1.3 The 1970 Commission on Obscenity and Pornography

Part: 
Two
Chapter: 
1

Our mission and our product will inevitably be compared with the work of the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, which was created in 1967, staffed in 1968, and which reported in 1970. Some of the differences between the two enterprises relate to structural aspects of the inquiry. The 1970 commission had a budget of $2,000,000 and two years to complete its task. We had only one year, and a budget of $500,000. Taking into account the changing value of the dollar,[3] the 1970 Commission had a budget nearly sixteen times as large as ours, yet held only two public hearings. We do not regret having provided the opportunity for such an extensive expression of opinion, but it has even further depleted the extremely limited resources available to us. In addition to differences in time, budget, and staffing, there are of course differences in perspective. Although the work of the 1970 Commission has provided much important information for us, all of us have taken issue with at least some aspects of the earlier Commission's approach, and all of us have taken issue with at least some of the earlier Commission's conclusions. We have tried to explain our differences throughout this Report, but it would be a mistake to conclude that we saw our mission as reactive to the work of others sixteen years earlier. In sixteen years the world has seen enormous technological changes that have affected the transmission of sounds, words, and images. Few aspects of contemporary American society have not been affected by cable television, satellite communication, video tape recording, the computer, and competition in the telecommunications industry. It would be surprising to discover that these technological developments have had no effect on the production, distribution, and availability of pornography, and we have not been surprised. These technological developments have themselves caused such significant changes in the practices relating to the distribution of pornography that the analysis of sixteen years ago is starkly obsolete. Nor have the changes been solely technological. In sixteen years there have been numerous changes in the social, political, legal, cultural, and religious portrait of the United States, and many of these changes have undeniably involved both sexuality and the public portrayal of sexuality. With reference to the question of pornography, therefore, there can be no doubt that we confront a different world than that confronted by the 1970 Commission.

Perhaps most significantly, however, studying an issue that was last studied in the form of a national commission sixteen years ago seems remarkably sensible even apart from the social and technological changes that relate in particular to the issue of pornography. Little in modern life can be held constant, and it would be strikingly aberrational if the conclusions of one commission could be taken as having resolved an issue for all time. The world changes, research about the world changes, and our views about how we wish to deal with that world change. Only in a static society would it be unwise to reexamine periodically the conclusions of sixteen years earlier, and we do not live in a static society. As we in 1986 reexamine what was done in 1970, so too do we expect that in 2002 our work will similarly be reexamined.

We do not by saying this wish to minimize the fact that we are different people from those who studied this issue sixteen years ago, that we have in many cases different views, and that we have in a number of respects reached different conclusions. Whether this Commission would have been created had the 1970 Commission reached different conclusions is not for us to say. But we are all convinced that the creation of this Commission at this time is entirely justified by the difference between this world and that of 1970, and we have set about our task with that in mind.

Notes

  1. Taking 1967, the date of creation of the 1970 Commission, as the base year, the dollar at the end of 1984, five months before this Commission commenced work, was worth $0.31.