Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Art vs. Obscenity - Drawing Distinctions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Art vs. Obscenity - Drawing Distinctions

Article excerpt

Pornography is in the news again. In Congress, the proposed Pornography Victims Compensation Act is under discussion. Massachusetts legislators are considering similar antipornography laws that would allow anyone harmed by pornography to sue the producers. And last February, in Butler v. Her Majesty, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that pornography was constitutionally unprotected because it harms women.

The feminist idea of pornography, as newly adopted in these proposed laws and the Canadian case, is not the same as obscenity. While pornography degrades women and is at war with equality, obscenity offends one's sense of decency and is at war with morality. This dichotomy, championed by feminist Catherine MacKinnon, has not yet been adopted by United States courts.

Enter Edward de Grazia, who argued and won several noted obscenity cases, including the famous 1964 case involving Henry Miller's spicy autobiographical book, "Tropic of Cancer." A lawyer turned law professor, de Grazia is also the author of books on censorship - most recently, "Girls Lean Back Everywhere."

In style and substance, this tome is provocative. The title itself refers to a quotation suggesting that female sexual provocation and male response are universal and "no one is corrupted."

Stylistically, de Grazia subtly defends obscenity; he sometimes replicates it in his own writing. Some chapter titles are laced with four-letter words while others contain lewd innuendoes. In effect, de Grazia dares his adversaries to censure this book, thus proving his point about the arbitrary quality of censorship.

The book is the best compilation of particulars relating primarily to the American experience with obscenity. The Yeshiva University law professor offers fact-filled accounts of several of the most famous obscenity cases.

His account treats obscenity as if it were essentially indistinguishable from literary and artistic expression. …

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