An obscenity is any statement or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time. It is derived from the Latin obscaena (offstage) a cognate of the Ancient Greek root skene, because some potentially offensive content, such as murder or sex, was depicted offstage in classical drama. The word can be used to indicate a strong moral repugnance, in expressions such as "obscene profits" or "the obscenity of war".
- But implicit in the history of the First Amendment is the rejection of obscenity as utterly without redeeming social importance.
- William J. Brennan, Jr., Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 484 (1957); often misquoted as "utterly without redeeming social value". The decision also cited the test used in American courts in judging obscenity: "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest", 354 U.S. 489. This was noted to be "the first definition of obscenity offered by the court. It was modified in several subsequent decisions and finally replaced with another standard in the 1973 case of Miller v. California". Congressional Quarterly Inc., The Supreme Court and Its Work (1981), p. 215.
- When the imagination sleeps, words are emptied of their meaning: a deaf population absent-mindedly registers the condemnation of a man. … there is no other solution but to speak out and show the obscenity hidden under the verbal cloak.
- We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "fuck" on their airplanes because it's obscene!
- The Amazon sites led me to other woman-killing outlets. None of the little movies has much plot. They're just five- or ten-minute scenes of attractive young women, usually undressed, dying violently. Overwhelmingly, the imagery displays young women as sexual objects for male entertainment — not as individuals with personalities. Obviously, there's a commercial market for this material, presumably among men who derive pleasure from watching females die (or pretend to die).
One producer of these films has been the center of Canada's longest-running obscenity trial. Donald Smith, who calls himself "Dr. Don," created death movies of his wife. Then he advertised for models in Winnipeg newspapers. He made many quickie films and posted them for sale on a Web site which said its purpose was "to show beautiful women getting killed."Canadian police investigated in 2000. Smith and his wife were charged with obscenity. When the case came to trial in 2002, counts against the wife were dropped. The defense contended that the movies didn't fit the legal definition of obscenity because no sex occurred in them.
The defense presented an expert witness, film professor Barry Grant of Brock University, who declared that Dr. Don's videos were little different from horror scenes in modern "slasher" movies shown in theaters and sold in video stores. Dr. Grant testified that grotesque killing has been part of cinema since silent days.
Despite the professor's testimony, a jury convicted Smith. He was sentenced to probation, banned from the Internet, and fined $100,000.
The sentencing judge, Helen Pierce of Ontario Superior Court of Justice, wrote that Dr. Don's videos had "the potential to change attitudes toward women, cause psychological harm to anyone who had previously been a victim of sexual violence, and could do serious psychological harm to adolescents." She said his films imply that an attacker "can silence women with his violence, leave them on sexual display, and walk away without consequence."
- You have to show violence the way it is. If you don't show it realistically, then that's immoral and harmful. If you don't upset people, then that's obscenity.
- Roman Polański, as quoted in Shakespearean Criticism : Excerpts from the Criticism of William Shakespeare's Plays and Poetry, from the First Published Appraisals to Current Evaluations (1985) by Laurie Lanzen Harris, p. 11.
- Obscenity is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate.