December 4, 2003
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Why Porn Matters

My niece told me, over breakfast, that "they" shouldn't permit TV stations to broadcast today's shows. The Justice Department won't bring people in Guantanamo to trial, because telling them what we think they did might inform hypothetical terrorists about what we know. Downstairs, one of the lawyers urged me to stop complaining about detentions, and the FBI's new power to secretly review your library records and online purchases; if I keep complaining, she warned, I'll wind up on a list.

Is someone in Washington channeling Orwell?

When I wrote, "it's your choice: support the Democrats in '04 or the Resistance in '06", I didn't think I was being quite this literal.

The Web world is thinking a lot about porn lately, what with Peter Merholz's endorsement of Greencine and Nick Denton's monetization move, Fleshbot.

Right now, “Porn” is what the industry calls films that don't get an R rating. Blockbuster won't let you rent them, newspapers won't advertise them, theaters won't show them. So, if a movie won't get an R rating, it usually won't get made.

It might be nice to restore 'pornographic' to its art-historical meaning -- imagery that's merely about the beauty of the flesh. I suppose that's a lost cause.

The current movie rating system is pernicious, because sometimes you'd like to make a movie that really is for grownups, that talks about things you don't want to discuss around the children. And, today, you can't.

Ratings are dangerous, too, because the people who hand out R ratings do it without rules or reason or accountability. Lately, for example, I've heard that they won't pass anything that suggests females under 21 can have orgasms. What's going to happen to us when a film can't get an R rating (and so you can't see it in theaters or on TV or rent it from Blockbuster, even if it somehow gets made) because it talks about secret American prison camps? Or portrays the American military in an unflattering light? Or advocates a criminal act, like taking a drug the FDA hasn't approved -- perhaps a contraceptive or a cancer treatment that some influential lobby dislikes?

What's to stop them?