Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* Sexually Explicit Materials and the Internet, by Douglas Birsch

Obscene Material: A Definition

Two important categories of sexually explicit material are obscene and pornographic material. One way to define obscene material is to use the Supreme Court's guidelines developed in the 1973 case Miller v. California. If the material is obscene, an average person applying community standards would conclude that:

  1. the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, that

  2. the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct, and that

  3. the material lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. ^3
There are several key phrases in this definition. The court rejected the idea of a national standard of obscenity and left it to local communities to apply their "community standards" to potentially obscene material. The phrase "prurient interest" refers to a shameful, morbid, lustful, degrading, or unhealthy interest in sex. "Patently offensive" is more difficult to define. Apparently the idea is that the material offends people because it is perverted or lewd. The last important phrase is "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." The court held that the entire work must be considered and that the government must prove that the material lacks this value based on a national standard.

[See []Cavalier's dialogical perspective.]

This definition of obscene material obviously raises --some questions.

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