I know it when I see it

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By John Pawlak

In 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court was reviewing an obscenity case (Jacobellis vs. Ohio), Justice Potter Stewart was asked to define pornography.  He said, “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” 

Well now, is this true today? Obscenity has taken on many forms and one is hard pressed to not only define it, but to recognize it as such.

We all know that there’s a line that you can’t cross. When “Scarface” was aired on network television, the F-word was muted out ... all 226 times.  However, the network did not censor the killing of 28 people.

They didn’t censor the splattering of blood as Tony’s friend was sliced up with a chainsaw. Saying the F-word is vulgar. Slicing and dicing people is just entertainment.

Prior to this year’s Super Bowl, a PETA commercial designed to promote vegetarianism that features sexy, lingerie-clad models stroking various fresh-from-the-garden edibles has been deemed too suggestive by NBC and was not aired. 

Even professional sports understand the need to set limits on what is and isn’t decent, right? Ah ... well, one week after the game, Sports Illustrated released its Swimsuit Edition – complete with scantily clad iconic beauties that encapsulate the best that sports has to offer.

What would happen if you used a few choice swear words in a public park? There’s a good chance you would be fined for public indecency. But it’s perfectly legal to play your radio or CD player, blasting out lyrics from “gansta” rap or the equivalent garbage from many of the songs aired today. 

The fact is, many of these songs only get played because the radio stations can’t understand the lyrics. 

Here’s a simple example of what gets by in our society as acceptable: Remember the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire?” Now, what could possibly be offensive to anyone in that movie? 

In an early scene, Robin Williams is throwing a party for his kid. The song “Jump Around” is playing with kids jumping up and down on furniture, having a great time. A friend of mine liked the soundtrack to the movie and looked up that song and ordered a CD from the group (House of Pain) as a gift for his daughter. 

Fortunately, before giving the CD to his young daughter, he did check out the lyrics. The song is about selling drugs, shooting cops and beating your woman. Nice, eh?

Do we know it when we see it? Or hear it?  Call me a prude, but I think singing about shooting cops is obscene.

So where does it end?  The other day, I saw “The Godfather” on network TV. In one scene, Sonny (the oldest son) gets shot at a toll-booth on the highway.  Seven guys with machine guns riddle him for about half a minute. 

As his blood-soaked body lays on the pavement, one of the assassins walks over and kicks him in the head.

Oh wait ... they cut that part out!  Yeah, they showed him getting hit with a few hundred rounds but censored him getting kicked in the head. You see, I’m just having trouble figuring out where “too violent” begins or ends. If they shot him a few hundred times and then kicked him in the butt, would that have been gentle enough to leave in?

It’s bad enough that movies are infested with this nonsense, but you can't even escape it during commercials.  You have to wonder how they get away with showing “Girls Gone Wild” clips on network TV commercials. 

Or why someone should be more inclined to buy a car when it’s driven by some hot chick wearing a short skirt?  Shouldn’t potential customers care more about what’s under the hood rather than what’s under her dress?

Sorry ... I’m ranting.  We’ve got kids watching “Family Guy” hearing jokes about penises and vaginas. TV shows spew out violence like water. Even Saturday morning cartoons are infested with considerable violence and huge-breasted women (with waist sizes of 12 inches). 

Is this the natural evolution we should have expected from allowing that sneaky coyote to use all those Acme bombs and missiles on a poor defenseless little bird?

OK, so I lied. I really don’t know anymore what is or isn’t obscene when I see it. Where does common decency end and vile behavior begin?

Am I just showing my age by being disgusted at how one’s ability to become a successful singer today depends on how big your breasts are and how fast you can air hump?  Mama Cass had the voice of an angel. 

Do you think she’d have a snowball’s chance in Hades of making it in today's climate?

No, I doubt it.  That much, I can see clearly.