Monday, August 8, 2011
Go Straight To Jail - Do Not Pass Go...
In 2010 an American man was arrested for crossing into Canada with what was deemed child pornography by Canadian Customs. You can read more about this, and specifically my opinions by reading the editorial I wrote on Comic Booked.com.
After writing the article, and during the process of its editing, I saw the possibility to publish some information that I didn't include in the original article, specifically quotations from CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein.
In an interview with Robot 6, Brownstein made statements I think sum up the American man's legal troubles perfectly, and places them squarely within the realm of uncertainty.
Brownstein said, "We protect the First Amendment rights of the comics art form. Sometimes that means coming out against bad laws that almost everyone agrees are bad laws, and sometimes that means fighting for important free speech principles by protecting unpopular speech. Protecting free expression is messy work. Often protecting the principles of free expression means defending material that makes one personally uncomfortable. That discomfort is a small price to pay for maintaining a culture of free expression."
It certainly doesn't make it any easier for my own struggle, which I detail further on Comic Booked, as for whether comics depicting underage characters in sexual situations should be considered child pornography or not. My distaste for the material aside, the legal ramifications and classifications are interesting to me, so Brownstein's quote hit home.
An article in the Ottawa Citizen directly addressed the Canadian Constitution, but made much more bold statements than I feel comfortable making. The article, which is posted without a byline, states, "There’s no point in having a right to free speech if we make exceptions for everything that people find distasteful or offensive. We must make an exception, though, when expression causes real harm — such as pornography that uses children as models for photographs or videos. That’s a horrible crime, and even the possession of such material must be treated as a serious offence."
It then goes further, saying, "But Canada’s current law goes beyond pornography that causes harm to children. It also makes some works of the imagination — stories and drawings — illegal if they depict people under the age of 18 in sexual situations. Many classic works of art might meet that definition, and the law does allow for a defence on the grounds of artistic merit. This puts the courts in the bizarre position of determining what is a work of art. Citizens cannot hope to know in advance what the law really forbids, and whether the judge will share their opinion of what is art. Policing the way you express yourself on a piece of paper or on your laptop comes awfully close to policing your thoughts."
One of the most interesting parts within the Ottawa Citizen article is their reference to "classic works," as well as art that is deemed to have "merit." Upon reading this my mind immediately snapped to Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, and Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls. The Moore and Gebbie work may be much more appropriate for this discussion, as it concerns comics. It certainly met with criticism for portraying young characters in sexual situations, but I am unaware if it has ever been deemed child pornography, and will even go so far as to say it hasn't. If it had, would it still be available for purchase?
During my email correspondence with Brandon Graham I asked about comics containing material that clearly goes too far. Specifically, I said, "When you said, 'I don't think it's possible to do anything really harmful with drawings of fictional characters,' does that include all forms of pornographic comics?" This question was related to Graham's mention of controversial comic creator Mike Diana. Graham referred to Diana by saying, "One thing that surprised me about [this case] is you hear that someone has got in trouble for a comic and you immediately assume it's some Mike Diana level cannibal feces dog child sex thing..."
Answering my question about comics which contain material that goes too far, Graham said, "I certainly don't want to read the worst that can be drawn but I can't think of a good reason to not allow it to be drawn."
I find all of this extremely interesting. Please go check out my article on Comic Booked, and feel free to comment, whatever your opinion.