Morality In Media (MIM) has just released its latest newsletter (Vol. 45, No. 4), and it leads off with a reprint of an article its president, Robert Peters, wrote for the website of Ted Baehr's theocrat movie-review magazine Movie Guide: "Availability of Pornography Should Not Be Confused With Community Acceptance."
We're pretty sure Rev. Peters is not an attorney, but since he quotes, later in the newsletter, the U.S. Supreme Court's criteria for what constitutes "obscenity," he probably knows that the legal community often uses words that have specific meanings under the law. Hence, Peters' attempts to deceive his audience begins with his use of the term "community acceptance" in the title of his article.
As anyone who's dealt with obscenity law knows, "community acceptance" is not one of the criteria used for judging whether a particular work is obscene. The term used in the third "prong" of the Supreme Court's three-part "Miller test" for obscenity is "community standards" – a far different concept than "community acceptance."
Peters derives his ideas of "community acceptance" – assuming they weren't based on his preconceived notion that "God is not 'on the side' of individuals who exploit and debase sex for crass commercial purposes," as he writes at the beginning of his article – from a pair of polls: A Canadian one which asked whether Canadians considered "pornographic films" to be "immoral," and another one commissioned by MIM itself and conducted by Harris Interactive in the U.S., which asked whether those polled considered it to be "morally acceptable" to view "pornographic websites and videos."
However, Peters should know that, according to one of his fellow conservatives, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "morality" is no longer a proper basis (if in fact it ever was) for federal law.
"It seems to me that the 'societal reliance' on the principles confirmed in Bowers [v. Hardwick, the seminal anti-homosexual ruling] and discarded today has been overwhelming," wrote Scalia in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas. "Countless judicial decisions and legislative enactments have relied on the ancient proposition that a governing majority's belief that certain sexual behavior is 'immoral and unacceptable' constitutes a rational basis for regulation... State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers' validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today's decision." [Emphasis added]
But beyond the question of whether laws should reflect Peters' (or anyone's) ideas of what's "moral," there's the problem of polling data in general.
"Anti-porn groups report that people want obscenity laws enforced," writes Dr. Marty Klein in his vital new book, America's War On Sex. "Then 50 million Americans look at porn, and hotel room porn skyrockets when anti-porn groups come to town. Perhaps these surveys are indicating something different than anti-sex groups think. They're actually proof that 1) People tell surveys what they think the desirable answer is, and 2) People say one thing and do another. Social psychologists have known the first for over fifty years, and everybody has known the second for about fifty thousand years."
And that's the community standard! The most recent statistics, published late last year in AVN, indicate that 957 million adult tapes and disks were rented in 2005 – and as some are fond of noting, "It's not just one guy renting all that stuff." In fact, it's millions of people renting all that stuff – even if they actually don't consider such material to be "morally acceptable."
So when Peters claims that, "Those who defend pornography, whether in court or in the court of public opinion, point to the proliferation of this sordid material as 'proof' either that everyone is viewing it or that people no longer deem pornography unacceptable," he doesn't know how correct he is.
Of course, Peters has "reasons" why his statement isn't correct, including:
"First, much if not most pornography is consumed by a relatively small percentage of males who are hooked on it."
Wrong: While no reliable figures are available as to just how many Americans regularly view porn, the fact that $4.28 billion was spent to buy and rent videos and DVDs last year, another $2.5 billion was spent on adult Internet access, plus hundreds of millions more on adult cable and video-on-demand, certainly makes it clear that it isn't just "a relatively small percentage of males" who are enjoying it – and apparently, according to Peters, no women enjoy porn, which may come as a surprise to the 23% of adult store customers (and an uncountable number of Internet surfers) who are female.
Peters: "Second, just because a person, whether out of curiosity or at a weak moment or for a period of time, views pornography does not mean he has become a devotee of it. This is especially true when Internet pornographers use aggressive and unscrupulous means to bring people to their websites, including porn spam, using innocent sounding domain names and common misspellings of websites, buying up expired domain names, manipulating search engine results, and 'mouse trapping'."
Surely Peters knows that in the U.S., most of the "aggressive and unscrupulous means" adult businesspeople allegedly use to "bring people to their websites" are currently illegal, thanks to laws he and his cronies helped draft. Moreover, the vast majority of adult webmasters have long given up the "bait and switch" tactics to bring in subscribers that resulted in massive chargebacks and credit account cancellations of a few years ago. And finally, the steady growth shown in both retail adult sales and unique visits to adult websites puts the lie to the idea that adult fare doesn't have more than its share of "devotees."
Also, despite widespread claims by pro-censorship groups of legions of "porn addicts," in fact, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – what the uneducated claim as "porn addiction" – affects only a small percentage of the population, and the syndrome may manifest itself as a neurotic interest in any number of activities, from viewing sexually explicit material to hand-washing (one of Howard Hughes' problems) to praying.
Peters: "Third, even among long-term users, not all approve of their own behavior. Many addicts hate what they do."
Treatments for OCD are available, but that's beside the point. As Dr. Klein points out, "Public policy generated by the fear of a handful of crazies is never sensible, and isn't the norm in American life. We don't limit food distribution because of bulimics; we don't limit car distribution because of terrible drivers; we don't limit lotteries or casinos because of compulsive gamblers." The answer is, if you genuinely hate what you're doing but continue, compulsively, to do it anyway, seek treatment! OCD isn't a crime, it's a sickness.
Peters: "And fourth, the primary reason that we have so much pornography today is because federal and state obscenity laws have not been vigorously enforced."
No, the "primary reason that we have so much pornography today" is because adults want it. Federal and state obscenity laws are merely the reason that we don't have more of it today!
Y'see, anti-adult crusaders like Robert Peters and his acolytes are simply sick ... and Dr. Klein has their number:
"That's a big problem for them – they see sex everywhere," Klein writes in America's War On Sex, referring to the broadcast "indecency" that also riles up Peters and his crowd. "Where you might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about penis size, crusaders feel assaulted. Where you might ignore a tampon or douche commercial, they feel assaulted. Where you might be turned off (or intrigued) by an "Oprah" episode about teen hookers, they feel assaulted. That's a lot of assault. If you're not obsessed with sex, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casually observe "dumb joke health product social problem (exaggerated or not)." They perceive "sex sex sex." And for them, it never stops; people obsessed with sex they resent never have a nice day."
So of course, Peters' solution is to complain, complain, complain – to Congress; to the FCC; to local, state and federal prosecutors; to anyone who'll listen. And make no mistake: They see "pornography" as a world-shattering problem.
"I do not say the war against pornography will be won easily," Peters avers towards the end of his piece. "I do think there is still time to reverse the floodtide of obscenity pouring into our nation's communities and homes; but at the rate our youth are following in the path of the Destroyer, it's hard to know how much longer we have!"
Indeed, that's how the neurotic look at sexually explicit content: They demonize it – "the Destroyer." But sanity is what's called for, and Dr. Klein provides it in his book.
"Seeing sex everywhere – and hating it – explains censors' desperate grab for power, and their desperate demand for action now," Klein writes. "But asking these people about a 'community standard' regarding sexuality is like asking an anorexic to evaluate a movie for its possible connection to food or eating – which they'd see in every frame."
"When the government or crusaders refer to a 'community standard'," Klein continues, "should it be the standard of people who see sex everywhere, or of healthier people who have a less obsessive perspective? We must acknowledge that for people who see sex everywhere, cleansing the environment so that they see none is virtually impossible. They will never be satisfied."
And we know this as surely as we know that there will be a Vol. 45, No. 5 of the Morality In Media Newsletter.