Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the art of holding your nose while keeping your car on the right path

Alan Dershowitz didn't come to Claus von Bulow's defense because he thought he was innocent, but because the methods the government used in their investigation were questionable, and if they were allowed to stand, they could potentially be used on the next guy. Similarly, I'm sure the ACLU would have loved to see Rush Limbaugh twist in the wind, but they had to step up and support him after the government raided his personal medical records. Jake and Elwood may hate the Goddamn Illinois Nazis, but they won their court case, and they had the right to hold their rally.

Sometimes you have to come to the defense of people you may not agree with, because the things that are happening to them might happen to you. It's that whole "They came for the Jews" thing.

Mr. Christopher Handley recently plead guilty to "possessing obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children and mailing obscene material." He bought a number of manga of the category known as "lolicon", which offer drawings of pre-pubescent kids in sexual situations. It's short for "Lolita complex", just like in that song by Sting.

They're a big market in Japan. They've also been siezed by police in Japan. And oh BOY have they been siezed here. Specifically, from Mr. Christopher Handley. Out of the thousands of books and DVDs he owned, they found between 150-300 images (as in single panels or pages, as opposed to entire books or movies) that could be judged (as opposed to clearly and plainly WERE) obscene.

Yes, they unabashedly show drawings of little children in sexualized positions and situations. This is unbashedly creepy. The Post Office decided that it would be okay to open this man's mail because the postmaster feared they may contain dirty books. This is ALSO unabashedly creepy.
Certain things make people's brains shut off. Child Porn is one; indeed, it's amazing what people can be talked into or out of in the name of "our children". People who are all for each and every free speech case will look away for a case like this. This becomes one of those "exceptions" that people guiltily admit yeah, maybe in THIS case... But as Sam Vimes said, once you start bending the rules for good reasons, it only makes it easier to bend them for bad reasons.

This is one of those messy "in the middle" cases that people hope don't come up. It's easy to come to the defense of, say, a comic shop who accidentally gave a free copy of a book about Picasso to a kid. It's harder to come to the defense of a guy accused of something everyone considers anathema. But both come down to the same argument: "This is not obscene".

It's like trying to decide what's "too fat". 45 pounds is too thin for a six-foot tall 25 year old; 1,270 pounds is too fat. But what about, say, 215 pounds? You'll never get a consensus. Same here. You'll never get everybody to agree that this guy just liked anime, or that he was collecting these books to skirt the law.

It seems to me that if they had found more "real" child porn, they wouldn't have bothered with the loli comics. This is all they had, and they went with it. they wanted a win, and they got one.

In a rather similar scenario, Paul Rubens (Pee Wee Herman) plead guilty too, to owning like ONE picture (from a lot of like 30,000 pictures of vintage gay porn he'd recently bought) of a young boy (not nude) who was IN a picture where two nude men were posing. He eventually got everything knocked down to a single minor misdemeanor (cause the DA knew they had nothing, but didn't want to walk away with a loss) and he figured it was not worth the time and expense to get the last bit wiped away.

This fellow is almost certainly going to do more than comunity service. We can make guesses about why he chose to plead guilty all we like, but the vast majority of people are going to assume it's because he WAS guilty, or at least guilty enough.

Maybe he is. Maybe he's merely creepy. Maybe his collection was purely innocent, maybe it was a way to get what he wanted without having to actually break the law. Maybe he just can't afford to defend himself anymore. If there was more evidence that the guy was a cretin, it'd be easy to cast him off and not worry about it ever affecting "us".

We'll never know. He's guilty now. He's not going to be able to come back later and claim he had a wide stance.

The knee-jerk reaction in this case has been that the guy is a pedophile, and if you support him in any way, you are "pro-pedophile". This is an argument that is hard to dispute, as it is based on personal opinion, which is notoriously hard to shift. It's the same reason that so much time is spent by, say, Obama's detractors ensuring the world that they disagree with his actions and standings, and not Because He's Black. It's like trying to convince people that you susbcribe to Playboy for the articles. It's just too easy to believe the big idea than to cut it up and realize that these little ideas are true. So in the minds of too many people, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund now "supports child porn" No. This is like saying the George Washington Bridge supports the War in Iraq because trucks containing military equipment drive over it.

I do not envy the CBLDF in this case. But like the ACLU et al, they must come to the defense of people who are being prosecuted in a way that could eventually be used against everyone else.

Once it's a precedent that drawings of children, ones that were not posed for or anything, can be considered child porn, it opens dangerous doors. There's a certan magnificent piece of comic work by a certain well known comics writer and his new wife that people are just DREADING some easily offended person with access to a letterhead will come across.

This was not a case that was trying to get certain types of art declared not obscene, it was a case dedicated to making sure the government didn't gain more ability to declare certain types of art obscene.

Here's an example. I recall a cartoon from Playboy from years ago, back when I didn't bother to claim I was reading it for the articles. A young girl is in a Doctor's office; the doctor and her mother are looking at her. She is unclothed, standing in the examining room. She has bunny ears and a tail sprouting from her head and sit-upon, respectively. The doctor says "Well on the bright side, you know what she'll be when she grows up".

This is a cartoon featuring an unclothed minor in an issue of Playboy. Is that child porn? Thanks to the new rules, the answer can't be any better than "maybe not".


  1. Under certain circumstances, propriety is a slippery slope, to say the least -- especially with minors are involved. Oy! Excellent post, Vin!