Read the full article by Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason.com

 

The porn wars haven’t died, they’re just packaged differently.

There’s been a “total abandonment of pornography as a battleground in America’s culture war,” writes Politico reporter Tim Alberta in “How the GOP Gave Up on Porn.” He couldn’t be more wrong.

The flashpoints have shifted certainly since the 1970s and ’80s, when Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority teamed with second-wave feminists to take on Playboy and Hustler. And social conservatives’ embrace of President Donald Trump does present a stark contrast to earlier eras. Alberta notes that while that Falwell sprung to action in response to a Jimmy Carter interview in Playboy (“a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day,” the pastor called it), Jerry Falwell Jr. has praised Trump despite the president’s vulgarities, even posing with the president in a photo in which Trump’s ’90s Playboy cover can be seen.

But such hypocrisy should not be mistaken for a radical repositioning of Republican dogma on “obscenity.” The dreams of Falwell Sr. and his radfem counterparts are still very much alive in the Republican Party.

“Over a decade spent covering Republican politics,” writes Alberta, “I struggle to recall instances of politicians calling attention to pornography. The lone exception: Diane Black, a congresswoman running this year for governor of Tennessee, blamed the rise in school shootings on adolescent porn habits. She was widely ridiculed and ultimately lost the GOP primary. Her comment was a cautionary tale.”

Perhaps Alberta should search his memory (or Google) a little harder. After all, it was just two years ago that Republicans added language to their official party platform that declared porn “has become a public health crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.”

That same year, 2016, a Utah Republican lawmaker convinced his colleagues in the state legislature to declare porn a public health crisis. Since then, six states—Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Virginia—have passed similar resolutions (something Alberta devotes several paragraphs to near the end of the article, despite his earlier quote about Diane Black standing alone).

In 2015, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly Morality in Media, organized an anti-porn summit on Capitol Hill—picking back up an event it had abandoned in the late ’80s. Prominent Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) was the summit’s honorary sponsor. Since then, NCOSE has celebrated getting Walmart to remove Cosmopolitan from checkout aisles, under the rationale that the magazine is too racy for general audiences.

Last year, Republicans in at least a dozen state legislatures introduced measures to ban porn access for anyone who wouldn’t pay a $20 fine, and Utah conservatives called for reappointing a statewide porn watchdog.

This year, the conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat advocated banning porn. And a search on Congress.gov for the 2017-18 legislation mentioning “pornography” turns up 93 results. (Douthat’s column has a cameo in Alberta’s article; those 93 results do not.)

With all the legitimately pressing problems facing America today, it’s astonishing that anyone could earnestly advocate for more obscenity prosecutions and renewed cultural fighting over pornography. But here we are. Alberta has little clue what’s been going on in porn politics this millennium, but he’s sure that something more must be done.

 

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is an associate editor at Reason, where she covers criminal justice, politics, and policy with a special focus on the intersection of sex, speech, technology, and law.

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