Changing idea of obscenity

The New York Times has a fascinating article up today on an obscenity trial in Florida, in which the defense is using google’s statistics to prove that a community’s standards differ from what people profess in public.  I think this is a brilliant way to address the insanely inconsistant rules dictating obscenity cases.

I have some first hand experience with this.  Back in college I worked on an anthology of student comics, and since one of our best submissions featured some nudity the editors decided to run it by a lawyer from student legal services prior to distribution.  We met with a lawyer and all we got out of the experience was a photocopy of the definition of obscenity from a legal dictionary (he also felt the need to highlight it for us).

After a bit more research we found out the issue was even more confusing than we suspected.  I went to school at UMass: Amherst, which is part of a 5 college consortium in the Pioneer Valley.  We decided we would distribute our book on all 5 campuses, plus a few bookstores in the area.  What our research showed was that each town, and actually each campus would have its own legal community standard.  In the end we threw our hands up in the air and released the thing as planned (it helped that it was a very liberal area) and we didn’t have any difficulties.  But I can’t begin to imagine what people elsewhere have to deal with considering that the standard for us was essentially that there wasn’t one (until someone complains anyway).

So, I applaud the efforts going on down in Florida.  This is a law that needs to be reexamined and this is a great way to point that fact out.

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