Tags: Protecting | the | Societal | Atmosphere

Protecting the Societal Atmosphere

Monday, 29 August 2005 12:00 AM

It's a cliché because it's true:

It's termed "atmosphere" because it's something that is everywhere, and all of us are its captive audience. Intending no feigned respect for Ms. Rodham Clinton, "It takes a village" really

We regulate production and sale and consumption of commodities of many types in order to protect innocents like spotted owls and unwitting passive smokers who must be afforded their zones of ordinary safety. So how about similarly protecting, say, un-jaded children and unwitting passive hearers (

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page asked, "Could the parishioners of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, whose church was used as a staging ground for a [live radio broadcast] public sex stunt, really have solved the problem simply by ‘turning off' the radio that broadcast the stunt?" It does take a village to act against some components of the cultural atmosphere that are noxious enough to need quarantining away from innocent bystanders.

Regrettably, it also does take an occasional act of Congress or a Supreme Court decision to enable the village to deploy what most of us regard as common sense, because, these days, we've gotten used to lawyers successfully standing in its way.

When villagers get angry enough to arrive with pitchforks on the public square, they, instead of their targeted purveyors of indecency, are too often the ones who get ridiculed, sued or neutralized. Public order wobbles, but nothing much gets accomplished.

In this context nothing short of an act of Congress might help here in Los Angeles, where "Girls Live Nude Nude Nudes" recently changed to "Vaginas R Us" on the sign over a striptease lounge on the main public route away from the airport.

A 1973 Supreme Court ruling said that obscenity can be judged only by local "community standards," not a set of national rules. (No similar wisdom prevailed in Roe v. Wade the same year.) This should mean that we're expected to rule ourselves locally on matters like this.

But we may not be up to any such task: "The word 'vagina' is not an obscene word and we're not in a position to question the First Amendment," said the city councilman whose district includes the airport area. He conveniently forgets that "context is everything," and he probably never learned that community standards set locally are in fact constitutionally acceptable.

Supreme Court decisions,

The problem with a newly violated public decency taboo is that it becomes a landmark, a new standard, and a bellwether that nobody can un-ring.

In a more innocent – no, a

But, quick as you could chant "free speech," "Sex in the City" changed that forever. Similar story, similar result, with the successful stage production "The Vagina Monologues."

If context is everything, some might defend the latter title. But most will not defend "vaginas" on a bright striptease sign on a public route from their city airport. The disheartening reality is, any of us may find our city at the mercy of an urban bumpkin like the strip club owner here, who argued, "I felt that there was nothing terrible about it since 'The Vagina Monologues' was on Broadway."

See how the dominoes fall? People can always say, in favor of looser public decency, "Well, we've had

When the Supreme Court not long ago declined to reverse new campaign finance laws, actual political free speech took a substantive hit, because new federal restrictions remained on the nature and source of words that could be proclaimed – explicitly during political campaign seasons, no less!

Before then, it might have been a stretch to say federal law could restrict certain classes of speech. Commercial or pornographic speech usually seemed to receive "collateral protection" in the protection of political speech that the First Amendment did address.

But no longer. Thanks to the high court's schizoid renderings that protect virtual child pornography sites and yet restrict campaign season political utterances, a whole body of free speech legalities is overripe for revisiting by the Supreme Court. And further legislating – which is how the ship of state actually ought to manage routine course adjustments – may likewise be appropriate now.

If it did take an act of Congress, many of us would say the time has come. A lot of de facto censorship is abroad in the land already in the name of "political correctness."

As for the decency of our atmosphere, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of the

It's not our spotted owls. Not our passive smokers. God help 'em, it's our kids.


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It's a cliché because it's true: It's termed "atmosphere" because it's something that is everywhere, and all of us are its captive audience.Intending no feigned respect for Ms. Rodham Clinton, "It takes a village" really We regulate production and sale and...
Monday, 29 August 2005 12:00 AM
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