FBI: Don

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There are a number of things that are currently impossible to do. Building a functional time machine, for example. Or replicating the area of a square inside a circle, spontaneously combusting, and controlling the weather.

Same goes for stamping out pornography in the U.S.

However, this common knowledge isn?t stopping Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from trying to rid the U.S. of its porn. On July 29, 2005, FBI headquarters sent an e-mail to all 56 field offices to recruit agents for a new anti-obscenity squad. The squad, which will consist of ten agents (for now), is the first step in carrying out one of Gonzales? ? and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller?s ? ?top priorities? of national security.

Just so you know, policing porn is still a lower priority than protecting the United States from terrorist attacks. It is, however, a higher priority than preventing organized, white-collar, or ?significantly violent? crime, according to The Washington Post. It is also a higher priority than, say, protecting civil rights. Figures.

Last week, I wrote a piece opposing the censorship of controversial literary works, using the venerable Lolita as an example. I should state here that although I believe in freedom of expression, this doesn?t mean that I support pornography. I find it gratuitous, objectifying, and disturbing as opposed to sexually titillating. I wouldn?t really mind it if the Federal Bureau of Investigation could find a way to prevent spam with subject lines like HOT TEENAGE CHIX INSIDE!! from appearing in my inbox.

However, it?s pervasive media like these e-mails that show how difficult it is to avoid pornography, much less eradicate it. Furthermore, taking on obscenity in a time of high political tension, when we are engaged in a foreign war, with a significant portion of our population displaced and part of our country underwater, seems less like a real objective and more like a diversionary
tactic. We?ve got better things to worry about.

Just to give you an idea of the porn industry?s role in the U.S.: It grosses $12 billion annually. It makes more money than all professional basketball, football, and baseball franchises combined. Companies such as General Motors Investment Management Corp., Rupert Murdoch?s News Corp., and Time Warner Inc. all own companies that produce porn (DirecTV among them). Twelve percent of the Internet is pornographic content; there are 4.2 million websites devoted solely to pornography. Forty million adults regularly access porn on the Internet. That?s more than the entire population of the state of California, and it discounts those who aren?t ?regular? watchers.

Still in doubt about America?s relationship with porn? Go to Las Vegas. Walk around for, oh, roughly three minutes, and you will see more billboards, posters, magazines and business cards featuring pornographic content than you will ever need to see in your lifetime.

The sheer magnitude of the porn industry isn?t the only obstacle in Gonzales? path. He must also contend with the United States? peculiar double standard when it comes to sex. Call it a leftover from our Puritanical days, but Americans have always had a love-hate relationship with the oldest act in the world. We refuse to talk about sex, but the incidence of casual sex between unmarried partners is on the rise. We can?t condone divorce in public figures, but we can thrill to the show Desperate Housewives. We can?t swear on the air, but we can idolize Paris Hilton, a woman whose claim to fame is her own candid sex tape. We can?t educate our children about birth control in public schools, and yet the occurrence of teenage pregnancy is higher in this country than in most other nations of similar standing. Although obscenity is considered illegal, we can?t even clearly define it, although there have been a number of winning tries, including Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart?s explanation that ?I know it when I see it.?

Incidentally, the FBI has decided to focus on adult pornography between consenting adults, not child pornography (which is most definitely illegal, and which is featured on at least 100,000 websites in the U.S. alone) or pornography that portrays non-consensual, violent sex or rape. Just what values is Gonzales trying to promote by launching his porn squad?

Although our national leaders subscribe to the ideology of the 1980s that pornography is ruining our national framework, the evidence shows that it?s actually become a foundation of it. Moral qualms aside, to conduct a ?War on Porn? right now would only lead to actions that are ill-informed, ill-timed, and impractical. In the wake of a major national disaster and during a time of war, our government?s powers would be much better spent protecting citizens rather than trying to shield them from nudie pictures.