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II)B) Landmark cases in obscenity law and the long  shadow of language.

There’s quite a back and forth in the last post between orthodoxhe over the effect the MPAA has on the depiction of sexuality in cinema. Historically I think that effect has been huge, but my position is that looking at contemporary influences, the MPAA is vastly over-estimated and the effect of obscenity laws, both historically and contemporarily, is vastly underestimate and generally misunderstood.

The legal concept of obscenity is pretty startling if you sit down and just think about it for a minute. As a legal concept, “obscenity” is the notion that there are some ideas about sex that are simply too inflammatory/repulsive /vile to be expressed publicly, that doing so constitutes a crime, and that it’s the state’s natural function to suppress the expression of these ideas.

We don’t have this concept around religion, or politics, or economics any other other ideas that (sometimes) send countries to war against each other. Only around sex.

And while over the years the laws over what might constitute obscenity have become more tolerant, but there has yet to be a successful challenge to the idea that the regulation of the expression of sexual ideas is a natural and rightful function of the state. 

I am not a legal scholar. I don’t know where this idea of obscenity originates. But as a filmmaker my entire body of erotic work lives in shadow of this concept; and as a citizen I am under the constant threat that my ideas will be accused of being obscene,  that my right to put express these ideas publicly will be denied, and that the state will deprive me of my liberty and property.

I understand that for many readers this is going to sound hysterical, so I will go into some specifics on how the threat of obscenity prosecution has directly effect my work. But first I want to lay some groundwork  by touching on historical obscenity cases that (from my point of view as a filmmakers and distributor) continue to cast a shadow on the cinematic landscape. Language from these cases, some of which have been overturned by later decisions, continues to have a “chilling effect” on the marketplace of ideas.

The next post will be on the 1934 court case US vs. One Book Called Ulysses, which paved the way for the publication of James Joyce novel here in the US. But more the 70 years later, we can still hear loud echos from that case, in censorship decisions other countries, and in marketing decisions here at home, and in a way that I believe is prejudice against eroticism in cinema.

Tomorrow: II)B)1 US vs. Ulysses: The origin of  ”intent to arouse” as legal doctrine.

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