March 1, 2006

A View from Riverside Drive, Commentary by Ed Hynes, March 2006

Third Circuit Court reverses a decision that put obscenity law at risk

In a landmark decision December 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia reversed U.S. District Court Judge Gary Lancaster’s decision that federal obscenity statutes as applied in the United States v. Extreme Associates case “violate the constitutional guarantees of personal liberties and privacy of consenting adults who wish to view the defendants’ films in private. Accordingly, the indictment will be dismissed.” Morality in Media submitted a friend of the court brief in the case in support of the U.S. Justice Department.

Extreme Associates, Inc., produces and distributes videotapes and DVDs that show women being degraded and sexually assaulted.

Privacy rights, it seemed to Judge Lancaster, should trump the right to maintain a safe and decent society. But the Third Circuit stated, “We are satisfied that the Supreme Court has decided that the federal statutes regulating the distribution of obscenity do not violate any constitutional right to privacy.” Obscenity charges against Extreme Associates were reinstated.

Judge Lancaster had pointed to a 2003 Supreme Court decision (Lawrence v. Texas) that struck down the Texas sodomy law (which made it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in intimate sexual conduct). Judge Lancaster said that the Lawrence decision “can be reasonably interpreted as holding that public morality is not a legitimate state interest sufficient to justify infringing on adult, private, consensual sexual conduct even if that conduct is deemed offensive to the general public’s sense of morality.”

Morality in Media’s Obscenity Law Bulletin for February 2006 points out that “The importance of this decision is the fact that, had the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court and had it then been upheld by the Supreme Court, it would have meant the end of Obscenity Law, Federal, State and Local.”

Collegians to AMA: Images of excess lead to excess

College women polled by the American Medical Association have confirmed their parents’ worst fears: Spring break trips to sunny places mean binge drinking and promiscuous sex. Now the AMA knows, too.

The poll results, released March 8, also showed that the women overwhelmingly agreed that images of college girls partying during spring break may contribute to “an increase in females’ reckless behavior” and to “dangerous behaviors by males toward women.”

Such images have been peddled on the pornographic “Girls Gone Wild” videos, on MTV programs, and in promotional material for spring break tour packages.

This response in the AMA poll is more confirmation of a simple point and its corollary: We learn to behave as we do by watching what others do and say, and we are all responsible for the good or bad example we give to others.

First Amendment absolutists seem to have difficulty with this.

Example is “the school of mankind,” said Edmund Burke. Albert Einstein called it “the only way of educating.” Good example teaches good lessons, bad example the opposite.

Everyone seems to understand all this, except of course the invincibly ignorant and those who pretend not to know, such as the pornographers and some “creative” types in the mainstream media and advertising businesses, and, likely, some others elsewhere.

Here’s what the AMA learned in its poll:

  • A majority (74 percent) of respondents said women use drinking as an excuse for outrageous behavior.
  • More than half of women (57 percent) agree being promiscuous is a way to fit in.
  • An overwhelming majority (83 percent) of women had friends who drank the majority of the nights while on spring break.
  • More than half (59 percent) know friends who were sexually active with more than one partner.
  • Nearly three out of five women know friends who had unprotected sex during spring break.
  • One in five respondents regretted the sexual activity they engaged in during spring break, and 12 percent felt forced or pressured into sex.
  • An overwhelming majority (84 percent) of respondents thought images of college girls partying during spring break may contribute to an increase in females’ reckless behavior.
  • An even higher percentage (86 percent) agreed these images may contribute to dangerous behaviors by males toward women.
  • Almost all (92 percent) said it was easy to get alcohol while on spring break.
  • Two out of five women agreed access to free or cheap alcohol or a drinking age under age 21 were important factors in their decision to go on a spring break trip.

Michigan court decides nudity is indecent, even on cable TV

The Michigan Supreme Court decided in January that the state’s indecent exposure statute applies to images of exposed male genitalia shown on a cable TV public access channel and that a defendant’s conviction under that statute did not violate the First Amendment.

For most folks, the idea that exposed male genitalia on cable TV is indecent exposure would seem to go without saying, but it was a big deal to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, the trade publication for and about people with an interest in the matter that might be at odds with common sense and the public interest.

It could be a big deal to cable TV audiences, too.

Morality in Media, to its credit, filed a friend of the court brief in the matter with the Michigan Court of Appeals, arguing that televised images of exposed genitalia should constitute indecent exposure, as the court held.

What caused the fuss, and the case? A public access television show distributed by cable networks to homes of local residents included a three-minute segment in which exposed male genitalia were featured. It was a clear case of “creative” license doing violence to community standards.

For Broadcasting and Cable (February 26), the decision had this significance:

Setting the precedent that cable nudity is indecent exposure and not protected speech could provide cable-content foes with an avenue to pursue that does not involve the FCC or an à la carte bill.

Sounds like good news for community standards.

‘A La Carte’ Cable gaining traction

The case for “a la carte” pricing of cable TV – charging for each channel the customer wants, and only those, instead of forcing customers to select groups or packages of channels, including many the customers don’t want and never watch – may be gaining traction in Washington. The idea is so logical and fair it seems irresistible, giving rise to the hope that the cable industry will come around on its own. Just don’t bet on it.

Beverley LaHaye, chairman of Concerned Women for America, is one of the most effective and articulate spokespersons advancing this cause. In the Washington Times of January 19, she points out that the public supports a la carte cable pricing:

A poll conducted by Concerned Women for America found that 80 percent of Americans disagree with the way the cable system currently functions, and 62 percent said they would prefer to choose cable programming for themselves. Cable consumers on average watch only 12-15 channels regularly, but pay for 50-75 channels for basic cable packages and more than 200 channels for digital cable packages. The majority of Americans do not get their money’s worth, not even close.

Then, early in February, the Federal Communications Commission released a study concluding that a la carte pricing of cable channels could provide “substantial benefits” to consumers. The FCC earlier had embraced a cable industry study that said a la carte pricing would be more expensive for consumers.

Hollywood has a new hero underdog: the pimp

Hollywood loves the underdog, the striver against long odds, the one who, in persevering, gives us something to cheer about. In that tradition, the movies celebrated Julia Roberts’ smart and gutsy “Erin Brokovich,” Russell Crowe’s James J. Braddock in “Cinderella Man,” and Jimmy Stewart’s idealistic but naïve Senator Jefferson Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” among many other heroic long shots, including a horse named “Seabiscuit.”

It was a warped extension of that tradition when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences this year chose to celebrate a pimp as underdog, awarding the Oscar for best song to “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie “Hustle & Flow.”

Does the Academy really expect the American public to start rooting for a pimp? Talk about being out of touch.

The award is either an alarming sign of where we are as a society, or another gross miscalculation by those in Hollywood who don’t seem to understand what their own box office data show. The vast majority of movie-going Americans want family friendly movies and will reward those who produce them.

“Hustle & Flow” portrays the pimp as a sympathetic character despite the fact that he lives off the sexual abuse of dehumanized girls and women, the “hoes” and “bitches” in his “stable.” A promo for the movie spins it this way:

DJay is a small-time pimp and drug dealer who dreams of stardom in the world of hip-hop music. Despite the criminal trappings of his day-to-day existence, DJay has an inner determination and a belief in his own talent that lead him to parlay a meeting with an old high school friend, now a sound engineer, into a chance for a better life.

It’s a great old formula. But this pimp, like all the rest of them, physically abuses and intimidates his “bitches,” renting out their bodies and keeping the money, in effect enslaving them, to get that “ better life.”

Here are the lyrics, as cleaned up for television. This is the sanitized version, quoted in full here only because excerpts would not do it justice.

You know it’s hard out here for a pimp (you ain’t knowin)
When he tryin to get this money for the rent (you ain’t knowin)
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent (you ain’t knowin)
Because a whole lot of bitches talkin s _ _ t (you ain’t knowin)
Will have a whole lot of bitches talkin s _ _ t (you ain’t knowin)In my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs in the streets
Gotta couple hoes workin on the changes for me
But I gotta keep my game tight like Kobe on game night
Like takin from a ho don’t know no better, I know that ain’t right
Done seen people killed, done seen people deal
Done seen people live in poverty with no meals
It’s f _ _ ked up where I live, but that’s just how it is
It might be new to you, but it’s been like this for years
It’s blood sweat and tears when it come down to this s _ _ t
I’m tryin to get rich ‘fore I leave up out this bitch
I’m tryin to have thangs but it’s hard fo’ a pimp
But I’m prayin and I’m hopin to God I don’t slip, yeah
Man it seems like I’m duckin dodgin bullets everyday
Niggaz hatin on me cause I got, hoes on the tray
But I gotta stay paid, gotta stay above water
Couldn’t keep up with my hoes, that’s when s _ _ t got harder
North Memphis where I’m from, I’m 7th Street bound
Where niggaz all the time end up lost and never found
Man these girls think we prove thangs, leave a big head
They come hopin every night, they don’t end up bein dead
Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they’ll both do you
That’s the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah

The song was performed on Oscar night by the rappers Three 6 Mafia. Their lawyer, Aaron Rosenberg, commenting in advance of the awards ceremony, made much of the fact that the song had been nominated. He told Reuters on February 26, “The Academy (of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences) is really to be commended. It’s admirable that voters are recognizing the hip-hop generation and its influence on American culture.”

Some influence. Throw dung at a target and some of it will stick.

But did Mr. Rosenberg not notice that while some American movie goers spent $22 million to see “Hustle & Flow” (R-rated for sex and drug content, pervasive language and some violence), the rest of the country shelled out $380 million to see “Star Wars 3” (PG-13), $289 million to see “Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire” (PG), $288 million to see “Chronicles of Narnia” (PG), $234 million to see “War of the Worlds” (PG-13), and $77 million to see the G-rated documentary “March of the Penguins.” s

Pimping in the real world

Rappers describe the dark world of prostitution their way. The Washington Post of March 6 did it journalistically, reporting on the federal trial of a pimp charged with trafficking a minor for prostitution, transporting prostitutes across state lines, pandering, and child sexual abuse. He was found guilty and could be sentenced to decades of prison time.

Three teenage girls in his stable testified at the trial. The Post summarized their testimony this way:

They performed sex acts with men in cheap motel rooms, alleys and the back seats of cars, they said. Clients had 10 minutes or it cost extra. One girl, 14 when she was recruited, said her quota was $500 a night, with various sex acts ranging in price from $50 to $150. Every dollar she and her “stable sisters” earned, she said, was turned over to the sometimes loving, often brutal man they were told to call “Daddy.”

There’ll be no “stardom in the world of hip-hop music” for this pimp. Does anyone feel sorry for him? Not likely. Will someone in Hollywood make a movie out of this sordid story anyway? Don’t bet against it. They’re slow learners out there.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds sex tourism law

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has upheld a 2003 federal law that prohibits U.S. citizens from paying minors for sex while overseas. It was a two-to-one decision. The majority found precedent for the view that Congressional authority under the Constitution’s commerce clause applies to foreign commerce as well as interstate commerce, and then decided that paying a minor for sex “might be immoral and criminal, but it is also commercial.”

The case originated when Michael Clark, an elderly U.S. citizen who lived in Cambodia from 1998 to 2003, was arrested by Cambodian police for having sex with young boys.

Bruce A. Taylor, Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, said, “This is an historical moment in our Government’s efforts to protect all children from abuse and to prohibit Americans from adding to the problem overseas.”

Canadian Supreme Court OKs group sex in public

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 December 21 that group sex and partner swapping in public clubs is legal. Making that especially troubling is the fact that the age of sexual consent in Canada is 14. Gwen Landolt, vice president of Real Women of Canada, told LifeSiteNews.com, “The implications are horrendous. It’s an exploitation of human sexuality. 14-year-olds will be exploited. . . . There is a real trend to break down moral principles in Canadian society. Those principles have been built based on human experience about what is in the best interest of society.”

Canadian Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin sought to justify the decision by noting that “over time, courts increasingly came to recognize that morals and taste were subjective, arbitrary and unworkable in the criminal context.”

Sounds a bit like our own U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 when it overturned the Texas sodomy law (Lawrence v. Texas), reasoning in part, “The fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting a practice.”

So much for the natural law and the idea that there is a difference between “right” and “wrong,” and that man-made law is based on a recognition of that difference.

Once-scandalous sex videos now boost celebrities’ careers

An AP story reported by CNN on January 27 traces the history of “celebrity sex videos,” and makes the point that in sixty years attitudes on that subject have gone from denial to opportunism. The story notes that a woman in a grainy tape having sex with a man on a couch is widely believed to have been Marilyn Monroe, but that was never acknowledged let alone exploited by her and is denied by her estate. Today, sex tapes have helped Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Irish actor Colin Farrell, and others. AP’s sources gave the matter a light tone. Kate White, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, said, “The public is very forgiving. And very intrigued.”

Ah, the sophistication of the Cosmo girl.

Author: Ed Hynes   03/01/2006

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