In case you haven't heard, there's a big hullabaloo going on over an Iowan Christopher Handley's possession of erotic loli manga (essentially manga involving young girls). To make a long story short, in 2006, Handley was arrested after purchasing the manga over the internet. Customs found it and busted him. He has been found guilty and sentenced to prison time for his crimes.
And that's where things get iffy for me.
Let me preface this entire post by saying that I in no way support child pornography in any form, and find the entire thing to be reprehensible and disgusting. Having said that, I think Handley's conviction is a travesty. This man needs counseling, not prison time. The entire ordeal screams of a farce, a media frenzy whipped up for politicians and lawyers to sit on high horses, toss about banalities like "obscenity" and "family values," and earn political points. Every time I hear something new about this case, I always have the same question in the back of my mind: "What about the 1st Amendment." I think that is ultimately what this boils down to. Is Handley's manga collection protected as a form of free speech? I would have to say yes.
But of course, there's the snafu of the Miller test, which came about as a result of the 1973 case of Miller vs California. The Miller test provides three criteria to determine whether or not something is considered obscene, and thus not protected under the 1st Amendment. They are:
1. Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
2. Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law.
3. Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
And therein lies the problem. All three of these criteria are problematic. The problem is the lack of specificity. Who determines what an "average" person is? Which community's standards? Who decides what is considered "offensive?" Who determines literary, artistic, political, or scientific value? Obscenity and value are relative, and vary from person to person. I take issue with the government telling me what I can and cannot read based on some vaguely defined and arbitrary criteria. It is not the government's place to legislate this sort of thing. Personally, I don't consider seeing breasts to be obscene, but there are many people in the United States who would disagree with me. And that's fine, it's a personal choice. Granted, manga depicting child pornography is significantly more disturbing, and rightly so, as it is one of the most heinous acts one human being can inflict upon another. But if Handley wants to sit in his basement in Iowa and read stuff like that, then I say more power to him. It's his right as an American, and it harms no one (except maybe Handley himself, but again, that's his prerogative).
Comics and fiction are not the same thing as reality, and I think that's the point that's being missed here. If Handley had actual photographs of children, or videos, then that is a whole different story. He would deserve every punishment we could throw at him. But that isn't the case. No children were victimized to create these works. Not one. Handley never showed children his manga collection. As far as I know, it was a private hobby (which makes sense, considering the type of hobby). It seems to me that this is the ideal way for Handley to indulge in whatever messed up fantasies he has without resorting to the actual thing.
Many people are making the argument that if someone enjoys reading that kind of stuff, then they are more inclined to "live out their fantasies" so to speak. This argument comes up frequently in obscenity cases, and that logic is just as faulty and flawed in this case. Thinking is not doing. Playing a violent video game does not make me want to go shoot up a school. Should we keep an eye on people like Handley? Perhaps. But last I checked, we were not in the habit of locking people up for crimes they could POTENTIALLY commit. Handley, to anyone's knowledge, had no intention of harming children. Until he demonstrated an intent to act, or acted, he is guilty of no crime.
Ultimately, I don't think that the 1st Amendment is one that is open to degrees. Either speech is free, or it isn't. Handley has issues, and these types of comics are a blemish on comics as a whole, but if that's how Handley chooses to spend his time and money, that's his choice. I see no value in comics of that nature, and I choose not to read them, as most people would. But I absolutely feel that Handley is guilty of no crime save extremely poor taste. I just hope that this unfortunate incident does not set a precedent, as these trials are wont to do. As every child that goes sledding in the winter knows, slippery slopes are very hard to climb back up.
Talbots and the Plus Sized Girl
3 years ago