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Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace?

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Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace? edited by Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum

Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace? edited by Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum

The question about whether people have a right to create and view pornography or if porn is an obscenity that should be banned has been debated for several decades now. There was a time when pornography was quickly censored on the basis of traditional assumptions about sex and sexuality; today, pornography is readily available but subject to continual threat from would-be religious censors in the government. It’s a live and relevant issue which American citizens need to grapple with.


Title: Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace?
Author: edited by Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1573922072

• Multiple essays from different perspectives

• A bit out of date, focuses a lot on the Communications Decency Act
• No essays from anyone who works in the sex industry

• Essays exploring whether pornography should be censored
• Part of a large series from Prometheus on social issues & debates

Book Review

Most people probably only have a vague sense about what the various arguments are and have formed their position on the basis of a vague anti-porn sentiment or a general pro-free speech inclination. What we need is a stronger grounding in the issues and arguments because the legal status of pornography has important implications not just for free expression generally, but also the direction of sexuality in American society in the future. Religious conservatives recognize this and it’s one of the reasons why their crusade against pornography plays such a large role in their cultural, social, and political agenda.

The book Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace?, edited by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, may be a good place for many people to start. It was published in 1998 and thus portions will be out of date — this is especially true of space devoted to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The arguments for and against the CDA continue to be relevant and are thus worth skimming through, but if a second edition were released today that first quarter of the book would have to be radically redone.

Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace? edited by Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum

Pornography: Private Right or Public Menace? edited by Robert M. Baird, Stuart E. Rosenbaum

The other three major sections of the book cover feminist perspectives, libertarian perspectives, and religious perspectives. All three include arguments both for and against censorship of pornography. Notably absent are sections for “liberal” perspectives on pornography or, even worse, perspectives from those who actually work in the sex industry. How can a balanced and informative discussion of pornography proceed without any input from the men and women who create and appear in the very material that might be banned? The absence of such material is inexplicable, and if the book is revised again, I hope this will be corrected.

Such problems aside, this book is still a decent introduction to the issue. Most works on the question of censoring pornography typically present the view of the author while this one presents the views of many different people, allowing readers to gauge a variety of arguments. Issues addressed include social effects of pornography, legal problems with censorship, defining pornography, aesthetic questions, and so forth. This isn’t the first book I would recommend people get if they want to better educate themselves on the problem of censoring pornography, but it’s worth including at some point.

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