tion of the Burger definition applied to violencernrather than sex—although Burgerrnrepeatedly insisted that “obscenity” referredrnonly to sexual conduct.rnThe Hyde adaptation is therefore suspectrnon its face, since violence, evenrnwhen it is as brutal as Oliver Stone orrnSteven Spielberg can make it, still isn’trnsex (except when it becomes sadomasochism)rnand simply does not havernthe implications for personal, family,rncommunit) and general societal cohesionrnthat sexuality does. Even so, it mayrnalso be noted that Hie Burger definihon,rnlike so much of what the second-raternminds of the courts try to do, is largelyrnuseless even for controlling real sexualrnobscenity. In the first place, the definitionrnis simply too long and cumbersome,rnis couched in too many qualifications,rnand again relies on undefined and unclearrnterms. In addition, the knee-bendrnto “communit)’ standards,” while seeminglyrna recognihon that healthy backwatersrnlike Montana and Alabama may retainrndie right to control their own publicrnmorals, in fact guarantees that the centersrnof the world pornography industry in LosrnAngeles and New York may operate withoutrnfear and inundate the rest of therncountr’ with their products. The “communityrnstandards” of Hie megalopolis arernhardly such as to encourage moral uplift.rnMr. Hyde at least spared us the cantrnand mendacity of the Burger Court’srn”communit)’ standards,” but his definitionrnwas no more useful, even if we grantrnthat his purported purpose of protectingrnminors from harmful depictions of violencernwas desirable. It is unquestionablernthat Hollywood and the mainstream mediarnnow regularl)’ crank out the most disgustingrnand repellent depictions of ‘iolencernand that immersion in such filmsrnby young people is almost certainly unhealthy.rnWhat is not clear is whether arnharmful level of imnrersion in thesernkinds of films is sufficiendy common asrnto constitute a problem of any kind orrnriiat the harmfid effects of the films reachrnto matters of public concern —e.g., therncommitting of crimes or the destabilizationrnor corrupHon of socict}’. Since Mr.rnHyde and his Republican colleaguesrnwere far more concerned to perpetuaternthe illusion that Republicans were just asrn”sensitive” to Littleton as the Democratsrnand just as committed to “doing something,”rnthere was no time for any congressionalrninquiry on the subject. Therernmay be sociological or criminological literaturernon it, but because there were nornhearings, such materials never made itrninto the public eye.rnConservatives are undoubtedly fed uprnwith Hollywood —sometimes justifiablyrnso and sometimes not. Wlienever I hearrneonsen-atives discussing movies, I am invariablyrnstruck by the illiteracy and banalityrnof dieir judgments. Mr. Hyde, askedrnby the Wall Street journal about whichrncurrent films he might consider “too violent,”rnnrentioned Mel Gibson’s Paybackrnand The Matrix. He also remarked thatrn”I’d say that any movie that has morerndian 50 killings is pushing the envelope.”rnI’hat, of course, pushes just about anyrnwar movie made in the last 50 or 60rnyears—Sergeant York, Sands oflwo ]ima,rnSpartacus, Braveheart, Gett)’sburg—vc]]rnoutside die envelope.rnThe problem widi Mr. Hyde’s attemptrnto enforce public morals is not, however,rnthat doing so is impossible or imdesirable,rnnor is the problem only that the realrnmotivation of the Hyde legislation was itsrntransparently cynical but nonethelessrnfatuous political purpose. The deeperrnproblem with what Mr. Hyde and conservativesrnin general are trying to do isrnsimply that today there is virtually nornpublic moralih’ to enforce.rnSay what you will about Oliver Stone,rnMadonna, and MTV, the brute fact isrnthat, ever since the 1960’s, sexuality andrnviolence of a level never before permittedrnhave permeated our popidar culture.rnThe paperback novels on sale at anyrnVValden’s or B. Daltou’s contain languagernand behavior that would havernbeen universally banned in the I950’s.rnMainstream movies today — not justrnQuentin Tarentino’s or John Woo’s —rnroutinely portray murders, tortures,rnmaimings, lethal explosions, massrndeadis, and catastrophes, as well as rape,rnsexual intercourse, sexual jokes, nudity,rnperversion, and assorted jabber about sexrnorgans and bodily functions, on a scalernand in a detail never before permitted. Irnrehearse these facts not out of any prudishrndudgeon —like Lord Lyndhurst, myrnown sensibilities are far too jaded by exposurernto contemporar)’ popular culturernto be very concerned about this kind ofrnimmorality—but merely to emphasizernthat anv convenfional legislafive enforcementrnof public morals today is all but impossible.rnThe legifimate purpose of legislafingrnagainst obscenib,” is not to restore or createrna moral consensus where none exists,rnbut to protect an existing consensusrnagainst threats from file handful of deviantsrnwho violate it or want to subvert it.rnIn 1857, when Lords Lyndhurst andrnCampbell debated, most gentiemen inrntheir civilization on both sides of the Atlanticrnshared such a consensus, and, for arncentury or so afterward, enforcement of arnpublic moralit)’ that was widely known,rnunderstood, and shared remained possible.rnLawmakers no more had to worryrnexcessively over the implications of a legalrndefinition of “obscenity” or whatrnterms like “prurient,” “morbid,” “shameful,”rnor “redeeming” really meant thanrnthe Framers of the U.S. Consfitufion hadrnto explain what “cruel and unusual punishment”rnor “free exercise” of religionrnnreant. Everyone knew the meaning ofrnthese terms; if they didn’t know, thevrnwere not part of the common civilization,rnso their ignorance didn’t much matter.rnToday, conservative efforts to enforcernmoralit)’ through the state, like fiiose ofrnMr. Hyde, suffer from the flaw that wernlive in a society that has become a moralrnvacuum and has ceased to be part of arncommon civilization. This is why courtsrnand lawmakers have so much troublerndefining “obscenit)” at all. Within thernruling class, at least, the common understandingsrnof morals (not to mention ofrnlanguage itself) have all but vanished.rnThe long shadow of that fate was perhapsrnbeginning to stretch itself when LordrnLyndhurst read out his list of classics thatrnmay or may not have been deemed obscene,rnbut in 1857, Western men stillrngenerally knew what the ternr meant andrnwhat the moral beliefs they were trying tornprotect were. Today, we can no longerrnprotect morality through law because nornone — including most lawmakers — anyrnlonger knows what morality is or shouldrnbe.rnMr. Hyde may or may not have knownrnwhat he wanted to accomplish with hisrnproposal, but what his ill-consideredrnmeasure (had it passed) would probablyrnhave done (aside from encouraging I loll)-rnwood to produce movies that only childrenrnwould want to watch) was impose arnfake moral code that virtually no one elsernin the society had thought about, endorsed,rnpracticed, or expressed any desirernto accept. He might well have pushedrnthe movies he claimed to dislike out ofrnthe envelope, but the “morality” he andrnhis colleagues in the Stupid Part)’ wantedrnto cram into the nation’s moral vacuumrnwould have been neither a real moralit)-rnnor even air imitation worth having.rn.34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn