Friday, June 1, 2007

The obscenity crusade continues

Ever since taking office, Attorney General Gonzales has been on a new crusade against obscenity, naming is a "top priority" for federal law enforcement. To illustrate that Gonzales meant business, check out the press releases page of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity section, and note the impressive number of press releases bragging about obscenity prosecutions. The most visible has been the prosecution of Extreme Associates, which produced a short-lived district court ruling that the federal obscenity laws violate the right to privacy. The unusual prosecution of a Pennsylvania woman for online stories -- pure text -- about child sexual abuse has also grabbed headlines.

Justice's latest target is Max Hardcore, whose name is widely known and often reviled within the porn industry. According to the Justice Department, his films feature "severe violence" against women. To be sure, as in the Extreme case, this guy's films are utterly tasteless and gratuitously mean. Moreover, Max Hardcore has repeatedly been accused of mistreating his talent, in terms ranging from just being an asshole boss to downright criminal behavior. As with Extreme, Justice is very smart, from a public-relations perspective, to pick on such an unsympathetic yet successful pornographer, and to emphasize the "violent" content of his work.

But this indictment is not for coercing women into sex on film, or for any kind of exploitation of anyone. It's for obscenity, i.e. putting someone in jail for years for making dirty pictures. Justice doesn't seek to prove that the "violence" in these films is anything other than pretend, albeit disturbing. If Max Hardcore were indicted for actually harming someone, a good number of porn industry folks would cheer. Instead, this prosecution is likely to make him something of a martyr within the business. And who, other than fans of low-quality smut, wants that?

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