Sexual Behaviour in Canada: Patterns and Problems

By Benjamin Schlesinger | Go to book overview

Obscenity *

LAW REFORM COMMISSION OF CANADA


THE MEANING OF OBSCENITY

What is obscenity? Clearly something hard to talk about constructively. For one thing there is a problem of good faith. 'Obscenity,' said George Orwell, 'is difficult to discuss honestly - people are too frightened of seeming to be shocked or of not seeming to be shocked.' For another, there is lack of agreement about the definition of obscenity.

After all, what makes a thing obscene? Take a theatrical performance for example. Some college students once put on a play to open their college theatre. The opening had been widely publicized, the house was full and a lot of local dignitaries were present. The play itself passed off without remark until the final scene, which showed a burning at the stake: the stage completely dark, a solitary spotlight on the centre, and in the midst of the flames the victim standing absolutely naked. Some students giggled, some dignitaries walked out, one middle- aged woman told newspaper reporters afterwards: 'I didn't know where to look.' The college authorities made the students change the scene for subsequent performances.

But was the play obscene? Should there have been a prosecution and conviction with all this would have involved? Or if there had been a prosecution, should there have been an acquittal on the ground that the play was not obscene?

____________________
*
Reprinted in extract from Law Reform Commission of Canada, Limits of Criminal Law: Obscenity: A Test Case, Working Paper No. 10 ( Ottawa: 1975).

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