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The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography

by Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (US)

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In his introduction to The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, reporter Clive Barnes writes, “We are living in a permissive society, and yet few of us can decide how permissive we want our society to be, or, alternately, how nonpermissive we think our society should become” (pg. ix). He continues, “One of the Commission’s most significant, and in some quarters most disputed, findings is that obscenity and pornography are not matters of public concern at all” (pg. xi). Further, “The majority view of the Commission implies that obscenity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder” (pg. xiv).

The report itself draws extensively upon statistical models, examining the volume of traffic and patterns of distribution of sexually oriented materials; law and law enforcement; non-legislative recommendations; detailed analyses of distribution, analyses of legal consideration, and various statements; among other data. Discussing the legal ramifications, the report states, “In 1969, in Stanley v. Georgia [sic], the Supreme Court modified the premise of the Roth decision to some extent by holding that the constitutional guarantee of free speech protects the right of the individual to read or view concededly ‘obscene’ material’ in his own home… These courts have held that the constitutional right to possess obscene materials established in Stanley [sic] implies a correlative right for adults to acquire such materials for their own use or to view them without forcing them upon others” (pg. 44). The report also concludes, “A national survey of American public opinion sponsored by the Commission shows that a majority of American adults believe that adults should be allowed to read or see any sexual materials they wish” (pg. 49).

Discussing their focus on published materials, the Commission writes, “Only periodicals such as comics, women and home service, general interest, news, business, and entertainment magazines could possibly be of interest to the Panel” (pg. 106). Even when the Commission examines the existing laws, such as the Roth decision, it concludes, “Almost half the population believes that laws against sexual materials would be ‘impossible to enforce’” (pg. 413). The Commission continues, “In applying the Roth [sic] standard governing what may be deemed obscene for consenting adults, the Court has held in a number of cases that certain very explicit sexual material cannot be deemed obscene for consenting adults” (pg. 425). Further, “The Supreme Court in Stanley v. Georgia [sic] expressly held that concededly ‘obscene’ materials are nevertheless entitled in at least some contexts to the constitutional protection generally accorded to free expression, so that the existence of conclusions regarding social harm is required to justify prohibitions for adults” (pg. 425).

Where this book was cutting-edge at the time Bantam Books published it, it’s now a primary document like many others, most notable for capturing the thoughts and feelings in a society in flux and for the fact that the very President that commissioned it, Richard Nixon, rejected its findings. Cultural historians of the 1970s will be the most likely to find this interesting now and in the future. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Mar 24, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (US)primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barnes, CliveIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
New York Timessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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