July 6, 2008

Too slippery by half

"Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards?

That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values.

The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought."

Using Internet search terms as a proxy for community standards is one of the bluntest, dumbest and most ethically repellent ideas I've heard in a while.

On that basis, the most profound idea / person on earth is Britney Spears - she tops the search rankings on a regular and global basis.

If I type "dickhead", in search of a definition, and if I reduce my censoring filter to "low" before I do my search (yes, kiddies there is a Google filter, with a default setting of medium), I'm pretty sure the first 550,000 links will take me to no end of dickheads, but not a single urban dictionary with a definition of the word. Neither my typing the term nor the search results would tell you about my standards, much less community standards.

What people do in their own homes while no one is watching should never be considered a community standard - women and children are beaten in their own homes, frequently, across every strata of society - does that make it acceptable?

Sitting in front of a computer at home, deliberately typing in provocative search terms in search of whatever proclivity one favors is not the same as being comfortable standing at the local kindy fete discussing your bestest ever perverted porn site find. If the "community standard" test is to be met, surely the latter would be at least a marginally more robust yard stick: would you discuss it with your child's teacher, your neighbors, the lady who makes your lunch order?

If the court case angle isn't bad enough, the comments on the article are an even bigger glance into an abyss of stupidity.

Truly, have people forgotten how to think, to reason?

Do we need to resurrect Plato?

Besides, community standards, increasingly so, are not necessarily attractive by any object assessment, nor are they standards that speak well of we humans. Just as we are fond of telling more barbaric societies that we don't especially appreciate their standards, let's not kid ourselves that all of our community standards are boast worthy.

(The judge has not ruled on whether to allow the Google data.)

What's obscene? Google could have an answer


  1. "Community standards" via the internet; via Google? This is being argued in court?

    Perhaps a large plasma monitor on the outside of each house, indicating that being fingered on the keypad within, might add to your test?

    Sounds like this court needs Alan Shore and Denny Crane - just the sort of farce Spaader's character would revel in. Perhaps he could see your Britney and raise you a Paris in the "community standards" stakes??

    You know I'm not about to go to Texas and not ride the mechanical bull, Chelina. That would be like going to Los Angeles and not sleeping with Paris Hilton...

  2. Indeed it is being argued in court Father.

    I'll be flummoxed if the judge rules in favor of the defendant and lets in the data. We await with worm on tongue.

    Crane and Shore would doing a sterling job, alas, in favor of the data, I fear, arguing forcefully and convincingly that the community standard, in the closet, is more liberal than that out of the closet - they would, of course, in true Crane and Shore fashion win the case.

  3. And live to smoke and drink scotch about it afterward...

    I fear you're right. Be fun watching though.

    That I'll do tonight. See if Denny's penis is still getting bigger in that Coast Guard uniform.

  4. No one does male characters and male bonding quite like David E Kelley.

    Sleep over ... ?

  5. Certainly. Minus the rope.