Oct 222008

While reading about the Paul “Max Hardcore” Little and Extreme Associates trials, I came across other evidence of just how out of control American prosecution of obscenity is these days.

Strategically, going after Little is a brilliant way to rack up a victory. He’s male, he’s scary, he works in a visual medium (more arresting than print), he specializes in humiliation and other edgy issues, he performs in his own films, and even free speech and sex-positive advocates have a hard time defending him. He’s the stereotypical pornographer, a pre-packaged bogeyman ready to be ritually scapegoated in a purification drama.

Compare Little to Karen Fletcher. She is a 58-year-old agoraphobic woman who lives alone on disability. She was indicted on six charges of distributing obscene materials over the Internet. These were prose stories (no video or images) of children under 10 being molested and killed on a members-only web site. Fletcher plea bargained and got five years of probation and forfeiture of her computer.

From the NY Times:

The Fletcher case has been brought by Mary Beth Buchanan, the United States attorney for Western Pennsylvania, who is regarded by many people in the pornography industry and by outside analysts as the government’s most aggressive opponent of the spread of pornography in the nation.

Ms. Buchanan, the 44-year-old daughter of a steelworker who went through law school as a single mother, is disdainful of prosecutors who have avoided taking on obscenity cases. Unlike her counterparts, she said in a recent interview, “I’m not afraid of the challenges, legal or otherwise, here.”

What has attracted the attention of First Amendment scholars and lawyers is that Red Rose — which Ms. Fletcher says is an effort to help her deal with her own pain from child sexual abuse — was composed entirely of text without any images.

Although a narrowly divided Supreme Court said in 1973 that images were not necessary to label a work obscene, there has not been a successful obscenity prosecution in the country that did not involve drawings or photographs since then.

Fletcher considers her stories “catharsis” for her own history of abuse.

Fletcher’s defender compared her work to Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s novel, The Apprentice, which includes the following passage:

At age ten the madam put the child in a cage with a bear trained to couple with young girls so the girls would be frigid and not fall in love with their patrons. They fed her through the bars and aroused the bear with a stick when it seemed to lose interest. Groups of men paid to watch.

I haven’t read any of Fletcher’s stories, but I suspect they aren’t that much different from a VC Andrews novel you can buy in a supermarket, or a typical episode of Law & Order: SVU (“sodomized with a violin bow”). Heck, wander around the slash fanfiction story forums for a while and you’ll see women writing all kinds of hardcore material.

Paul Little is a target because he’s a bogeyman. Karen Fletcher is a target because she’s vulnerable, personally and financially. She doesn’t fit the male-impurity/female-purity script, as she produced her own material without involving anyone else, on a website with only 29 subscribers, one of whom was presumably a police informant or agent.

As I’ve noticed many times before, attempts to control obscenity or pornography are basically attempts to control people, especially socially disadvantaged people, either to prevent them from expressing themselves or to keep them from being contaminated.

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