Friday, May 14, 2010

Censorship article I wrote nearly two years ago.

Q: What is the answer to speech you don't like? A: Always more speech.

The history of censorship spans as far back as 3400 B.C, when the Ancient Egyptians created a strict rubric for what could be considered "permissible" artwork. This form of censorship unfortunately did not end with the Egyptians; it lives on with the same pervasiveness as the image of Tutankhamen.
Under U.S law, images of any kind are considered to be forms of speech. To those readers who believe in the idea of oppressing people for their own safety, reflect upon this question: whom are you protecting by banning speech?
Legal systems inherently fail at legislating ideas; it is impossible for a law to change the way people think. This is precisely the reason why obscenity laws fail to promote the social harmony they claim to strive for. By preventing actions through legislation, harmless outlets for reckless desires are removed and negative impulses remain.
The most prolific target of the moral "utopians" is pornography. The very word pornography produces in some people the kind of visceral reaction that can only be equated to chronic gastritis. Even today, if Americans were given the choice to broadcast gratuitous violence or erotic sex, it is the violence that is often opted for. What is it about the image, or the very idea of sex between two consenting adults that makes it patently more obscene than a slasher movie?
Anti-pornography activists somehow equate sex with pornography and maintain that both have infiltrated all aspects of American culture and have led to the decomposition of marriage, love and "traditional moral values." The most widely held belief among these groups is that pornography results in the encouragement of rape, pedophilia and other sexual crimes. This statement is rooted in untruth. In reality, the increased availability of pornography, particularly Internet pornography, has led to a decrease in sex crimes.
According to Slate, a 10 percent increase in Internet access produces an approximately 7.3 percent decrease in rape. The largest declines came from states where Internet usage was most widespread. Todd Kendall, professor at Clemson University, affirms that the effects of Net access remain unchanged even after accounting for the obvious variables such as population density, alcohol consumption and unemployment rates. Futhermore, the study concluded that Net access did not produce a similar impact on other violent crimes, including homicide. It is therefore not difficult to suppose that access to pornography has created a victimless outlet against rape.
While adult pornography seems easier to stomach, child pornography seems to be a universal taboo. In 1996, the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) was passed, making the creation or possession of child pornography illegal, even when the images were computer generated and in actuality made without the participation of real children.
The CPPA was struck down in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) for being "unconstitutionally vague." The CPPA prohibited any sexually explicit material that "appears to be" or "conveys the impression of" involvement of a minor. This is an obvious problem. If images are "virtual" child pornography, then there is no child victim. The government made the argument that the images could be used to lure real children, but as was stated in the court's majority opinion, the same can be said about a seemingly innocent device such as candy, and it would be absurd to propose this be banned. It is obvious that anything can be taken and used in a malicious manner, but this is not enough to call for a full-out ban.
The ruling in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition raises the question, what constitutes child pornography? Is it enough that a naked child appears in the image? If so, then the majority of parents in this country ought to be arrested for possession of sexually perverse family photo albums, but no one wants to claim that mom, dad, grandpa and grandma are dirty smut peddlers. What about a sexualized image of a child? If so, say bye-bye to those filthy children's beauty pageants. The point is that "child porn" is so loosely defined that even the most innocuous picture of a 4 month old's bare bottom in a bathtub would be considered the pinnacle of depravity if put in a different context.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence that shows that the availability of child pornography increases the likelihood of crimes against children. In Japan, lolicon (portmanteau of "Lolita complex"), a genre of Japanese cartoon comics where childlike girls are represented in a sexually suggestive manner, is readily available, as is graphic and violent pornography. Milton Diamond, professor of anatomy and reproductive biology at the University of Hawaii, and Ayako Uchiyama of the National Research Institute of Police Science, conducted a study published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry which concluded that the increased availability of this material has led to decreases in sexual crimes in Japan. They further conclude that the decrease has been so dramatic that Japan has the lowest levels of reported rape and the highest levels of arrests and convictions of any developed nation in the world.
Of course, sexual images of the rape or sexual assault of a child are deplorable, but its illegality stretches only as far as does the illegality of adult rape. It is the very act of rape that makes whatever medium associated with it intrinsically bad.
Should we be focusing our money and law enforcement on cracking down on those who enjoy reruns of Full House for reasons other than the comedy, or should we focus instead on actual child predators?
I am in no way condoning child pornography, but if the ultimate intent is to eradicate it, the restriction of speech will not get us there. So long as there is an appetite for it, images will appear, and it is much more comforting to know that someone is spending their paycheck downloading simulated child pornography than roaming the streets for actual children to abduct and rape.
Finally, what about the obvious objection that materials of this nature are obscene and thus do not constitute protected speech? As Mark Neunder, professor of philosophy at Miami Dade College, states, "No one has the right not to be offended. If people did, then virtually everything could be censored. But since obscenity is defined in terms of what is offensive, no one therefore has the right to censor what is obscene."
Whenever someone says there ought to be a law, it is very often the case that there ought not to be; the ultimate firepower against objectionable materials is clear: more speech, not less.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Excerpts from my new, unfinished play, 'Butt Out'

Note: I wrote this as a final paper for a class, I'm unsure at the moment whether I intend to keep working on it and expand upon it further. It's currently a 12 page one-act.



Ever since that dickhead Nixon put the kibosh on T.V and radio advertising, our jobs have gotten that much more difficult. Those are two major mediums! Factor in the Truth campaign and it’s a surprise we’re still on the payroll.


Let’s not overdramatize, Carl. We’re selling a product that sells itself. Plus, I recall the World Bank reporting that a partial advertising ban has little to no effect on reducing tobacco consumption. There are other dynamics involved, I’m sure. I doubt the Truth campaign people have put a significant dent in our revenues, so I’m guessing either more people are switching to pot, or these damned increased taxes are forcing people to quit cold turkey. Whatever it is, we can try and fix it. We just have to be smart about it.


You don’t think some of the Truth ads have changed people’s minds?


Carl, do you like potato chips?


Sure I do.


Can you name every single ingredient in your favorite potato chips?


Including the preservatives? No, I probably couldn’t.


And if you saw an ad that listed every single ingredient in potato chips, would it change your mind about eating them?


No, I’ll eat them anyway because I like potato chips.



(Takes a drink)

We learned this back in ad school – more information doesn’t necessarily lead to better decision making. The Truth people can put out all the propaganda it wants about the 4000+ ingredients in the common cigarette, but the truth is (no pun intended), that we are exposed to a lot of the same chemicals and carcinogens every single day. Every time we go outside on a sunny day, our risk of developing skin cancer increases. If you spent all your time worrying about every single component of your cigarette, like every single ingredient in your potato chip, you’d probably never leave the house- you might as well just curl up and die.


He’s right Carl, but I don’t want to turn this meeting into a back and forth on the merits and shortcomings of anti-tobacco advertising, so I’ll end by saying – let them put out whatever “truthful” information they want, our job is to locate the important variables in a consumer’s decision making process – and highlight the shit out of them in glossy magazines while we still can.


I’ll drink to that!

Here is a long speech given by Fox's daughter occurring as a stage flashback at the end of the play:

“Why do you light up? Stress relief maybe, sometimes it just feels good. I like menthols. Menthols give you that cool, soothing sensation on your tongue that might be too intense if you ever tried to replicate the effect with gum or a mint. Hell, I barely inhale the smoke, but I’ll smoke occasionally - rarely might be more accurate, in fact. But there’s a vintage glamour about it, even if you’re anti-smoking, you can’t get past the almost visceral manifestation of sexy-cool beatniks lounging in smoky jazz bars, talking philosophy, life and love, some strung out and looking blasé; the image of Humphrey Bogart climbing out of his car in an unnamed city where it seems to rain all the time, belting his trench coat and walking into the home of a woman who might be the missing link to a pending investigation, and sharing a cigarette, mini bottle of rye and innuendo with her before getting down to brass tacks.

How do you put into words the acrid nostalgia that hits you on your face the minute you walk into a 20+ year old hotel or any casino? There’s a Jungian grace about it – it’s choking and intrusive, yet subdued and oddly comforting.

Some things have changed – I wouldn’t find a man buying me a pack of smokes romantic and I’m not sure who would outside a trailer park or prison block.

When I smoke and write I feel like Albert Camus, though I’m not nearly as intellectual. It gets my creative juices flowing, my brain cooperates in producing dialog, arguments and images – the part of my brain that isn’t focused on knocking off ash or making sure I don’t burn some part of my arm. But I try to smoke when I’m alone, with other smokers, or somewhere public enough where any residual stench on my hair and clothing doesn’t really matter. I have a very big pet peeve about having to deal with the smell of fresh cigarette smoke coming off the body of student who has just sat next to me in a class, even if other seats were available. It sucks, and it almost makes me gag, but so does the smell of Doritos, and I wouldn’t want those banned.

The list of things I don’t like could go on for a while, but I won’t rattle off a boring list. Its summer now, and often I can’t help but unfortunately remain fixated on the sight of dimpled and rippled skin in a pair of short shorts. It sucks, and part of me wants to tell them to stop the madness, but I don’t, because they’re human too. I’m actually asthmatic, smoke can bug me at times, but I have never gone to the hospital because of it, I did however have to visit the hospital at 15 because of an asthma attack triggered by a strongly perfumed shampoo, but I never intended to sue the manufacturer.

I’ve always tried to make it a point to tell people not to keep their mouth shut, that they should always stand up for what they think is right, even if others, including myself, think they’re a complete moron. I won’t like what you’re saying, but I will like that you’re saying it, and I will respect you more than the blindly assimilated civilian who cruises through life never once challenging the system.

If you oppose public smoking, by all means, make noise and be heard – but don’t expect business owners to listen to you and walk away with their tail between their legs. Their bottom line is as important as yours. If a private business owner thinks a smoking ban will increase profits by attracting more customers who are averse to smoke rather than smoking customers, let him ban it, but don’t force him to do so through the barrel of a gun.”