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Is Censorship a Civil Right?
[On March 19, 1992, my friend John Dentinger died of AIDS at the age of 39. He was a solid libertarian and a gay rights activist with the wickedest sense of humor I have ever encountered. The following essay chronicles an adventure John had in 1984. He was always adventuring into politics and having a blast while he did so. I had the immense of being part of John's political theatre in this case.]
PART ONE OF THREE PARTS
For some years now, Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, the Laurel and Hardy of the feminist left, have been pushing the oxymoron of a "civil rights anti-pornography" ordinance. They got such an ordinance signed into law in Indianapolis, and despite defeats in the courts, similar measures continued to crop up across the country: in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the city and county of Los Angeles and elsewhere. Civil libertarians wrote the measure off as dead after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the law's invalidation. Yet up from the coffin, by a sort of elan mortel, a similar measure was passed (by initiative) as lately as 1988 in Bellingham, Washington, although it was clobbered in federal court the following year. However, since the Supreme Court never heard the case on its merits, and considering the changing makeup of the Court, there is no telling what new holes will be discovered in the Swiss cheese of the Constitution.
It goes without saying that the repeated courtroom defeats of this excursion into darkest Orwell caused neither Dworkin or MacKinnon to cease promoting the ideas behind it. Why should we expect defeat or indignity to stop them, when even Richard Nixon won't go away? A series of law schools including Yale and UCLA did implicitly ask MacKinnon to go away, providing her with visiting professorships, but not offering her tenure, turning her into a sort of Flying Dutchman of book burning. When the music stopped, remarkably, she did get a tenured position, offered by the University of Michigan.
There is one context in which "censorship as a civil right" is not surreal, and that is the rhetoric of the modern civil rights movement, which may have guaranteed an eventual collision with civil liberties, in particular with the First Amendment.
These issues came to a boil in Los Angeles just as I was completing the transition from gaderpillar to full-fledged gadfly. In earlier years, I was only vaguely aware that I could go and participate in the politic circus so dryly reported in the Los Angeles Times; in later years I entered the circus only via newspaper and magazine articles, taking the cynical attitude toward personal participation in the circus, "Forget it, Jake. It's Toontown."
And sure enough, L.A. City Hall was: Bible-thumping politicians, Constitution-trashing lawyers, political gadflies, publicity-hungry careerists, sensationalist reporters ... it's Toontown, all right. You wouldn't want to live there...but it's a fun place to visit.
THE LEFT'S CONTRIBUTlON TO CENSORSHIP
Freedom of speech is a truce. In exchange for deferring to minorities' right to speak on an issue, the majority hopes to be respected when it is in the minority. This is like an "I'll scratch your back and you scratch mine" pact with a tiger.
Suppose, for example, a conservative agrees that liberty is a good thing, and that he will tolerate yours if you tolerate his. Suddenly it will turn out that you must tolerate all of his doings, whereas whatever you desire to do is not "liberty" but "license," which he will not tolerate, such as the display of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs of calla lilies, which are suggestive to the conservative of "deviate sexual intercourse." You will find that very little does not suggest this to the conservative.
Conversely, suppose a liberal agrees that liberty is a good thing, and he will tolerate yours if you tolerate his. Suddenly it will turn out that you must tolerate all of his doings, whereas whatever you desire to do is not "liberty" but "discrimination," which he will not tolerate, such as high school library stocking books like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, which are suggestive to the liberal of "racism" or "sexism." You will find that very little does not suggest these to the liberal.
What the conservative and liberal approaches have in common is the premise that there is or should be no difference between law and morality; that is, what one ought to do, one ought to be forced to do.
A veneer of legitimacy is draped over this by using threats first, but force is always the final argument -- lethal force, if the citizen resists sufficiently.
The modern civil rights movement began with goals which united liberal and civil libertarian: the eradication of Jim Crow laws, which used the state to keep blacks subordinated -- while continuing, of course, to tax blacks for this very purpose, thus adding extortion to injury.
Civil libertarians parted company with liberals over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which attempted to eradicate private discrimination. Now, I don't have any problem with outlawing discrimination by pseudo-private operations, like utility companies and defense contractors; they receive tax dollars and are so heavily imbued with state action that the Constitution should be read as requiring them not to discriminate irrationally. But in order to ban truly private discrimination, Congress -- and the Supreme Court -- had to blur the crucial distinction between state and private action, decreeing privately owned businesses such as movie theaters to be "places of public accommodation." What this meant, unfortunately, was that if theater owners could not keep out blacks (or whites), then neither could they keep out vice cops.
It was not long before the Right used the liberals' precedent as a sword against the First Amendment. In 1973, in Paris Adult Theater I vs. Slayton, Warren Burger wrote a censorship-affirming decision for the Supreme Court:
"This Court has, on numerous occasions, refused to hold that commercial ventures such as a motion-picture house are `private' for the purpose of civil rights litigation and civil rights statutes. See ... Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. vs. United States.... The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically defines motion-picture houses and theaters as places of 'public accommo- dation' covered by the Act as operations affecting commerce.... Nothing in this Court's decisions intimates that there is any ... privacy right ... to watch obscene movies in places of public accommodation."
The theater owners contended that their business involved merely a transaction between "consenting adults," but their argument did not avail. Liberals considered it a coup to make commercial enterprises into second class citizens, taking away the right to freedom of (and from) association, which is still conceded to solitary individuals.
But publishers are commercial enterprises, too.
Once you declare total war on the white whale of discrimination, there is no clear place to stop short of sinking the First Amendment. If you can't refuse to admit or hire blacks or women, you can't permit your employees -- or yourself -- to make racist or sexist remarks -- or even jokes. You've got to take down those Hustler cartoons from the wall of your auto body shop, even though a federal appeals court told Andrea Dworkin she couldn't sue over them....
You've got to take Huckleberry Finn out of the school library for alleged racism or The Merchant of Venice for supposed anti-Semitism. Or perhaps you pass an ordinance allowing any black person or Jew to sue the publishers, distributors, and retailers of Huckleberry Finn and The Merchant of Venice, respectively. This is what Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon proposed to allow women to do with respect to "pornography."
The 1984ish notion of "censorship as a civil right" did not even wait until 1984 to head its ugly rear into the public eye.
Civil libertarian and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz describes two debates he had in 1980 on the subject of censorship. The first was with Andrea Dworkin, who "sprinkles her writing generously with four-letter words and long, explicit excerpts to illustrate the evils of pornography," of which she advocates the total destruction, by violence, if necessary. As a further indication of her mind set, she has described pornography as "genocide," indulging in the sort of exaggerated rhetoric which desensitizes one to lexicide, the murder of words. Dworkin has also written that it is acceptable for women to have sex with men as long as the man's penis isn't erect -- this although, given her unkemptness and corpulence, her only chance of impalement by anything long and hard would be in an encounter with the harpoon of a nearsighted Eskimo.
In debating her, Dershowitz said -- over feminist booing and hissing -- "what I support is freedom of choice about pornography. I informed the audience that a recent law in Iran prohibiting pornography also required all women to keep their faces covered. I reminded them that efforts by the Moral Majority to `clean up' television included feminist programs within the definition of pornography. I quoted Gloria Steinem to the effect that `the long history of anti-obscenity laws makes it clear that such laws are most often invoked against political and lifestyle dissidents.' " The Moral Majority would be the enforcers of such laws, said Dershowitz, and "among the first books they would want to ban, are the writings of Andrea Dworkin." Dworkin scoffed.
In the other debate, with the Reverend Tom Michel, leader of the Moral Majority in New England, Dershowitz asked the Reverend whether his organization would, if it had the power, ban Andrea Dworkin's writings. "He answered without hesitation: `We would most certainly ban such ungodly writings. It is not necessary to use pornography to illustrate its evils. It is only necessary to read the Bible.' " Dershowitz reminded the Reverend that the Bible has been among the most censored books in the history of the world.
In 1983, the city of Minneapolis was trying to devise zoning ordinances to regulate adult bookstores and massage parlors. Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, a professor of constitutional law, argued against the proposed ordinance as condoning the existence of pornography, and suggested, instead, an ordinance declaring pornography to be a violation of women's civil rights. The city hired MacKinnon as a consultant -- at $70 an hour -- to draft such an ordinance. (Her assistants, notes writer Pat Califia, "were paid $5.40 an hour, which is enough to make any woman look for a job in the sex industry.")
Consider these excerpts from their "model civil rights law" that resulted:
"Section 1. STATEMENT OF POLICY.
Pornography is sex discrimination. It exists in [PLACE], posing a substantial threat to the health, safety, peace, welfare, and equality of citizens in the community.... Pornography is a systematic practice of exploitation and subordination based on sex that differentially harms women. The harm of pornography includes dehumanization, sexual exploitation, forced sex, forced prostitution.... The bigotry and contempt it promotes, with the acts of aggression it fosters ... undermine women's equal exercise of rights to speech and action guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution....
Section 2. DEFINITIONS
Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words that also includes one or more of the following: (i) women are presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities; or ... (iv) women are presented as sexual objects tied up or cut up or mutilated or bruised or physically hurt; or ... (vii) women are presented as whores by nature....
Section 3. UNLAWFUL PRACTICES
1. Coercion into pornography: It shall be sex discrimination to coerce ... any person ... into performing for pornography. The maker(s), seller(s), exhibitor(s), and/or distributor(s) ... may be sued for damages and for an injunction, including to eliminate the product(s) of the performance(s) from the public view. Proof of one or more of the following ... shall not, without more, negate a finding of coercion: ... (xi) that the person has attained the age of majority; ... or (ix) that the person knew that the purpose of the acts or events in question was to make pornography; or (x) that the person ... appeared to cooperate actively...; or (xi) that the person signed a contract...; or (xi) that no physical force, threats, or weapons were used...; or (xii) that the person was paid or otherwise compensated.
2. Trafficking in pornography: It shall be sex discrimination to produce, sell, exhibit, or distribute pornography, including through private clubs.... Any woman has a claim hereunder as a woman acting against the subordination of women.
3. Forcing pornography on a person ... in any place of employment, education, home, or public place....
4. Assault or physical attack due to pornography: ... The perpetrator of the assault or attack may be sued.... The maker(s), seller(s), exhibitor(s), and/or distributor(s) may also be sued for damages and for an injunction against the specific pornography's further exhibition, distribution, or sale."
The Minneapolis city council passed the ordinance. The mayor vetoed it, as he did a later version on July 13, 1984, but with the proviso that he would not do so again if a similar ordinance in Indianapolis fared well in federal court. In early 1984, right-wingers in Indianapolis, including William Hudnut (the city's mayor and a Presbyterian minister), invited the intellectual, respectable-looking MacKinnon to their conservative city so they too could have one of them there newfangled book burning ordinances. The unkempt, rabble-rousing Dworkin was wisely left behind.
MacKinnon produced an ordinance and testified as to its merits, going so far as to describe Indianapolis as "a place that takes seriously the rights of women and the rights of all people...." This distortion by an outsider outraged local feminists. It also betrayed MacKinnon's oblivion to the fact that her supporters in the police department were continuing their three-year campaign of videotaping and beating of gay men in the city's downtown.
After MacKinnon was whisked out of the way by the right-wing councilwoman who organized the logistics of testimony, a group of fundamentalists were ushered in to complain of "unnatural acts" and "sodomy," and to pressure the Republicans into enacting the legislation. The vote was strictly along party lines: Republicans, 24, in favor; Democrats, 5, against. On May l, 1984, the mayor signed the bill into law.
The same day, a coalition of bookstores, video retailers, press trade associations, and a cable television station filed a legal challenge. On November 19, 1984, Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker (a Reagan appointee, no less) threw out the ordinance as unconstitutional because: it restricted speech protected by the First Amendment; it was overbroad and vague; and, it constituted prior restraint. The city later appealed, at an estimated cost of a quarter of a million dollars.
MacKinnon claims, according to feminist writer Lisa Duggan, that "the coalition that passed the law represented `women who understand what pornography does and means for women in this culture....'" Duggan commented further, "As a description of events in Indianapolis, her statement is profoundly out of touch with political reality."
The claim that she and Dworkin were "in bed with the Right" would get MacKinnon's dander for years to come.
Later in the year, in Suffolk County, New York, the fundamentalists completely took over the "civil rights anti-pornography" concept. The "legislative intent" section of this "civil rights" law stated that pornography causes "sodomy" and "destruction of the family unit," and other conditions "inimical to the public good." The bill was supported by the leftist Women Against Pornography (WAP) until the last moment, when they decided the ordinance was really (horrors!) anti-obscenity rather than anti-pornography. Partly as a result of Judge Barker's decision, the bill was defeated, by 9-8. Supporters said it would be reintroduced if the Indianapolis law were upheld on appeal.
During all this, beginning in 1984, there was agitation for both the city and the county of Los Angeles to enact a Dworkin-MacKinnon style ordinance. Indeed, the villains were already on stage:
Kenny Hahn: one of the five members of L.A. County Board of Supervisors. He is considered a liberal because he is liberal with other people's taxes. An aged graduate of the Foster Brooks school of oratory, he often sounds as if he's been nipping at the old anti-freeze. But when you can make out the words, he's often quoting Scripture.
Michael Antonovich: a bland, blond, Bible-banging ultra-right winger, he was chairman of the state Republican Party and a 46 year old bachelor who wished to impose "family values" on everyone else. (He has since gotten older but no marrieder.)
Gloria Allred: a local Feminist Attorney, best known for her hit-and-run sidewalk press conferences in front of establishments which she threatens to sue for sex discrimination. Her strident voice, straight black hair, and china-doll red lipstick have graced many a local TV news story, on such cutting edge civil rights issues as seeing to it that women in expensive restaurants are not insulted by receiving menus without prices.
Peter Bogdanovich: a guilt-ridden movie director. His guilt is not about his string of flops such as "At Long Last Love," "Nickelodeon," and "Daisy Miller," but rather about his affair with Dorothy Stratten, an erstwhile Playboy centerfold subject. The affair culminated in Stratten's bloody murder by her jealous husband. Bogdanovich has tried to shift the blame to anyone or anything but himself.
The Los Angeles County Commission on the Status of Women: a sort of Greek chorus intoning the dire effects of unchecked pornography, such as discrimination. Members of such commissions are not, as a rule, raving intellectuals, but are appointed because they or their husbands contributed money to the right campaigns. * * *
THE PLOT UNFOLDS
In July, 1984, the L.A. Times published an op-ed piece by Gloria Allred entitled, "Pornographer's Rights End Where the Victim's Begin" -- a question-begging phraseology, to be sure, but perfectly in the spirit of what followed. "Sticks and stones may break one's bones, but words and pictures are protected by the First Amendment -- or so argue some who use this tricky slogan to defend pornography."
The piece set forth paragraph upon paragraph of the same unsupported assertions that had been made (almost verbatim) by Dworkin and MacKinnon. For example: "The factual basis for these ordinances is unusually compelling." Well, perhaps by the standards of legislators, they are. "Women have testified to the use of pornography to break their self-esteem, to train them to sexual submission, to intimidate them out of job opportunities...." No details are given to lend credence to these claims. "Pornography robs many women -- some would say every woman (how demure of her to distance herself from these extremists) -- of the opportunity to fully exercise their free speech. Pornography ... becomes the ultimate silencer." Well, Allred and MacKinnon don't seem to be suffering in silence. Indeed, Dworkin wrote an entire book on pornography and she still can't shut up.
In August, 1984, a committee of the Los Angeles City Council began a series of hearings to consider Indianapolis-style legislation. The committee consisted of Art Snyder, somewhat of a liberal; Hal Bernson, a conservative; and chairman Ernani Bernardi, who is difficult to categorize and is usually termed a "maverick." Bernardi spoke in favor of such an ordinance.
In late August, the L.A. Herald-Examiner published my article, "The First Amendment: Void in Los Angeles?" The idea that pornography causes anything at all, I noted, assumed "that men have no more control over their actions than Pavlov's dogs had over their saliva. Since freewill is not easily measured in laboratories, this notion is popular in university psychology departments, but this kind of `psychological science' bears the same relation to science that horseapples do to apples. Much as this (mostly government-funded) `science' neatly justifies government's anti-freedom agenda...human beings have volition. Freewill. Reading may inspire, even incite one to action; it does not cause one's action....Note also that we are so far down the road of substituting pseudo-rights for rights, that the proponents of censoring sexually explicit materials don't even bother to trot out the hoary notion that it might inspire rape, which is at least a real crime. The would-be censors have degenerated to claiming that the offending materials might cause discrimination.
"The anti-feminist tenor of many parts of the Bible unquestionably affects many religious men in this country and inspires them to discriminate against women. Even so, I submit that we should decline to censor the Bible; I invite Bernardi and Allred to submit their opinions on this matter...."
(Here I considered but decided against remarking that it was not, in all likelihood, the perusal of pornography which led the Catholic church to discriminate against women who wished to become priests, bishops, popes, and the like.)
"The proposed ordinance marks our further deterioration from a society of contract -- in which consenting adults are free to consummate whatever personal or economic transaction they see fit -- to a society of status. It would give us a special government-designated superior class of people -- women -- who would have, in effect, the right to censor the reading material of another class: men. This apes the feudal class structure of lords and serfs, with different laws applying to different classes. This, then, is where years of progressive, egalitarian thinking have led us: to the thirteenth century. Imagine where more of it will lead."
I wrapped up with a suggestion that we "leave Bernardi, Allred, and their illegitimate political offspring precisely where they belong -- on the cutting-room floor."
In October, I went down to testify before Bernardi's committee, giving an expanded version of my op-ed piece. Listening to the other speakers was most educational. There were women from rape crisis centers, organizations one would think offhand to be fairly benign examples of your extortion dollars at work. Not so. The women used their tax-provided credentials to tell stories of rapes which were filmed by the rapists. One woman added, "l don't know if those films are being sold." While rapists as a rule are hardly world-class intellects, the extreme implausibility of their selling evidence of their crime did not give this True Believer the slightest pause.
A veteran vice officer testified about how horrible porn was, and here were some films to prove it. He offered to have them transferred to videocassettes for viewing at home by the councilmen, in their choice of Beta or VHS format. A woman from the city attorney's office noted that under the state's Brown Act, all items submitted in testimony must be made available to the public, posing the amusing possibility that, if the ordinance passed, City Hall itself might be the last dirty picture show.
A plump, grandmotherly lesbian got up to testify for the ordinance. She held up posters listing all the demeaning terms to which those of her Double Minority were subjected. The idea that gay people are invariably the first victims of aggrandized state power, seemed never to have occurred to her. Rather than attempt to hobble a vicious pit bull, she wanted to make friends with it.
I introduced myself as a scientific consultant with, among other credentials, a master's degree in mathematics from Caltech. I criticized the pseudo-scientific research used to support the ordinance, such as the claim that if A is correlated with B, then A causes B; whereas the correlation may point to no more than some common cause C. If the use of violent pornography were correlated with violence, it might simply be due to a common cause such as upbringing in a sexually repressive environment.
I quoted Dr. John Money, of Johns Hopkins, who commented on the behaviorists' "monkey see, monkey do" model of human behavior: "Religious education that includes detailed knowledge of crucifixion, complete with graphics and sculptures of Christ bleeding on the cross, does not send children home to play the role of Pontius Pilate or of Roman centurions, crucifying their dolls or playmates."
I went on to explain: "Conservatives tell us that `Guns don't kill people; people kill people'; do they now expect us to believe that erotic literature rapes people? And feminists, who once supported the rights of consenting adults in private, now tell us that no actions are private -- that one's innermost thoughts affect others -- and therefore everything must be con- trolled....
I said that, "Reading no more causes one's action than alcohol causes drunken driving." Unfortunately, Councilman Art Snyder, who had wrecked a city car while driving under the influence, came in late and missed this comment.
PART TWO OF THREE PARTS
I criticized the notion that one has the right to prevent private discrimination, while noting "l happen to be a member of a group which still suffers not only discrimination, but physical assault and murder for no reason other than membership in this group. I happen to be gay.... I know that, as a member of a hated minority, I would be a fool to take a match to the First Amendment. I look at the gay periodical in England which was successfully prosecuted under an archaic blasphemy law. I have no doubt that, in a regime of book burning, this gay publication" -- here I handed them copies of it -- "which has published three of my political opinion pieces, would be the next to feel the flames."
"And suppose the Supreme Court does pass its benediction on this outrage [the ordinance], as it has on many before it. Then it is the First Amendment which will have been violated. It is Liberty which will have been raped. And, ladies and gentlemen, the pretense that Liberty enjoys being raped, is the greatest obscenity of all."
* * *
While the city's hearings continued, our county extortion dollars were at work as well. The Los Angeles County Commission on the Status of Women discussed the ordinance, took testimony from aspiring book burners, and proposed an ordinance which just happened to be the Dworkin-MacKinnon model ordinance, with "County of Los Angeles" substituted for "[PLACE]". All this received minimal publicity.
I called the office of the County Board of Supervisors several times to find out when the county hearings would be held, and had asked the clerk to notify me -- which seemed only fair, since the county-paid Women's Commission would see to it that proponents were informed well in advance. On February 25, 1985, strictly by chance, I discovered that the supervisors would hold a hearing on the matter the next morning. I called down and said that I would like to speak. How long could I speak? Maybe five minutes, maybe longer. It was not easy both to prepare a speech (of indefinite length) and at the same time to find other speakers who could take the morning off work. Wendy McElroy, an individualist-feminist scholar, joined me. I wore a three-piece suit, and Wendy wore her "feminist drag": jeans and a sweater.
Before the meeting began, my hand was shaken by a gregarious older man who seemed to be high on Est or Toastmasters or drugs. It developed that he was a communist. Not just any old communist, but one who -- according to him -- had been offered the position of mayor of Los Angeles. He had turned it down, evidently having bigger fish to fry. Eventually I got rid of him, but it occurred to me that the supervisors did not have that option. They were stuck with this gentleman, and others like him. It was a marriage made in heaven. Upon election, supervisors acceded to enormous power in one of the most important counties in the country, but they had to pay the price, however small, of putting up with testimony at public hearings.
And why not? Those testifying are not likely to change a politician's mind, such as it is. The hearings are a charade, a circus. Those who pay the ringmasters' salaries are given access to the circus. The board of supervisors meeting began with a pledge of allegiance to the flag, and with a minister pronouncing a benediction upon government.
When the anti-pornography ordinance came up on the agenda, ceiling floodlights came on, news cameramen stirred themselves and turned on their lights and cameras.
The action began with several proponents from the County Commission on Women. One declared, in boiler-plate I was to hear again and again on this subject, "This is not an issue of the often-abused First Amendment; it is a recognition of the rarely-used 14th Amendment, which guarantees civil rights to all citizens."
Catharine MacKinnon was there to tout her ordinance. It happened that UCLA Law school had, for reasons surpassing understanding, hired her as a visiting professor. Thus she was in Los Angeles, the heart of enemy territory. If she could get her ordinance pushed through in Sophisticated City, in Media Heaven, there would be no stopping her.
One of the supervisors asked MacKinnon how her ordinance differed from the Indianapolis one which had been stricken as unconstitutional. Her response was characteristically evasive. She said it differed greatly. [Actually, the big difference was that the prior ordinance allowed a woman to file a complaint with a commission which would investigate and perhaps sue; the proposed one would allow a woman to sue directly, a matter which could have no bearing on the constitutionality of the ordinance. MacKinnon also managed to avoid using the pronoun "she" in reference to the judge who had stricken down her feminist baby as unconstitutional.]
The real media attractions, however, were The Feminist Attorney and The Guilt-Ridden Director. The Feminist Attorney, Gloria Allred sat before the board next to some young blond woman, who never uttered a word, but rather sat there as an ideological Charlie McCarthy to Allred's Edgar Bergen. The young woman, according to Allred, was a "victim of pornography," who was "afraid to speak" or even identify herself, but whose tongue would be miraculously unbound by the passage of this ordinance. She also delivered much of the same boilerplate as in her L.A. Times op-ed piece, speaking for well over ten minutes.
The Guilt-Ridden Director Peter Bogdanovich rambled for about five minutes, saying nothing except that Dorothy Stratten's death was caused by pornography.
There were only two speakers against the ordinance: Wendy and myself.
Wendy stressed the issue of consent. "Magazines such as Penthouse, which has been banned from crossing the Canadian border because its contents were judged debasing to women, deal with their models entirely through contracts, fees, and release forms. The Penthouse photographer does not carry a camera in one hand and a gun in the other.... 'A woman's body, a woman's right' applies not only to the abortion issue which made it popular, but to any peaceful activity a woman chooses to engage in....
"Feminists claim that women who pose for pornography or who sell or consume it are coerced into doing so ... by being victims of cultural attitudes which so degrade women that they are left with no choice but to buckle under to the demands of society and/or men.... Presumably feminists wish us to believe that their arguments are based on facts and reason. Somehow they have risen above the culture in which they were raised and they have seen the truth.
"In the l9th century, women fought and fought hard to become legally the equal of men: to own land, to make binding contracts, and to have legal control of their own bodies." But under the proposed ordinance, a woman "is granted the protection of no longer being taken seriously when she signs a contract."
As to "studies" linking pornography and rape, she noted, "Thelma McCormack was commissioned by the Canadian government to study pornography's link with rape and her research did not `support any connection whatever between pornography and sexual aggression.' Her report, Making Sense of Pornography, was dis- missed and quickly followed up by another one conducted by a man who established a clear link."
When Wendy was finished, there was only one question, from right-wing religiot Mike Antonovich: "Who's paying you?" The thought that some people act on principle had apparently never crossed his mind. Wendy explained that she had no connection with the pornography business, and that the only remuneration she had seen was when the ACLU paid her plane fare to Madison, Wisconsin, for a debate on the subject.
I presented many of the same arguments which I had given to the City Council committee -- including the reference to my being gay, a nice point to rub in to Supervisors Hahn and Antonovich, who are religious bigots and who were the only two on the five man board who were pushing the ordinance.
I held up for their delectation "the July, 1980 issue of Hustler, published by Larry Flynt and his wife, Althea. As an aside, I note that Althea's personal lawyer is Gloria Allred. As noted on the cover, this issue contains an interview with then Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark, as did a roughly contemporaneous issue of Penthouse. To help suppress Hustler, Penthouse, or Playboy, is to help squelch political ideas....
Then I quoted from a passage from a popular novel, which clearly violated the proposed ordinance: "'[S)he knew ... that the triumph was his ... that her defiance was submission, that the purpose of all her violent strength was only to make his victory the greater -- he was holding her body against his, as if stressing his wish to let her know that she was now only a tool for the satisfaction of his desire -- and his victory, she knew, was her wish to let him reduce her to that.' "
This got their attention. I continued:
"The book is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. It is one of the most scathing indictments ever penned against insolent, tyranni cal government squelching real rights in the name of pseudo rights. Once again, suppressing `pornography' suppresses political speech.
"Economist Thomas Sowell, who happens to be black, notes: `Civil rights are not protected ... by the growing practice of calling every issue raised by `spokesmen' for minority, female, elderly, or other groups, `civil rights' issues. The right to vote is a civil right. The right to win is not. Everything desirable is not a civil right....'
"The enshrining of the pseudo-right of anti-discrimination has, by a moral Gresham's law, driven out genuine rights. Equality before the law has been jettisoned by `civil rights' advocates in favor of equality of condition, achieved by special privileges -- for women, for blacks, for the elderly ... for groups. This although discrimination is based on groupthink.
"lf some erotic materials inspire in some men ideas repugnant to some women, then the law should allow the latter group the `civil right' to control all would-be readers' minds via censorship.
" `Civil rights' crusaders have not been willing to do the hard work involved in social change, the persuasion and the acquiring of economically meaningful skills and attitudes which Prof. Sowell recommends. Instead they have indulged themselves with the short-circuit of government coercion. They have put a penny in the moral fusebox and some of them are now astounded that the resulting fire is burning books.
"Civil libertarians have finally cornered themselves into a choice between group rights and the First Amendment. The head of the Southern California ACLU still wants it both ways. She testified, `if I thought there was any way to craft an ordinance to prohibit ... only that kind of speech, I would support it.'
"Effecting social change is never easy. It is facilitated not by undermining the free speech which makes peaceful change possible, but rather by recognizing the nature of rights. It is not the group which thinks or speaks or needs the First Amendment. It is the individual.
"l hope this inspires respect for the individual and rejection of censorship, but then, I cannot cause you to change your mind. The choice, gentle people, is yours."
There were no questions.
Hahn and Antonovich urged immediate passage of the ordinance, but the other three supervisors voted to send it to county counsel for a legal opinion. There would be another public hearing before final action was taken.
The press coverage was revealing -- less of the news itself than of the mores of journalism and the attitudes of the news outlets in question. The L.A. Times, which is basically the voice of the Los Angeles power structure and hence very statist quo oriented, ran an article called "County to Explore Adoption of Tough Pornography Law." The Herald-Examiner's article was headed, "County's lawyers to review porn law." In the Times' fifteen-inch story, one had to read two-thirds of the way through to find a reference to the Constitution. The Herald's subhead was, "Constitutionality is questioned."
In the Times, opposition was mentioned only in the last paragraph. "But the board also heard from Libertarian Party activist Wendy McElroy...." The implication is that she was there alone, and only as some sort of ideologue. (Wendy was not then or ever a member of the Libertarian Party. Indeed, she was and is an outspoken critic of that institution.) The Herald correctly described Wendy as a "feminist author," and quoted her: "As a victim of rape ... which such ordinances are meant to curtail or prevent, I won't use the usual arguments. Instead I want to focus on the fundamental issue -- the right of women to pose for, to sell, and to consume pornography." The Times used much flatter, more transitional sentences in quoting Wendy: she "said the ordinance infringes on the rights of women to control their own bodies. She also said it suggests that women `need to be protected from the consequences of their own actions.... This is not a step forward for women.' " The Times could have used a more stirring quote, since Wendy and I had handed out to reporters dozens of copies of our speeches.
Readers of the Times article probably inferred that the ACLU had actually had a representative there; "Shortly after the vote, the legal director of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the ordinance if it is adopted." Although Hoffman said that the reporter had interviewed him for an hour, none of his ideas or arguments appeared, just the obligatory, "We're going to sue."
The Los Angeles Daily Journal, a paper with a much smaller circulation (and primarily read by lawyers) was fairer and more accurate than either of the larger papers, going so far as to note that two people, both of them writers, had spoken against the ordinance.
Television coverage was pretty bad. The local ABC affiliate began the segment with a background frame saying, "CHILD PORNOGRAPHY," which was inaccurate. They focussed on Allred and Bogdanovich; during the time they showed Wendy speaking, their announcer talked over what she was saying. Clearly intellectual sophistication was not the proper ammo for a wide-bore medium like this. We would have to be more telegenic in the future.
Friday of that week, the Herald-Examiner ran my op-ed piece on the subject, paired with a pro-ordinance piece by Betty Rosenstein, the immediate past president of the Los Angeles County Commission for Women. Italics and exclamation points riddled her piece like a shower of pepper on a slice of old baloney:
"Pornography is sex discrimination!... Sexual abuse in the home, discrimination at school, harassment on the streets, pay inequities at work, will never be eliminated until pornography is controlled, for pornography itself is a source of these problems!... The [ordinance] is not a declaration of censorship; it is a declaration of civil rights!" [Italics original.)
DINNER WITH THE DEVIL
Some weeks later, I went with my lover, Gary Meade, to a meeting of Lawyers for Human Rights, a gay lawyers' group which was to be addressed by Catharine MacKinnon. We ran into Dr. Betty Brooks, a leader of the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce (FACT) of Los Angeles. A band of right-wing religiots had driven Dr. Brooks out of a teaching position at California State University at Long Beach when it was claimed that her woman's studies course teaching materials were "pornographic."
Our speaker arrived as the three of us were talking. Catharine MacKinnon looked the total inverse of the porcine Andrea Dworkin: her hair pulled severely back from her forehead; her body almost anorexically thin, as if the sensuality even of food would light up the "tilt" signs; her outfit severe, a sort of "schoolmarm's dress for success" look. Since Betty Brooks knew her, the four of us sat down for dinner together. MacKinnon sat between Dr. Brooks and me. So that she would know she was having dinner with the devil, as it were, I reminded her that she had seen me before, at the county hearings, where she had sat with Gloria Allred during my testimony, whilst I was commenting on Althea Flynt's selection of attorneys.
Just as a conversational opener, I commented that if she were looking for a zingy legal issue, how about educational malpractice? Certainly there were precedents to be made there. She did not warm to the subject. Perhaps she supposed it might apply to professors of constitutional law whose ordinances ran afoul of the First Amendment -- though heaven knows why she might read that into my innocent comment.
So, ineluctably, we wound up discussing what she cannot seem to get off her mind: pornography. I told her that a great deal of gay male pornography depicted rape, but that real-life gay male rape was apparently non-existent. Why no connection? She said she thought there was a great deal of gay male rape. It was just unreported.
I also said that the claim of Linda Marciano (alias Linda Lovelace) to have been coerced into making the movie "Deep Throat," was -- like Stacy Keach's conversion to born-again anti-drug use after his cocaine bust -- simply a little too self-interested to be automatically credible. MacKinnon disagreed.
Betty Brooks, as a joke, suggested to MacKinnon that instead of all these debates, maybe they should just settle the issue by some sort of athletic competition. Gary couldn't resist suggesting, "How about female mud wrestling?" MacKinnon exchanged her customary public "We are not amused" face for her special occasion, industrial lemon-squeezer, "We are really not amused" face. There is something irresistibly funny about telling jokes to the humor-blind, the true punch line being the elicitation of the unknowingly helpless display, like a descented skunk lifting its tail, of the "We are not amused" face. MacKinnon even proceeded pedantically inform us that "Female mud wrestling is not a sport, but a show put on for the sexual gratification of men."
She noted that she could tell just what sort of pornography a man reads just by the way he related to her. "Oh?" I said, "l subscribe to Playboy." It only worked for heterosexual men, she said. Betty Brooks whispered to MacKinnon that perhaps she'd better not relate that theory to the group at large.
MacKinnon had no explanation of why -- given the awesome, zombifying powers of pornography -- my monthly perusal of feminine pulchritude did not seduce me into heterosexuality, nor of why homosexual pornography did not seem to win any converts, either.
As MacKinnon rose from the table, she told me, "I'm not looking for a zingy legal issue." Others at the table were amazed at the way my innocent comment had splintered under her skin, festering through the whole meal, incubating this snappy come-back. Betty Brooks sort of apologized for her, saying, "She doesn't have much of a sense of humor about this." We had noticed.
As MacKinnon began to address the group of lawyers and their guests, I was reminded of a line from a Tennessee Williams play: "There's a powerful odor of mendacity in here." "Our law is a civil law," she said. "It does not allow the police to go grab anything." But who enforces injunctions? The tooth fairy?
Gay liberation, she said, affirms male dominance, by "affirming that men get to fuck anything they want: animal, vegetable, mineral, old, young, male, or female." Even the actions of gay women affirm the male-dominant notion "that sexual access to women shall be available." There it is: no sex of any kind is Politically Correct.
The strong odor of this was that she hated gay men because they, by rejecting women as sex objects, allowed her no moral hook on which to hang a guilt trip, and forced her into the embarrassment of even more tortured reasoning than usual. The audience, fairly polite up to this point, began expressing incredulity. "Bullshit," said a man at a nearby table.
She said that gay men, too, were dragooned into pornography. One of them, she claimed, "called us, said, 'I'm being victimized, I'm being tortured, I'm being abused to make this pornography, by men, and this is my only five minutes, and I'm just calling you because I want to know your address so I can send you the pornography of me so that if I ever get away maybe someone will believe me.' He sent the pornography, he's being whipped, all the things are being done that is done in pornography, to him, he's bleeding...."
Now, let's stop and think for a minute. She's asking us to believe a scenario like this at Porno Headquarters: this poor brutalized kid escapes for a moment from the evil filmmaker Cecil B. de Sade, slips away to a phone, and the first number he calls is not family or friends or police, but -- Catharine MacKinnon. He got the number from Cecil's Rolodex. And then, since stamps and an envelope and a film canister and a mailbox are just lying about, he ships her a copy of his latest epic, "Love Among the Bruises."
How, this side of Thorazine, could MacKinnon expect anyone to believe this tale? Pornography stands with Drugs as one of today's two secular Devils, scapegoats on which one can blame the ills of society and the misdeeds of oneself: "Don't punish me: pornography/drugs/the devil made me do it!" MacKinnon's story is reminiscent of Janet Cooke's Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post story, "8 Year-Old Heroin Addict Lives for a Fix," which was revealed as a fabrication.
On the other hand, there is the possibility that MacKinnon actually did receive such a phone call, and such a pornographic film or tape -- compliments of some astute practical joker, who knew that she would open wide and take it all, hook, line, and sinker, for the same reason that the Washington Post and the Pulitzer Prize jury bought Janet Cooke's fabrication: because it fit perfectly into her True Belief pattern.
During the question period, I asked, "Are you saying you have a right to have men's attitudes be a certain way?"
She replied, "I think that the harm involves both attitudes and behaviors.... It's all one thing.... Sometimes I get the image that people think what happens in their head, it's like the stork brought it, or something."
One's ideas are the conscious or unconscious product of one's intercourse with the world, and MacKinnon asserts the right to abort the progeny of that intercourse if it is not to her liking. And why not? All intercourse, social or sexual, is coerced: "It is questionable that women do freely choose to do a whole lot of things that women do...."
Thus she can say: "What would have happened if pictures were taken at Auschwitz ... and then marketed...? Why is this different from pornography?" The former, she says, is recognized as an atrocity; in the latter, the people are not considered real, "because they are women."
"I also will tell you my simple and personal conviction: that if Hitler had discovered sex, there would not be a Jew alive in Europe."
There it is. Sex is more than just rape. Sex Is Death. MegaDeath, in fact. Most of us would imagine the opposite, if anything; that the carnal would have distracted Hitler from the carnage; but to MacKinnon, the two are inextricably intertwined, which makes the very evolution of our species something of a miracle.
As for those who guard their liberty..."This `freedom first, justice later' approach to sexual liberation," she said, "is premised on the subordination of women as a class.... The better priorities are: equality first, justice first -- and then we will say what we mean by freedom." No need to say what you mean by freedom, Catharine. Orwell said it quite nicely in 1984.
PART THREE OF THREE PARTS
I attended a number of later meetings on the ordinance, some put on by FACT, some by the local ACLU. I drove downtown to hear MacKinnon debate a FACT representative, but MacKinnon had canceled at the last moment and had not provided a substitute.
The Herald-Examiner and even the staid, gray, "responsible" L.A. Times ran editorials opposing the ordinance. County counsel reported to the supervisors that the ordinance was a prior restraint on speech; it was unconstitutionally vague; and,it dealt with an area reserved to state law.
Wendy and I prepared speeches for another county hearing scheduled for March 26. The news cameras were there. Allred, Bogdanovich, and the women from the county commission were there. But this time there was a veritable horde of women from FACT to testify against the legislation.
Perhaps the presence -- before a voracious press -- of massive opposition, particularly by women, embarrassed the supervisors. In any case, they elected not to take any public testimony, but to hand the ordinance back to the Women's Commission for revision in conjunction with county attorneys. Now, they had had four months in which to examine Judge Sarah Barker's decision and to modify their ordinance accordingly. FACT leader Betty Brooks was incensed that the county was jerking us around. Opponents of the bill had taken time off work, while those who wished to burn books for a living were there as part of their jobs. However, the circus moved out into the hallways, and the massive opposition was duly noted.
Wendy and I were still the only ones whose names were on the public record as having testified against the ordinance. Consequently, we were invited to participate in a debate on the subject before the influential Los Angeles Professional Men's Association. Our opponents were members of the women's commission: June Dunbar and Betty Rosenstein, my counterpart on the Herald op-ed page. Over dinner, they were quite polite and friendly. Gary Meade mentioned to Mrs. Rosenstein that we had seen MacKinnon at the gay lawyers' group. "I heard that was a disaster," she said. She told of how, at a meeting at Rosenstein's house, MacKinnon had clammed up when a male -- Mrs. Rosenstein's son -- entered the room. Mrs. Rosenstein expressed her wonderment at why MacKinnon appeared to hate men so much.
Copies of the proposed ordinance were distributed to the audience. (At the gay lawyers meeting, MacKinnon had spared herself this kiss of death.) The proponents cited the usual pseudo scientific sources, made the usual disclaimer that this was only a civil law, not a criminal one, asserted that the 14th Amendment banned private discrimination, and so forth.
Before I attacked those contentions, I struck at the root. "The ordinance is so incoherent that I must translate it from Newspeak into English before I can criticize it. You will note that it defines pornography as the subordination of women through pictures and/or words. Now, you can define the moon as green cheese, but if you then wish to use the word `moon' in its original sense as well, you are committing a fraud upon your listeners -- a fraud which logicians call `persuasive definition'.
"The ordinance asserts at the outset that `Pornography is ... discrimination.' Logicians call this sort of statement a category error. Pornography is a thing; discrimination is is an action. This sort of serious mental confusion is both a cause and consequence of the destruction of our language by those with political axes to grind. As George Orwell puts it, `the English language ... becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.' And, we might add, foolish thoughts lead to even more foolish actions."
There was laughter from the audience, which included a number of lawyers and judges.
In my rebuttal, I noted that the behaviorist approach to law can cut both ways, citing the case of a judge who dismissed a rape charge on the basis that the victim had brought the rape on herself by her provocative manner of dress.
Wendy once again stressed the destruction of women's right to contract, and noted that similar laws in Canada have already been used to ban the feminist film "Not a Love Story," which, to illustrate its evils, is filled with clips of graphic sadomasoch- istic pornography. "I can understand the rage women can feel on this issue," she said, but "one thing which cannot be done is to legally treat women as rapists treat them -- which is to take from them the control of their own bodies."
She also noted the ludicrous vagueness of the ordinance. What is a portrayal of women as "whores by nature"? A picture of a women having sex with money clutched in her hand?
June Dunbar countered this with the remarkable argument that sexual harassment laws are also vague, and yet they remain on the books. Then she cited a story of a woman coerced into pornography by threats against her children (a violation of already existing laws against extortion). She wrapped up with a snappy, "Pornography is bigotry."
The questions after the debate were mostly directed to the proponents. One gentleman noted that his favorite play, the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, clearly fell within the pur- view of this ordinance. Mrs. Rosenstein said anyone wishing to sue would have to prove one of the criteria, such as trafficking, and "Man of La Mancha is a classic that goes way back in time." But production is trafficking. And as Wendy went on to note, if a mainstream magazine like Penthouse could be banned at the border by the Canadian equivalent of this ordinance, then five or ten years down the line, when we've been de-sensitized by this sort of repression, Man of La Mancha could easily be banned.
Another man noted that his father owned a restaurant with a shop which sold Playboy, and that if a woman sued Playboy for having been coerced into pornography, she could also sue his father and every seller of Playboy, though they could not have known of any such coercion. June Dunbar replied that there were women who had been coerced into pornographic movies who were "raped again" every time the movies were shown. Ms. Dunbar also, in response to questioning of their definition of pornography, proudly said, "What you find in the dictionary in no way resem- bles this new definition." Indeed.
The audience clearly thought Wendy and I had won the debate. This despite the fact that anti-pornographers generally have the upper hand over free-choicers in terms of public re- spect, and although Dunbar and Rosenstein, unlike MacKinnon, were not hostile or insulting. Rather, the groundwork had not been properly laid for their ideas to appear anything but surreal.
On June 4, the Board of Supervisors held another hearing on the proposed ordinance. Wendy was out of town. When Gary and I arrived, there were feminist opposed to the ordinance than be- fore, though once again we did not know if any of us, who had taken time off from work, would be allowed to testify.
MacKinnon was not present. She was back east, arguing for the Indianapolis ordinance before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The representative from the Women's Commission explained that during their over two-month reprieve, they had decided not to change a word of the ordinance. Thus the two-month delay had done nothing but waste the time of those who had come to testify previously.
Allred and Bogdanovich testified again. Allred could see which way the wind was blowing when one of the conservative supervisors asked her if she thought it would be financially responsible to enact this ordinance when the Indianapolis one had been stricken down.
The opponents were ushered out into the hallway to be sort- ed; only a limited number of us would be allowed to speak. Later, thanks to the assertiveness of Betty Brooks, everyone was allowed to testify, though some had to return in the afternoon to do so.
Ramona Ripston, of the ACLU, noted that the ordinance would not give women rights, but would take rights away -- as well as soaking county taxpayers for an expensive, futile, legal battle. A Jewish woman reminded us of the rise of Nazis in Germany, noting that programs that begin by burning books, end by burning people. Many others gave eloquent testimony as well, but after the Media Superstars finished testifying, the TV crews took their lights and cameras, leaving the action behind.
There were a number of speakers from less well-known groups: the U.S. Prostitutes' Collective, Black Women for Wages for Housework -- the list went on and on, most of the speakers using the forum to address their own concerns, and adding to the circus atmosphere. During the afternoon session, which I missed, there was even testimony from a topless dancer who identified herself only as "Jane." The papers all lapped that one up.
One old codger, who held a position on a county commission, was supposed to be speaking against the ordinance, and rambled on instead about the evils of pornography. He finished by holding up an implement which he announced had been used for greasing the wheels of covered wagons. This fascinated old Kenny Hahn, who had apparently never had his wheel greased in public before, and one of the other supervisors had to tell him, "Mr. Hahn, you can meet with him later."
This was further proof of what I had already discovered: that what you needed to get the supervisors' attention was not brilliant rhetoric. It was props: Twinkies, copies of Hustler decorated with a busty woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty, and so forth. So I brought the prop to end all props.
Though he did not testify himself, Gary was game enough to sit next to me while I testified, the prop having been his brain- storm in the first place.
"The law should protect rights," I explained, "real rights -- the rights to life, liberty, and property. Many others view the function of law as that of enforcing morality. To disguise the taste of this moral Mickey Finn, its promoters have spooned in a series of pseudo-rights -- most recently, the pseudo-right to be free from private discrimination, and the pseudo-right to censor unpopular literature."
As in the debate, I criticized definitions. Then it came time for the prop. "What sort of literature would fall under the ax of this ordinance? Not just `Man of La Mancha' and other classics. I have a book here which is so misogynistic that I have covered it with brown paper, so that I can still smuggle it out in case this ordinance is passed before I leave." There was laughter from the audience, and some of the supervisors. Kenny Hahn was yakking with a clerk at this point -- making a mockery of the pretense that such hearings are indeed anything but a circus -- but now I got his attention.
"l quote from the Book of Judges, Chapter 19, verses 25 and 29: '(T]he man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning.... And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.' "
Some people were quite shocked that this was in the Bible. "Brian DePalma," I continued, "has never done anything so grisly." As late in the speech as that, I got some laughter.
"What will the ordinance do to the Bible?" I asked. "This" -- I tore several pages out of the book -- "and this" -- I tore out several more -- "and this." I tore out a few extra for good measure. The audience was silent at first, but then began to rumble. When a crowd of movie extras is supposed to provide "crowd noise," they may be told to repeat over and over some irrelevant word, such as "rutabaga." Hundreds of out-of-synch rutabagas provide a pretty impressive simulation of spontaneous crowd noise. I was hearing a lot of rutabagas. They were not happy rutabagas.
However, I forged ahead, attempting to place this rhetori- cal flourish in context. "Supporters of book burning can't see that if you give them a book, they'll take a library. But how will they take this book, you ask? Even if actual damage must be proven -- which it need not be, according to the `trafficking' provision -- the next time some nut blows up an abortion clinic and claims this book as inspiration, any number of women thus injured or intimidated may sue the traffickers in and publishers of this book. I say to proponents of the moral monstrosity of book burning: think twice before supporting this -- the book you burn may be your own."
Hahn was outraged. Face red, jowls a-quiver, he said, "l think what you did was repugnant." I talked over him: "l think what you're doing is repugnant."
"Millions of people revere that book and you're tearing pages out of it...." The weaselly politician was trying to make me out to be the book burner.
"I'm just trying to show what will happen if people like you prevail." Not the most intellectual of answers, but this was Kenny Hahn I was dealing with.
On the way to sit down, I passed Gloria Allred, and I let go of several of the loose pages from the Bible. She scarcely moved, and uttered not a word, perhaps wishing to avoid the attention of the press as the pages fluttered into her lap.
From the tone of the rutabagas, I knew that the stunt had gone over poorly with most of the audience. But unlike last time -- when I had been one of the only two opposition speakers -- I was not ignored by the press. Reporter after reporter came up and said, "What did you say your name was?"
When the testimony of the morning session ended, a woman came up to me and said that she was on the Women's Commission, and that she was glad she wasn't on my side, or she'd have changed sides after what I did, which I thought showed what kind of principles she had. Nevertheless, I had mixed emotions about the whole production. Despite the entertainment value of giving Kenny Hahn apoplexy, hundreds of hostile rutabagas can get you down. I just felt like going home.
Gary and I left quickly, but in the lobby another woman stopped me. But this one told me she was glad I had torn pages from the Bible. And in the parking lot, a third woman actually got out of her car to come over and tell me, "l liked that `repugnant' thing you did." Good, I thought -- always leave 'em laughing.
In the afternoon, the ordinance was voted down, three to two -- the two being the original Bible-bangers, Hahn and Antonovich. In its place, two watered-down ordinances were enacted which would not take effect without action by the state legislature -- action which was not forthcoming. The press coverage was ... interesting. The Times story was "responsible," and did not mention the Bible page-tearing. The Herald was sensationalistic, and mentioned it twice. The Daily News, whose reporter was in the habit of sitting in the press room and merely listening to the proceedings over the intercom, said that the pages had been not only torn out, but also set on fire. What better way to convey the inflammatory nature of my rhetoric?; his report was far truer than prosaic reality.
Shortly afterward, by a vote of 8-4, the City Council rejected a watered-down version of the ordinance. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Women's Alliance Against Pornography succeeded in obtaining a referendum on a Dworkin-MacKinnon-style ordinance. The vote in November, 1985, was 13,031 against vs. 9,419 in favor of the ordinance. MacKinnon, again exhibiting her flair for the surreal, declared, "This vote means the rights of pimps are still more important than those of women." But when 42% of those voting on the issue favor censorship, and when a great many others sympathize with the book burners' ends but disagree for the moment merely with their means, the vote is ominous indeed.
Later, the Seventh District Court of Appeals panel unanimously upheld Judge Barker's rejection of the Indianapolis ordinance as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court later refused to hear an appeal.
Yet it cannot be said that a stake has been driven through the heart of censorship as an ideal of the left. When Edwin Meese decreed a study commission on pornography, who should turn up to testify at the hearings in Chicago but Catharine MacKinnon, dauntlessly singing the same old one-note tune. And, as mentioned above, the voters of Bellingham, Washington, in November, 1988, passed a Dworkin-MacKinnon initiative, which a federal court overturned the following year. As columnist Nat Hentoff put it, "The strategy ... is to keep bringing the ordinance into court until eventually the Supreme Court agrees to give it a full hearing.... So, even if this statute falls in Bellingham ... it will surely rise again in some other town or city. Like Excalibur rising from the lake." More like a faulty sewer backing up, I think, but then Mr. Hentoff writes for a family newspaper.
As the Supreme Court chisels away at Roe v. Wade -- and as the feds bulldoze the Bill of Rights in the name of the drug war -- we are entitled to doubt the longevity of Supreme Court precedent. The absurdity of Dworkin's and MacKinnon's claims is no protection against their eventual acceptance. The jokes of yesterday are the truths of today. As Hume put it, "Fools are indus- trious in propagating the imposture, while the wise and learned are contented, in general, to deride its absurdity, without informing themselves of the particular facts by which it may be distinctly refuted."
"The wise and the learned" certainly have their work cut out for them.
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