WHAT IS OBSCENE? Republican bill seeks redefinition to stifle pornography

WHAT IS OBSCENE? Republican bill seeks redefinition to stifle pornography

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) wants to regulate how you, um, enjoy yourself in the privacy of your own home.

The Interstate Obscenity and Definition Act (IODA), which Lee first put forward last month but may reintroduce with the new Congress now in session, would seek to adjust the “Miller test” from the 1973 case, Miller v. California, in determining whether something is considered obscene.

That standard is as follows:

“(a) [W]hether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. . . (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Since the internet crosses state lines and has served to essentially obliterate part (b) of the standard, Lee contends that Congress should step in to regulate content under the guise of the Commerce Clause.

According to a press release from Lee’s office, the IODA would tighten the language of the Miller and go back to the Communications Act of 1934.

It “[d]efines ‘obscenity’ within the Communications Act of 1934 as content that: (i) taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, (ii) depicts, describes or represents actual or simulated sexual acts with the objective intent to arouse, titillate, or gratify the sexual desires of a person, and, (iii) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

So Mr. Lee thinks we should go back to the purer time of 1934 when no one had a TV, much less the internet; the Great Depression was in full swing; and Father Coughlin was preaching about Jews on the radio (that was still allowed).

So far the bill has no co-sponsors. Another bill by Lee intended to add more security features so that minors cannot access porn as easily stands much more of a shot – mainly because it doesn’t involve consenting adults – though that too has yet to garner a co-sponsor.

As for IODA, here’s why I wouldn’t worry too much:

First: Americans will stand for many things – racist language, bigotry, outright misogyny – and still support candidates.

But the moment you come for their food or their porn, you’re in trouble.

Lee can get away with it in Utah, perhaps, but good luck selling that one anywhere else in the country.

Second: Republicans, like most people, masturbate. (We’ll put aside for the moment how they jerk the rest of the country around.)

They might not admit it, but you can be sure they have to get out all that buried anger somehow.

That means that most will probably stay completely silent on Lee’s bill. Any who do speak up to offer moral support will probably find it within their hearts to oppose it on Constitutional grounds – which is also correct, by the way, whatever the Supreme Court says.

Side note: This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns about women in porn.

The porn industry should be regulated and we should make sure that all of the people involved are safe and that none are being compelled to act against their will.

We should also be seeking to guarantee that everyone has enough economic opportunities so that no one feels they have to enter the porn business just to survive – in other words, make it less exploitative.

But Lee’s bill isn’t really about that.

Instead, it’s about imposing his religiously motivated morality on everyone else.

Just as Republicans want to tell people who they should marry, what they should do with their bodies, and what they should believe, they also want to dictate forms of expression.

It’s why they’ve determined certain forms of legal protests are unacceptable and certain people should not be heard from.

In other words, Republican use “cancel culture” to actually cancel culture.

Conservative talking heads and GOP leaders will often talk a great game about supposed liberal cancel culture – especially when it involves liberals calling out racism and bigotry – but see how you do talking with a Republican about atheism, abortion, minority rights, voting rights, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

You’ll be ejected faster than Ye at a kosher deli.

The third reason IODA won’t fly: Money.

The porn industry generates billions and billions of dollars. And if there’s one thing Republicans will pretty much never go against as a party, it’s big money.

The fourth holdback: Terrible branding.

IODA? Sounds like an act about regulating gyro consumption.

He couldn’t have gone with something a little more clever, like the Help Us Maintain Purity Act (HUMP or HUMPA!, if you like)?

Or maybe the Bringing Adequate Norms to Guys (BANG) Act? Or, of course, the Facing Unparalleled Corruption with Kindness Act (I’ll let you do that last acronym yourself).

So have no fear: your porn is safe. It’s just another example of GOP grandstanding.

Maybe Mike Lee should find some other way to relieve his frustration. And, no, I don’t mean that, you dirty, dirty mind you!

If you’re tired of the GOP, click on @RossRosenfeld to join Ross on Twitter as he “goes after the bastards.”

Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.