Tuesday, May 20, 2008


So, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld a provision in the anti-pornography laws, regarding children.

On the one hand, purveyors of such should be prosecuted, no question.

On the other hand, where you draw the line is kind of scary, if you are a writer or an artist.

One of the provisions, as I understand it, that you don't even have to possess the stuff. Go on line, ask somebody on a site or somewhere if they have any kiddie porn, that's good for five years. If you offer some for sale, that's also five in the Big House. Intent is enough.

If you pretend that you have some for sale, and you don't, that gets you a nickel. If you have something fake, like, say, a woman who is over eighteen, but who looks under-age, and you market it as kiddie porn, that gets you nailed, as well.

Okay, still not a problem for most folks, since anybody who is trying to buy (or sell) the stuff is probably already guilty and looking to add to his stock. But where it gets iffy is in the depiction of any such material in movies or books or the like.

Some years ago, I wrote a novel in which the villain, one Marcus Jefferson Wall, was a pedophile. I wanted somebody really bad, and I thought that was as evil as I could get. Not to give anything away, but a key plot point hinged on the fact that the little girl Wall thought he was corrupting was actually much older and surgically-enhanced to look underage, and part of a con game. Even so, as a result of his actions, Wall dies a particularly horrible death -- and good riddance.

I couldn't make him sympathetic, but I wanted to try and see if I could make a reader understand why he did what he did, even if they didn't agree with it. I dunno how well I managed it, but better to reach and fall than not.

However: Would I risk being sent to a federal pen if I wrote that today? It seems possible to me that the law could be interpreted that way if an overzealous prosecutor decided to pick it up and run with it. Would somebody doing an expose on child-prostitution rings in Bangkok get hammered? If you take pictures of your naked toddler in a swimming pool and send them your grandma online, are you and granny going to be spending the kid's tender years in stir?

This makes me nervous. I don't think child pornography is, or should be, protected under free speech, but given some of the ways the Fed has meddled in our lives since 9/11, I trust them even less than I did when Nixon was President.


Todd Erven said...

I agree completely. Child pornography shouldn't be tolerated in any way but the broadness of that gives me shivers.

Dan Moran said...

You can write a novel about a serial killer who slices people to bits, lovingly dwelling on how Bit A connects to Bit B, no worries. But Vladimir Nabokov would be in trouble, in this day and age.

Steve Perry said...

I can remember the days when the word "fuck" in a novel would get the writer, publisher, and seller arrested. When Eros Magazine, which is tamer than the Victoria's Secret Catalogue these days got the publisher five years in a federal pen.

Writers can work around restrictions -- I grew up reading guys who could show you a blow job and never once use any language that was iillegal. But I don't want to have to go back to those days.

A slavering serial killer cutting up a victim is porn. Bodies piled high in a magazine article wherein the writer uses the term "F--!" when quoting a soldier who found the corpses -- that is obscene ...