act case: that the internet comes into your home uninvited and therefore full First Amendment protection shouldn’t apply. The Supreme Court rejected that argument.
To move away from the legal to the practical for a moment, that critic is voicing what is an understandable and fairly common concern among parents: that there’s no way you can put your kid in a fishbowl and prevent them from being exposed to mass media culture. ‘Garbage,’ yes. ‘Poison,’ they’re not. They are products of the human mind and cannot be reduced to a sort of physical nuisance. They have to be treated differently because they are in the realm of art and ideas and expression, which isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of bad stuff out there.
So how we respond to the concerns about intellectual or cultural ‘garbage?’ I address this by talking about the essential ineffectiveness of censorship and the possibly greater effectiveness of non-censorial methods of educating or socializing youth into being able to make judgments on their own, and being able to reject what are bad messages in popular culture. One of the ways that is encouraged in the U.S. is through media literacy education. We all need to be more critical consumers of mass media and there are ways, starting in the early grades, to teach kids to understand that ads they see on TV can be understood as expressing a certain ideology, or certain messages, or reflecting certain stereotypes, and that they can’t just take them all as gospel truth. They have to be more critical in their viewing of culture. That’s a way of actually immunizing kids that is better than rating schemes, filters, and indecency laws.
Do you find any country that comes close to assuring the First Amendment freedoms that you are bringing forth?
We are the only ones with the First Amendment, although there are many countries with similar provisions, and even some international conventionslike the European Convention on Human Rights–which concludes basically that the censorship impulse is very powerful in all cultures and using kids as the focus for the taboos and anxieties of a certain culture, is very common. So that is common to all cultures, but what is very different is the actual subject matter that is thought to be dangerous, harmful, offensive and inappropriate. In many European cultures, sexual explicitness and sexual information are just not considered of grave concern. In fact, it’s thought that children should get early, explicit, sex education.
The basic conclusion is that what any particular culture considers harmful or inappropriate to kids is very much culture driven. And we know very littleobjectivelyabout what, if any, art information, entertainment, expression, is going to have a truly psychological harmful or traumatic effect. Probably those kinds of judgments are just too individualized, and it depends on the child’s particular upbringing, temperament and intellect in every case.
I guess the best answer is that most Western societies (and many other societies) at this point have some kind of free expression principle like the First Amendment in their legal system. But, as in America, how that’s played out how the courts and other institutions balance the free expression principle with other countervailing principles that are thought to be important– is driven by the particular culture. In the European Court of Human Rights on censorship, one famous case involved a sex education pamphlet that was developed in the 1960’s and was distributed all over Europe. In England it was called the Little Red School Book, and in England they decided that this had to be suppressed to protect children from unconventional ideas about sexuality. The case went all the way to the Court of Human Rights, which deferred to the judgment of the English establishment–that this had to be censored because, they said, you had to balance the free expression principle and the European Convention of Human Rights against the particular interests of the society in protecting youth. So it was a balancing that depended very much on cultural attitudes in particular countries.
Let’s talk for a minute about the relationship between reading something and actually acting it out on the streets, both in terms of adults and children violence, sex, taking a political position (putting a peace symbol on the flag), etc. Out of this complex of ideas it seems that Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon developed their ordinance.
In the mid 1980’s they became famous for propounding a new theory of censorship of sexual entertainment or expression that would be subordinating to women, and their theory was that exposure to this kind of expression would condition men to become rapists and very misogynistic, and associate sex with violence. They managed to get their ordinance passed in Indianapolis and it was challenged by the American Booksellers Association, and was struck down as a violation of the First Amendment.
Unlike obscenity laws, the MacKinnon/Dworkin ordinance did not have any protection for material that had serious educational or artistic or literary value. If it was subordinating to women, and had sexual content, it could be censored. The court said that was pretty clearly ‘viewpoint discrimination’ censoring material that, despite its value, censors might disagree with.
In Canada, the Canadian Supreme Court was persuaded to interpret the existing censorship law there as barring material that had this viewpoint of subordination in sexual relationships. One of the ironies of that decision was that the police and prosecutors and communities around the country, as well as the Customs Service in Canada, began to apply that through their own particular attitudes of what was subordinating. They targeted largely Gay and Lesbian and Feminist material, some of which had sexual content and some of which had very little sexual content. I think of one instance in which one author whose name had a Gay connotation but who wasn’t a Gay author, got held up in Customs. The Gay and Lesbian bookstore in Toronto was targeted, also.
It was a good illustration of what anti-censorship Feminists who opposed MacKinnon/Dworkin had been saying for a long time: that if you give the government the power to censor they are going to do it according to their prevailing ideology and not what you may have anticipated or looked for, and so it’s basically a bad idea.
In some of your earlier work you addressed issues that weren’t about freedom of expression. Can you tell us a little bit about “Strictly Ghetto Property”.
It was my first book, I was about 25, I was not a lawyer. It was about a political trial in San Francisco, involving six young Latin American activists who were charged with murdering a police officer. It became a cause celebre in the community. I was at that time a writer for alternative newspapers, and I started covering the case as it developed for some of these alternative newspapers. I eventually got asked by Ramparts Magazine, which just decided to start a little publishing house, to write a book about the case. “Strictly Ghetto Property” came out in ’75 and Ramparts Press shortly thereafter went out of business, so the book got lost. So it’s a bit of a collectors’ item and it’s an important little piece of San Francisco history. Every so often I get a call or an email from the activists in the Mission District of San Francisco who want the book as the basis for a film or a play–so it has a bit of an underground reputation. It actually doesn’t read too badly even after all these years.
“Cutting the Mustard”, what about that book?
“Cutting the Mustard” I wrote after I’d been in law practice for about five years and it was inspired by a case I litigated against Boston University. That case had some discrimination and free expression elements to it since it involved a woman who was fired from her position as Dean of Students at the School of Theology because the Dean of the school thought she was not adequately representing his political view on various sensitive issues like Affirmative Action. She had been involved in protesting along with students and other faculty a couple of hiring decisions, or refusals to hire, of a prominent Feminist scholar and a young Black scholar. The Boston School of Theology, it turns out, had a very rich tradition of social justice. For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. studied there. So the faculty was much more activist and liberal than the Dean who had been appointed by the President of BU, John Silber, who is well-known for very conservative views. It became a very interesting case study in academic politics with a strong dose of religious politics thrown in. I represented the fired Dean of Students in what was ultimately an unsuccessful lawsuit, relying on various theories under discrimination law including retaliating against somebody who protested what they thought were discriminatory decisionslike this failure to hire this feminist professor. We lost the case in front of a jury but there was so much interesting history involved in the case–the memos that went back and forth and the struggle for the soul of this schoolthat I got it out of my system by writing a book called “Cutting the Mustard”, about the case and the larger debate over affirmative action in universities.
And “Sex, Sin and Blasphemy”?
Well, to continue the biography. At the time I litigated the BU School of Theology case, I was a young lawyer at the Massachusetts Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and I remained there doing civil rights and civil liberties work for a number of years. Then in the early 90’s, I came to the national office of the ACLU in New York to start a project on art censorship. That was just around the time the National Endowment for the Arts became front page news because Jesse Helms and others were complaining that it had funded inappropriate art work by Robert Mappelthorpe and a number of other artists. In the late 80’s and early 90’s obscenity laws for the past 20 years at least had been generally understood as primarily directed against hard-core pornography. But in ’89 and ’90, obscenity laws started to be used by prosecutors in a couple of places to go after non-pornographythe famous prosecution of the Cincinnati Art Museum for exhibiting a retrospective show of Robert Mapplethorpe’s works, for example. They were prosecuted for obscenity and that was quite unusual. Rap groups and music stores were prosecuted under obscenity laws for rap music. All of this led to the creation of an Arts Censorship Project at the national office of the ACLU. About two years into that job, the New Press, which is a non-profit social justice-oriented small press in New York City and which had worked with ACLU people on a couple of books, asked me to do a little guide book on censorship issues. So “Sex, Sin and Blasphemy” came out in ’93 and the 2nd edition came out in ’98 with some updated material on the lawsuit against the National Endowment for the Arts–or rather challenging some censorship provision that Congress had forced down the throat of the National Endowment for the Arts–and some other updating. It’s really a guide book, unlike “Not in Front of the Children”, which is an attempt to be a more in-depth and scholarly investigation of a particular issue down through history. “Sex, Sin and Blasphemy” is certainly shorter and simpler, and has fewer footnotes.
Some have said that the difference between erotica and pornography is nothing more than a class difference, a coffee table book versus a mass market paperback. Any comments?
Actually I talk about this a little in “Sex, Sin and Blasphemy” where I say erotica is sexually arousing material that you like, and pornography is sexually arousing material that you disapprove of or find offensive. Both terms are very subjective; neither has any specific legal definition to it and pornography has certainly gotten a bad reputation if used in a pejorative sense more often than erotica. I don’t see any real distinction, and as you suggest it may very well be class-based.
What led you to become interested in First Amendment rights, and moving from writing for alternative newspapers to becoming an attorney for civil right, on to becoming an attorney for free expression?
I was a 60’s kid, I went to college in the 60’s, and became involved in the anti-Viet Nam War movement. I also was an English major and really loved literature and film, and had a passionate appreciation for books and literature and art. As the 60’s came to a close, it became clear that the movementthe New Lefthad deteriorated, had disintegrated, very fast. I became interested in the history of social reform and radical movements in the United States, and why they disappear so fast and do not leave much of a tradition or institutional memory. I began to do some reading, including reading on periods of political repression like the Hollywood blacklist and the McCarthy era, the ways in which professors, writers and artists were censored, and interestingly, the ways in which–until the political winds began to change a little bit–the Supreme Court was of very little use in protecting against these kinds of blacklists and witch hunts. That sort of aroused my interest in the First Amendment and the history of censorship and dissent in art. I went to law school and was lucky enough fairly early in my legal career to start working for the ACLU. So, when the censorship controversies started in the late 80’s and early 90’s, because I had a longstanding interest in art and literature, this seemed like a good fit. So I went down to the national ACLU and started this arts censorship project, and I’m not bored with it yet.
I left the ACLU in 98′ to write “Not in Front of the Children”. I had a grant, which helped me to do that. Then in 2000, I came to the National Coalition Against Censorship to start a little think-tank called the Free Expression Policy Project. It is housed here at the National Coalition, but it’s independent. We’re putting out policy reports and trying to find public policy solutions to some of these perennial censorship issues–solutions that would not involve censorshipmedia literacy education being one example.
To finish, then, with “Not in Front of the Children”. The cover of the book has a puckish, perhaps even mischievous sense about it. With the cherub-like figures sporting the sign “not in front of the children,” and the sexual background, it seems that there is a certain sense of humor being promoted with regard to a very serious issue. Who designed the cover? You? The publisher?
The publisher designed the cover. But the publisher sometimes asks the author for suggestions. In this case I had collected a number of reproductions of art wok that I particularly liked and, of course, in the history of Western and Eastern art sexuality, nudity, children and adolescents, are very common scenes. This Correggio painting is of Danae receiving the shower of gold from Zeus. Danae was a young adolescent girl and Zeus a very randy god who wants to have sex with her. So we decided to use it for the cover. There was a little difference of opinion over the bright yellow parental advisory stickers they wanted to put on it. Although I am all in favor of humor I was not sure that those bright yellow stickers didn’t communicate in some way a less than totally serious purpose. But in any event, a number of people have liked it and by now I’m quite used to it.
Let me thank you for taking us down this serious, even if sometimes humorous, introduction to the ideas behind censorship.
**In May of 2002, a Federal Appeals Court struck down portions of the Child’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that would have required libraries to use filters, saying the act violated First Amendment rights. The Justice Department expressed dissatisfaction with the decision but has not as of this date, appealed.
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