Why Nudity and Pornography Are Still Two Different Things

Any time there’s a discussion on the artistic merit of nudity, someone is bound to chime in with a caution against “pornographic” nudity. But where exactly is the line between tasteful nudity and pornography? Perhaps the most famous quote of all on this matter comes from former Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart:

“I shall not today attempt further to define…hardcore pornography. But I know it when I see it.”

He said this in reference to a 1958 french film called The Lovers that had been deemed “obscene.” If you’re wondering why a case about movie nudity and pornography went all the way to the SCOTUS, it’s important to remember “obscene” material is not protected by the First Amendment. I know, right? So what is “obscenity?”

Obscenity is often something seen as damaging to children, as if kids have a heavy interest in french drama. I find this to be, if you’ll pardon the language, a load of crap. Children are the result of “obscene” sex acts. They’re born by way of a vagina and are fed via the female breast. To then say children are damaged by the sight of human bodies isn’t just silly—it doesn’t hold up to basic logic. The 1940 Disney film Fantasia contained cartoon nudity that is still celebrated for its artistic merit. If this damaged the scores of children who have seen it, this would be the first I’ve heard of it.

Legally, the definition of obscene material is laid out in the Miller Test. This is a three-pronged test asking three questions of any work in danger of being labeled as “obscene” and, therefore, losing First Amendment Protections. These questions are supposed to make the difference between nudity and pornography more clear.

  1. Is it pornography (ie: does it depict sexual intercourse)?
  2. Is it an offensive (according to community standards) display of sex or “excretory functions?”
  3. Does it lack artistic or social merit?

It’s easy to posit the Miller Test was devised to leave plenty of leeway for individual standards and changing societal norms. So why then, in modern America, do we still pop our monocles over the idea children might see some nudity?

Recently, a FOX news affiliate blurred the implied breasts of the famous painting Women of Algiers by Pablo Picasso.

Wikipedia

Surely, we can agree this picture does not depict intercourse, is not pornography, and, as a Picasso selling for almost $200 million, it has some artistic merit. Yet, FOX felt the need to blur painted representations of breasts, presumably to protect children who have almost certainly seen boobs before. Even at the college level, there are those who become agitated at viewing or participating in nude activities. What a shame.

Where does this hysteria about nudity and pornography come from? It’s a relatively modern development. The first Olympics were performed completely naked, and I promise there were children present. Did all of those children grow up damaged or confused? Seems like we’d have heard about it if they did. To my mind, it’s far more likely hysteria over nudity and sexuality causes more damage. That may also be why when someone’s phone is hacked and their nude photos are stolen, the victim of the theft gets more public criticism than the thief.

Here’s an experiment: see if you can take off your clothes and not do anything obscene. If you can, congratulations! You passed the Miller Test. You also proved the point: nudity and pornography are not the same.

 


Agree? Disagree? Think this writer should be censored for obscenity? Tell us all about it in the comments.


Additional Images: The Mirror

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Wednesday Lee Friday
Wednesday Lee Friday
Wednesday Lee Friday was born November 24th, in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was a Tuesday. After deciding against being a ballerina, an ichthyologist, and a famous singer, she decided to become a novelist just before starting kindergarten. Wednesday went to college in Olivet, Michigan where she majored in theatre and broadcasting for some reason. Wednesday Lee Friday is a four-time published novelist, podcaster, horror fan, and former phone sex gal. Wednesday eats true crime for breakfast, knows enough Dothraki to buy a horse, and is a Simpsons Superfan. Look for her novels, anthologies, and audiobooks wherever you usually buy those things.