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Is porn really our biggest problem?

Good news! It appears we have wiped out organized crime, stopped public corruption and beaten back terrorism.

Things are going so well, in fact, that the feds have plenty of time these days to go around prosecuting big pornography cases using juries made up of uncomfortable-looking locals.

As you may know by now, we played host for nearly two weeks to one Paul Little of California. Prosecutors picked our Tampa Bay area as a good spot for trying the Hollywood pornster on obscenity charges.

We seemed an interesting choice for testing "community standards," given our reputation for strip clubs and other tawdry-type enterprise, but it turns out they knew what they were doing.

As you may also know, Little calls himself Max Hardcore in his movies, their general theme involving women dressed as girls and humiliated in a variety of difficult-to-watch ways.

Max Hardcore's work is, shall we say, not for the mainstream. The regular folk on that jury — a nurse, civil engineer and insurance claims adjuster among them — were at times the very picture of embarrassment and discomfort.

So after hours and hours of viewing what apparently crawls around in the dark corners of Little's brain up there on the big screen, the jury said guilty last week. Little faces possible prison time and fines.

(Maybe you rolled your eyes a little when you heard jurors interviewed after the verdict talking about writing a book on their extreme jury service. I would have rolled mine, too, if I hadn't spent time in that courtroom. Sitting through 8 1/2 hours of what they saw could be a life-changing experience. Or at least one they won't forget.)

The federal government's pursuit of these kinds of obscenity cases tends to wax and wane depending on who's sitting in the White House. Guess what? Another big federal porn case is currently playing in Los Angeles, this one against a man named Ira Isaacs, whose work sounds beyond even what Max Hardcore dreams up. (Surely any self-respecting L.A. jury will have that book deal signed before the judge's gavel hits the bench.)

Isaacs talks about D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, a couple of other guys accused of obscenity back in the day. He is at least smart enough to call what he does "art," as in art that means to shock you, though it will be up to the jury to decide whether it has any "serious literary, scientific, political or artistic value."

What defines "art" is an interesting question, and L.A. is not Tampa Bay. We'll see.

But the bigger question is, do we have to?

Free speech isn't always pretty. It isn't always some peaceful protest. It can be as ugly as, say, a giant in-your-face Confederate flag waving over a major highway to your town, a symbol that to some people whispers of lynchings past. Free speech can be as offensive as Max Hardcore.

Most average citizens will not be exposed to this kind of extreme subject matter — unless they want to.

This is the very definition of a niche market. Defense attorneys will remind everyone that the participants are willing adults.

So maybe it's not for you and me.

But maybe it's also not the most important thing our federal government could be doing on our dime.

Is porn really our biggest problem? 06/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 10:44pm]

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