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Obscenity and Censorship in American

Obscenity exists in all forms of media; television, radio newspapers, magazines, movies, books, bars, theater, and the internet all have various forms of obscenity, and various forms of Government censorship attempting to prevent it. This paper will review the different types of media, and how Government (both State and Federal Government) tries to prevent it. The laws affect the different industry quite differently. Obscenity shall be defined for the purposes of this paper as vulgar language, nudity, and sexual acts (deviant or not).

Violence, for the purposes of this paper shall not be considered obscene regardless of the horrific nature and the constant airing of it. The Federal Government has the role of censuring obscenity from the public airwaves of television and radio. Television (TV) has several types of censorship applied to it. Programs from the public broadcast systems (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc) cannot show nudity, use vulgarity, or show sexual acts before 10 PM or after 5 AM and typically do not show it at all.

These restrictions result from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules, the Federal censor of the public airways. Frontal nudity, particularly display of the sex organs, never occurs on these TV stations, so the FCC likely bars the practice. Second tier cable channels generally operate on the same obscenity basis as the major public broadcast systems. Radio may not use vulgarity within the same restricted hours as public broadcast TV. Private premium channels do not have restrictive hours, but do not show sexual penetration, whether or not it they are required not to show it.

Newspapers and magazines typically must show warnings that sexual images exist between its pages, and sometimes must be wrapped in plastic to prevent minors from perusing its pages. No warning needs to be given for the use of vulgarities. Frontal nudity is allowed (if warnings exist), but seldom displayed except in hard core pornographic periodicals. Displays of sexual penetration for national print media may violate some State obscenity laws and so do not exist in these magazines. The written expressions in this media may contain all sorts of vulgarity and descriptions of almost any type of sexual act.

Displays of the sex organs, including aroused male sex organs does not seem to run afoul of State Censors. Movies and other video media also seem to be governed by State obscenity laws. In some States hardcore pornography including sexual penetration and various deviant acts seem to be broadly permitted. In some cases local laws from towns and counties may prevent showing of some of these types of scenes to varying degrees. Occasionally, an adult video parlor is raided by local authorities, but seldom do these raids actually result in convictions, especially if the store owner has enough money to appeal a conviction.

There is one Federal law governing the display of children (under the age of 18) in sexually oriented ways and extreme criminal penalties exist for possession or distribution of such material. The definition of sexually oriented still needs to have clear definitions from the courts, but clearly means showing children touching their sex organs or having others touch their sex organs. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gives ratings to movies and State laws usually enforce viewing rules suggested by this organization. Movie creators voluntarily submit their material to the MPAA to receive a rating.

There seems to be very little censorship of the written word with regards to sexual activity. Books may use vulgarity and describe almost any sexual act imaginable without fear of prosecution, although there may be some local laws governing specific content in books. There seems to be no requirement that books warn potential readers of the type of content within the covers, although book stores and other sellers seem to keep no-plot collections of non-stop sexual activity off their shelves. These types of books exist within the darkened rooms of adult book stores.

Public libraries also do not allow these types of books on their shelves either. It is unclear if Federal child pornography statues cover the written word. Certainly depictions of sexual activity between fictional characters should not be governed by these laws; however videos of composite characters, made up entirely from scratch and without using any real children are considered child pornography. An author might want to avoid describing child sexual activity, especially in a graphic way, without first determining if such writing will invite Federal scrutiny.

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