SOC 2390 Lecture Notes - Family Values, Meese Report, Dominick Fernow

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29 Jan 2013
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Pornography is the graphic depiction of sexual behavior through pictures and/or wordsincluding by
electronic or other data retrieval systemsin a manner that is intended to be sexually arousing.
Obscenity is the legal term for pornographic materials that are offensive by generally accepted
standards of decency. In Miller v. California (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court held that material can be
considered legally obscene only if it meets three criteria:
1) The material as a whole appeals to the prurient interests (lustful ideas or desires)
2) The material depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way as defined by state or federal law
3) The work as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value
The Nature and Extent of Pornography
• As part of the multibillion-dollar sex industry, pornography is profitable to many people, including
investors, film makers, and owners of stores that distribute such materials. Hardcore pornographic films
(those that explicitly depict sexual acts and/or genitals) gross over $400 million a year in the United
States alone. It is not uncommon for a small production company that shoots, manufactures, and
distributes such videos to gross more than $1 million a year.
• Technological innovations such as digital media have greatly increased the variety of pornographic
materials available as well as methods of distribution. Although some people visit live peep shows and
“X-rated” adult bookstores and video arcades, sexually explicit materials are available at home or in the
office through mail-order services, movies on “X-rated” cable television channels, dial-a-porn, and
private computer bulletin boards and Usenet newsgroups specializing in adult chat areas and graphics
exchanges on the Internet.
Research on Pornography
• During the past three decades, two presidential commissions have examined pornography and
reached contradictory conclusions. The 1970 U.S. Commission on Pornography and Obscenity found no
conclusive links between pornography and sex crimes. In 1986, however, the Attorney General’s
Commission on Pornography (also known as the Meese Commission) concluded that pornography is
dangerous, causes sex crimes, increases aggression in males, inspires sexism against women, and
encourages pedophilia (i.e., adults engaging in sexual intercourse with children).
• Gloria Cowan and her colleagues found that more than 80% of X-rated films in one study included
scenes showing women dominated and exploited by men. The vast majority of these films portrayed
physical aggression against women, and about half explicitly depicted rape. However, sociologists do not
agree on the extent to which pornographic images of violence and domination of one person over
another affects behavior.
Perspectives on Pornography
• There are a few main ways in which people seem to view pornography:
1) According to the liberal point of view, pornography may offend some people but brings harmless
pleasure to others. It may even serve as a safety valve for those who have no other sexual outlet. The
social problem to liberals is not really pornography but censorshippeople attempting to impose their
moral on others and thereby violating First Amendment rights.
2) From a conservative point of view, pornography is a threat to the moral values of society, especially
family values. Pornography encourages people to have sexual intercourse outside marriage and to
engage in deviant sexual behavior. Therefore sexually explicit and violent materials should be censored
to protect families and societal values.
3) Feminists are generally critical of pornography because it is sexist in its portrayal of women,
emphasizes male dominance and female submission, and encourages the valuing of women according to
their ability to please men. However, not all feminists agree on what should be done about
- Antipornography feminists believe that pornography is a primary source of male oppression of, and
violence against, women. Viewing pornography as a form of sexual discrimination that diminishes
women’s opportunities in all areas of life, they believe that it should be restricted or eliminated.
- Anticensorship feminists do not believe that any single factor such as pornography causes women’s
subordination. Focusing on pornography as the primary source of sexual oppression downplays the
sexism and misogyny within various social institutions, including judicial, legal, familial, occupational,
scientific, and religious institutions. Pornography should not be censored because open discussions
about sexuality and sexual practices promote women’s sexual freedom.