Monday, November 09, 2009

Ambivalent would be an understatement

I just stumbled across an article in Wired Magazine about a guy who was arrested and convicted for owning Japanese comic books that had 'depictions of child sex and bestiality' in them.

I really don't know how to feel about this, for a number of reasons.

My first thought is that it's very hard to have any sympathy for a guy who gets off on child porn and bestiality. It's also pretty fair to point out that a guy who gets off on cartoon drawings of child porn would get off in the 'real thing' as well.

The thing I don't like is that his arrest sets a very dangerous precedent.

Firstly, the law this guy was prosecuted under (The 2003 Protect Act) outlaws cartoons, drawings, sculptures or paintings depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and which lack "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

My question is simple. What constitutes serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value?

Obviously, is this case, it's clear cut… but this act forces judges and juries to make calls based on their own specific morals and values rather than on clear cut facts. Basically, whether you go to jail or not depends on the Judge and jury's personalities more than anything else.

For example, not many people realize that in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet', the titular characters are only about eleven years old, and while it's not explicitly shown, they do consummate their marriage…so by today's laws and standards, Romeo and Juliet is a play about an underage couple eloping, having sex and then killing themselves.

My point is simple. If I wrote a play today that featured two pre-teens having sex then killing themselves, I'm fairly certain I'd fall foul of these anti-obscenity laws.

The problem is that there really is no clear cut way to decide what has 'value' and what doesn't.

Ok, if we're completely honest with ourselves, it's pretty difficult to imagine any situation when drawings of children in sexual situations could be considered art…but that brings me to my second problem.

They're basically arresting the guy for 'thought crime'.

Here's the thing. No matter how sick or depraved I think this guy is, you shouldn't be able to arrest someone based on the things they like or the way they think if they never act on those thoughts.

Laws are in place to protect people, and we arrest people for breaking laws, not for thinking about breaking them. I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't steal or shoplift through fear of getting caught rather than because they morally know it's wrong.

Basically, if I wrote a post about how I saw they'd left the loading dock open at Best Buy, and how I could have easily stolen a TV, but didn't because I was too afraid I'd get caught…does that mean I should be arrested for shoplifting? A fantasy, no matter how sick, depraved or socially unacceptable, isn't illegal unless it's actually acted upon.

In all honesty, if we could be arrested for the things we think about, I think the vast majority of us would have done some serious jail time. We've all gotten angry and fantasized about giving someone a smack and there are plenty of artists and writers who 'kill off' characters that are based on people they don't like very much.

As sick and perverted as I think this guy is, I think that all this law is doing is removing the 'safe' outlet for this guy's urges. Even worse, they're making the punishment for his 'safe' outlet the same as for the actual crime. If the punishment for throwing a dart at a picture of someone you don't like is the same as the punishment for punching the person you don't like in the face…who's going to throw darts at pictures any more?

To close, I'd just like to make it clear that I'm not defending or condoning child pornography in any form. I personally think that this guy is sick and that jail is the perfect place for him. The only thing I'm contending is the idea that this law could lead to others where we could one day be arrested based on our moral values instead of the crimes we commit.

One of the main reasons art exists is because it's a victim-free outlet for the things that the majority of society considers to be unacceptable. Basically, I don't want to go to jail because someone thinks the murder victim in the book I'm writing is too similar to a real life person.



MC Etcher said...

Odd thought... If his comic book was about nearly hairless baby monkeys having sex with a unicorn, that would be legal.

Troubling, but legal.

Paulius said...

Oh, it also turns out that the guy was a massive manga/anime collector in general and would import any comics he could get his hands on...the ones containing the 'questionable material' were apparently a tiny percentage of his collection.