I’ve read enough political punditry to see there’s an anti-intellectual epidemic in our government. Elected lawmakers have been drafting and passing legislation without consulting the world, but consulting only their perception of it, influenced, in no small part, by their given religious, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds.
It’s not to say our legislatures lack massive research departments meant to curtail undue subjectivity. Indeed, there are teams of staffers and reams of statistical analyses ready at their calls. But I get a grey hair whenever I hear a judge say anything to the effect of “I’m an X. I believe A, B, and C, and I’ll judge accordingly.”
Take the case of Miller v. California, heard at the Supreme Court in 1973. In a 5-4 decision, the Court redefined how it defined obscenity. It previously defined obscene material as that which is “utterly without any socially redeeming value” to that which lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” In effect, the decision gives far greater leeway to local authorities to regulate any and all expressions they deem “obscene”. Think of the implications. On the one hand, it can be plausibly argued that a part of what it is to be a community is to have a shared standard of decency. I mean, doesn’t it seem strange to wish for a divided community? On the other hand, who can decide what’s “obscene”? Are nude sculptures obscene? Certainly not. Nudes are expressions of the ideal physicality, drawing their inspiration from the Greeks and their ideas about what art should be: a quest for universal truth in ‘perfection’. Can we agree BDSM is obscene? I know I can’t. While some call bondage and sadism ‘demeaning’ and outright violent, who cares? If the two (or more) adults have consented to perform such acts, what business does the law have in deciding who can or cannot watch them?
I won’t delve deeply into the legal jargon, but the Miller case produced what is called the “Miller Test”. It is a three-pronged method of legally determining what material is or is not obscene.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been formally educated in feminist theory. But I like to think I know enough about civil liberties to understand the manifest insanity behind any attempt to define “obscene materials.” Can pornography not be considered a form of performance art? The men and women who perform in pornographic films are indeed doing just that: performing. They are compensated for services rendered. Their talent agents behave similar to labor unions in that they exist to advocate for their clients for silly things like, I don’t know, adequate pay, making sure their partners are sexually healthy and free of any potential transmissible diseases, etc.
What about a man or woman who decides to model in the nude? It seems ridiculous to me that even if 51% of the citizens in that community vote to ban nude modeling, that it should indeed be banned. The great part about artistic expression is that if you don’t want to look at it, you don’t have to (graffiti notwithstanding).
This is exactly the sort of anti-intellectualism I brought up at the beginning of this piece. It takes a cultured, trained mind to differentiate between material which seeks only to demean and subvert the self-esteem of others (taping schoolyard fights; t-shirts with hateful slogans on them), and material which expresses a person’s feelings about the world and what they find in it. It is easy to say “my virgin eyes don’t take too kindly to naked women”. Much more difficult to stomach, but far more intellectually and culturally rewarding, is the idea that someone can express themselves in a way that brings them happiness without fear of marginalization or unjust legal ramifications.