Thursday, May 10, 2007

All Right, More Overton! And (a) HOT TEEN PORN (discussion)

Since my last take on the subject seemed pretty popular, I'll do a bit more on the Overton window.

But first, the promised HOT TEEN PORN (discussion). Discussion seems to be swirling among feminist circles about Garance Franke-Ruta's proposal to ban women from selling images of themselves naked and/or having sex until they're 21. Why? Because pornography is exploitative, and 18-year-olds are far too dumb to be able to decide to allow themselves to be exploited.

(The original proposal was in the Wall Street Journal, a pay site, so I just linked to Garances' blog)

An uncharitable description? Well, here:

First of all, our laws recognize that maturity comes slowly. In addition to the minimum drinking age of 21, the minimum age for entering Congress is 25, and for the Senate, 30. Many jurisdictions make 21 the baseline minimum for holding state senatorial or other government positions, while others use 25 as their local baseline. Several states have a 30-year-old minimum for the governorships, and we’re all familiar with the 35 year minimum that exists for the presidency.
Yeah. Sorry, and I have the deepest respect for your views, perspective, and abilities, Garance, but this really does boil down to "dumbass kids can't be trusted". Besides, nobody in their right mind thinks that the age minimum for the presidency is a great baseline for maturation, and I personally think that anybody who is able to vote should be able to be voted for. A teenage president might have a bit more of a long-term perspective.

(Besides, the "Prez" issue of The Sandman was amazing.)

The drinking age doesn't work a a model either. That is honored more in the breach than in the observance, everybody knows it is, and at a basic, core level nobody really cares, either. Teenagers getting drunk illegally is a joke in America. Right or wrong, that's the way it is.

Honestly? This didn't pass the giggle test. It's near-unenforceable, unless you're willing to throw young adults in jail over it. It raises enormous questions about "why 18", as opposed to any other age. It's incredibly insulting to everybody between the ages of 18 and 21, and it's a total overreaction to "girls gone wild".

Most importantly, it's really just a stalking horse. From what I've seen, many of those backing it (that I've seen) hate porn, full stop. Not necessarily Garance, but many others. Moral or otherwise, let's be honest: there's a lot of people who would back anything that hurt the pornography industry. It's like "partial-birth abortion" bans: just a tool used to chip away at a larger concern by constantly narrowing the band of what's seen as "acceptable".

Whoops, and here we are, back at Overton's Window, this time looking in on something much more interesting than Republicans arguing about evolution. It illustrates one thing about the window, though: it stretches and flexes, as the bounds of acceptable debate can shift in many ways.

Erotica/Pornography/whatever you call it, it has become more acceptable over the years, and the political debate about porn has definitely shifted. What we've seen is less of a "shift", though, and more of a stretch- the "ban the porn" types are still very much around, but have a more porn-friendly culture and more porn-friendly counterparts to deal with. The "haters" don't have the cachet they did, but it's still around and very much powerful. It's a stretch, rather than a switch.

That's why things aren't as simple as pulling the window from one side and/or pushing it from the other side. It narrows and expands, and you could (like the erotica advocates) find yourself simply pushing the boundaries of the debate out, instead of over. People address this elasticity itself.

They might strengthen it:

"you can have different points of view on what you find acceptable in erotica or not."

Or they might attack it, from different directions:

Anti: "Pornography is unGodly/immoral/exploitative, full stop, and if you watch it or advocate it you are ticking off the Divine and anti-woman while you're at it."

Pro: "If you don't accept gonzo porn, you're a prude and anti-sex and deserve to be ignored."

Somewhere in between: "The answer lies somewhere in the middle with the kind of ultra-softcore Skinemax fare that I like. Screw extremists. So to speak."

All of these arguments can be and are deployed on a regular basis, and all have the function of convincing people that the window should be smaller than it is. Then you get that cohesion effect I talked about earlier: if the window is getting smaller, whoever compromises first loses- the boundary on your side shifts in the direction of the other guy.

Again, that's why opinion journalists are so important for this. Some open up the boundary, by putting out "crazy notions" that get talked about, made mainstream, and enter the real discourse. Things start stretching. Those on the other side might defend their position, though, and the middle stays in place. The guys who claim to be "above it all", like David Broder, really just serve to reinforce the elasticity.

(That's what all that "the middle is always right" stuff does. That's the only thing it's good for.)

Then, it comes down to who can best withstand the pressure.

Oddly enough, this means that progressives/Liberals need to think some counterintuitive things about their message. It can't just be about inclusion, as all you're doing is weakening that elastic force. That's fine, but it benefits both sides equally. They need to actually advocate something, or stand with those who do. Then, when the boundaries shrink, they'll be better suited to come out ahead.

So to speak.

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