[NOT HUMOR] It's indecent!

Mark Q. Maxham (max@atg.apple.com)
Wed, 22 Feb 1995 10:18:31 -0800

by Steve Russell
American Reporter Correspondent
San Antonio, Texas

by Steve Russell
American Reporter Correspondent

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- You motherfuckers in Congress have dropped
over the edge of the earth this time. I understand that very few of the
swarm of high dollar lobbyists around the Telecommunications Bill had any
interest in content regulation -- they were just trying to get their
clients an opportunity to dip their buckets in the money stream that
cyberspace may become -- but the public interest sometimes needs a little
attention. Keeping your eyes on what big money wants, you have sold out
the First Amendment.
First, some basics. If your children walked by a public park and
heard some angry sumbitches referring to Congress as "the sorriest bunch
of cocksuckers ever to sell out the First Amendment" or suggesting that
"the only reason to run for Congress these days is to suck the lobbyists'
dicks and fuck the people who sent you there," no law would be violated
(assuming no violation of noise ordinances or incitement to breach the
peace). If your children did not wish to hear that language, they could
only walk away. Thanks to your heads-up-your-ass dereliction of duty, if
they read the same words in cyberspace, they could call the FBI!
Cyberspace is the village green for the whole world. It is the
same as the village green our Founders knew as the place to rouse the
rabble who became Americans, but it is also different. Your blind
acceptance of the dubious -- make that dogass dumb -- idea that children
are harmed by hearing so-called dirty words has created some pretty stupid
regulations without shutting down public debate, but those stupid
regulations will not import to cyberspace without consequences that even
the public relations whores in Congress should find unacceptable.
In cyberspace, there is no time. A posted message stays posted
until it is wiped. Therefore, there is no way to indulge the fiction that
children do not stay up late or cannot program a VCR.
In cyberspace, there is no place. The "community standards" are
those of the whole world. An upload from Amsterdam can become a download
in Idaho. By trying to regulate obscenity and indecency on the Internet,
you have reduced the level of expression allowed consenting adults to that
of the most anal retentive blueballed fuckhead U.S. attorney in the
country. The Internet is everywhere you can plug in a modem. Call
Senator Exon an "ignorant motherfucker" in Lincoln, Nebraska and find
yourself prosecuted in Bibleburg, Mississippi.
In cyberspace, you cannot require the convenience store to sell
Hustler in a white sleeve. The functional equivalent is gatekeeper
software, to which no civil libertarian has voiced any objection.
Gatekeeper software cannot be made foolproof, but can you pandering
pissants not see that any kid smart enough to hack into a Website is also
smart enough to get his hands on a hard copy of Hustler if he really wants
In cyberspace, there is the illusion of anonymity but no real
privacy. It is theoretically possible for any Internet server to seine
through all messages for key words (although it seems likely the resulting
slowdown would be noticeable). Perhaps some of you read about America On
Line's attempt to keep children from reading the word "breast?" An
apparently unforeseen consequence was the shutdown of a discussion group
of breast cancer survivors. Don't you think more kids are aware of "teat"
(pronounced "tit") than of "breast?" Can skirts on piano legs, er, limbs
be far behind?
But silly shit like this is just a pimple on the ass of the
long-term consequences for politics, art and education. You have passed a
law that will get less respect than the 55 m.p.h. speed limit dead bang in
the middle of the First Amendment. Indecency is nothing but a matter of
fashion; obscenity is the same but on a longer timeline. This generation
freely reads James Joyce and Henry Miller and the Republic still stands.
The home of the late alleged pornographer D. H. Lawrence is now a
beautiful writers' retreat in the mountains above Taos, managed by the
University of New Mexico.
Universities all have Internet servers, and every English
Department has at least one scholar who can read Chaucer's English -- but
not on the Internet anymore. Comparative literature classes might read
Boccaccio -- but not on the Internet anymore. What if some U. S. Attorney
hears about Othello and Desdemona "making the beast with two backs" -- is
interracial sex no longer indecent anywhere in the country, or is
Shakespeare off the Internet?
Did you know you can download video and sound from the Internet?
Yes, that means you can watch other people having sex if that is
interesting to you, live or on tape. Technology can make such things hard
to retrieve, but probably not impossible. And since you have swept right
past obscenity and into indecency, the baby boomers had better keep their
old rock 'n roll tapes off the Internet.
When the Jefferson Airplane sang "her heels rise for me," they
were not referring to a dance step. And if some Brit explains the line
about "finger pie" in Penny Lane, the Beatles will be gone. All of those
school boards that used to ban "The Catcher in the Rye" over cussing and
spreading the foul lie that kids masturbate can now go to federal court
and get that nasty book kept out of cyberspace.
But enough about the past. What about rap music? No, I do not
care much for it either -- any more than I care for the language you
shitheads have forced me to use in this essay -- but can you not see the
immediate differential impact of this law by class and race? What is your
defense -- that there are no African-Americans on the Internet, since they
are too busy pimping and dealing crack? If our educational establishment
has any sense at all, they will be trying to see more teens of all colors
on the Internet, because there is a lot to be learned in cyberspace that
has nothing to do with sex.
There are plenty of young people in this country who have
legitimate political complaints. When you dickheads get done with Social
Security, they will be lucky if the retirement age is still in double
digits. But thanks to the wonderful job the public schools have done
keeping sex and violence out, we have a lot of intelligent kids who cannot
express themselves without indecent language. I have watched lawyers in
open court digging their young clients in the ribs every time the word
"fuck" slipped out.
Let's talk about this fucking indecent language bullshit. Joe
Shea, my editor, does not want it in his newspaper, and I respect that
position. He might even be almost as upset about publishing this as I a
about writing it. I do use salty language in my writing, but sparingly,
only as a big hammer. Use the fucking shit too fucking much and it loses
its fucking impact -- see what I mean? Fiction follows different rules,
and if you confine your fiction writing to how the swell people want to
see themselves using language, you not only preclude literary depiction of
most people but you are probably false to the people you purport to
Do you remember how real language used by real people got on the
air and in the newspapers? Richard Nixon, while he was president,
speaking in the White House about official matters. A law professor and a
nominee for Supreme Court Justice arguing about pubic hairs and porno
movies during Senate hearings. Are these matters now too indecent for the
Internet? How much cleansing will be required of the online news
services? Answer: Enough cleansing to meet the standard of what is
appropriate for a child in the most restrictive federal judicial district.
This is bullshit -- unconstitutional bullshit and also bad policy
bullshit. To violate your ban on indecency, I have been forced to use
and overuse so-called indecent language. But if I called you a bunch of
goddam motherfucking cocksucking cunt-eating blue-balled bastards with the
morals of muggers and the intelligence of pond scum, that would be
nothing compared to this indictment, to wit: you have sold the First
Amendment, your birthright and that of your children. The Founders turn
in their graves. You have spit on the grave of every warrior who fought
under the Stars and Stripes.
And what mess of pottage have you acquired in exchange for the
rights of a free people? Have you cleansed the Internet of even the
rawest pornography? No, because it is a worldwide system. You have,
however, handed the government a powerful new tool to harass its
critics: a prosecution for indecent commentary in any district in the
Have you protected one child from reading dirty words? Probably
not, if you understand what the economists call "substitution" -- but you
have leveled the standards of political debate to a point where a history
buff would not dare to upload some of the Federalist v. Anti-Federalist
election rhetoric to a Website.
Since the lobby reporting requirements were not law when the
censorship discussion was happening, I hope you got some substantial
reward for what you gave up. Thirty pieces of silver doesn't go far
these days.


(Steve Russell, retired after 16 years as a trial judge in Texas,
is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of
Texas at San Antonio.)

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