Obscenity in Movies

         PG, PG-13, and R are some of the movie rating abbreviations given out to movies by the FCC. However, many parents may think when they drop their children off at the movie theatre that a PG-13 movie is safe for their thirteen-year-old daughter or son. But, if they were watching the 1998 movie Titanic, directed by James Cameron, some parents would be shocked to learn that actress Kate Winslet exposed her breast in a scene where she appears to be nude. Recently, the FCC has been trying to get smoking in movies considered as obscene and is considering putting movies with smoking as “R” rated movies.

         Movies have come a long way from D. W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation. What would have once been unacceptable to see a husband and wife in the same bed is now a social norm. So, have Americans become numb to nudity and find it acceptable or do they just not know how to regulate obscenity?

         One problem lies in the definition of obscenity. According to Dictionary.com, obscenity is “the character or quality of being obscene; indecency; lewdness.” However, the federal government is reluctant to decide what obscenity is.

         “Justice Potter Stewart could provide no definition in "http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/faclibrary/case.aspx?id=1307" Jacobellis v. Ohio other than exclaiming: ‘I know it when I see it.’ In that 1964 decision, Stewart also said that the Court was “faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable,” according to firstamendmentcenter.com. Because there has been no case to overturn Jacobellis v. Ohio, the definition set the precedent for obscenity.

         However, one case tried to define obscenity by setting up a test, which would allow citizens to understand what was acceptable.

         "Miller v California sets out the ‘modern’ test for obscenity.  After years in which no Supreme Court opinion could command majority support, five members of the Court in Miller set out a several-part test for judging obscenity statutes: (1) the proscribed material must depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, (2) the conduct must be specifically described in the law, and (3) the work must, taken as a whole, lack serious value and must appeal to a prurient interest in sex.  What is patently offensive is to be determined by applying community values, but any jury decision in these cases is subject to independent constitutional review, as the Court's decision in Jenkins v Georgia makes clear.  New York v Ferber underscores the strength of the state's interest in protecting minors from the harmful effects of pornography.  Ferber holds that states may proscribe sexual material involving minors, even if that material may not meet all of the prongs of the Miller test,” according to the Exploring Constitutional Conflicts Web site.

         Some of the federal criminal laws that regulate obscenity are possession with intent to sell, and sale of obscene matter on federal property. The punishment is imprisonment for up to 2 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; mailing obscene or crime-inciting matter, the penalty is imprisonment for up to 5 years for a first offense (10 years for second and further offenses), and a fine of up to $250,000; importation or transportation of obscene matter, the penalties is imprisonment for up to 5 years for a first offense (10 years for second and further offenses), and a fine of up to $250,000; mailing indecent matter on wrappers or envelopes, the punishment is imprisonment for up to 5 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; broadcasting obscene language, the punishment is imprisonment for up to 2 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution, the penalty is imprisonment for up to 5 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter, the punishment is imprisonment for up to 5 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children, the penalty for production, distribution, or receipt or possession with the intent to distribute: imprisonment for 5 to 20 years for a first offense, for between 15 and 40 years for persons with certain prior offenses, and a fine of up to $250,000 and for possession: imprisonment for up to 10 years for a first offense, for between 10 and 20 years for persons with certain prior offenses, and a fine of up to $250,000; distributing obscene material by cable or subscription television, the punishment is imprisonment for up to 2 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; transfer of Obscene Material to Minors and the penalties is imprisonment for up to 10 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; misleading domain names on the Internet. The punishment is for misleading a minor into viewing material harmful to minors-imprisonment for up to 4 years, and a fine of up to $250,000; for misleading a person into viewing obscene material-imprisonment for up to 2 years, and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the Child Exploration and Obscenity Section Web site.

With some of the material that is on films, some may wonder what community’s -values are. Some modern movies, such as Ang Lee’s 2005 Brokeback Mountain, Ron Howard’s 2006 The Da Vinci Code, and Kimberly Peirce’s 1999 Boys Don’t Cry, have gained notoriety for their racy topics. Some theatres even banned viewing the movies. For instance, in Princeton, Kentucky, The Da Vinci Code film strip was vandalized after the theatre premiered the film in the theatre.

         Despite distribution advertise, films concerned obscene by movie critics, bring in a large audience, and therefore movie executives continue to produce films with questionable morals. I think these films only fuel the fire for more eccentric films. I, being a lover of controversial movies, I trust that films will only increasing get more violent and more obscene because audiences want to see that latest shocking movie. If movies are well-publicized for their controversial scenes, teenagers will find a way to get to the movie and therefore, any restrictions will only heighten the popularity of obscenity in movies.

Rockelle Gray

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