The inexplicable defense of pornography in public libraries, New York version.
As a lifelong journalist, it still makes me nervous, worried and a little sick to take a position against First Amendment absolutism, but the contortions used to justify porn in public libraries have me so baffled and furious that I find myself writing about it for the second time in a fortnight.
On April 14 I invoked the spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson to conclude, in response to a controversy in Los Angeles, that “the public library is no place for Internet porn.” Apologies for returning to the subject so soon, but I’m compelled by a story in today’s New York Post, “City libraries say ‘checking out’ porn protected by First Amendment.”
“In deference to the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, the New York Public Library cannot prevent adult patrons from accessing adult content that is legal,” New York Public Library spokeswoman Angela Montefinise tells the Post.
What utter nonsense. I admire libraries and librarians for exerting themselves in defense of the First Amendment, really I do. Our right to read or watch what we want in peace and privacy, without fear of government intrusion or monitoring, is greatly enhanced by their efforts.
But saying that porn is protected by the First Amendment, both the right of pornographers to produce it and of consumers to buy and enjoy it, is not the same as saying it has to be universally available. Why would libraries roll over on their right to set their own policies?
For example, while not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, I’m pretty sure I have a right to sleep. Yet more than one library has prohibited patrons from dozing — as a sneaky way to run homeless people out of the building.
Like porn, cigarettes are legal, and yet that has not stopped every library in America from prohibiting smoking inside their buildings (and in some cases, outside them, too).
I know for a fact that the Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms, but how far do you think I’d get if I attempted to carry my Remington .30-06 deer rifle into the New York Public Library?
Of course, libraries, including the New York Public Library, set policies that infringe on Constitutional rights all the time, and they usually do so for good reason.
I’m not sure about targeting the homeless, even though I get nervous when some smelly crazy person snores at the table next to mine, but it’s perfectly reasonable to ban smoking and firearms for the health, safety and even the comfort of patrons in general.
And yet is porn not noxious in much the way cigarette smoking is? If I and other nonsmokers have the right to be protected from second-hand smoke, should we not expect the same consideration to be free from the assault of second-hand porn?
The Post story quotes a 60-year-old woman named Daisy Nasario, who found herself seated next to an “elderly” man who was reportedly watching a threesome (not a golf term) on a library computer. The screen had extensions to block the view of passersby, but Nasario could still hear the sounds of sex. “It’s very disrespectful of the children,” she said.
No one is suggesting that porn should be banned or censored, only that libraries set some common sense policies, such as: Watch porn at home, not at a public place where families, children and little old ladies congregate.
And I have to wonder if the First Amendment absolutists defending the rights of perverts and degenerates — because, really, what other kind of person would go to the public library for his porn fix? — have bothered to look at any porn themselves?
Even the Post story, which adopts a typical Post tone of working class moral outrage, doesn’t seem to understand what’s at issue. The lead, for example, refers to “porn queen Jenna Jameson’s steamy online sexcapades.” Only someone who has never viewed hardcore porn could call what Jenna Jameson does for a living “steamy.”
Kate and Sawyer on “Lost” are steamy. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, very steamy. Kim Cattrall and just about anybody on “Sex and the City,” yes, steamy. Even the soft core on Cinemax could be termed “steamy.”
But hardcore porn featuring Jenna Jameson, with the lewdest nudity and exhibitionism imaginable (and then some), sweat and other body fluids flying in all directions? “Steamy” is not the right descriptor. “Slimy” is more like it, and in the most literal sense possible.