I Know It When I See It

There are two broad semantic categories in our society that are defined largely by intuition. One is ‘What is Art?’ and the other is ‘What is Obscenity?’. And the two are related in that anything deemed to be art, is generally excused from being suppressed as obscenity. Indeed this very relationship is enshrined in American Law.

Thus a recent legal judgement (pdf) may have very broad implications, not just be expanding that which is considered obscene, but contracting what is considered art.

Essentially what has happened is that an American man has been given a six month custodial sentence for the possession of drawn material depicting underage sex. These Japanese comic books (a.k.a. manga) were deemed to be “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.”

More importantly, in my opinion, they were not seen to be exempt from the obscenity charge due to having serious literary or artistic value. After seizing 1,200 items seven manga were used as the basis of the prosecution. And these manga, or perhaps manga in general, were not considered a legitimate art form for the purposes of this prosecution. There is no evidence that the accused has ever behaved improperly with children or purchased material that depicted real abuse.

Do we find ourselves facing that old argument, that degenerate art may not be considered art at all, and so not offered the protection ewnjoyed by “real” art?

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