Monday, August 11, 2008

The US v. Karen Fletcher

Ren sums up my feelings well:

Ladies and Gentlemen: The US vs Karen Fletcher…

However, unlike Walters there, I do think we should be afraid, thanks.

Now, guess what? I have no desire to read anything Karen Fletcher ever wrote, and yep, the idea of her fiction squicks me out big time…but you know, it was words. Writings. Fiction. No real people, digitally altered or otherwise, involved at all. And let’s look at Ms. Fletcher, really…a woman without any real means, living at home, writing as her sole source of income, for a web site with minimal subscribers. And the government picks her to arrest. Now, see, people boycotted American Psycho by (wealthy) author Brett Easton Ellis. People love the best-selling George R.R. Martin series A Song of Ice & Fire, which has spawned merchandise, a role playing game, a card game, and is full of the rape, torture, imprisonment and murder of people of all ages, including children, a lot of violent sex, incest and all kinds of unsavory stuff…yet no one is arresting Ellis or Martin for their fiction…instead, they go after an unknown, unpopular, not wealthy small time smut writer…I wonder why?

Easy prey, maybe? You think maybe that has something to do with it? The Gov trying to Fight the Obscene Smut!... but taking on someone who really had no chance in hell of actually being able to, oh, fight them back?

And while yeah, I have no desire to read Fletcher’s stories, you can bet your ass this pisses me off and I will defend her right to write them. And of course, sure, some folk are likely to just, once again, accuse me of being some vile, appalling, sadistic, rapist fuck who doesn’t give a shit about anyone because my soulless, male identified self is just so obsessed with my vicious orgasms, but see…you’d be wrong. I do care about something, at least one thing…you gotta give me that…

I care about our 1st Amendment, and how shit like this affects all of us…or a whole shit load of us anyway…

I mean, check the nets, people. Fan-Fic, slash, from manga based to Harry Potter based, there is a shit ton of it out there, and a shit ton of every day people writing it, and a lot of it involves sex with underage people, violence, and even things like rape and murder. I know some of you out there write it, some read it, and a lot of people do other kinds of writing; their deep, dark fantasies, epic level fiction with a great many unsavory or disturbing themes, horror, smut, yaoi, sci-fi, high fantasy, so on, so forth…and it’s likely you, like Fletcher, could be considered easy prey…

And get arrested and tried by the big bad US Government because someone was squicked out by your BDSM fantasy, or hero/heroine in peril tale, or the written evolution of your monstrous, amoral villain. You could get completely hosed for writing things other people find disturbing or don’t like. Even if it cannot be accessed by minors, even if it is only out there for a select crowd…and the way some of this stuff is plastered all over, all public like, on the net…well gee, so many attractive “obscene” targets to chose from, eh?

For writing words….words! No pictures, no real live people, no images…words! And funny that, but I thought one of the things we here in the States were supposed to be real big on and all over was a persons ability to speak and write words…even if other people don’t like them. So see, yeah, something I do care about…a person’s ability to write and speak words, even if other people find them horrific, disturbing, and terrible…because we are supposed to have that right. Even if those words are about sex, or violence, or sex and violence, or rape, or murder, or all kinds of shit that can generally be pretty damn offensive to a whole lot of people.

As a writer this scares me. As a big time fan of free speech, it scares me even more. Being arrested for writing something someone else doesn’t like? Well, that shit should scare you too.
This sort of thing is precisely why all the outcry over visual pornography without similar outcry over words disturbs me. It's as if people think that everyone knows images are bad, whether this be due to assumptions about how they are produced or assumptions about how they induce particularly Pavlovian sexual response, yet everyone also knows words are fine.

I've never understood this distinction, and always felt that unless it was grounded in actual facts about the production conditions of filmed visual pornography that uses live performers, the distinction was untenable. I figured that, culturally, we'd never bother to go after words, but I've still been saying for years that I don't see a big difference, if we leave production conditions out.

And this just says to me that no, there isn't one. That free speech might make us think quickest of words (since "speech" is in the name), but that whatever counts as "speech" is fair game. If certain kinds of pornography are to be erased, then that erasure can and will extend to words as well -- despite that so many of us do see differences between industry-made rape porn (which I gather there's actually little of, from what people actually in the industry say) and our little pet "non-con" Draco!Harry slashfic.

It's all the same, people. If this alarms you -- and I think it should -- it shouldn't alarm you because they finally got to print/text. That was always coming.

And that's why I think a post about this belongs here too.


  1. Trinity,

    While I agree entirely with Ren's post, as you'd expect, and largely with yours as well, there is an important legal distinction between written and visual material that might not really make much difference in a modern world dominated by visual communication, but makes a lot of difference in court.

    Freedom of speech per se is an enumerated guarantee of The First Amendment. Later case law has expanded that guarantee to cover other kinds of expression from photographs to films to live performances to symbolic acts of protest. But those are all extrapolations of the original language.

    A governmental attack on the written word is a direct challenge to the core language of the The Constitution, which is inherently more ominous. In that way, it resembles the Bush administration's de facto suspension of habeas corpus. There might be some ambiguity regarding what The Constitution protects in terms of, say, video production, but it's clear as the Liberty Bell on the written word, as it is on the government's right to detain people indefinitely without due process.

    The case that legalized sexually explicit expression in whatever forms we see today, Miller v. California, focused directly on the written word - Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer - and found that it was clearly protected as speech under the existing language of the law.

    The creation of a broader definition of obscenity that might not be protected is Miller's great failing, as a result of which other forms of "expressive speech" not specifically described by a document written at a time when the printing press was pretty much the only delivery system for public expression, has left us in a state of eternal legal limbo regarding everything other than words.

    However, the direct legal assault on written material constitutes an attempt to vastly expand federal authority into the very area Miller sought to shelter from prosecution.

    It's not the material itself that's the issue here, it's the use of federal criminal proceedings to suppress it in a manner not seen since Miller that makes this case even more troubling than the prosecution of Max Hardcore.

    This goes to the very heart of Amendment One, dagger in hand.

  2. What Ernest and Trinity said.

    There is a tendency for written porn (or "erotica") to be really off the radar of both pro-porn and anti-porn folks, given the attention on live-acted visual porn.

    I think the Bush Administration made a very deliberate effort to hit several bases, practically at random, in its obscenity prosecutions. Go after Max Hardcore, who produces the most sketchy content, Paul Stagliano, who's a major director somewhere in the mainstream, and an obscure written stories site. Basically, put anybody who's distributing porn, from the most mundane to the most squick-inducing, on notice that they could be next and its just a matter of their number coming up.

    My guess is that there will be an Obama administration in 6 months. (Every poll I've seen shows McCain as way behind.) What that will mean in terms of obscenity prosecutions, I'm not sure. I doubt any current prosecutions would be called off, as that wouldn't be politically expedient for the new administration, but I'm not sure if they'll be zealous in pursuing new ones.

    At the same time its hard to say where the Obama administration is going to come out on civil liberties. This NYT op-ed claims he's a strong civil libertarian, which is that's the case, will be a refreshing contrast not only to Bush, but to the Clintons, who weren't exactly great friends of civil liberties, either. (Though nowhere near as bad as King George.) On the other hand, who knows what kind of political deals he's going to have to strike to win the presidency and get his stuff through congress. It could also depend on how the liberal wing of the "abolitionist" and anti-porn movement positions itself vis-a-vis Obama's policy advisors and whether they gain influence that way.

  3. And of course, sure, some folk are likely to just, once again, accuse me of being some vile, appalling, sadistic, rapist fuck who doesn’t give a shit about anyone because my soulless, male identified self is just so obsessed with my vicious orgasms, but see…you’d be wrong. I do care about something, at least one thing…you gotta give me that…

    I care about our 1st Amendment,

    No, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It concerns me as well, and has since the day she was indicted. I can't stand reading that kind of stuff myself (though I have written my own violent rape fantasies), but I would defend her right to write them as well.

  4. Ahh, finally, a thread where I can talk about the election!

    Before Nina's boards were hijacked months ago, I posated there that the NRA had attacked as pro-porn because he had, to his credit, as a Illinois state legislator, voted against an anti-porn zoning ordinance but supported an anti-gun zoning ordinance.

    As a part-time professor of constitutional law, he never displayed any adherence to MacKinnonite interpretations or concepts.

    BUT, on the other hand, his turnaround on FISA shocked many of his supporters, including me. Will such "flexibility" on the campaign continue into his Presidency?

    Polls lie, especially when the leading candidate is African-American or perceived to be such, i.e., the Bradley effect. The Right is making some hay about Scarlett Johannsen texting Obama because of how that tactic worked to hurt Harold Ford's Senatorial bid.

    So, it's not wise to assume who will win the election, although it would sure help Obama if Larry Flynt launched an October surprise and leaked video of McCain in bed with that female lobbyist he had been rumored to be dicky-dunking with. Go Larry!

  5. More on Obama's record on porn:

    In 1999, he voted against a bill mandating internet filters on library computers because the filters blocked out sexually-related health sites.

    In 2002, he voted for a bill requiring such filters only for library PCs designated for minors, but the rest of the library PCs could be filter-free.