Mike Gold: Sex – Our Moral Dilemma
Regular readers of this space may have discerned I have an absolutist attitude towards the First Amendment: freedom of expression must not be abridged in any way or form. That doesn’t mean people or corporations shouldn’t be held responsible for what they say, just that they can say it.
As A. J. Liebling said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” That’s obviously true, although the Internet has expanded our deployment of these freedoms exponentially. But the same attitude probably should be expected of retailers: is your local mom’n’pop candy store (yeah, yeah; nostalgia) obligated to carry the latest issue of Steamy Dwarf Sex? Probably not.
But let’s take this one step further. Do corporations that are publicly traded – public corporations – have the right to decline to offer whatever publications they dislike? If Apple’s bookstore and magazine stand doesn’t like, say, Boy’s Life, do they have a right to prevent their customers from getting it through their facilities?
That’s not an easy question to answer. Setting aside the completely ridiculous fact that in the United States of America corporations are defined as human beings, where does one “person” get off deciding what you get to read on your tablet… or hear on your Internet radio station… or see online? The Internet’s success was spurred by the availability of free pornography. The entire home video business was founded on the availability of porn in the solitude of your own home. So have various On Demand services. And where would HBO be today if not for the availability of free tits for the past 41 years?
(Yes, Virginia, there was a time when nary a nipple was permitted on the boob tube.)
Today, there’s much controversy about Apple’s bookstore and magazine stand service setting arbitrary “standards” that, by their very definition, cannot be evenly enforced. This policy has kept Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky excellent (in my opinion; this is not a review, although the book does offer the best recap page I’ve ever read) series Sex Criminals from being listed in their service. This story rightfully has garnered a lot of publicity, so I’ll use that as my example while promoting a worthy book that may be hard to find in some venues.
Sex Criminals is not a salacious book – but that is not the issue. A book’s “redeemable qualities” are completely irrelevant: that’s a standard that obviates freedom of expression. And Apple – as well as sundry other “public” corporations – has declined to distribute the title.
Outside of expanding opportunities for letting corporations determine what we can and cannot read through their efforts, the problem here is that Apple has established a standard that they do not enforce evenly. Their music service distributes all kinds of “explicit” stuff. So does their movie and teevee service. Same thing with iBooks. Their newsstand service distributes material that is truly salacious. So why dump on Fraction and Zdarsky?
Let me pose this question a different way: If Image Comics’ Sex Criminals was written by, say, Stephen King, would Apple refuse to offer it?
What’s Valley-Speak for “no fucking way?”
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil
THURSDAY EVENING: The Tweaks!