Thursday, June 12, 2008

Completely Turned

Can this story get weirder? I hope so!

A producer of online sexual fetish material is headed for a federal obscenity trial in Los Angeles.

The prosecution is the first in Southern California by a U.S. Department of Justice task force formed in 2005 after Christian conservative groups appealed to the Bush administration to crack down on smut.

Internet fetish porn has been a particular target of the government since then. It's not hard to see why the government would go after such low-hanging fruit. The DVDs and videos in the case are centered on such things as feces, urine, and sex with animals.

To certain people who have been given certain mental quirks in life, these are highly eroticized scenes. To most people, they will be merely revolting. It's not hard to dig up a local person to file a complaint about it. Few people will defend it as an exercise of healthy eros.

"All they're going to do is turn on a DVD machine and hope the jury is going to be so shocked and disgusted and offended that they're going to throw me in prison," said the producer, Ira Isaacs. He's got it just right.

He is defending himself on the grounds that he is an artist and the videos are works of art. "[I]f jurors find that any of the four videos at issue in the case have any 'literary, scientific or artistic value,' the work is not legally obscene, according to a 1973 Supreme Court ruling," reports the LA Times.

It would seem there's a more interesting line of defense available here. Most people find nothing sexual in these recorded performances. So how can they violate a community standard of "obscenity" if they do not meet a community definition of sexuality?

On the other hand, for the only market for which they are intended -- what we used to call "perverts" -- this is pure sexuality; it is what they feel in their hearts as the culmination of libido. The only difference between this material and "regular" pornography is in the eye of the beholder: It turns them on; it turns you off.

Finally, while the government focuses on the kind of fetish material guaranteed to make juries packed with non-perverts squirm, the range of fetishes, and the porn made to cater to them, is as wide as the world itself, it seems. [The last, at least, not work-safe, but the best. And none is close to authoritative or complete.]

Many of them are not only entirely without sexual content to the average non-pervert (or to perverts who happen to be mainlined into other things), they are without shock or gross-out value. People dressed up and cavorting in Halloween-style furry animal costumes, for instance. Is that porn? To some of us, evidently, it is the purest intoxication of allure and desire. How do you craft laws for that? Who do you protect, and from what?

In an early story on the case, the LA Times wrote:

Presiding over the trial will be Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kozinski was assigned the case as part of a rotation in which he and other appeals court judges occasionally oversee criminal trials in addition to deciding appeals.

His involvement in the case may be a stroke of luck for Isaacs. That is because Kozinski is seen as a staunch defender of free speech. When he learned that there were filters banning pornography and other materials from computers in the appeals court's Pasadena offices, he led a successful effort to have the filters removed.

"Stroke of luck" turns out to be understated. Just days later, a gadfly who had been dogging the judge over another matter finally got the attention of the media with his earlier discovery that there was a good deal of -- wait for it -- fetish porn available for public view on the judge's personal/family Web site.

In an interview Tuesday with The Times, Kozinski acknowledged posting sexual content on his website. Among the images on the site were a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. He defended some of the adult content as "funny" but conceded that other postings were inappropriate.

Kozinski said that he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public, although he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends. After the interview Tuesday evening, he blocked public access to the site.

... After publication of an article about his website Wednesday morning, the judge offered another explanation for how the material might have been posted to the site. Tuesday evening he had told The Times that he had a clear recollection of some of the most objectionable material and that he was responsible for placing it on the Web. By Wednesday afternoon, as controversy about the website spread, Kozinski was seeking to shift responsibility, at least in part, to his adult son, Yale.

The judge -- who is asked to define what is pornography to the rest of us, appears to be comfortable with his own version of it:

The judge said he didn't think any of the material on his site would qualify as obscene.

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he said. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

... The sexually explicit material on the site was extensive, including images of masturbation, public sex and contortionist sex. There was a slide show striptease featuring a transsexual and a folder that contained a series of photos of women's crotches in snug-fitting clothing or underwear.

... The judge said he planned to delete some of the most objectionable material from his site, including the photo depicting women as cows, which he said was "degrading . . . and just gross." He also said he planned to get rid of a graphic step-by-step pictorial in which a woman is seen shaving her pubic hair.

The AP version of the story quotes Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at University of California, Irvine, defending Kozinski.

"It's much ado about very little," Chemerinsky said. "There is no indication that this material is even close to obscenity."

And -- God love the "Times" for their reporting on this; they clearly recognize this story as the journalistic equivalent of a genie's lamp, which it is -- then there's this:

More than a dozen MP3 tracks were listed, and they were neither excerpts nor used to illustrate legal opinions, which experts said might have qualified their copying as "fair use." The artists included Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Weird Al Yankovic.

Uploading such files could violate civil copyright laws if friends or members of the public visited the site and downloaded the songs, according to attorneys who have litigated file-sharing cases for both copyright holders and accused infringers.

There it is. A news story where Weird Al is the normal guy.