Pornography, Children, Vaccines, and Libertarianism

I used to hang out on Slashdot a lot. (That’s a popular news aggregation site for techies.) I remember one signature from a user that said something like “the root password for the Constitution is ‘think of the children’.” The idea was that you could circumvent constitutional protections on free speech by just citing “the children”.

There are two problems with that. The first is the idea that the baseline for free speech is “anything goes”. Freedom of speech has never been absolute, and it’s incredibly frustrating to live in a society where people seem to believe that the primary purpose of one of our most cherished rights is to make porn readily accessible. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Voltaire had in mind.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire didn't actually say this, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't agree with it as applied to porn either.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire didn’t actually say this, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t agree with it as applied to porn either.

The second is the assumption that “think of the children” is always an unfounded appeal to hysteria. This is far from true, and two recent articles from the Daily Mail make that painfully clear.

In the first Martin Daubney–former editor of softcore porn magazine Loaded–talks about the research that has convinced him “online porn is the most pernicious threat facing children today.” The gist of it is that new research demonstrates the addictive nature of online porn and so, according to Daubney,

If porn does have the insidious power to be addictive, then letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house, or handing out vodka at the school gates.

The second describes how a young boy started viewing porn at age 10 and soon developed an uncontrollable addiction to it. Like any addict, he began searching for harder and harder stuff, until at the age of 13 he was found guilty of accessing child porn and, practically a child himself, he found himself on the Sex Offender Registry. 

Read morePornography, Children, Vaccines, and Libertarianism

Spring Breakers, Empowerment, and Exploitation

Film critic David Edelstein, whom I am about to drag into gender politics whether he likes it or not.
Film critic David Edelstein, whom I am about to drag into gender politics whether he likes it or not.

I like David Edelstein’s film reviews so much that I read them even for movies I know I will never watch, which is why I ended up reading his review of Spring Breakers in the first place.

In the review, Edelstein bravely plunges into the shark-infested waters of feminist politics, by painting the movie Spring Breakers as a textbook example of pervy middle-aged men co-opting feminist liberation. The movie features “three starlets from the Disney entertainment megaverse” (Venessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Selena Gomez), and Edelstein says that all three “are obviously there as a gesture of defiance — an attempt to free themselves from their Mouse patriarch overlord and the shackles of corporate teen celebrity.”

So how does that jailbreak go? Well, here’s the second paragraph of the review:

It’s also among the perviest movies ever made — although by spelling out why, I fear I’ll only make some people want to see it more. Spring Breakers opens with a montage of bouncing bare boobs and buttocks barely squeezed into bikini bottoms, the camera gliding up the lengths of young girls’ thighs — see what I mean? That skeevy guy down the street just grabbed his raincoat and headed for the multiplex. The point is that Korine isn’t a passive voyeur. He moves in-in-in on those hot bods — up, down, all around the town. A friend whispered, “The camera is like a giant tongue.” You can almost hear the slurping.

As I said: these are treacherous waters. One of my favorite stories about the politics of porn (I’m going to use that term broadly in this piece, and Spring Breakers seems to have the spirit of porn confined to a “hard-R” rating) is from the Penny-Arcade Expo. One year, there were a bunch of booth babes (attractive women hired to staff convention booths) and the folks at Penny-Arcade didn’t kick them out. They got a torrent of angry mail accusing them of being sexist for allowing girls to be objectified. The next year they asked a particularly over-the-top booth babe to go inside a school bus (it was part of the display, you can imagine why) to keep the convention floor more family-friendly. They got another torrent of angry mail accusing them of being sexist for treating women’s bodies as something to be hidden. Penny-Arcade artist Mike Krahulik wrote a disgusted post asking feminists of the world to please decide what he’s supposed to do, because no matter what he does someone yells at him for being sexist.

So: does porn exploit women or empower them? I don’t know if it was Edelstein’s intent to make a statement on that general question, but he comes pretty close to it: 

Read moreSpring Breakers, Empowerment, and Exploitation